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In my last post, I explained why running Internet Explorer 9 64-bit has some severe downsides. Let's see if better reliability outweighs these disadvantages. People often believe that 64-bit applications are more reliable than 32-bit programs. This might be due to the fact that Microsoft introduced a few features in Windows 64-bit, such as signed drivers and Kernel Patch Protection, that were supposed to make Windows more secure and reliable. Some older fellows might also remember that the move from 16-bit to 32-bit indeed improved reliably.
A topic that is related to reliability is performance (which I will discuss in more detail in my next post) because performance differences are usually only measurable with complex web pages and web apps. So often when a browser crashes it is because not enough resources are available and/or because it can't handle the complexity.
Rich Menga discussed a similar question recently. His main point is that a 64-bit application is more reliable in handling large amounts of data. To prove this claim, he linked to two nice examples. The first page loads a couple of images, which keeps your browser busy for a while. The second page is even better because it loads a few more images.
According to Rich, the second page will crash IE8 32-bit but IE8 64-bit will have no problems with it. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to verify this claim. In my tests, IE didn't crash at all. However, after the download of the second page was finished, the page was empty and all the nice email icons disappeared. So, in a way, IE was indeed unable to handle the page. But since there was no difference between IE8 32-bit and IE8 64-bit, I have doubts that there is a real difference between those two browsers when it comes to reliability.
It is interesting to note that IE9 Preview 32-bit had no problems with loading the page. And for the sake of completeness, Chrome 32-bit also loaded this interesting page without complaining. I conclude that the bit-length has no real effect on the reliability in this case.
IE is a very stable browser anyway. I don't remember when IE last crashed on my computer. Thus I'd say the reliability gains with IE 9 64-bit are negligible. You also have to take into account that the 64-bit edition is used by fewer people and this is why it takes longer to detect bugs.
As to my experience, only two major factors really count when it comes to reliability: how careful the developers have been doing their job and how large the user base is. Thus I doubt that, in general, 64-bit Windows applications are more reliable than their 32-bit counterparts.
In part 4 of this series I will discuss the topic browser speed.