I already discussed the Vista x64 vs. Vista x86 question a year ago. Vista was just released and for the early adopters, the first decision to be made was which edition, i.e. 32-bit or 64-bit, would be the better choice. At this time, I was skeptical regarding Vista x64, mostly because the advantages didn’t outweigh the downsides. It is time now to reconsider this question since the main disadvantages of the 64-bit version (hardware and software compatibility) might not be such an issue anymore.

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athlon64I was planning to do some research already for some time, but fortunately the German print magazine C’t (8/2008) just published a couple of comprehensive reports about this topic. So I will summarize some of their findings garnished with my own views. Today, I will focus on performance and in my next posts in this series, I will discuss software compatibility and hardware compatibility.

First of all, why would one prefer Vista x64? I outlined some of the reasons in my earlier post. What I said about security and reliability is still valid. However, a year later things might have changed regarding performance. There are two ways of improving 64-bit operating system's performance. It utilizes the 64-bit specific computational advantages of the processor and it allows you to use more memory which is often the best way to improve performance.

Computational performance

I suppose that many think that a 64-bit processor performs better than the 32-bit CPU. This might be due to the fact that the transitions from 8-bit to 16 and from 16 to 32 brought some performance gains indeed. At least, this is how I remember it. There are essentially two reasons why a 64-bit Windows should be faster: Compilers have more options for code optimization and all 64-bit CPUs support the so-called SSEx-instructions, a command set that is supposed to be more efficient.

Some 32-bit CPUs support SSEx, too, but most 32-bit apps don’t use them because that would prevent them from working on older 32-bit processors. Hence it follows that only applications which were optimized for 64-bit will show performance gains. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case for most Windows programs, nowadays.

C’t ran a couple of benchmark tests with applications that should most likely benefit from a 64-bit CPU. Such apps are mathematical apps and graphics programs. Their tests show that in most cases Vista x64 isn’t really faster than Vista x86. Sometimes it is even slower. But all in all, the differences are not worth mentioning.

So better CPU performance can hardly be the reason why one would want to move to Vista x64. However, if you have an application that was optimized for 64-bit things look different. Although, Vista has been released more than a year ago, optimized 64-bit apps are still very rare. Note that if your software vendor offers a 64-bit edition, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it will also perform better than the 32-bit app. This just guarantees that it will work under Vista x64.


Even though CPU performance is not an issue here, performance in general certainly is the main reason that speaks for 64 bit. However, it is not CPU power, but the option to use more memory. In theory, a 32-bit CPU supports 232 Byte = 4GB RAM. Unfortunately, Vista x86 supports only up to 3.12 GB. For compatibility reasons Vista has to reserve some of its memory for device drivers. So putting more than 3GB in a computer that runs Vista x86 doesn’t make sense.

Also, Vista’s kernel will reserve at least 2GB of the 4GB for its own utilization (including the above mentioned reserve for drivers). That means that you only have 2GB for applications at the most. In most cases that will be enough. Only if you have to run many memory hungry apps simultaneously will you need more.

A disadvantage of 64-bit apps is that they usually need more memory due to 64-bit pointers. Thus, running Vistax64 on a computer with 3GB or less only makes sense if you run applications that were optimized for 64-bit.

The most common reason nowadays why you might need more RAM than 3GB is that you want to run a virtualization solution such as VMware Workstation or Virtual PC on your PC. As long as you run only one guest OS, 3GB might be sufficient. But if you test software where you need a couple of guest systems simultaneously, you certainly have a good reason to move to Vista x64.

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Modern laptops with 64-bit CPU support up 4GB and desktops usually allow you to use 8GB. RAM is very cheap now. 4GB sell for less than €100 ($150). So money isn’t a reason anymore for refraining from putting more RAM in your PC. Of course, if you have hundreds or thousands PCs in your organizations that is something different. But then you certainly don’t need a 64-bit OS on all of them. For those PCs that would benefit from Vista x64 the only question is if the notorious software and hardware compatibility problems of Vista x64 are still an issue. I will explore this topic in my next posts.

  1. ochiru 15 years ago

    Good post. I find x64 Vista more stable because of forced driver signing. In my experience almost every BSOD or hang can be traced back to a faulty device driver. This is pretty commonplace even on servers. On the other hand this means that you, for example, have to use VMware Workstation instead of the free Server 1.0x.

    Reasons to NOT use x64:
    -Need for unsigned drivers
    -Legacy games and apps (16bit installers)
    -VPN connections (x64 clients are very rare)
    -Larger installation and patches/service packs
    -Additional software costs

    Reasons to USE x64:
    -Workstation class hardware
    -Development platform
    -VMware Host (able to host x64 guests)
    -Additional security (32bit software are isolated)

  2. javellan 15 years ago

    I don’t believe you need a host with an 64bit OS to have a guest running an 64bit OS. I do this in VMware Workstation daily, you have to have a 64bit enabled processor though.

  3. Jacob Hornbech 15 years ago

    Well an advantage could also be that if you put 8GB in your desktop computer, you could run with no pagefile, and hence lessen the disk activity

  4. Ross Snowden 15 years ago

    That might be the reason I’ve never had one single BSOD or other major system-wide crash since installing Vista x64 a year ago. I guess it was a good decision. At the moment, I’m using 4GB, and Vista “sees” it all.

  5. Ochiru, good list of pros and cons. Thanks! Why do you think one has additional software costs with Vista x64?

    Javellan, I didn’t want to say that you need Vista x64 to run 64-bit guests. I just meant that virtualization software needs a lot of memory.

    Jacob, you’re right that the main reason why Vista x64 improves performance is because there will be less disk activity if you have more RAM. However, this applies not only to the pagefile.

    Ross, Vista x64 is certainly more reliable. Although, so far I only had one Vista x86 crash and the reason was Google Desktop.

  6. Jacob Hornbech 15 years ago


    I tried out the 64-bit version of Vista, but at the time being it didn’t have the support of A/V codecs and apps that I needed… I’m currently running the 32-bit version at it runs smoothly, when you learn to use it the proper way 🙂

    I’m strongly considering installing the 64-bit version again when software developers adapt the 64-bit code, and hence fit my needs.

    I’m pro changing to 64-bit but the rest of the world needs to see that as well 🙂

    Next we need is more multi threaded software, it’ll come as well, with 8-core CPU’s in the horizon…

  7. Jacob, you’re certainly right, it is a typical hen and egg problem. I just wished Microsoft made a similar move as Apple with Mac OS X. I guess the majority will move to 64-bit only if there is no other choice.

  8. Chris 15 years ago


    While searching for information on Vista X86 VS X64 I came across this article and found it very interesting. I’m debating on getting Vista 64 bit or sticking with the traditional 32 bit OS.

    I’m going to be getting a new computer in which the motherboard has a FSB 1333 throughout everything, including memory. I will be putting in a 2.66 Quad Core processor FSB1333, a GeForce 9800 GX2 1GB video card, and 4GB of platinum memory FSB 1333.

    As you can probably guess I will be using it for games. Of course there is a lot of other stuff that I’m planning on doing with it besides games, some of it being graphical related. I know I should get a Mac for the graphics, but they are so expensive and that’s why I’m holding back on getting one.

    Anyway after reading this article I found it interesting that putting in a 32 bit OS with 4GB of RAM would be a waste being that it will only recognize up to 3.12GB. I am interested in installing the X64 OS but from my understanding it will not support 32 bit applications at all. I thought maybe that it will just slow the OS down to allow for the 32 bit application to run, but from my understanding it will not allow it to run at all.

    Being that a lot of applications still aren’t running in 64 bit yet I feel that I should just get the X86 OS. This was my conclusion after doing the research and I just wanted your opinion on which OS you think would be the best for me to get.


  9. Chris 15 years ago


    32 bit programs are run natively in Vista x64 rather thab run in emulation as on XP Pro x64. I play games all the time that are 32bit on x64 Ultimate, the only problem is legacy games with old 16 bit installers, they just won’t run.

    If you are going to do heavy 3d CAD or DCC (like 3d cg movies etc. you pretty much need x64. There’s so much multitasking like going from Photoshop to 3ds max to aftereffects to some other program and so on and the extra RAM is a migraine saver.

    It really depends on your hardware. If you go x64 MAKE sure your kit has signed drivers that WORK so you don’t BSODs!

    I hope this helps!

  10. Chris 15 years ago

    Hi Chris,

    Thanks a lot for the information you provided that is a big help.

  11. troy 15 years ago

    After running on XP (due to budget constraints) for the last year I have finally gotten a new machine. I initially installed Vista 32-bit on my old machine and it was SOOOOOOOOOOO slooooooooow. It was like pulling teeth.

    But now, I have upgraded all the hardware and built an AMD spider platform. I have listed the specs below. After researching the issue, I am going to rock th 64-bit version of vista. My main concern was just the games I run but it looks like they will all play without a problem.

    Here are my new system specs:

    AMD Phenom X4 9850 BE (2.5Ghz OC’d to 3Ghz)
    ATI Radeon HD 3870 512MB DDR4(soon to be XFired)
    4GB Corsair Dominator DDR2 1066 (PC8500)
    22″ Samsung 2253LW LCD monitor
    WD Raptor 10,000 RPM 75 GB Drive (OS Partition – soon to be RAID)
    Samsung 500GB HDD
    ASUS M3A32-MVP Delux w/ WiFi (790 Chipset)
    CoolerMaster Cosmos 1000 case
    CoolerMaster PSU 750W
    Zalman CPU Fan 9700
    Vista Ultimate x64 & Fedora 9

  12. Troy, sounds like a nice configuration. I am sure you won’t complain again because of bad performance. If you want to use all of your 4GB RAM you certainly need Vista x64.

  13. Robert 15 years ago

    Have you benchmarked performance of 32 apps, MS Office Professional 2007, Wordperfect X3, Adobe Premiere Elements etc) under vista 64 vs vista 32. If so, what were the results? What about cpu intensive routines, such as, video editing and rendering? Where does the new Intel i7 cpu’s fall into this?

  14. Robert, I have never run a benchmark myself with Vista x64. However, the general rule is that there are only a few applications available that perform better on a 64-bit machine. You shouldn’t experience a difference with 32-bit apps. 64-bit video editing software might perform better under Vista x64, but only if it was optimized for 64-bit. As far I as I know, there are no differences between CPU types when it comes to 64-bit. It all depends on the software.

  15. Andrew 15 years ago

    I can safely say that Vista has improved over time and a lot of the bugs are addressed. I myself use Vista X64 and most of my programs are indeed 32 bit programs. My system came preinstalled with x64 and what is said in this article is true. 64-bit software is a rarity mainly because of the newness of this particular platform. 32 bit has been around a while and most programs are optimized for that. So yes, this article speaks truth.. the only bebefit I see for 32 bit ppl is the added kernel security of the 64-bit system. Other than that, don’t waste your time ppl unless like said before, your a video editor or something and need the power of 64.

  16. Troy 15 years ago

    Posting again, my spider platform has been rock solid with the exception of the motherboard. The asus M3A32-MVP is horrible. So, I waited and upgraded to the M3A79-T (the same family with the new chipset(s)) and everything is AWESOME!!! plays games with (3870’s X-Fired) without a prob (Crysis, CoD4 + more) and gets my work done in a flahs! No crashing, no errors, no nothing. Pure speed and an absolute great user experience.

    I think a lot of the complaining about vista wasn’t necessarily attributed to the inability of Vista, maybe it was the users? Who knows, but I love it!

  17. Ashentech.com 15 years ago

    Little note for the first poster, VPN software mostly “just works” in my experiance, and if it dosnt, try hamichi, it works flawlessly, and supposedly will have a native x64 version fairly soon 🙂

  18. 3fees 13 years ago

    64 bit Versions of Vista and Win 7 are more versatile that 32 bit versions, Windows 7 nice upgrade to Vista, many new features( Installer 5, ect), 64 Bit versions of Vista and Win 7 runs dual compliers, thus can run 32 bit and 64 bit programs, 32 bit does not run 64 bit programs, many newer processors are Intel64, AMD64, can run either 32 bit or 64 bit programs, I switched from 32 bit to 64 bit, no doubt , it runs smoother. I’m not sure wether Linux(euro-style)has this versatility, I think should like yesterday isnt soon enough..lol

  19. 3fees 13 years ago

    I think it should like yesterday isnt soon enough,,lol

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