Vista x64 vs. Vista x86 - 32 bit or 64 bit Vista edition?

Update: I am working on a new series about the Vista x86 vs. Vista x64 issue. The first one covers the speed issue. The other article in this series will follow soon. You might also be interested in my post about the 3GB barrier. The discussion there is interesting. But now go ahead and read this one first.

Sometime ago, I published an article about a performance comparison between 64-bit and 32-bit editions of Windows. This post got quite a few hits, recently. Meanwhile, it has rank 8 of all posts here on 4sysops (see right sidebar). Obviously, many seem to be undecided which Vista edition they would like to use. In this post, I summarized the pros and cons of Vista x64 and Vista x86.

Vista x64 Pros

Security: Kernel Patch Protection (PatchGuard) is probably the most interesting security-related feature of Vista x64. It prevents unauthorized software from modifying the kernel. This reduces the risk that malware, especially rootkits, infects your system.

Reliability: In Vista x64 only signed drivers can be installed (Mandatory Kernel Module and Driver Signing). This means that kernel mode software requires a digital signature from Microsoft. Buggy drivers can make a system very unstable. But what's the use of a reliable OS , in the face of a third party driver crashing your PC once a day? I had this experience with Vista x86, already.

Performance: A computer with a 64-bit CPU is supposed to be more powerful than one with a 32-bit processor. Of course, you need a 64-bit OS to utilize its 64-bit capabilities. The problem is, not only that the OS, but also the applications must support 64 bit to improve performance. Since 32-bit is still predominant in the Windows area, Vista x64 won't speed up your system in most cases. Here are some benchmark tests comparing Vista x64 and Vista x86: [1] [2] [3].

Memory: The 32 bit editions of Vista only support 4 GB RAM. With Vista x64, you can use up to 128 GB , if your hardware supports it. However, there are differences between the different editions of Vista x64. Check out this comparison table for more information. Note that many applications have limitations with respect to the amount of RAM they can use. Hence, you usually only need more than 4 GB RAM, if you are using many apps with high memory consumption, simultaneously. If you are working with VMware Workstation, you might be interested to know that version 6.0 supports Vista x64, and that's up to 8 GB RAM.

Vista x64 Cons

Hardware compatibility: This certainly is the number one caveat in using a 64-bit Vista edition. 32-bit drivers don't work. Therefore, hardware manufacturers have to produce new ones for every piece of hardware. The fact that drivers have to be signed can also be a disadvantage since it is more time-consuming for hardware vendors to deliver new drivers. Thus, before you can move to Vista x64, you have to check if your hardware is supported. Don't forget your peripheral devices like printers and scanners.

Software compatibility: Most 32-bit software should be running on Vista x64. However, 16-bit programs are not supported, anymore. Note that some 32 apps still use 16-bit installers. Even though the program itself might work under Vista x64, you might not be able to install it. Another problem is that Vista x64 doesn't support registry and folder virtualization. Some legacy apps need to write in security sensitive areas like C:\Windows or C:\Programs and Files. Vista x86 can present a virtual version of these folders to apps for compatibility reasons. Essentially, this means that some 32-bit apps might not work properly if you run them with standard user rights in Vista x64. There are workarounds, though. By the way, even 64-bit apps that were developed for the 64-bit version of Windows XP might have problems under Vista x64 if they have conflicts with Vista standards.

Price: You can only upgrade the Windows XP x64 edition to Vista x64, but not from the 32 bit version of Windows XP. So moving to Vista x64 might cost you more if you have already Windows XP licenses with an upgrade option.

Deployment: Vista images are hardware independent, which probably is the most important new feature from a system administrator's point of view. However, this doesn't apply to 32 and 64 bit images, i.e. you'll need different images for Vista x86 and Vista x64. If you can't move entirely to the 64 bit edition, then this might double your workload.

Problem diagnosis: Even though, all your hardware and software supports Vista x64, you'll always ask yourself if a certain problem is 64-bit-related. After all, Vista x64 is a different OS than Vista x86. The same applies to applications which were specifically developed for the 64-bit editions. Thus, solving a problem might often be more time-consuming.

Conclusion: In my view, for the overall majority Vista x86 is the better choice. Even Microsoft writes that "the 64-bit editions are not for everyone." Only if you have very high security demands or work in fields like engineering (CAD/CAM) or digital content creation, then Vista x64 might be an option for you. I suppose that 64-bit will only play a major role when Vienna, the next Windows version, comes out. There are even rumors that Windows Vienna will only support 64-bit. So perhaps it makes sense to wait a few more years before jumping into the 64-bit bandwagon.

Did I miss a point? Please, let me know!

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64 Comments
  1. cindi 12 years ago

    Help! I have a custom built system with 8gig of ram but when I ordered the system I accidently chose the 32 bit Vista home premium not the 64 bit version. I haven't even turned the system on yet but before I do.. should I get the 64 bit home premium or upgrade to the ultimate 64 bit ?
    what are the drawbacks to leaving in the 32bit? will it really not recognize all the ram?
    thanks for the help

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  2. AntSmt 12 years ago

    hi cindi,
    First, with 8 GiB of memory you should definetly go for 64-bit editions because 32-bit OSes have 4 GiB direct addressability limit.

    If all of your hardware and peripherals have signed drivers you won't have any mojor drawback to mention. 32-bit emulation of 64-bit MS OSes are robust and efficient. Some 32-bit software that has 16-bit deployer may pose a temporary problem during installation until any workaround possibly there available.

    Ultimate edition has nearly double the price of Home Premium. Compare editions below and consider if ultimate edition's differences that you need worths the money. If you require Bitlocker Drive Encryption is maybe only reliable difference I can report.

    Ithink it is clear that third party media and virtualization softwares are far more successful and efficient than those vista has integrated inside.

    If it is a new custom system you may consider having a recent CPU that has a large cache at least 6 MiB cache and 1333 Mhz bus speed that has good price/performance ratio. If it is a mobile system I recommend T9300 CPU at least.

    Bye

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Windows_Vista_editions
    http://www.powerdonkey.net/signup3.php

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  3. Peter 12 years ago

    Switched from Win 2k to Vista 64!
    HP m9360f
    Q9300 (2.5)
    8 GB
    nVidia 9800GT (512)
    Performance is amazing. No driver issues so far. Haven't tested all peripherals as yet.

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  4. Noah 12 years ago

    This article is outdated at this point in time - December 2008 as I am writing this. Compatibility issues have faded as most of the hardware that didn't support 64-bit is reaching the end of it's lifespan anyways. Most PC hardware and peripherals produced since Vista was released support Vista 64.

    The biggest problem is printers and scanners, since many older models are still in use at offices everywhere. Scanners can last a very long time and new drivers are rarely released. Because of this, most of the non-64bit compatible hardware doesn't work in any version of Vista anyways. The good news is that printers and scanners are cheaply available and can just be replaced when going to Vista64.

    If Vista follows similar path to XP & Win2k, it will effectively require more and more RAM as updates and service packs are released. Getting Vista 32-bit doesn't leave much headroom for that. It takes at least 2GB of RAM to make it run well currently, and only supports a maximum of around 3.5GB. If it grows by 50% or more, like XP has (remember when XP only needed 512MB RAM to be fast?)

    All that said... I'd recommend anyone installing Vista on a new machine should use Vista64 and as much RAM as their machine supports. Vista64 is actually a completely different operating system than Vista 32-bit and seems to run a lot faster and smoother in my experience

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  5. Noah 12 years ago

    This article is outdated at this point in time - December 2008 as I am writing this. Compatibility issues have faded as most of the hardware that didn't support 64-bit is reaching the end of it's lifespan anyways. Most PC hardware and peripherals produced since Vista was released support Vista 64.

    The biggest problem is printers and scanners, since many older models are still in use at offices everywhere. Scanners can last a very long time and new drivers are rarely released. Because of this, most of the non-64bit compatible hardware doesn't work in any version of Vista anyways. The good news is that printers and scanners are cheaply available and can just be replaced when going to Vista64.

    If Vista follows similar path to XP & Win2k, it will effectively require more and more RAM as updates and service packs are released. Getting Vista 32-bit doesn't leave much headroom for that. It takes at least 2GB of RAM to make it run well currently, and only supports a maximum of around 3.5GB. If it grows by 50% or more, like XP has (remember when XP only needed 512MB RAM to be fast?) it'll need 4GB in another year or two.

    All that said... I'd recommend anyone installing Vista on a new machine should use Vista64 and as much RAM as their machine supports. Vista64 is actually a completely different operating system than Vista 32-bit and seems to run a lot faster and smoother in my experience.

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  6. chinchin85 12 years ago

    I use Windows Server 2008 HPC Edition(x64) on my laptop.In my experience its the best OS Microsoft has released so far.Its very stable and is significantly faster than Vista 32 bit editions which I have used(Home Premium and Ultimate).If anyone wants to go for Vista I recommend him to get
    Server 2008(either x86 or x64) or HPC edition(only x64) like what I have done.The Server OSes are really "optimized Vistas" and they are how Vista should have actually been.

    Driver Support:Most of the Vista x64 drivers work on WS2008 HPC.I dont use Printers and scanners so no comments about the driver support here.Some 32 bit apps like Nero Burning Rom have certain problems in working,but other 32 bit apps work perfectly fine.

    Virtualisation softwares work perfectly.PC Games(both DX9 and DX10) also run really fine,some games even better than XP32 and Vista32.Memory Management is really a plus point of this OS.

    So in my opinion dont go for Vista32 or 64,instead get WS2008(x64),convert it into a Workstation OS and feel the difference.........and dont forget to get more than 4G ram.

    dell vostro 1500
    2 gigs 667 mhz ram
    nvidia geforce 8400m gs 128mb
    intel t5470 core2duo 1.6 ghz

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  7. AntSmt 12 years ago

    to Peter

    I saw your system on Newegg.
    Quite decent system for doing anything on workstation.
    I hope that it isn't disturbingly noisy as it is a major brand made which is good on efficient thermal discharging.

    to chinchin85

    Server OSes are more stable than desktop counterparts but Server 2008 has no support for BDA architecture which is new defacto architecture for DVBs TV card drivers. Porting BDA from Vista to WS2K8 doesn't worked for Technisat Skystar 2 card.

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  8. Covenant 12 years ago

    Hello

    I was wondering about this too and used google for more info and there's a lot to find about this subject.
    At the end, those articles / postings of people who compared 32-bit and 64-bit OS in real life (not in theory) and experienced with the 64-bit OS:

    1. driver issues have been resolved by now,
    2. it is able to address RAM above 4GB and,
    3. it even feels faster, subjective

    These were enough reasons for me to chose the 64 over 32 version.

    One side note ... you think 4GB is more than enough ?
    Haha, I remember the time when Microsoft said "640 KB are more than you'll ever need", resulting in the pre-historic burden many generations of PCs carried forward.
    We don't need that shit again.

    64-bit .... that's it.

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  9. [...] encontrado son este artículo de Phoronix(algo antiguo), que lo hizo hace tiempo con Ubuntu, y este fantástico análisis de 4sysops que compara Vista x86 (32 bits) con Vista x64 (64 bits) y en el que concluye que en la mayoría de [...]

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  10. Mirec 11 years ago

    hi, i am using x64bit vista and have no problems, with programs or drivers, till now I discovered only 3-4 games that are not working on x64 vista, even the 32bit programs works great.
    I think the virtualisation is also present, because some games need to save the profiles of the player in c:/program files and without permission u can not do that. the program will use the hidden folder for example "C:\Users\%YourUser%\AppData\Local\VirtualStore\Program Files\Activision\Call of Duty 4 - Modern Warfare\players\profiles\" to save the necessary info

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  11. [...] regarding windows 7/Vista and mobility modder.. i read here, 4sysops - Vista x64 vs. Vista x86 - 32 bit or 64 bit Vista edition? that with 64 bit OS's u cannot instally unsigned drivers. I thought that the modded drivers are [...]

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  12. Raymond 11 years ago

    This is a good example of plain english. Keep up the good work.

    Regards
    Raymond

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  13. Steve Stran 11 years ago

    I bought an Acer 9410 in 2007 with Vista 32bit.I recently accuried a 64 bit Vista Ultimate.I replaced the hard drive and have 2 gigs of ram.When tring to install the 64 bit it sent a message saying "system wont support Vista 64bit.Is it because of divers,what do I need to to do to get the computer to accept the 64 bit Operationg system.The Acer has a Duo core 186 Intel processor.Please help if you can....Thanx

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  14. Rohit 10 years ago

    i am having gateway MD7818u model havin config. 4Gb RAM,500 Gb HD , WINDOWS VISTA HOME PREMIUM,with 64 bit os,having a folder in my c: of program files X86,is it k.wat i want to ask is that X86 is for the 32bit os how come it is showin in my laptop.

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