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In my last post, I described my experiences with Vista x64. Today I will focus on two important topics related to the Windows 7 64-bit vs. Windows 32-bit controversy: memory and performance.
The most significant advantage of a 64-bit system is that it can use more than 4GB of RAM. One thing that has changed since I last concerned myself with this topic is that most new desktops and laptops now come with at least 4GB of RAM. The problem is that like Vista, Windows 7 x86 is capable of only using about 3 GB of RAM. By contrast, Windows 7 x64 cannot only make use of up to 16TB 192GB RAM, but is capable of using the memory remapping feature of modern BIOSes, which allows the operating system to really use the complete 4GB. Thus, if you install Windows 7 64-bit on a 4 GB machine you won't waste 1 GB of RAM like you would with Windows 7 32-bit.
Moreover, it is only a matter of time until 3GB will no longer be enough for modern applications. One example is Windows 7's XP Mode feature, which allows you to use legacy applications within a virtual machine running within Windows XP. This feature might prove to be useful for other purposes, for example running Office 2007 and Office 2003 on the same computer simultaneously. Since XP needs 512 MB-1GB to run properly, XP Mode is a RAM eater. As such, if you now deploy Windows 7 32-bit then you might be soon want to move to 64-bit, just because you will have to upgrade your machines with new memory. My own laptop has 8 GB of RAM and I can tell you that I need every byte of it. I’m lucky that my laptop supports up to 16GB.
In a previous article about Vista x64, I outlined how the 64-bit version will usually only perform better as it allows you to use more memory, rather than because of its computing capacity. Only applications that are optimized for 64-bit will run faster than their 32-bit counterparts. There are now significantly more 64-bit apps out there than a year ago, but don't make the mistake of thinking that they will be faster than their 32-bit counterpart. Usually, there is only a special 64-bit edition because the 32-bit version wouldn't run properly on a 64-bit Windows OS.
This is different only for some performance-dependent application types, such as mathematical software or video editing programs. Hence, if you have software whose vendor explicitly endorses 64-bit, then you might notice improved speed with Windows 7 x64.
On the other hand, Windows 7 64-bit won't slow down your computer. There might be a little overhead in some computations because it logically takes longer to process 64 than 32 bits. However, in practice you won't realize the difference. All performance tests I've seen prove that in most cases there is simply no noteworthy difference between 64-bit and 32-bit when it comes to performance.
However, this might soon change. There is no doubt that the future belongs to 64-bit. More and more software vendors will offer special 64-bit editions of their applications as time goes on. The most prominent software will be Microsoft Office 2010, which will also have a 64-bit variant. It remains to be seen whether Excel or Access will perform better in 64-bit.
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In the next article of this series, I will cover Windows 7 64-bit’s software and hardware compatibility.