Windows 7 32 bit vs. 64 bit? In this first part of a comprehensive series I discuss how 64 bit and 32 bit Windows 7 differ with regard to performance and memory.

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.

Memory ^

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.

Microsoft-64-bitMoreover, 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.

Performance ^

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.

  1. Job Hunting Tips 13 years ago

    I had no idea that 32-bit architectures could only handle a maximum of 3 GB of ram.

    Shocking that computer companies will allow you to build and ship a 32 bit system that has more.

  2. Yeah it is really funny. Most 4GB machines you see in the shelves these days come with Vista x86. This false belief that 32-bit supports 4GB is widespread.

  3. Donald Haase 13 years ago

    Your article contains a factual error: “Windows 7 x64 cannot only make use of up to 16TB RAM”. 16TB is simply one of the theoretical limits. In fact, no version of Windows 7 can address more than 192GB of RAM (not that it makes a huge difference).

  4. Donald, thanks! I corrected the article. I think there is a huge difference between 16TB and 192GB. 😉

  5. Andrew H 13 years ago

    Windows 7 x64’s maximum RAM depends on what edition you have. You can only upgrade to 192 GB on Professional, Enterprise, and Ultimate. The other editions support less maximum RAM.

  6. david 13 years ago

    can you have windows vista 64bit and/or windows 7 on a 32bit system or would it not work

    email me asap

  7. Kathie Miller 13 years ago

    We just bought 3 computers for our business and they all have Windows 7 Home Premium on them. It has a 64 bit and I tried loading our business software but when it wouldn’t load I called support and they told me the program only works with 32 bit. I’m guessing our only solution is to down-grade to XP so it will work. We hate Vista and won’t use that. I’m assuming we can’t change the windows 7 bit as I understand they have a 32 bit. This is just confusing and I’m really getting disgusted with the whole deal. I tried booting with our XP Professional upgrade but it didn’t recognize that we had a previous windows operating system. Any ideas? Of course microsoft support won’t help. On a new machine we should get free support.

  8. You could use your software with XP Mode. Another option is to install the 32-bit version of Windows 7.

  9. John 13 years ago

    What happens if I load windows xp7-x64 not -x32 on a computer using only 2g ddr2 ram?

  10. mehrdad 13 years ago

    hello , the perfect OS for computer is MACINTASH snow leopard

  11. morf 13 years ago

    Macintash? Thanks Mehrdad I’ll look out for that one. does it come with a spell checker?

  12. Dave 13 years ago

    I have Windows 7 Home premium x64 edition. My laptop has 4 Gigs of ram. I am a student and use it primarily for school and research and reading. I multi-task like crazy. sometimes 4 and 5 internet windows open receiving live feeds, word documents, pdf, downloads, etc… and i do this all at the same time split screen all that, and windows handles everything perfectly. I have no problems and have been quite shocked as to the performance level of windows7 x64. I am not the most computer savvy person however. Other than keeping lotsa junk off my startup programs, and not leaving millions of old applications installed, and clearing your internet files, is there other ways to maximize my use of ram so it can be more focused with performance.

  13. palookajoe 12 years ago

    In reply to mehrdad — December 18, 2009 about macintosh. IMO mac is the worst OS out there, hardly any progs work with it and having to mount everything is pretty bogus in my opinion….takes way too long to install programs. Mac is a minority and always will be.

  14. Haakon M 12 years ago

    In reply to palookajoe — February 17, 2010
    It shows that you have not used mac so much.
    Of course, there are most progs for windows-based computers since MS covers 90% of the world.
    “Having to mount everything is pretty bogus in my opinion”…well, well. I guess that you do not have Deamon Tools for Windows on your computer. That is a program that mounts ISO files. Pretty bogus… 😀
    And program installation in OSX is very difficult and takes a looong time; literally drop the program icon in the program folder. That’s it. Takes me 5-10 seconds when i am tired.

    Try things before you criticise it.
    I have both a PC with W7 and a macbook pro with snow leopard. I like them both. W7 is the best OS from MS ever. But it has some features that OS10.6 does not have. And vice versa.

  15. Dave 12 years ago

    Response to john
    “What happens if I load windows xp7-x64 not -x32 on a computer using only 2g ddr2 ram?”

    It still makes it run better. You just probably won’t need W7x64 and could do just fine with the 32 bit version. Whatever you do get rid of vista, the user interface in my opinion is much smoother on 7.

    And for all those PC or MAC guys I would just like to say that I used MAC Snow leopard once and the next day my cat got ran over by a truck. Im not saying that had anything to do with it, but you can never be to careful and now I avoid using any MAC/OS:)

  16. Dave, I like your argument with the cat. I wonder how many snow leopards had to die because some Mac believers wanted a white covers for their car seats in their Jaguars. 😉

  17. Grigsgr 12 years ago

    Hello. I read your article and i found it quite interesting.
    I came into this article because i was searching for a solution or an explenation for my problem.
    I was using windows 7 32bit and i decided to upgrade to the 64bit edition cause my laptop has got a 4GB DDR3 RAM.SO i installed the 64bit edition and using it for about two weeks.
    Since day one my laptop is running so much slower that with the 32bit edition and i cannot understand why. It is running slow and freezes on every program i may use. At this time i am using word 2007 and it is frozen. Can somebody explain to me why might this be happening? I am seriously thinking of downgrading to 32bit edition again.

  18. Moushir 12 years ago

    Respose to:
    Grigsgr — May 14, 2010 @ 3:01 pm

    Keep im mind iam just a 13 year old kid

    Maybe it does slow down because your Processor was not built to support 64 Bit of Windows making your installed version of windows 64 bit unsupportable by it.

    as i know iam not sure .. if u r not much into gaming and so u can buy a new processor that supports 64 bit making your computer work perfectly like said above, i never bought a 64 bit windows nor processor, so i don’t guarantee what i say

  19. SJS 12 years ago

    Puzzled; can somebody offer an answer to this one:

    I have a SONY VAIO notebook — 2Ghz dualcore processor, came with 3GB RAM installed and Vista Home Premium 32-bit. A software-check of the system says that this computer IS capable of running both 32-bit and 64-bit operating systems.

    I recently upgraded the OS to Winows 7 — inadvertently installing the 32-bit version, thinking I was loading the 64-bit version — which I think I still will load — I guess as an upgrade.

    So here are my problems:

    1. If I now UPGRADE from my installed-Windows-7 32-bit to Windows-7 64-bit, will I lose all my installed program-settings? Took me HOURS to install all those programs, and I’d hate to have to do that all again.

    2. I’ve now upgraded the memory to 4GB. I had WANTED to bring it up to maybe 6GB or even 8GB, as I understand that Windows 7 64-bit can handle (and run better on) LOADS of RAM. But a memory-chip manufacturer, that I got in touch with, insisted that this model of VAIO (VGN-FZ340E) has a motherboard that CANNOT HANDLE OR RECOGNIZE more than 4GB, as “that’s what the manufacturer recommends as the maximum”. I contacted SONY too and they say the same thing, almost robotically — it just didn’t sound right, considering what I’ve read about the power of 64-bits to handle 192GB (or whatever) of RAM. So — CAN WHAT THEY SAID BE TRUE, or CAN MY VAIO HANDLE MORE THAN 4GB OF RAM (and run better as a result) if I run the 64-bit version of Windows 7?

    Any guidance would be appreciated.

  20. SJS, to your questions:

    1. Yes, you have to reinstall everything.
    2. There is no way to upgrade your laptop to more than 4GB RAM if your motherboard doesn’t support it.

    So it doesn’t make sense to upgrade to 64-bit in your case.

  21. shawn 12 years ago

    i have win 7 64bit home premium 64bit new OS install and my itunes loads very slow and so does winamp.
    other apps open fast but they just take forever to load.
    new install and i’m not putting joke on it. what could cause those apps and other apps to load so slow while others load fast.

  22. shawn 12 years ago

    i have 4gb ram btw

  23. din 12 years ago

    I install window 7 64bit for my labtop..i use 4gb of ram.
    but,why the system properties in my computer just detect (2.90 usable)ram?? tell me why..what should i do to display 4gb installed memory and 4gb ram are usable…

    is the 4gb of ram is already used or just 2.90 is usable??
    help me..

  24. whee 12 years ago

    make sure the ram is installed correctly and you have installed the right ram configuration. it should detect it before the OS loads

  25. sdef 12 years ago

    hi just got a new comp,2.9 duel core 4gb ram, with a trial run of win 7 32bit ,i play win games videos ect. the trial on win 7 is neally over,so i need to choose on if i should go to full win 7 64bit or 32bit just need a little help what would be better for games

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