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.

87 Comments
  1. moogen 12 years ago

    Hi Michael first of all thanks this review i find it most helpful than the other once’s iv’e come across regarding win 7 x86 and x64.
    still my answer is not fully met.
    i’d appreciate it if you can help me. i just bought a new desktop.specs are;
    processor: i5
    motherboard: gigabyte h55
    vid card: geforce 9800gt(i’m not really sure if they fully support 64-bit but they have drivers for that)
    ram: only 2gb as of now.
    iv’e tried 32 bit win 7 ulti and found it fast but yet since i’m a hard user (i use 3d max etc, more on for graphic arts) and wanting cs5 that led me to use 64 bit cos of after effects but after converting to 64 bit iv’e experienced slow boot and start up. i tired gigabytes smart 6 which includes quickboot and quickboost(overclocking) which drove me way slower..so which version of win 7 should i really use..?and should a stay away from smart 6’s apps..?

    i really need help since iv’e been formatting my for about 10x by now and i think i’m already killing my hard drive 😛 thanks alot in advance..

  2. nitin pandey 12 years ago

    hi Michael..
    i have a problem with my lenovo laptop
    in my laptop 4 GB ram is installed but it shows only 2.96GB usable .now am using the win 7 32 bit
    should i upgrade it to 64 bit , i have i3 processor.
    i have heard that 64 bit can not be used with most software .

  3. sdef 12 years ago

    hi nitin pandey i just read up on this window 32 bit only do up to 3gb ram,anymore it wont use it, if you got over you need to go to 64bit.64bit go from 4gb ram to 192gb,, hope this helps

  4. Ravi 12 years ago

    Hi ,
    I am using Lenovo thinkpad with win 7 (64 bit) Intel core i5 with 8 gb Ram but when I run a very heavy excel (64 bit trial version) file my computer it says that less than 2 GB ram is used. Can you advise on why the remaining 6 GB of Ram is not used and how can i enable it.

  5. Pradip 12 years ago

    Hi Ravi,

    Activating all 6GB RAM do the following.
    start System configuration with folowing.
    Start-All programs-Run-msconfig
    Then go to option Boot and select Advanced option.
    Then check Maximum memory
    Press OK.
    After performing above changes reboot you system.

  6. generic 12 years ago

    The problem with only being able to use 3Gb of ram with 32 bit is only windows, linux, OSX, freeBSD and netBSD use 4Gb for 32 bit architectures and with a PAE, Physical Address Extension they can use 64Gb though access is slower for more than 4Gb. As far as I know windows does not support PAE. This is no really relevant because article only talks about windows and windows 64 bit is a lot better than the 32 bit version if you have a 64 bit processor it really makes sense to use 64 bit even if you have less than 3Gb or ram, though you might want to do something about that too. I just thought that the author should not say it is impossible on 32 bit architectures to use more than 3Gb and that he might want to mention this.

  7. Chris 12 years ago

    Hello, I am currently running Vista 32, My system says that it can handle a 64 bit version. I am planning on installing windows7 as a dual boot. My two questions were, Would it be better for me to install win7 32 or 64? My instructor at school, said 64 would be slower than 32 because not many companies offer 64 bit versions of their programs n’ drivers. I just wanna make sure that if I install the 64 bit version, everything will run quicker and smoother.
    My second question is, Do upgrade to a dual boot between 7 and vista do i go through the normal reformatting process or do i just pop in the win 7 DVD while Vista is running? Or do i just install from the boot and it gives me the option to do a dual boot then?

  8. enbeuu 12 years ago

    I retired my XP system; replaced with Win 7 upgraded to 7 Pro to uss “Virtual machine” for Outlook 2003 PST file for data; it worked but it’s too cumbersome.
    Resorted to purchasing Office 2010 package that includes Outlook 2010 and that program is so easy to migrate into the Win 7 operating system that it totally obviated the need to dual boot, OR even use the VM XP-Pro and outlook 2003.

    My machine only has 4 slots and DDR3 RAm is expensive, now: have added new DDR3 RAM in 4 GB increments; now at 12 GB total RAM and will go to 16 GB by next week; the only operation that is enhanced is Photo manipulation and DVD ripping.

    Never get system hangs due to RAM limits, though.

    DDR3 RAM modules are like gold prices, now, since DDR3 will follow price path e.g., of DDR PC3200, I’m sure.

  9. Aleksxander 12 years ago

    What i have heard about win systems.. 1st of alll i had win xp 64 bit there is no diference to 32bit os…. After many years came vista and after win 7…. nothing special…if u think good today we need only 4 gig memory. After taht i saw a forum for win 7 32 bit heck program to open memory to max .. like 64 gig memory russian progamer made that program .. and what after ?
    Why we need 192 gig memory these days when people found 64 bit is still not good as 32 bit ? In many years they did not made a good version and apps …. I am on computers since 1990 and i can tell you its worthless to think what is good what is bad what slows what doesnt slows. When i think from win 3.1 win 95 was great after that win 98 WAS TOP …. Performance everything…
    And after 32 bit was quick and now 64 bit so slow u cant imagine how slow… And i found in forums in win7 Forums The win 7 64 bit or vista it maybe slower for aplication that have use of 32 bit code for 10 percent or even more.. Wtf? So if we use 200 gig rams on need for speed why ? Or if we use on crysis ? NO USE !

  10. Aleksxander 12 years ago

    Yea i forgot to say the 64 bit windows doesnt give u more fps or faster games…. I am gamer thats why who is programer he needs more rams who got a machine as a server needs more rams… but a gamer… Why we need 6 gig rams “?

  11. Williams 12 years ago

    I Have Compaq C300 with 4gb ram while installing win7 64bit im getting hardware error.
    But win7 32 bit is working fine.
    Kindly this model will support the win7 64bit or not.

    Regards
    Williams

  12. Nayan 12 years ago

    1. Is turbo c++ or java work on windows 7 64 bit?
    2. i am a student. and i want to buy a laptop. what should i buy?
    3. i go with 64 bit or 32 bit.

  13. enbeUu 12 years ago

    Agree with this opinion; the limitation of 4GB RAM for the OS was limiting; for awhile Firefox, kept crashing, and it was the version; after they re-did the kernel of the browser, I’ve not had problems at all with this 64-bit version and its been with me for now over a year. Bought the 64 bit Outlook so I could use my database of contacts and addresses and it loads easily. I just don’t use it for email anymore; use google mail as it is easier to keep running; plus Google will keep all the mail on their servers, and it’s a $ multi-billion company that preserves the servers and the system is robust beyond anything, I’ve seen today.

  14. Mike B 11 years ago

    Got a few questions that maybe you can answer. I’m doing some performance testing and would like to draw from your experience. Specifically, I have a Toshiba Laptop with 4GB of memory, Window 7 64bit OS & Office 2010 64bit version. I was running an Excel performance test where there are 2 worksheets in a workbook. WS1 has 764,000 rows & 25 columns and WS2 has 32,000 rows & 22 columns. I added a column in WS1 to do a simple straigt forward Vlookup. Column A in WS1 looking for exact match in WS2 column 3. Just wanted see what kind of performance gain I would really see with the 64bit OS & Office. Copied the formula (Manual Calcuation Option Checked) on all 764,000 rows and then pressed F9 to calculate. Took about 1 hr 10 min to calculate. Watched the task manager and noticed that both CPU’s were being used at 100%, Excel taking up about 89 to 93% of the CPU’s. The laptop memory usuage for the Excel process never got above 870MB and total memory usage was only at 52%. I was under the impression that the 64bit version would use all available memory and I would expect it to hit close to the 4GB mark for the Excel process. I set the option to use 10 threads and tried that option with various numbers of threads, but got same results. I had run a similar test on a 32bit OS (XP) & Office 2010 32bit versions and got similar results. Am I missing something? Is there another setting/option that I should be using? Any experience with this? Thanks!

  15. enbe 11 years ago

    I am not an Excel user; your performance numbers seem too slow for processing or for use. Do you know of a 64-bit Win 7 sysstem with ~ > 12GB RAM; moast systems are using DDR3 DIMMS now; that should speed it up. Try processing on a system that already has more RAM ans see if that speeds the calculations. Not knowing your program on that system; that’s the best thought I have.

  16. Anton 11 years ago

    I currently have a 2006 Macbook with an upgraded 320GB hard drive, and I have upgraded it to 2GB of RAM. I want to partition the hard drive, so I can load Windows 7 on it. I have a 2 GHz Intel Core Duo processor and 2GB 667 MHz DDR2 SDRAM with Mac OS 10.6.7. Should I use the 64-bit or 32-bit version of Windows 7? Can my computer handle the 64-bit version without slowing things down, or should I use the 32-bit since I only have 2 GB or RAM? Thanks for the help!

  17. Moses 11 years ago

    Hi Michael,

    How are you?

    I have a question, I have an ASUS notebook with windows 7 ultimate 64 bit and 8gb RAM installed. Though my notebook supports 8 GB, in BIOS, CPU-Z and PC Wizard it shows 8GB, but in windows my computer properties and task manager it only sees 4GB.

    Is this a windows problem?

    I have 2 4GB DDR3 1333 RAM installed.

    Hope you could reply to my query.

    Take care and God bless!

    Moses

  18. jay 11 years ago

    comment # 30 is the only one with a straight forward answer for me here, it work fine for me, now i can use my windows7 64bit without all the delay and slow down. i also change the processor to 2 in the setting.

    thanks bunch

  19. Karsten 11 years ago

    You wrote: “because it logically takes longer to process 64 than 32 bits.”

    This cannot be true as your entire system is now 64 bit which means that it will calculate 64 bit instead of 32 on the old systems.

    So processing 64 bit takts the same time as processing 32 bit, which is the whole point behind upgrading.

  20. Karsten, what I meant is that 64-bit programs are usually larger than their 32 counterparts. For instance, this means that it takes longer to load a 64-bit program from the hard disk. As mentioned in the article, the difference is only small in most cases. The whole point about upgrading usually is not performance but a larger address space.

  21. arshad 11 years ago

    hello sir my name is arshad and i am from india i have dell inspiron n4010 with 4gb ram and i5 460m prossesor i was using windows 7 32bit and my ussable ram was 2.99gb and at that time gta4 and crysis 2 where running with a frame rate of 35-50 frames per second i thought that i should upgrad my os to 64bit for optimized performance and i installed win7 64bit but pooooo every thing is just went crash now these games run with 12-15frames secone max suggest me what should i do now downgrad my laptop or what thanks please read my comment and tell me what to do

  22. Hari Prasad 11 years ago

    I am interested to purchase HP-pavilion-dv6-6017TX- which is an Intel core Ir 2630qm @2.0Ghz. which comes with windows 7 home premium-64 bit operating system. Can i use this system for design software’s like uni graphics-NX6,NX7, pro-Engineering and autocad12…etc

    Please pass on your valuable comments.

  23. arshad 11 years ago

    hi hari my friend is using that same thing which you are talking about.but in my opinion a 64 bit os is good for gaming but if you are talking about soft ware disinging you should go for a 32 bit operating system because it is friendly with most of the software but if you are having 64 bit it may not be friendly or some software will not run in it that thing is good and you may buy it but try for windows 7 32 bit ultimate .please tell me that it was use full or not and can yousolve my problem.

  24. Fouad 11 years ago

    Dear Michael

    Thank you for this useful site.
    How much memory will a 32-bit application installed on a Win7-64bit with 16GB of RAM, use?
    1- 16GB addressable by the Win7 OS
    2- 3GB limitation because the application is 32bit
    3- Depending on the application itself
    (The Application is 3DS Max for example)
    Your prompt reply will be highly appreciated.

  25. Pradeep nama 11 years ago

    Can any one define me properly differences between architecture of Windows 7 x64 and Windows 7 x86.And suitable think about 32bit and 64bit system.

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