Is my computer 32 or 64 bit and what is the difference?

In the world of computers, it is easy to get lost in all those technical jargons used to describe various technologies.

As much as some of these jargons may sound complicated, especially to those who have little or no knowledge in computer and technological terms, it is important to familiarize yourself with these terms.

Besides gaining knowledge on what the terms mean, it also helps you make a decision on which technology best suits your needs. If you have purchased a computer or new software you’ve probably come across the term 32 bit or 64 bit.

Well, you may have acted oblivious to these two terms but gaining a bit of knowledge about these terms can make a whole new difference in term of determining your computer’s performance speed.

But before we jump straight into the differences between a 32 and a 64-bit computer, let’s start from the basics.

What is a Bit?

The term bit is a contraction of the word ‘binary digit’. It is a basic unit of information used in computing and digital communications. A bit exist as a single binary value, either 0 or 1, which can be interpreted as logical values (true or false), algebraic signs or activation signs.

In most computer systems, eight bits form a byte that serves a basis for storing data and executing instructions. Generally, information is processed either in 32-bit or 62-bit; either by a computer’s hardware (Central Processing Unit) or programs.

With the earliest computers, they used 16-bit processors, which mean that they were capable of handling 16-bit binary numbers. Anything larger than that and the computer would need to break up the number into smaller manageable pieces.

Later on, the 32-bit processors were introduced, which could handle twice the number of bits the earlier version would process.

64-bit vs 32-bit

64-bit and 32-bit are used to describe the two common architectures used in the CPU. A 64-bit refers to processors with data paths and a memory address width of 64 bits. Such processors come in either dual-core, quad-core, six-core or eight-core versions for home computing, which allow for an increased number of calculations per second performed by the processors.

As such, 64-bit processors are able to handle more calculations required by programs to run smoothly. This means that a computer with a multi-core 64-processor. The main difference, however, is in terms of the size of bits each processor can address.

A 64-bit processor includes a 64-bit register which can store up to 2^64 which is over 18 quintillion bits of information. Hence a processor with 64-bit memory addresses can directly access more than 4GB RAM.

A 32-bit processor, on the other hand, includes a 32-bit register which can store up to 2^32 bits or 4 GB of information, resulting in a limited amount of memory that a computer can use.

As a matter of fact, a computer with a 32-bit processor is constrained to a maximum of 2 GB or 4 GB RAM access.

In simpler terms, to summarize the differences, 64-bit processors can address an infinite memory size leaving the CPU with limitless RAM memory to utilize while the 32-bit processors have a limited RAM memory size and thus process information slower.

The case is the same in terms of software or operating systems that are either 32-bit or 64 bit. The 32-bit version of an OS or program can only utilize up to 4 GB or less of RAM while the 64-bit uses more than 4 GB RAM.

Heavy applications such as image editing software, AutoCAD, and games could have a significant performance boost if your machine is packed with 64-bit OS. It should be noted that a 32-bit OS is compatible with a 64-bit processor but a 64-bit program cannot run smoothly in a 32-bit processor.

Actually, this one of the major reasons why a computer with a 64-bit processor, may not be as fast as expected since most of the programs are 32-bit version and hence are not able to take advantage of the RAM.

To advantage of the 64-bit CPU, and experience great performance, you need to install 64-bit OS on your machine. Nonetheless, the bottom line is, compatibility should also be ensured between an operating system and programs downloaded or installed.

64-bit programs should be run on 64-bit OS and the same case applies to the 32-bit programs.

Determining which version of the operating system is in your PC

After learning the differences between the two types of processor architecture, it not uncommon to be a little curious to know which architect type is running on your computer. Let’s start with Mac Pro users; 

  • Open the Apple menu and select ‘About This Mac’ option.
  • Click the System Report button. If you don’t see the button right away, click the ‘More info’ button after which the ‘System Report’ button will appear, and then you can click on it.
  • Once you have done that, the Hardware panel will appear, from where you are supposed to locate the Processor Name in the Hardware overview.
  • There are a variety of processor’s names that will be displayed depending on the architect of your processor type. If you see Intel Core Solo, Intel Core Duo displayed then it means your processor is made of the 32-bit architect. As for the 62-bit architect, you will probably see either; Core i3, Core i5, Core i7, Quad-Core Intel Xeon, Dual-Core Intel Xeon, Intel Quad-Core Xeon or Intel Core 2 Duo.

To determine the system type for Windows OS, use the following guidelines.

  • Click Start , type system in the Start Search box, and then click System Information in the Programs list.
  • In the System Information dialogue displayed, navigate to the System Summary panel and look for ‘System type’.
  • If the information displayed reads’ x64-based pc’ then you have a 64-bit system; similarly, if it reads ‘x32-based pc’ you have a 32-bit system.

Choosing Between 32-bit and 64-bit

As mentioned earlier, familiarizing yourself with the type of processor architect used in your computer is one of the best ways of ensuring you purchase a computer that well serves your needs. If you are into gaming or video and graphics editing a computer with a 64-bit processor is the most viable option for you.

Apart from having more RAM on a 64-bit computer, the programs run faster especially if they are also 64-bit version. Theoretically, the 64-bit architecture can hold over a mammoth 17 billion GB of RAM, and with more RAM the greater the speed.

Additionally, with the 64-bit architecture, the efficiency skies high as well. This is particularly because of the 64-bit addressing scheme, whereby, the entire RAM is used and the burden on the system memory is eased off.

But there is more to a 64-bit system than just the ability to rock more RAM and heightened efficiency. As far as security is concerned, a 64-bit system protects you better than a 32-bit system.

Actually, this is the main reason why more systems running on 32 bit are more compromised in terms of security, as compared to 64 bit systems. Most 64-bit computers feature additional security such as the hardware D.E.P and the Kernel Patch Protection that protect the boot sector, which has become the most targeted zone in computers in the recent few years.

Moreover, 64-bit systems accept only the digitally signed device drivers meaning that there are very minimal chances of drivers-related infections.

The main drawback of the 64-bit system arises from the benefit of additional security on drivers. 64-bit processors tend to fail supporting old device drivers; this means that it may be daunting trying to use a device you purchased some years ago on your 64-bit computer.

This is because finding device drivers is not easy. Another bottleneck of the 64-bit processors is that they do not support software based on earlier architectural schemes.

Upgrading to 64-bit

Given the advantages of a 64-bit system its 32-bit counterpart, you might consider upgrading your computer to 64-bit. Besides, who doesn’t want a high performing computer? However, upgrading is not as easy as it sounds.

First, it is important to note that 32-bit and 64-bit are both used to describe a processors power and also the operating system version running in your computer. If your computer has a 32-bit processor (you can check using the above-outlined ways), and want to upgrade to a 64-bit processor, you might consider investing in a 64-bit CPU from a reliable manufacturer.

In addition, you will be required to get a new motherboard that is compatible with the 64-bit processor. Well, upgrading these components can be pretty expensive that’s why it is recommended you buy a new system that has a 64-bit processor.

As for the operating system, upgrading to a 64-bit version requires that your computer has a 64-bit processor in order to ensure compatibility. If your processor is already compatible with a 64-bit operating system, you will have to buy the 64-bit OS version from a vendor, as it is impossible to download such a version over the internet.

As a matter of fact, the versions of OS available for download only serve as upgrades of certain features but not as a full installation package from 32-bit to 64-bit; especially in the case of Windows 10.

If your computer runs on Microsoft Windows OS, there is no direct path to switching from 32-bit version of Windows to 64-bit version. The only way out is to make a clean installation of the Windows, which can easily be done using a bootable device.

Remember the OS version must be compatible with your processor’s architecture. To create a bootable device, you will have to install the new windows version on a USB drive or on a blank CD. This is the only alternative away from purchasing an installation disk.

Since reinstallation of a new operating system involves making significant changes to your current installation which can lead to loss of data, it’s recommended you first back up your data.

Once you have the Windows version installed in your device, restart your computer with the bootable media by changing the BIOS to boot with the media. You can do this by frequently pressing F8 or F11 button when restarting your computer.

On the Windows Setup tab click the next button which will prompt you to select the Install Now button. If your previous OS wasn’t properly activated, you might be required to enter a new product key, so ensure you have one in such an instance.

After that the rest of the installation part is easy, all you have to do is to read and accept the terms and conditions and click on Custom Installation. Finally, select the partition you want the OS installed and with that, you will have upgraded to 64-bit Windows version.

Other Considerations with 64-bit

If your computer is one of the earliest to use the 64-bit architecture, it might be missing support of a few minor features. As a result, this can cause some issues when upgrading to 64-bit OS; thus be sure to check whether your hardware is compatible with 64-bit OS.

But if your computer is just a few years old it is likely that you will not have any issues upgrading from 32-bit to 64-bit operating system.

Similarly, if you are using old devices such as printers on a 32-bit OS, it is better for you to stick with the 32-bit operating system, since it may fail to work on modern version OS. The rule of the thumb here is to ensure you also update your tools before you can upgrade your OS.

Final Thoughts

Knowing the difference whether your computer is 64-bit or 32-bit is important so you can ensure that you install the right kinds of software and device drivers.

So, the next time you are installing a new OS or program you know which one to pick depending on the processor architecture of your computer as well as OS version.

About the author

Lamin
Lamin

Geek Life Activated is my little corner on the web. I'm very passionate about tech, and i aim to use this blog to express that. I currently work as a System Administrator, and i love every second of it. I'm still new at it, so i'm learning something new everyday. I'm pretty open to learning new things, so please feel free to correct me if i'm wrong about anything, and you can contact me anytime you want. I'm a very easy person to talk to. :)

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