The Difference between 32-bit and 64-bit Windows and Why You Should Care


If you’ve bought a PC lately, you may have been confronted with the decision of whether to get your system with Windows 32-bit or 64-bit.   What the heck does that mean anyways?

I’m going to spoil the ending now – you want 64-bit if you want more than 4GB of memory in your PC, and we’ve reached the day where you should want 6 or 8GB of RAM in any new PC.  If you don’t do it now, I am sure you will end up wanting more memory before that computer reaches the end of its life.  You can’t just buy more RAM and add it later unless you are running 64-bit Windows.  Caution is needed, so read on and learn why and how…..


Windows and Memory
This bit issue is a legacy of the origins of Microsoft Windows, and refers essentially to the architecture they chose when developing the programs.  Translated, it affects you primarily in the amount of RAM memory the PC can use.  Back in the days of Windows 98 the program was 16-bit and could only access 512MB (0.5 GB) of RAM.  With Windows 2000 they (Microsoft) changed Windows to use a 32-bit memory space, thus raising the amount of RAM Windows could access to 4GB.  Along the way they also considered that high end computing at the time would even need more RAM than that, and they created a 64-bit version of Windows that could access up to 128GB of RAM. Since then, each version of Windows (XP, Vista and Windows 7) has been available in both versions (32 and 64-bit).  64-bit Windows 7 Professional can now support 192GB of RAM (that should last a while!)

Until recently, the mass computer marketplace has mostly ignored the 64-bit versions.  People just didn’t order computers with more than 4GB of RAM.  Either their programs didn’t need it, or the cost was a barrier.   Today, RAM is cheap and many modern applications are hungry for much more RAM.  As a result, Windows users are looking to purchase new PCs with 6GB, 8GB or even 16GB of RAM.


It may seem like a ‘no brainer’ then – just get your new PC with 64-bit and be done with it.  Before you jump, you need to be aware of some consequences.

One of the biggest issues is that 64-bit Windows needs 64-bit drivers for the peripherals you use.  For example, if you have a 7 year old multifunction printer you love, it is very likely that there won’t be 64-bit drivers for it.  The manufacturer probably didn’t develop drivers for 64-bit Windows back in the day when the printer was new (why would they, so few people used 64-bit), and mostly likely hasn’t been continually developing new Windows 7 drivers for their older models anyways.   The issue can affect anything you connect to your new PC:  Printers, Scanners, and literally anything you connect by USB.

Will your Applications run on 64-bit Window?  This is worth checking with your vendors in advance (just call them and ask, they have heard the question before and will know the answer).  Most applications are compiled to run as 32-bit.  This isn’t a game breaker, you can install 32-bit apps on 64-bit windows just as long as the app itself is OK with it (it will only be able to use 4GB of RAM even if you PC has 16GB).  If you’re lucky, your vendor will have a 64-bit version of their program, and it will likely run even better with access to more resources.  For example, Microsoft Office is available in 32 and 64-bit versions, but you need to make sure you are getting the 64-bit version.


What Should You Do?
In most cases today I think it’s a safe bet to get 64-bit at home, and get your PC with at least 6GB of RAM.  You’ll already find that most PCs at retails vendors like Costco and Best Buy are already coming in that configuration.

For your office, you need to do your diligence verifying the peripherals and software applications will work in a 64-bit environment.  You should switch to 64-bit if things align for you.   It has been my experience so far that in many cases there has been something that won’t work, and your choice then is to replace/upgrade the product that isn’t compatible, or to stick with 32-bit.

64-bit is the way to go if your programs and peripherals support it.  If they do – Go for it!

Another issue to consider is what version of Windows 7 to get – Home, Professional or Ultimate.  Please read my other Blog article What Version of Windows 7 is Right for You?

Since your existing IT person didn’t share this with you, perhaps you would consider working with the people that did. If you need a little help with your Practice, this is what MME Consulting does. Just give us a call at 866-419-1102 or check us out online at

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By Steve McEvoy

Car Guy, Nerd, Canadian hiding in California