64bit - Why, when and how should you make the swap. - Geek Guru

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64bit – Why, when and how should you make the swap.

You’d have to have had your head in the sand for the last 5 years not to have heard the terms 32bit and 64bit but what do these terms actually mean for you as a business. The trend is towards all computers becoming 64bit over the next decade but the average PC user probably doesn’t even know whether their PC is 64bit or not.

Most people probably don’t remember the move to 32bit versions of Windows. Windows 95 was the first O/S to natively support 32bit applications but back then the switch just happened and everyone got on with it. The move to 64bit has recieved much greater fanfare and has been greeted with much greater confusion from consumers and businesses alike. This is not least in part to there being a choice to make when purchasing a PC. Windows 95 was 32bit, you purchased a PC with Windows 95 pre-loaded and you got a 32bit machine. No Choices and no confusion. With Windows Vista and now Windows 7 you get a choice each and every time you buy a PC – stick with 32bit or make the jump to 64bit. As this article will hopefully show, the choice is actually not that difficult (and probably for most users not that important either)

There are plenty of technical descriptions of 32bit and 64bit architecture and those that are interested could do worse than reading the relevant Wiki articles. However, for the average user all they really need to know is that 64bit machines are capable of recognising and utilising larger amounts of RAM. 32bit machines are limited by physical constraints to a maximum of around 3.5GB of RAM but 64bit machines can go far higher indeed (limited at present by the size of RAM chips available rather than physical architecture). Now, here is the important thing – If you don’t require more than 4GB (and most general business users do not) then going to 64bit probably won’t make any noticeable difference to the performance of your machine.

Users that will notice an immediate benefit are those that do require more than 4GB. These include:

  • Users who keep a lot of applications open at once
  • Graphic Designers or those who use RAM hungry applications
  • CAD engineers working with large files
  • Musicians or those working with HD audio files
  • Videographers and home users who edit camcorder video
  • Power users and gamers

So from a user perspective it makes little difference which architecture you use unless you plan to pop more than 4GB in your machine. However, there are some other issues to consider from an administrative and IT support point of view. 64bit systems require 64bit drivers. Almost all modern peripherals and printers will come with 64bit drivers but older equipment may not. In these cases it can be difficult , if not impossible, to get older equipment working on 64bit machines. It’s therefore worth checking the drivers for all important peripherals before you make the switch to avoid any nasty surprises.

Lastly, from a server perspective it’s worth mentioning that all modern Microsoft servers are 64bit. Microsoft (thankfully) decided to scrap 32bit versions of their server software from 2008 R2 onwards which means any new servers are going to be 64bit. This makes perfect sense as servers are very RAM hungry and will almost always come with more than 4GB of RAM on board. Modern server hardware will always have 64bit drivers available and access to cheap RAM means that even small business servers are now available with specifications that 3 years ago were the preserve of large enterprises. For most servers this is win/win but it does lead to ramifications (no pun intended) for print servers, which will suffer from the same driver issues as 64bit client machines, and will also involve greater administration in mixed 32bit/64bit networks.

As with everything we discuss in this blog, if in doubt, ask the experts (that’s us by the way). Web have vast experience managing 64bit migrations and can advise on the best course for you as a business. All our clients are unique and we can help you avoid the pitfalls and make the right choices moving forward.

Posted on by Tim
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