| By Michael Lasky |
In the brave new world of huge software packages and gigantic memory requirements, capacity counts.
Here’s what you need to know about upgrading from 32-bit to 64-bit machines — because sooner or later, upgrades will happen to you.
The new normal: 4GB of RAM and 500GB hard drives
The average PC sold today, desktop or notebook, has a 500GB hard drive, 4GB or more of RAM, and a blazing graphic processor — and costs less than the horse-and-buggy systems of the pre–Windows XP days. The escalating demand for hard-disk space and processing power is driven by the powerful software we now use and by ever-larger data files — especially digital images and video. Mindful of the need to let users adjust to change yet still have the option of upgrading legacy 32-bit machines, Microsoft offered both 32-bit and 64-bit versions of Windows 7 on the same installation disc, right from launch.
Although many Windows XP users still cling to their 32-bit systems as if they were life preservers on the Titanic, many more are moving to Windows 7 — and a surprisingly large number of those machines are 64-bit editions. Here’s why that change is good.
The move to 64-bit and Win7 goes hand in hand
Unlike any previous version of Windows, the use of a 64-bit operating system is tied closely with the rapid uptake of Win7. In July 2009, for example, Amazon.co.uk had more preorders for Win7 in just eight hours than it had had for Windows Vista in that OS’s first 17 weeks, according to a July 2009 BBC report. (I was unable to find Amazon U.S. preorder numbers.) Windows 7 quickly became the fastest-selling OS in Microsoft’s history.
And a lot of those sales were Win7 x64. A Microsoft blog stated that by June 2010, 46 percent of all PCs were running a 64-bit edition of the OS. It went on to report that only 11 percent of Vista PCs were using the 64-bit edition — three and a half years after that OS launched. The blog noted that, according to the NPD Group, 77 percent of April 2010, U.S. retail PC sales were Win7 x64 machines. That’s an astounding change.
Using 32-bit software: apps, yes; hardware, no
The first rule of using 32-bit code on Win7 x64 is that hardware drivers won’t run. You must use 64-bit hardware drivers for all internal and external devices.
Fortunately, the same is not true for applications. Just about any 32-bit Windows app that runs on XP will run without a snag on a 64-bit Windows system. That’s because of an integrated technology called Win32 on Win64 (WOW). This Win7 subsystem converts 32-bit API-call executables into 64-bit APIs. But the technology isn’t perfect. Although these converted executables work most of the time, they can fail if a particular application relies on proprietary, legacy 32-bit device drivers.