Windows 7 32 bit vs 64 bit

A client recently bought a computer off the shelf loaded with a Windows 7 64 bit OS. Why? That’s just the way it came. Later he asked us if that was the right decision.

We are in a transition period from 32 bit to 64 bit systems. As with any transition there are disadvantages for the early adopters of the newer technology. First came 64 bit processors, then 64 bit operating systems, then other 64 bit software to take advantage of the new processors.

The main disadvantage of 32 bit systems is the limitation on RAM. 32 bit computers are limited to using 4 GB of physical RAM with 3 to 3.4 GB available to you, the user. It sounds like a lot of RAM, and it is, unless you are working with large files as in video editing or major scientific work. But hell, watching a DVD on your computer can have a 4 GB file.

The advantage of 32 bit is that it’s accepted technology – everything works.

With 64 bit Windows you can use tons of RAM – many new computers are loaded with 12 or 16 GB of RAM –  but you may run into problems with hardware drivers and software add-ons.

Before buying a new computer with Windows 7 64 bit on it check your printer, scanner or other hardware manufacturer’s web site and see if they have 64 bit drivers for your hardware. If not, it may be unusable on your new system.

Windows 7 64 bit can run 32 bit applications using ’emulation’ but it doesn’t work for drivers which operate between the OS and the hardware. It also may actually slow down the 32 bit application by running it on a 64 bit OS.

Another problem I mentioned is add-ons. Even if the basic program is compiled to run in 64 bit, add-ons and plugins generally are not. Even Microsoft recommends 32 bit Office 2010 for this reason.

Will a 64bit version of the Office 2010 product be available?Yes, 64-bit Office 2010 product upgrades will be available. However we strongly recommend most users install 32-bit version of Office 2010 on both 32 and 64-bit Operating Systems because currently many common add-ins for Office will not function in the 64-bit edition. The 64-bit installation of Microsoft Office 2010 products will be available for users who commonly use very large documents or data set and need Excel 2010 programs to access greater than 2GB of memory. There may be technical issues with the 64-bit version and in order to install a 64-bit version of Office 2010 product users must have a 64-bit supported operating system on their PC.

If you are using a 64 bit web browser there will be severe limitations on the available add-ons.


If your hardware has 64 bit drivers available then we recommend getting 64 bit Windows 7. Even if all of your software is 32 bit for now, within 2 or 3 years the software will be catching up with your hardware. If your hardware is limited then you won’t be in a position to take advantage of new software.