64-bit vs. 32 bits: what’s the difference?
Choosing a processor or operating system is not a simple task, especially when technical terms that sound to us about Chinese begin to emerge.
When installing an operating system you have the option to use the 32-bit or 64-bit version. When you buy a computer CPU or a smartphone, you discover that there are processors of 32 and 64 bits. What is the difference between them? Which is better? Do you really notice any improvement between one or the other? Let’s try to answer these questions.
In computing many concepts are associated with bits, because bits are the DNA of computer science, and therefore everything revolves around them.
A bit is the minimum amount of information because it can only have two values, 0 or 1. It is used to describe the on or off state of the transistors that make up the chips, or also when there is no electric current.
Since a bit has only two values, the language of computers is binary language. To communicate with them we have to convert our letters and numbers to a unique combination of zeros and ones. In this way, the number 123, for example, is encoded as 1111011, while the letter A in ASCII code (one of the methods used to encode) is 01000001.
Depending on the number of existing letters and numbers, and other technical issues, it was decided to group the bits from 8 to 8, to format one byte.
This grouping is used not only for coding, but in other concepts such as the size of the records (a kind of transport boxes) that move the data from one site to another within a program.
That’s why we now have operating systems and 32-bit (8 x 4) or 64-bit (8 x 8) processors, always multiples of eight. Sometimes it is also written as 64-bit or x64.
The Evolution of Processors
We have seen how bits are grouped not only to count but also to translate from conventional language that is used in programming to the binary language of computers. When designing a CPU or processor, a key data is the size of the registers, used to transport data between the processor and memory, among other things. The number of bits they can carry is the base of the processor, and sets limits as the maximum memory you can use, or the data accessible in a clock cycle of the CPU. For example, an 8-bit register allows a maximum of 256 combinations, so you can only access 256 memory addresses unless you use more than one register at a time. But a processor has a limited number of registers for different tasks, so you can only use one or two to access memory.
We do not want to turn the article into a boring technical tutorial, but basically this explanation serves to discover that the bits of a processor fix several limitations, such as the amount of memory you can access, or processing speed.
The first home microprocessor was created by Intel in 1971. The Intel 4004 was a 4-bit processor, and was used in calculators. In 1972 it launched the model Intel 8008 that already used 8 bits, and was the first one destined to the computers. It had 4500 transistors and could run 200,000 instructions per second. The first 16-bit CPU was the Intel 8086, which gave rise to all the x86 processor architecture that is still used today. It was released in 1978.
The first 32-bit processor, the 80386, was commercialized in 1986. The 64-bit was popular with the DEC Alpha CPU in 1992. All PC processors manufactured in the last 10 years are 64-bit so it will surely be the one Have, unless your computer is very old.
The use of 64-bit processors in smartphones is more recent. They were released with the iPhone 5S and its A7 processor in 2013. Major manufacturers like Qualcomm or Samsung also have 64-bit mobile processors.
What is the difference between them?
When you buy a smartphone or a computer and you have the option to choose between a 32 or 64 bit processor … Which one to pick?
32-bit processors are cheaper and less consuming, but are also often less powerful.
32-bit processors can only address 4 GB of memory. They can not use more than 4 GB of RAM directly and in many cases can not handle files of more than 4 GB.
64-bit processors have specific 64-bit instructions. Run programs faster if the software is designed to use 64-bit code.
In the mobile environment, 64-bit CPUs can handle encryption more efficiently and manage the battery better.
To know if your processor is 32 or 64 bits, you must use a program that identifies the hardware of your equipment.
On PC you can use CPU-Z, it’s free.
On Android you have CPU-X.
If you do not explicitly indicate whether the CPU is 64-bit, look for extensions or instruction sets that indicate 64-bit support:
You can also search the manufacturer’s website for the CPU model, and consult the specifications.
Software vs. hardware
A 64-bit processor is theoretically more powerful and versatile than a 32-bit processor. But in practice there will be differences only if the software leverages its advantages. Therefore, if we have purchased a 64-bit processor, either on the computer or the smartphone, to take advantage of it we must ensure that both the operating system and the applications we use, are 64-bit.
Prior to Windows 95, all software was 16-bit. Windows 95 released 32-bit home applications, and although Windows 7 and Windows 10 have 64-bit versions, even today many applications work only in 32-bit mode.
When you buy a smartphone it comes with the 64-bit version of Android or iOS. In the case of a computer, you must make sure that you install the correct Linux or Windows version. The disk version of Windows 10 always includes 32-bit and 64-bit disks, and so does the download version. A 64-bit processor can work with a 32-bit operating system or software, but will not take advantage of all its functions. If you have Windows, to see what version you have just go to the Control Panel, and enter into System. Here it tells you if you have the 32 or 64 bit version, both Windows and CPU:
You should also take into account the programs. If the processor and operating system are 64-bit, it will not do much if you continue to use 32-bit applications. To be honest, for compatibility most programs are still 32-bit, or only offer a single version that installs one or other libraries automatically. But more and more software is offered in 32 or 64 bit versions, so make sure you install the correct one. Applications that require a lot of memory such as graphic design programs, video editing, video games, etc. Are the ones that take advantage of the 64-bit code better.
For example, the popular 7-Zip decompressor software can be downloaded in 32-bit or 64-bit versions:
7-ZIP of 32 & 64 BITS
Keep in mind that a 64-bit operating system or processor can use 32-bit software, but not the other way around: 64-bit programs will not work on a 32-bit system.
Windows has separate folders for automatic installations of 32-bit and 64-bit programs. In PC 32-bit versions are sometimes referenced as x86, because it is code compatible with the original architecture of PCs, so if you enter the hard disk where Windows is installed (C 🙂 you will see these folders:
PROGRAMS FILES 32 & 64 BITS
In Program Files (x86) 32-bit applications are installed, and in the other folder, 64-bit applications are installed. It is not a simple method to sort, because with each Windows folder it associates a series of 32-bit or 64-bit DLL libraries, so if you install a 32-bit program in Program Files, it probably will not work until you install it in Files Program (x86).
In iOS and MacOS, being closed systems controlled by Apple, for a couple of years all applications are 64-bit. On Android, if your smartphone has a version lower than Android 5.0 Lollipop still uses 32-bit applications.
Both hardware and 32-bit software are out of use so, if the budget allows, it is advisable to jump to 64 bits to take advantage of the most advanced features of the latest hardware and software.
Now that you are clear the difference between processors of 32 and 64 bits, you know which is the best option nowadays.