64-Bit Computing – Quick-Draw McGraw? Not!


in-the-beginning-image

In the Beginning…

At the beginning of this century 64-bit computing was starting to become available to the consumer as opposed to only mainframes and scientists.

Windows XP 64-bit became available in 2001. Intel provided us with the first 64-bit CPU’s, and I got very excited about the whole thing. I jumped on the 64-bit bandwagon yelling “Wave of the future!”

As soon as I could afford it I built a 64-bit computer and purchased a 64-bit operating system. Namely, Windows 7. I then waited, rubbing my hands together in anticipation of the grand influx of 64-bit software that I knew would quickly follow. I was about to be let down– big time.

13-years-later-image

Here it is, 13 years later, and Google Chrome just released a 64-bit version for Windows. Firefox has yet to follow this route and as far as I can tell has no intention of doing so in the near or far future. I believe I recently read they had abandoned the 64-bit builds entirely. How disappointing…

Note #1: You can get 64-bit Firefox versions from third-party sources: Waterfox and Palemoon are the two major ones I know about.


Note #2: I don’t use either one. I have tried them both and aside from being behind where updates are concerned, they haven’t proven themselves to me as a distinct improvement over their 32-bit counterparts.

Most games are still 32-bit as are many programs that people use on a daily basis. Sadly, this means that even though many computers are equipped with more than 4GB of RAM, the software simply can’t take advantage of it. So, what’s the hold up?

32-bit vs 64-bit

32-bit-vs-64-bit-imageThe main reason to adopt a 64-bit system, from a consumer standpoint, is memory. That is, to be able to access more than the 4 GigaBytes (GB) that 32-bit systems are restricted to. As an example, Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit can address a whopping 192GB of RAM. I have yet to see a consumer-grade motherboard that offers enough slots to install this much RAM, but Windows is ready if that day ever comes.

As of mid-2013, Gigabyte had a board that supported 288GB of RAM. I had no idea there were boards like this until I poked around for this article.

Incidentally, Windows 8.x Pro 64-bit can access 512GB of RAM.


The adoption rate of 64-bit systems has been woefully slow. As of mid-2010 only 46% of Windows users were employing a 64-bit system. Not surprisingly, Windows XP 64-bit adopters was a paltry 1%. I don’t know what today’s market share is but I’ll bet a dollar to a doughnut it hasn’t increased enough to make me happy.

That pedestrian adoption rate is the reason developers are slow to pump out 64-bit software. Unlike 32-bit software which can be run on 64-bit systems, the reverse is not true. They certainly don’t want to expend their time and effort publishing programs that cannot be run by the majority of consumers. And who can blame them?

It depresses me that consumers are slow to adopt new, and in my opinion better, systems. In a significant way this holds back progress that could be beneficial to all.

I am not suggesting that everyone should immediately jump at the first so-called system upgrade that comes along. I can understand waiting a few months for the bugs to be shaken out, but 13 years?!! Come now…

Richard

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About the Author

Richard Pedersen

Richard received his first computer, a C-64, in 1982 as a gift and began dabbling in BASIC. He was hooked! His love for computing has led him from the old “XT” boxes to the more modern fare and from clunky 10MB hard drives to smooth and fast modern day SSD drives. He has run BBS services, Fido mail, and even operated his own computer repair business.

11 Comments

  1. I have to kind of disagree with you, I have used a 64 bit system for probably close to 10 years now, maybe in the beginning there was a lack of 64 bit software but nowadays 64 bit software for whatever you are looking for is pretty common. I have no issues finding 64 bit browsers or applications.

    After having both 32 and 64 bit platforms I do not think I would ever used a 32 bit platform ever again, as a matter of fact I cannot wait for 128 bit to become the norm.

  2. Hi Ed,

    If you can find a 64-bit browser that is not third-party, more power to you. And I’d like to know about it.

    The only exception I am aware of is the newly released 64-bit Chrome. “Newly released” means like 13 years later… It’s not as though they were chomping at the bit or anything.

    A browser these days is one of the most basic programs a person can install on his system. Without it, you may as well be living in the woods and plugged into a tree. A little sap, anyone?

    My only argument is that 64-bit systems have been around for a long time now, and 64-bit software is waaaaay behind. And that is the users’ fault,

    Every 32-bit program, game, and/or utility you use is wasting all that inexpensive RAM that many outfits have made available.

    I totally agree with you when you say that 64-bit systems are the way to go.

    Unfortunately, so many have fallen behind,
    Richard

  3. As a Beta tester and user of Palemoon, I am surprised it was mentioned.
    I honestly can’t notice any difference in the 32-bit and 64-bit version of Palemoon, but must be my processor(FX-6300) and RAM(8GB DDR3)?
    You are absolutely right about the software being behind. I forget when the IE 64-bit came to be, let alone if I even tried it.
    People protested and Mozilla still continues the 64-bit Nightly.
    128-bit would come much closer and the gap might widen in 128-bit software delay.(I’ll put this aside for some other time)

    • Hey Megaman,

      I didn’t know the 64-bit version of Firefox was still being pursued.

      128-bit, here I come!! Another sucker rollicking in the wind…

      Good news, though,
      Richard

  4. I do not know why you say “If you can find a 64-bit browser that is not third-party, more power to you”. If you are running a 64 bit version of Windows, Internet explorer defaults to it’s own 64 bit version of the browser.

    Every 64 bit version of Windows has two versions of Internet Explorer, if you check you will have a version which is installed in C:\Program Files\Internet Explorer, This is the 64 bit version and another installed in C:\Program Files(X86)\Internet Explorer this being the 32 bit version. Both versions have come preinstalled with Windows 64 bit systems for as far back as I can remember.

    • Hi Mindblower,

      Start64, as far as I know, offers a good selection of “clean” Windows 64-bit software. It’s pretty much a one-stop shop, the layout is good and it’s easy to navigate. The convenience of being able to find all these programs in one place makes it a tempting choice.

      In the distant past, I have gotten programs from this site with no problems.
      In response to your request, I re-visited the site and found some of the information to be out-dated. This is probably not a big deal if you take things with a grain of salt. The information provided for a 64-bit Firefox version is one example. They said it was a work in progress; that is no longer true.

      As always, when downloading software from third-party sites, before installing them, test and re-test with various anti-malware utilities at your disposal. Do this until you are satisfied the software isn’t buggy and/or infected. Virus-Total is a great place to start. Web of Trust (WOT) is another. Of course, you’d also want to scan them with antivirus programs already installed on your computer.

      Creating a system restore point and/or a backup might not be a bad idea, either.

      I know it’s a pain in the neck, but it’s worth the relatively short amount of time it takes when compared to a complete system re-install, which can take days.

      The bottom line here is this– get your programs from the original publishers’ sites whenever possible.

      Also, keep in mind that 64-bit programs are not necessarily an improvement over their 32-bit counterparts. They aren’t always faster, they are almost always bigger, and unless the program will demonstrate noticeable benefits from having access to more RAM, it may end up being an exercise in frustration and wasted time.

      Richard

  5. Being a bit of a DIY graphics lover, I have always tested my pcs & laptops to their max ability & regularly max’d them out because the file got too big. 😉
    However it boils down to what the general retailers have for sale on their shelves. If they aren’t providing machines for the public to buy then most people can’t afford or have the technical capacity to build a specialty 64bit machine.
    My previous laptop was a Toshiba XP pro 32bit yada, yada with the biggest graphics card available at that time but I was always trying to access more RAM.
    When it came time to buy my latest laptop there were many more 64bit machines available but still they were at the top end pricing of the general retailing market. My most recent laptop was right at the top of the price range so much so that I had to pick & choose installed software so I could afford it. It’s an Asus ROG Win7 64bit yada yada with the biggest, fastest graphics card but still I find it slow with some software. It seems the 32bit softwares that I mostly use need a while to ramp up or process like there might be some sort of processor issue or the machine would prefer the software to be 64bit.

    Interesting about chrome being in 64bit now, I must check that out. However in the end it depends on the speed of the internet connection you have to your home. Being rural Australia, mine is notoriously slow at times so no amount of 64bit or top of the range anything will beat that little issue!