We’ve reached the tipping point. Many of you will buy 64-bit versions of Vista on your new computers from now on, and almost all of you will buy a 64-bit version of Windows 7. Here’s Microsoft’s description of what that means, and here’s an article boosting the 64-bit version of Windows 7.
I wish I could tell you what that means in plain English. I don’t really know. It has to do with the amount of memory that the operating system can use and how it moves the bits around in microhyperspace. Possibly not “microhyperspace.” Some geeky word like that.
- The maximum amount of memory that a 32-bit Windows XP or Vista computer can use is 4Gb.
- The 64-bit versions of Vista and Windows 7 start to come alive at 4Gb and the maximum amount they can handle is a really, really large number. (I just looked it up in Wikipedia. A 64-bit CPU can address up to 17.2 billion gigabytes of memory. That seems like a high enough ceiling for a while.)
Intel’s Core 2 Duo processors and later models are all capable of running a 64-bit operating system, but few of you have purchased one. That’s about to change. The stores are stocking computers on the shelves with 64-bit versions of Vista and generous amounts of memory – 6Gb and more on discount home machines. Memory is so cheap that I recommend 4Gb of RAM on all new computers, and you won’t regret having more, especially a couple of years from now when programs have become even bigger and we’re doing more with our computers than ever before.
The effect on speed and responsiveness is not enormous, not at first. People who do video editing, hardcore photo work, or who run many programs concurrently will notice a difference right away. The software developers are writing versions of their programs that are optimized for 64-bit systems, where the difference will be more pronounced. Buying a 64-bit system will make your computer a little more future-proof.
Almost all software will run seamlessly on your 64-bit computer. The 64-bit versions of Windows do technical magic to run 32-bit programs in such a way that they don’t notice the difference. There will be some compatibility problems with older programs (I saw a comment that said programs built on the JET database will not run, and there are likely to be others), and developers are still playing catch-up on some current programs – Adobe’s Flash player does not run in the 64-bit Internet Explorer browser, for example. I expect most of those problems to be ironed out before Windows 7 appears in October.
There will be issues with hardware, since each piece of hardware needs a driver specifically written for a 64-bit operating system. Some old hardware just won’t work. There will be printers that won’t print, scanners that won’t scan, and I won’t have any answer. That won’t be as much of a problem as it sounds. Manufacturers can see this coming and 64-bit drivers are appearing left and right, for old and new devices alike. The odds are getting better that your hardware will just work when you plug it in.
In October this will still seem a little mysterious. Two years from now, 64-bit systems will be the norm. If you want to buy a system that will still seem speedy and state-of-the-art in a few years, get a 64-bit computer, stuff it full of memory, and expect a few bumps in the road before everything is working perfectly.
If you’re buying a computer for your office, move a little more slowly and check out your line-of-business software and the hardware you can’t live without before you jump in.