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The Computer Buzz March 11th, 2010

Nome and Paul Van Middlesworth - owners - The Computer Fact


The what and why of 64bit operating systems

"Cactus Jack" has an effective way of answering tough technical questions from his customers. He gives them a long hateful stare, then say’s, “Hell, any damn fool knows it just the nature of it.” It stops them every time.

The technical and theoretical factors that make a 64bit OS (operating system) better than a 32bit OS stretch my ability to comprehend and surpass my ability to explain. The main advantage of a 64bit OS is its ability to use more memory and handle more information per clock cycle. A 64bit OS can address over 128Gb of RAM. A 32bit OS can see only a little over 3.0Gb of RAM. The 64bit operating system will also run compatible applications faster and more efficiently than a 32bit OS.

The secret is in the width of the data path. A data path that is 64 bits wide can carry twice as much information per clock cycle as one that is 32 bits wide. Lets say that highway 5 had 32 lanes between Camp Pendleton and downtown San Diego. Doubling the number of lanes to 64 should allow twice as many cars to travel that route during peak traffic hours. In reality of course, it probably would only double the number of cars in the southbound traffic jam North of the Del Mar Fairgrounds.

PC hardware has been ready for the transition from 32bit to 64bit operating systems since AMD released the first 64bit CPUs back in 2003. Windows XP, Vista and Win 7 have been available in 64bit versions for several years. In spite of the advantages of 64bit and the availability of compatible hardware and operating systems, large scale implementation of 64bit OS was delayed until very recently because of the scarcity of 64bit compatible applications software.

When Vista was released in 2007 it was decided to delay promoting the 64bit version because of the limited availability of 64bit applications. A 64bit OS must run 32bit programs in an emulation mode making the 32bit applications run even slower than they would in a 32bit OS. From the very beginning it was obvious that Vista was going to be much slower than Windows XP so Microsoft and the PC sellers decided it would be unwise to further enhance Vista’s perceived sluggishness by releasing the 64bit version into an environment where only 32 bit applications were available.

By mid 2009 enough 64bit compatible software was available to start pushing the 64bit operating systems. Since then, most PCs have been sold with either 64bit Vista or 64bit Windows 7.

Switching to a 64bit has been fairly easy for home users because most common use applications have been recoded to work in the 64bit mode. For many businesses the transition is not so easy. Business management programs specific to CPAs, Vets, property managers and hundreds of other professions have not been rewritten because of the expense of a recode and the limited number of users. These professionals are stuck in a 32 bit universe.





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