32bit or 64bit Windows Installation?

Okay, so you’re wanting to install Windows, but which is “better”? A 32bit installation or a 64bit installation. Most systems these days ship with 64bit installations by default. The reasoning is fairly simple.

The primary reason you’d most likely want to install a 64bit version of Windows is to effectively “future proof” your computer. One of the primary limitations of a 32bit installation of Windows is the fact that it cannot handle anymore than around 3.25GB of memory. Any more than the stated amount and the rest will simply remain unused. A 64bit installation can handle a much larger amount of memory. Depending on which version of Windows you’re running however there may still be additional limitations. For example, a 64bit installation of Windows 7 Starter & Home Basic can handle the maximum amount of 8GB of memory, Home Premium 16GB, and the rest of the versions 192GB.

So memory is one of the primary reasons to use a 64bit installation of Windows. Also take into account that a 64bit version of Windows typically requires a higher minimum amount of memory than with a 32bit installation. Another reason you’d likely want to use a 64bit installation of Windows is that a lot of memory / CPU intensive applications built for a 64bit installation will benefit in regards to overall performance.

Now you may be thinking “What will and will not be compatible with my new 64bit installation?”. Typically there’s not much to get in the way in terms of application compatibility as even if it’s a 32bit executable, a 64bit Windows installation should still be able to run the application. Usually one of the main headaches with upgrading from a 32bit Windows installation to a 64bit installation is that there’s no way to perform a direct upgrade with all files & settings intact. In other words, you’ll more than likely have to perform a clean install if you’re upgrading from a 32bit Windows installation to a 64bit installation.

Compatibility in regards to your hardware might differ however. Before forking out your hard earned cash on a 64bit installation it’s probably worth checking that all of your components are 64bit-ready, and perhaps even a peripheral check too. If it’s a particularly older system, chances are your processor might not support 64bit operation. In such a case it may be worth checking if you can upgrade your processor to a 64bit-capable processor and in some cases the motherboard may also need to be replaced. It’s fairly safe to say though that most newer systems are fully 64bit capable.

So all-in-all a 64bit version of Windows is something you should probably aim for, if you’ve already got a system with a 32bit installation and it’s working fine, performs adequately and you have no plans on upgrading the memory past the 3.25GB mark, then there’s no real reason to upgrade, but if you want to put more memory in and prepare your computer that little bit more for the heavier, more intensive applications of the future, go for the 64bit installation.