32bit vs 64bit. The War Continues

32bit vs 64bit. The War Continues

When AMD64 (AMD) and EM64T (Intel) CPU technology was new and ready for the prime market, there was much talk about whether the real-world was ready for 64bit computing in the consumer sector. At the time, 64bit computing had been around in the server sector for quite some time.

Well, it’s now 2013 and we are still talking about whether 64bit computing is ready, as opposed to good old reliable 32bit.

In my observations of the situation, there’s a few things that I would like to point out. 64bit computing is just perfect the way it is. The same goes for 32bit computing, for it’s target market it still serves its purpose well.

When the topic comes up for discussion, as it so often does particularly in the Linux community, there’s a particular theme that is consistent with all views of 32bit. The common theme and question pondered is “Why do we still have 32bit operating systems?”

It’s a perfectly acceptable question as most enthusiast Linux users (and even Windows OS users) run 64bit on their own system. It could probably be declared the default and standard architecture of choice. And the aforementioned question is always fueled even more when a technology company threatens to release X operating system in 64bit only. It leads to discussions of whether 32bit support should be dropped from the Linux kernel and so forth.

32bit, or i3(4,5,6)86 as it’s technically and correctly referred to, still have plenty of life in it yet. It’s generally still maintained for legacy hardware support. Yet there are still some products on the market that solely support 32bit only. My own work laptop runs 32bit Linux Mint 15, whilst my desktop system in the office is 64bit elementaryOS/Ubuntu. But without clear and full support for 32bit architecture, I wouldn’t have been able to recently update my work laptop with a nice updated Linux OS such as Mint 15. Why am I using 32bit? Because that is all that it supports at the hardware level. And this machine is still probably less than 2 years old.

And then there’s my desktop system, which does run 64bit but on an older Intel chipset. My CPU does not contain hardware virtualization support and therefore I am limited to running 32bit only OS’s in VirtualBox. This is not really an issue with virtual machines, because rarely would you allocate them enough memory to warrant running the 64bit version.

So there is a clear and warranted sector of the IT industry that still has a strong thirst for 32bit computing.

Then I get to my last example; My own distribution of Linux that I develop and release through a small organization that I operate. It started out as an i386 only project and then eventually the time came when we had to adapt to supporting 64bit, additionally. And only recently, we have dropped support for the 32bit architecture and remain 64bit only. I personally made this decision and am only now questioning whether I made the correct decision. As I have outlined above, there is still a market for 32bit. Friends have even said that they can’t test or use my distribution due to the fact that they only have support for 32bit, either in a physical or virtual environment. This raises issues with the future of my own project as I now have to decide whether to reinstate support for 32bit architectures.

It’s not about clinging on to the past or keeping dinosaur hardware alive. It’s all rubbish. It’s a simple fact that 32bit is still required and used by many users from all corners of the globe for many different purposes.

If there ever was a war between the two *bit architectures, it’s well and truly still alive and I don’t think it ever ceased.

Let us know in the comments if you still run a 32bit operating system. If so, which one and why?

  • Damian Black

    I run 64bit exclusively on my desktop; 32bit on my aging netbook simply because it’s a 32bit CPU. My next laptop WILL be 64bit. :P

  • enrico tognoni

    i like 64bit only because stronger chess engines are 64 bit, 32bit is more stable. If you dont need 64bit, 32bit is faster on 64bit machines :)

  • Kennon

    I’ve been running 64 bit Linux on desktops and servers now for many years. Up until around 3 years ago I would still run into some compatibility problems with it on the desktop side from time to time. But that has changed in the last few years and I honestly don’t even remember the last time I ran into any problems from running 64 bit. And the cool thing about it is if you load up the right libraries 64 bit Linux runs most 32-bit only apps just fine. Although it has been a while since I ran into an app I wanted to run that was 32-bit only.

  • Humble Servant

    64bit CPU + 32bit OS = 2GB RAM… 64bit CPU + 64bit OS = more than 2GB RAM. Now when your 64bit OS is running on that 64bit CPU and that XP era piece of hardware you’re trying to install only has 32bit drivers, them extra GB’s of RAM are gonna come in real handy when running that 32bit virtual machine….. ;you get the idea.

  • MatthiasShalom

    Can you explain us something about the Performanes please?

  • http://opinadorcompulsivo.blogspot.com Miquel Mayol i Tur

    I use Manjaro -arch – 64bits.
    I have just installed MS WOS 7 too for trying to unbrick one tablet
    MS WOS 7 64bits is a total disaster
    MS WOS 7 32bits is only a disaster, but works
    XP 32 bit machines migrated to Xubuntu 32 bits are great

    64 bits is a disaster for MS but there are not enough OS culture to migrate to massively to any Linux OS better if it is GNU/Linux.

    Perhaps the XP migration to Xubuntu or Lubuntu at old machines can be the awakening of GNU/Linux,at least to achieve the 10% market share use breaking point

  • Ruel Smith

    What war? 64 bit processors have been out so long, if you don’t have one, it’s time to get into the 21st century… It’s time we say goodbye to 32 bit.

  • Chris Jones

    As I have outlined above, there are still specific requirements for 32bit operating systems. Also, think of developing countries where technology is not as updated as first world.

  • ElectricPrism

    Someone better tell all the people in the US throwing away Athlon 64’s to donate them to said countries.

  • meet

    I use the 32 version of lubuntu or linux lite on my desktop because it is old and does not support 64 bit. Also my present needs with that desktop are completely satisfied with that architecture and memory and processor,etc . I don’t really require 64 bit systems; why bother with it?

  • nonya

    Good for you. Like a lot of people (myself included) you have hardware that works and suits your needs. No reason to spend money that could be better used elsewhere in these tough economic times. My two laptops are refurbished IBMs with 32 bit processors. My desktop is a refurbished Levono with a 64 bit dual core processor, but I run 32 bit OSs on it. Some programs that I use have problems with 64 bit OSs.

  • MrAli

    i run ubuntu 12.04 64bit. it is faster and more responsive than ubuntu 12.04 32bit version (it is my experience).

  • Carlie Coats

    Intel compilers, which (in an exercise in irony) you need if you’re doing high performance computing…

  • Ruel Smith

    You mean to tell me that developing countries still don’t have 10 year old technology? Give me a break…

  • drorharari

    When you have a dedicated machine for some function and the software it runs does not need more than 2Gb of RAM then using 32bit OS makes a lot of sense. Especially if that function (use) is virtual because a 32bit OS uses memory much more efficiently than a 64bit machine (all pointers in 32bit program are half as long as those in 64bit machines). Additionally, the per VM disk overhead of a 64bit OS is also quite larger than the equivalent 32bit OS (mainly since most 64bit OSes have also 32bit support for backward compatibility).

    When your use does require more memory, 64bit is the way to go.

    On the other hand, for most PC usage (consumer/pro), if you have new hardware you should go with 64bit OS since it can carry much more concurrently running processes and each of those processes could be 32bit anyway, making the memory utilization less of an issue (and in the PC case, disk space is also not an issue).

    For a software vendor, if the application could be used in virtual environments with many instances and with no real need for much memory, it should be best to keep support for 32bit for the reasons outlined above.

  • Enock Seth

    Agree with you about the developing countries. But technology is fast growing.

  • muthii

    I use 32 bit on my server an old PC which uses very little power mainly serving web pages and light media streaming, on my desktop I have a 64bit pc which I use for more processor intensive tasks. Recently I moved most of my internal media streaming to the Pi which is even more power efficient.
    I believe each of the different systems have their own uses and people will use them where they need them and by limiting the architectures you support only limits your audience.

  • zykoda

    32/64 bit is not a new argument. In the past, machines I have used have had 8, 16, 12, 24, 32, 48, 60, 64 and beyond bits. Most are now dinosaurs. Performance can decline with more bits. Precision is however always increased…sometimes to ridiculous levels bearing in mind the “problem posed”. Blind use of extra precision always requires careful treatment.