Q: Should I buy the 32-bit version of Windows 7 or the 64-bit version of Windows 7?
A: This is a question I’m often asked, and unless you are a computer enthusiast, I’d try to do everything you can to stick with the 32-bit version of an operating system (such as Windows 7 or Windows Vista).
First I’ll mention that the difference between a 32-bit and 64-bit operating system, grossly oversimplified, is that a 64-bit operating system can do things more efficiently than a 32-bit operating system. There are many caveats to this statement, the most important one being that the average user, using relatively new computer, will never be able to tell the difference. One of the big advantages of a 64-bit operating system is that a 64-bit OS can access more than 4GB of RAM, which is something 32-bit OS’s can’t do (e.g. Windows XP* [*Windows XP does have a 64-bit version but you’ll never see it commercially]).
Let’s talk about why you should NOT rush get a 64-bit OS.
1. Compatibility. Because 64-bit OS’s haven’t really taken off yet, there are many peripherials that don’t have 64-bit drivers. Practically speaking, this means that if you have a multifunction scanner, printer, fax, you have to make sure that the manufacturer has a 64-bit driver or you may not be able to use all the features of your multifunction device.
2. Software. Software must specifically be written for a 64-bit OS. Many newer mainstream programs (e.g. Micorosft products) do have 64-bit versions. The problem is that if your old machine was running an older version of Microsoft Office, the older version many not run on a 64-bit OS and you will now have to purchase a new version of Office. That’s fine if this expense were in your budget, but what happens if you have 4 or 5 programs like this — older ones that were working just fine on your XP machine that you really don’t want to change?
3. The RAM Factor. Some people ask, “But if a 64-bit Windows can use more RAM than Windows XP, isn’t that better?” The answer to that question is yes — if you are encoding mult-gigabyte video files or are using AutoCad with tremendous files, as well. Your average user using Microsoft Word or Excel while browsing the internet isn’t going to be able to take advantage of this increase in RAM. The problem is that the software either hasn’t caught up to the hardware, or has no need to use that much RAM. Think of it like your car — you car has a 120mph marker on the speedometer, but have you ever hit it? Have you ever really needed to go over 75mph on the highway? So while you car can hit 120, it will never use that potential because you will never be in the situation where 120mph is needed.
I’ll close by saying that many computer manufacturers are only showing their home users and home office users 64-bit OS machines. To get around this limitation, look in the small business section and you will see an array of 32-bit machines that you can purchase.