Is It Time for 64-bit on the Desktop?

I've been wary of 64-bit on the desktop, as the benefits are usually outweighed by the compatibility problems. I agree that 64-bit operating systems are inevitable in the big scheme of things, but I've struggled to see the relevance of 64-bit for typical desktop and laptop users. It's a novelty, albeit a necessary one for particular niche applications. However, I'm now beginning to think we could see a fairly broad switch to 64-bit desktop operating systems over the next few years-- much sooner than I anticipated.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original blog entry at:

Hi Jeff,
I dual boot between XP 32-Bit and Vista 64-bit on my system that has 4GB of ram in it, of course in the 32-bit OS it only shows 3GB of ram. I actually was running the Vista 64-bit RC and even then my driver issues were related to things like scanner functions in my all-in-one printer and drivers for my Razer mouse. All of the mainstream hardware devices had drivers. This is a far cry from what I encountered when I installed the XP 64-Bit RC. It reminded me of the old days when I would try to install Linux on a laptop.

Finally viable 64-bit OS with proper driver support… Bring on the applications to make me feel good about my 4GB of RAM!!!

True, 64bit platform does not magically increase performance like many people thinks.

However, I am not quite convinced that servers benefit from 64bit so much. After all, Crysis is just as good a benchmark as IIS. The req/sec havn’t changed much, but it seems the response time is significantly shorter. Any idea why?

Now that the transition to 64-bit seems to be going well, I just hope that software makers step up and start making sure that their software runs well in a many-core world. I could be wrong, but this seems like the next big hurdle.

It’s good to see more and more people are starting to make the leap to 64 bit without being scarred. The more people that migrate, the more pressure to modernize the software ecosystem.

The real threshold will come when OEM’s are forced to slap x64 OS’s on PC’s with 8GB of RAM.

In the meantime, I’m quite content with my 3.581 GB. :slight_smile:

64 bit on the windows desktop will never happen until Dell starts shipping 64 bit systems. And Dell won’t ship 64 bit systems until people start asking for them (chicken and egg problem). And people won’t ask for them until there is some compelling reason to make the switch. That compelling reason doesn’t exist today. But the memory limitations of 32 bit is about the closest thing we have right now. Without that, 32 bit OS’s would continue along their merry way for a good 10 years or more.

going from 32bit to 64bit increases by a factor of 4 billion not 4 million.

Reimar: The performance increase can easily be explained by the extra SSE registers that became available with the 64-bit architecture; and thus less cache misses. Most multimedia applications such as codecs and computer games have (some) hand optimized SSE code in there for performance reasons. When done well SSE optimizations can provide a 3 to 4x performance increase. This is a constant factor, since one SSE register can store 4 floating point values; which is what it’s usually used for which is only influenced by the parts of the application that don’t use SSE.

It seems like MS made sure everything that has a signed driver for Vista has both 32 and 64 bit versions. Unfortunately I still have some hardware that is not supported under 64 bit XP.

When Vista first came out, at work we found there were no drivers for a few bits of hardware (mostly SATA cards). We managed to install the XP drivers though and they worked flawlessly. Has anyone managed to go the other way, using Vista drivers under XP 64?

64bit is going to be the second and the last (after DX10) reason for the majority of WinXP users to switch to Vista.

“Will there be a transition to 128-bit machines and operating systems? Absolutely.”

I think you are being short-sighted, clearly we will need 256-bit pointers in the near future when we want to map every ZFS file system on every IPV6 addressable computer into virtual memory.

Who the hell needs more than 640kb of memory anyway?

you know what happened to 8bit-computing, do you?

I was using 64-bit Vista. Everything worked fine, even games. Then I went to college where the network dorks require anti-virus software to use the internet. So it’s back to 32-bit.

Mac OS X Leopard is x64, BTW. It doesn’t even give you an option to install 32 bit version if your machine is 64 bit capable. It also can use 32 bit drivers even though the OS itself is 64 bit. It doesn’t mention its 64 bitness anywhere either, because to be honest, why should a user care. That’s how it should be.

So, there are two corollaries:

  1. The x86 mass exodus has begun
  2. Apple is leading the way once again

but does that mean another full Vitsa Ultimate licence?

The Vista keys work on 32 or 64 bit versions. The keys are specific to the edition (Home Premium, Ultimate, etc) but not the bitness.

even a 32 bit Linux kernel can be configured so that every application can use (almost) 4 GB, the 2/3 GB limits are Windows-specific

The limits aren’t Windows specific, they’re tied to the x86 architecture. Sounds like you’re referring to PAE mode, which is a hack you can use on the server editions of Windows but not Vista or XP. 64-bit is preferable to PAE hacks, obviously, and especially on Linux-- you can just recompile everything from the source code!

Where was Windows in 2004? Where was Fedora 2 in 1996? Windows NT had 64-bit support for the DEC Alpha back then. There wasn’t enough use for it on the desktop and it was shelved.

The statement that Leopards kernel is 32-bit is a little strange. Tiger had no problems addressing of 32GB of RAM… which you might expect to be impossible. Obviously there’s something clever going on here that I’m yet to grapple with :).

Still worth keeping in mind: even though the kernel is 32-bit, it offers the same advantages as 64-bit kernel.

I apologies for asking this silly question but its been bothering me. I understand that 1 gb of your 4 is used for hardware slots, compatibility etc( I’m not sure exactly but I get the idea) but why is less used when you only have 2gb ram? Or is it imaginary until you actually have 4gb installed? In which case how does the computer use addresses for non-existing ram?

Well as an enthusiastic gamer I have to say:

Stay away from Vista x64.

Yes I tried it. Its really not worth the trouble. Sure there are drivers, but most of them seem like thrown together emergency code (just look at nvidia and creative soundblaster). Every other game has random crash-issues or just bad performance.

I agree, pretty soon 64bit becomes the new standard, as soon as we are approaching 8GB RAM as common. But as today I don’t see any reason to upgrade. I run with 4GB RAM, Windows XP-32 shows I’ve 3.5GB ram, so essentially I’m missing half a gig. But I’m pretty sure installing Vista 64 will decrease my overall performance even though I’ve more RAM avaible, given the resource-hog vista is.

It’s really a vicous circle right now. The switch from 32bit to 64bit is more or less tied to the switch from XP to Vista, including new driver a model and adaptation to DirectX 10 for games. This means a lots of software has to be modified or rewritten (including developer frameworks) to perform as well or at least to be stable enough. Since this doesn’t happen overnight, most user, like me, refuse to upgrade and while the marketshare of Vista64 stays low, software companys won’t make much effort to push for max compatibility.

So yeah, I recommed riding on 32bit as long as you possible can and hope by the time you have to switch, things will be better :wink: