32-bit hardware and software systems, at times referred as x86 or x86-32, work with data in 32-bit pieces. In contrast, 64-bit hardware and software systems, or x64 or x86-64, use data in 64-bit pieces. Theoretically, the more data in general that can be processed at any one time, the faster the system can perform.

An immediate practical advantage that 64-bit systems offer is the use of greater amounts of RAM. Most new computer systems today include new processors based on 64-bit architecture. While it is obvious that these systems support 64-bit operating systems, they are also compatible with 32-bit operating systems. The converse is not true viz. 32-bit hardware cannot support 64-bit operating systems.

Comparison chart

32-bit versus 64-bit comparison chart
Edit this comparison chart32-bit64-bit
Number of bits 32 64
Architecture and Software Description 32-bit architecture is based on registers, address or data buses 32 bits (4 octets) wide. For software, 32-bit typically means use of 32-bit linear address space. 64-bit architecture is based on registers, address or data buses 64 bits (8 octets) wide. For software, 64-bit means code use with 64-bit virtual memory addresses.
Compatibility 32-bit operating systems (OS) and applications require 32-bit CPUs 64-bit OS requires 64-bit CPU, and 64-bit applications need a 64-bit OS and CPU
Systems Available All editions of Windows 8, Windows 7, Windows Vista, and Windows XP, Linux XP Professional, Windows Vista, Windows 7, Windows 8, as well as Mac OS X and Linux
Memory Limits 32-bit systems are limited to 3.2 Gigabytes (GB) of RAM 32 bit Windows with address limitation do not attain to a full 4GB. It's hardware dependent, typically 3.25GB. 64-bit systems allow up to 17 Billion GB of RAM.
Pros Fewer issues, more widely compatible • More RAM access • More efficiency • More virtual memory allocation • More security features
Cons Less RAM access, less memory, less efficiency, fewer security features • Possible driver compatibility • Some motherboard RAM limits • Legacy issues

Architecture and Software

A microprocessor on a motherboard.

32-bit and 64-bit are terms referencing on how a processor embedded in the computer, or CPU, handles data. A 32 bit architecture allows the arithmetic and logic unit (ALU), or digital circuit, to perform 32-bit integer arithmetic and logical operations.

For architecture with 64-bits, it allows a 64-bit version of Windows to handle large amounts of RAM better than a 32-bit system. Also a 64-bit system has 64-bit address registers, with data registers and the data bus typically equivalent in size as the address registers. So, 64-bit CPU and ALU architectures have matching registers and address, or data, buses in like values.


What is compatible with a 32-bit CPU?

A 32-bit processor cannot run an operating system designed for 64-bit CPUs. Nor does it support 64-bit applications. 32-bit CPUs can only run a 32-bit OS and applications designed for 32-bit operating systems.

Processor (CPU)32-bit32-bit32-bit32-bit
Operating System (OS)32-bit32-bit64-bit64-bit
Application program32-bit64-bit No No

What is compatible with a 64-bit CPU?

64-bit systems are generally backward-compatible and support both 32-bit operating systems and 32-bit applications.

Processor (CPU)64-bit64-bit64-bit64-bit
Operating System (OS)32-bit32-bit64-bit64-bit
Application program32-bit64-bit32-bit64-bit


32-bit systems have a limitation on how much memory they can address (or point to). This limit is 4GB. While memory usually refers to RAM, this limit also includes memory in the other devices in the system like video, audio and network adapters. The combined limit for RAM,graphics(GPU) RAM, PCI memory range and a few other components is 4GB.[1]

The practical implications of this are that 32-bit Windows, for example, cannot take full advantage of 4GB RAM, and it typically shows 3.25GB. Installing more RAM is always an option, but 32-bit systems would simply not be able to use any RAM over its limit. A 64-bit version can address up to 8TB. With current systems unable to take full advantage of capacity, systems now are available with installed RAM far exceeding the 4 GB limits of 32-bit systems.

Choosing an OS for VPS

When using a virtual private server (VPS) like Linode or DigitalOcean, system administrators are often constrained by how much RAM is available. So they often recommend using a 32-bit Linux distribution to use on a VPS rather than a 64-bit operating system.

Pros and Cons

Benefits of 64-bit systems include:

There are a few cons, which include the following:

Windows Systems

Windows 8, both with its Standard and Pro versions, is available in 32-bit and 64-bit distributions. Prior to its launch of Windows 7, Microsoft stated that its Windows 8 would be the last Windows to support 32-bit architecture. With the final move of its apps, drivers and plug-ins to 64-bits, Windows will not provide 32-bit backwards compatibility. For present systems still requiring Windows XP support, it can be found through sandboxed virtualization, which was done in Windows Server 2008.

Subsequently, computers will need 64-bit-capable processors. If you are using Windows, you can check whether your processor is 64-bit by doing the following :

  1. Open Performance Information and Tools by clicking the Start button, clicking Control Panel, clicking System and Maintenance, and then clicking Performance Information and Tools.
  2. Click View and print details.
  3. In the System section, check the OS type currently running under System type. For 64-bit capable, it shows if the system can run 64-bit Windows.

Note: if the system is already running a 64-bit Windows version, a 64-bit capable listing will not be shown.


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