Suddenly, 64-bit Windows is mainstream

Suddenly, 64-bit Windows is mainstream

Summary: Last year, x64 editions of Windows Vista were hard to come by and seen as mainly for early adopters. This year, with little warning, the tide seems to have shifted dramatically. By my back-of-the-envelope calculations, at least 20% of all Vista PCs sold in the second quarter of this year came with 64-bit editions of Windows Vista preinstalled. By fall, it’s possible, even likely, that we’ll reach a tipping point, with more than 50% of new PCs sold at retail coming with 64-bit editions of Windows Vista preinstalled. So why the sudden shift? And what's in it for you?

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Last year, x64 editions of Windows Vista were hard to come by and seen as mainly for early adopters. This year, with little warning, the tide seems to have shifted dramatically. I noticed the first hint three weeks ago, when I visited HP’s website to check the specs of the new TX2500z notebook and saw that a 64-bit upgrade was available for all models. When I looked at the flyers in last Sunday’s paper, I saw several PCs at Best Buy with 64-bit Vista Home Premium Edition installed, including notebooks from HP and Toshiba and quad-core desktops from Gateway and Dell; the former came with 4GB of RAM and a 19-inch LCD monitor for $750, while the latter had 6GB of RAM  and a 19-inch monitor for $830.

Microsoft noticed the sudden shift as well. According to stats I received yesterday, the installed base of 64-bit Windows Vista machines in the U.S. has more than tripled in the last three months. Using data from its Windows Update servers, Microsoft calculated that 1.45% of all Windows Vista machines were running x64 Vista editions in March of this year. By June, that figure was up to 5.18%. That number is actually more impressive than it sounds: by my back-of-the-envelope calculations, making that shift in total market share means that at least 20% of all Vista PCs sold in the second quarter of this year came with 64-bit editions of Windows Vista preinstalled. By fall, it’s possible, even likely, that we’ll reach a tipping point, with more than 50% of new PCs sold at retail coming with 64-bit editions of Windows Vista preinstalled.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. I’ve been running Vista x64 on my main desktop PC since February, with no issues whatsoever. In May, I converted a year-old ASUS Tablet PC to Vista x64 and was astounded at how easy it was. Finding 64-bit drivers for virtually every mainstream device is easy, and I have yet to see a 32-bit Windows program that won’t run on an x64 system.

So why the shift now?

First, RAM is cheap. With the exception of low-end loss leaders, most new PCs in the retail channel these days are equipped with 4GB of RAM or more and cost under $1000. If you want to actually use that RAM, you need to move to a 64-bit code base. Looks like the major OEMs figured that out, too.

Second, a new wave of applications is going to debut in the fall, Most are aimed at digital media enthusiasts and professionals, including Adobe Photoshop CS4 and Lightroom. (In fact, the next version of Photoshop will be 64-bit native for Windows 64-bit OSes only.) Adobe’s John Nack says “the speedup due to running in 64-bit mode is around 8-12%” and that opening a 3.75 gigapixel image on a suitably equipped machine (quad-core, 32GB of RAM) is “about 10x faster.” Sony’s long-awaited 64-bit Vegas Pro 8.1 video editing program (announced and demoed at NAB in 2007, demoed again at NAB in 2008) should be available around the same time.

Update 31-July: Well, that was fast! Around the time I was writing this post, Adobe released Photoshop Lightroom 2, with full 64-bit support for Windows Vista. Details here.

For consumers, there’s certainly potential for confusion, especially given that most systems sold in the past few years have combined 64-bit CPUs with 32-bit Windows. Microsoft has prepared some guidelines for hardware and software vendors and for consumers. The most likely point of confusion comes when downloading drivers; I was pleased to see that HP is delivering its drivers and software updates with both x86 and x64 versions in the same downloadable package, allowing the installer to decide which one to use based on the system’s specs.

The biggest sticking point continues to be legacy hardware. OEMs delivering new machine configurations can ensure that every included device works properly, but plugging in an older device might not work. My three-year-old ScanSnap scanner finally has 32-bit Vista drivers, but Fujitsu has announced that it has no intention of producing x64 drivers for that series.

Ironically, one of the most high-profile laggards is from Microsoft itself. As I noted last December, Microsoft’s fingerprint readers, included with some mice and keyboards, don’t offer 64-bit support. Since then, UPEK has released x64 drivers and control software for its devices (I have one on my desktop and one an the ASUS Tablet). Ironically, the fingerprint reader in my new x64-based HP notebook works perfectly with its Digital Persona software. The Microsoft devices use that same software; alas, the new Windows Vista Compatibility Center still lists those devices as “not compatible” with 64-bit Windows Vista.

So, how many of you are running 64-bit Windows? Any problems to report?

Update 30-July 10:00AM: In the TalkBack section, several commenters have noted the absence of a 64-bit Flash player. I've addressed that issue in a follow-up post: Dear Adobe, can we please have a 64-bit Flash player?

Topics: Software, Hardware, Microsoft, Networking, Operating Systems, Processors, Windows

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279 comments
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  • Going Strong

    I have Vista Ultimate x64 on my office, and Sadly, Home Premium at home (planning to upgrade to ultimate x64 once i have a big enough hard disk to make a back up and new install)

    All my hardware works, all the programs work perfectly. and I have yet to see a single issue with the X64 version of vista. In fact, I am suggesting everyone to get a license and upgrade if they can afford to have a new computer

    In an interesting note, Dreamweaver CS3 is an ongoing experiment. You see, under windows XP trying to open 50 PHP pages inside of it at the same time with heavy graphical environment would basically kill the computer.

    In vista X86 it worked... more less okay. In vista x64 it keeps opening without hiccups, and the machine stays completely responsive.

    (With 4 gbs of ram everything seems to just work like apple loves to say... And yes I own a mac too thanks to development issues)

    CHEERS! and you have an excellent blog. its a very nice read!
    dracvs
    • Message has been deleted.

      fr0thy2
    • Ignore the useless twit above me here - my question is -

      I bought Ultimate so I could get 64 and 32 bit together. I'm thinking about switching - have you had any issues with your 32bit software? I have read that there are very few issues, but before I make the plunge I was wondering any issues you have encountered albeit sounds like they maybe minor.
      ItsTheBottomLine
      • I've got Ultimate, too - but I'll wait...

        ...until I can replace all of my peripherals with new stuff that has 64-bit drivers, replace the legacy apps that won't run on 64-bit Vista and drop in another Gb of RAM or three. Looking forward to 64-bit Vista if it's as good as you guys say it is.
        jlafitte
        • Message has been deleted.

          fr0thy2
          • Message has been deleted.

            Sleeper Service
        • 64 bit will soon rule

          Linux has had a good, stable, reliable 64 bit version for 3 years. Now with Vista 64 the hardware and software developers should be jumping on board rapidly. Vista64 experiences that I have seen have been, with rare exception, positive. 64 bit will soon become a go or go home issue.
          Sagax-
      • I have 2 apps that do not work

        Both are share trading packages and I suppose are not really mainstream. Other than that I have hd no issues running 64 bit Vista Ultimate.
        sfessey@...
    • Been running 64-bit since March

      With no significant problems whatsoever
      The only snag, if you can call it that, was with my Merc Stealth kb software not firing up at reboot some times. But the guys at Ideazon had a workaround.

      I'm quite happy.
      tikigawd
  • 64bit Vista Ultimate on my ....

    ... HTPC since Beta 1. A few minor issues with video card drivers, (nVidia) during beta. Other then that it has been rock solid and a pleasure to use.
    ShadeTree
    • Message has been deleted.

      MIKEC0X
    • have to agree

      i beta tested it thru the whole beta & this was on a pentium d 2.6ghz with only 1gb of ram! same issues with nvidia drivers (creative was another in the beginning)but even THEN ultimate x64 ran quite smoothly! now that i bumped up to 3gb ram (due to the cheaper prices ed be talkin about) i see a BIG diff! but ed's right......ms needs to support it's OWN products with x64 apps (along with the late comers. the ms outlines for x64 developing are gonna help alot!!
      Pavex
  • Raises hand - Vista Ultimate 64 here

    I upgraded my old PC with Vista specs in mind, about 6 months ago. I popped in the Ultimate DVD, picked up free at a dev conference.

    I midlessly clicked next continue and in about 45 minutes had the OS up and running. A few drivers later, the system was purring along and I noticed I had been 64'd.

    I have had no problems to date except Dreamweaver MX decided it didnt like making tables in html docs any more. I manually coded them until about a week ago I installed DW8 and now there are no programs or issues.

    Be warned old timers.. it will not in any way run 16 bit apps. Luckily, the one tool I had that was 16 bit I left behind and found a replacement.

    As far as the horror stories from incompatabilities to crashes, my experience has been very different. My system runs 24/7, goes to sleep and wakes up almost instantly. Media Center has become the default TV and DVR at my house as my monitor is a 42" HDTV that I control wirelessly from my recliner.

    I really believe, if you have the hardware to run it, Vista is as good as XP. Actually, it's better with Media Center. There. I said it. :)
    supercharlie
    • Choose one...

      Either you had compatibility problems or you did not.


      "As far as the horror stories from incompatabilities"

      Well you had 2 of them
      Dreamweaver MX decided it didnt like making tables in html docs any more. I manually coded them until about a week ago I installed DW8 and now there are no programs or issues.

      it will not in any way run 16 bit apps. Luckily, the one tool I had that was 16 bit I left behind and found a replacement.
      mrlinux
      • Well..

        I dont find them horror stories actually.. sorry if these horify you :p
        supercharlie
        • In fairness...

          I have had issues with 64-bit Ubuntu, mainly having to commit force-architecture installs and installing 32-bit Firefox so Flash would work properly (I may be dating myself, it's been a while since I've tried 64-bit). It sounds like MS has done just about as good a job with the transition to 64-bit as can be done, better than Linux, better than Apple (a 32-bit kernel with a 64-bit GUI is NOT a 64-bit OS, sorry). It didn't scare me away from Linux, but I did end up installing 32-bit instead. I got irritated because the Ubuntu dev team did not make 64-bit a priority.

          I still wonder what tricks they used to get Flash to work properly, though. Adobe is being a real PITA by not releasing 64-bit Flash. How hard could it be?
          heres_johnny
          • I haven't tried 64 bit Ubuntu

            but 64 bit Fedora has been working fine for me. Even Wine which is 32 bit runs fine under Fedora 7/9 64 bit. As for 64 bit Vista, I still can't upgrade to 64 bit due to the fact that the drivers for my VPN connection are still in beta for 64 bit Vista. They're available in 32 bit Vista as stable releases and I need them to work from home. Other than that, I don't see any problems upgrading to 64 bit Vista.
            alaniane@...
    • Message has been deleted.

      fr0thy2
    • 64 Bit and some minor issues

      After I converted - required a bare metal install from 32 bit Vista and reload of ALL MY APPS, love that task, I found out my wireless card did not support 64 bit nor sis my virus protection. So off to the store I go. Some 165.00 later and checking each wireless card onine to validate 64 bit I am working almost OK. NO big change in performace for me except the Microsoft CIRCLE of wait state goes faster before IE crashes.

      yes, it is faster in that regard. I will move to MAC if MS ever releases such a horrible OS again. Oh yes, my language software says it does not support 64 bit to name one I found.

      I have a 32 bit wireless card for sale?
      jimfuhl
  • The only selling point Vista has?? (snickering) <eom>

    lol
    Techboy_z