The falling price of graphics cards and RAM will be the death of the 32-bit OS

The falling price of graphics cards and RAM will be the death of the 32-bit OS

Summary: Despite having support for 64-bit operating systems, almost every new desktop PC sold today is shipped with a 32-bit OS. But over the next few years this will change. The change won't come about because users want 64-bit OSes or because vendors suddenly see the light. No, the change will happen because the unstoppable march of technology will force both users and vendors to adopt 64-bit.

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Despite having support for 64-bit operating systems, almost every new desktop PC sold today is shipped with a 32-bit OS.  But over the next few years this will change.  The change won't come about because users want 64-bit OSes or because vendors suddenly see the light.  No, the change will happen because the unstoppable march of technology will force both users and vendors to adopt 64-bit.

I can see gamers demanding +6GB of address space within the next couple of yearsFirst off, a reality check.  The reason that we aren't all running 64-bit operating systems (and Mac OS X users can stop being smug right now since the OS X kernel is still 32-bit) is that there's little in the way of immediate benefit.  Bottom line is that you could take two identical hardware platforms and loaded, say, Vista 32-bit on one and Vista 64-bit on the other, and by looking at benchmark results you couldn't tell the difference between the two.  In fact, the only difference that your average user would probably notice is that they have trouble getting some hardware to work properly because of driver issues.  Driver issues is one of the main reasons why 64-bit Windows is being shunned by vendors (Apple get past this by having that 32-bit kernel).  Who's going to take the chance that everything is going to work under a 64-bit when the upsides are vague?  Not many people is the answer to that question.  Even when you could make the switch, most people don't.  Take me for example, I'm certain that I have a handful of desktop systems that are running 32-bit versions of Vista that could be switched to 64-bit, but I haven't done it. 

[poll id=198]

I remember the revolution that Windows 95 was.  Overnight, any piece of hardware that didn't have 32-bit drivers was considered obsolete and hardware manufacturers worked hard to make their drivers compatible.  The move to 64-bit hasn't seen vendors enthusiastically embracing the new architecture because they don't need to.  While Microsoft continues to release a 32-bit version of Windows, the urgency just isn't there ... yet.

What's going to kill the 32-bit OS isn't a new version of Windows (although if Microsoft were to release a 64-bit only version of Windows 7, that would certainly mean the end of 32-bit).  No, what's going to kill 32-bit is the falling price of graphics cards and RAM.  See, that 4GB of address space must have seemed like more that we'd ever need back when Windows 95 was released, but nowadays it is begining to feel awfully cramped.  Back in 1995, the notion that we'd stick a gigabyte or two of RAM into systems seemed crazy, but now 2GB is fast becoming the norm and the price of RAM now means that you don't need to be a rock star to afford 4GB of RAM.  That presents a problem when you only have 4GB of address space to begin with.  In practice what this means is that you're throwing away at least 1GB of RAM to make room for everything else on the system that needs some address space.

But RAM isn't the only pressure on address space.  Graphics cards are also consuming more and more address space.  If your graphics card has 256MB or RAM, that's 256MB worth of address space consumed.  If you have a card with 512MB of RAM, that's 512MB worth of address space gone.  If your system is running a pair of NVIDIA GeForce Go 7950 GTX cards, each with 512MB on board, you've eaten up 1GB of space.  4GB of address space doesn't go far on a modern high-performance system.  As you can see, it's not long before even mid-range systems start to feel the 4GB pinch.  I can see gamers demanding +6GB of address space within the next couple of years.  This means that hardware manufacturers and system vendors need to get their act together real soon and start to support and then actively promote 64-bit.

There is an upside to switching to 64-bit, and that is we won't have to make such a switch again for a very long time.  As Jeff Atwood explains:

The transition from 16 to 32 bit increased our address space by a factor of 65 thousand. That's big. We've been in the 32-bit era since about 1992; that address space has been good for about thirty years, give or take a few. The transition from 32 to 64 bit, whenever we finally make it, will increase our address space by a factor of four billion. Will there be a transition to 128-bit machines and operating systems? Absolutely. But I'm not sure it'll happen while we're still alive.

So, maybe there's no time like the present to make the switch.  In fact, I'm going to take my own advice and switch my main system (the quad-core system) over to 64-bit Windows Ultimate this week.  I'll let you know how it goes.

Thoughts?

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

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  • AAAH! We're running out of places to put F's!!!

    NT :)
    Sabz5150
    • I doubt those F's will ever get used

      until everybody has those F's to begin with. Which at this rate may not happen until we triple the number of F's.
      Michael Kelly
  • 1GB RAM, Entry-level graphics is enough for the average

    Yes, this configuration is enough for Windows Vista Ultimate plus some RAM hungry apps such as MATLAB, Photoshop to run smoothly. For users need 4GB+ memory in user space, there's already some memory management technology to enable 32-bit OS to address up to 64GB RAM (e.g. Windows Server 2003). I admit 64-bit is the future, but the pace is that fast yet.
    pa2004
    • what average?

      Except that XP will crash with any more than 4GB of RAM, even if it's virtual memory.
      Oracle619
  • RE: The falling price of graphics cards and RAM will be the death of the 32-bit OS

    "We???ve been in the 32-bit era since about 1992; that address space has been good for about thirty years, give or take a few."

    Ermmm, that's actually 15 years?
    Someguy2
    • Mac's have been 32-bit since 1984.

      NT
      BitTwiddler
      • re: Mac's have been 32-bit since 1984.

        And were slower than their Apple IIGS brethren...
        M.R. Kennedy
      • Exaggeration

        Being as the processor they used was not 32bit until 1987 (first 68020 based Mac) I would take issue with that statement! As far as I know (from the perspective of an Amiga guru at the time :) ) Mac actually could first be called 32 bit with the introduction of the 68030 in 1988 (at over $6500!)

        There WERE 32 bit elements to the systems running on the 68000, but only memory addressing was useful - and they didn't even (really) multitask for years. Programmers had to write their own 'well-behaved' programs, and voluntarily give up processor time to allow any form of multitasking.. and pray they got it back!
        Freebird54
    • Yeah, I didn't get that 30-year math either :/ (nt)

      nt
      tikigawd
  • AMD said 64bits to happen in 2003? What happened?

    AMD: "desktop 64bits will transition in 2003 and mainstream in 2004" .. You should buy our Athlon 64bits for that reason.

    Intel" "It's hard to peg an exact time for this transition," Alfs adds. "The infrastructure isn't here today,"

    Robert Cringely (PCWorld) : " AMD 64-bit Processor Technology is about to Triumph Over Intel"

    I guess it was all about the price of RAM and Graphics card all along!!
    Prognosticator
    • Microsoft stabbed AMD in the back

      is what happened the promised to deliver a 64 bit OS but held of on releasing it until Intel could build a 64 bit processor 2 years later hence killing AMD's lead in the field and causing us to still wonder where true 64bit support is.....Oh thats right almost every flavor of Linux offers 64 bit and good driver support .....hmmmmmm.
      wizardb@...
      • Ahh Yes...

        ... i remember the publicity drive was everywhere. I was toying with the idea of actually buying the AMD 64-bit processor for my ASUS K8N in Jan' 05.

        It still annoys me to this day how the idea just seemed to fade away and i had to resort to getting the Clawhammer 754 i have had in my rig since.

        I learnt to strongly distrust the *politicing* of MS from there on out.

        Having said all that - and with the benefit of hindsight, i don't think i've ever had the need for 64-bit computing - and can't see a personal need ever arising. I freely admit this may not always be the case, but i can't see any need for it any time soon.

        I can understand high-end graphics developers and gamers possibly needing it as game-graphics demands soar. As for average Joe and his email, word docs and surfing: well, 32-bit seems *fine 'n dandy*.

        Oh, by the way, i still believe AMD will eventually get the proper recognition they have always deserved for their innovative and ground breaking chip designs.

        Regards.
        thx-1138_
        • Ahh Yes...

          The K8N and the AMD64 was (is) a nice combo. And yes, delaying the 64 bit version of Windows for so long was a BIG present for Intel.

          BTW, I know a guy who installed a 64 bit Linux kernel on his 64 bit system, then ran vmWare with Windows in it, and his Windows ran faster that way.

          As to what the average guy needs, email, word processing, and spreadsheets don't require much horsepower. Heck, I did all that on my old TRS-80! (There wasn't much of a web back in those days.)

          From my perspective, if you build it, applications will come. People will find new uses that require whatever horsepower is available. And that's often a good thing, as it advances the state of the art.
          boguscomputer
          • Eureka!

            ... you just gave me a reason to try a complete switch to 64-bit computing.

            Not a week ago, i tried installing PCLinuxOS via VMWare on top of XP and got *stone-walled* by a recurring partitioning error - go on say it, "what the **** is he doing trying installing a *nix distro as a VM on top of a MS OS?? Without going into all the gory details, i did it out of *morbid curiosity*. Although granted this has nothing to do technically with whether or not i'm running a 32 or 64-bit setup, i kind of had a sneaking suspicion it was going to end in a *smoking wreck* regardless. Conclusion: uninstalled VMWare much to my chagrin. >:^<

            Anyways, back to the subject: based on the brainwave you've brought on, i'll upgrade to a total 64-bit architecture; will likely install a 64-bit *nix distro (maybe Fedora Core 7.* or something similar) as the base OS and make the VM PCLinuxOS. By the sounds of the experience your friend had with a similar all *nix setup, the VM didn't suffer performance-wise.

            Thanks for the notion!
            thx-1138_
          • No Problem with VirtualBox

            I frequently test Linux LiveCD & LiveDVDs on VirtualBox running on WinXP Home SP2.

            I've even run Wolvix Linux on the Qemu emulator in Austrumi Linux running (wholly in RAM) on VirtualBox running on WinXP Home:

            The web-browsers in Wolvix, Austrumi and WinXP all worked - simultaneously browsing the web via the same Ethernet NIC!

            The PC has only 1GB RAM; 256MB is allocated to the onboard Radeon 200 graphics, I'd allocated 448MB to VirtualBox & its "guests," WinXP had the remainder.

            So, what was the problem with your VMWare?
            richard.s
          • Whoopee for you!

            ... i was getting a fatal error to do with partitioning on my IDE HDD. I already said i don't want to go into depth. When i fix this issue is my business.

            I doubt the rest of the ZDNet posters reading this story want to be *bored* with the misfortunes of one particular user regarding one particular rig setup - neither should you.

            Besides you're getting off the subject which is *64-bit computing* - not *trouble-shooting a VMWare install*. I merely highlighted my VMWare experience as a pre-qualifier to my decision of switching to a 64-bit setup. I mean really, this isn't a *competition* to see which guy has the *best or swankiest* VMWare setup.

            Enough said. Subject closed. Move on.

            Sincerely.
            thx-1138_
  • Someone should tell this to Dell and other MFR's....

    As best can be determined, Dell has stopped 64-bit development. Try getting a 64-bit printer driver. You're hard pressed to even find ANY info at all about 64-bit on their web site.

    And other manufactures seem to be in no hurry at all.

    Until the OEM's start properly supporting 64-bit, the peripheral vendors aren't even going to bother.
    BitTwiddler
    • re: Someone should tell this to Dell and other MFR's....

      BitTwiddler:

      "Until the OEM's start properly supporting 64-bit, the peripheral vendors aren't even going to bother."

      It's not specifically the OEMs that need to be convinced, nor is it Microsoft. The 3rd-party hardware and software vendors need to be convinced to develop for 64-bit, especially drivers.

      Expecting Microsoft to provide 64-bit drivers for the myriad of hardware bits that get tossed into computers is ridiculous.
      M.R. Kennedy
  • 64-bit difference

    I run both Windows XP x64 and Kubuntu 7.10 x64 and I have to say that the 64-bit version feel noticeably faster than their 32-bit counterparts. As for the drivers issue, yes that is a bit of a problem on the Windows end of the spectrum but with Kubuntu I have had no driver issues at all.
    Magikx21
  • No problems with Vista 64 drivers here

    I have an old HP ink jet, a HP 2100M and a Canon MP830, all three printers have 64 bit drivers, my web cam has a driver, USB hard drive is also okay. I am sure that there are some companies that are not producing 64 bit drivers, but I made sure that I did not purchase their hardware. I am sure that you have noticed that some companies only produce new drivers for their new hardware, they don?t produce new drivers for models that they no longer sell, only a bug fix at best. You may not need a 64 bit OS today, but you may want one in the near future so plan ahead and purchase only hardware that has available 64 bit drivers otherwise you may find that you need to purchase new printers etc..

    I have 4 gigs of RAM installed and it is noticeably faster than the 32 bit version because among other reasons applications are restricted to 2 gigs under a 32 bit os (the high 2 gigs are generally reserved for the kernel). With a 64 bit os even 32 bit applications benefit because they can be kept in RAM without being swapped out; you can also have a large disk cache. If your applications are written with .NET or Java then they are automatically 64 bit and can take advantage of all of the RAM.
    balsover