Why x86 is perfectly fine for now

Why x86 is perfectly fine for now

Summary: I, and most people use, a 32-bit (x86) version of Windows. "So what?


x86allthewaybaby.pngI, and most people use, a 32-bit (x86) version of Windows. "So what?" you may think, and rightly so. I've been looking into 64-bit (x64) Windows for a while now and I cannot see any advantages. Ed can, and his article has certainly made me think twice, but I can't help think we're not ready for it yet.

Many have said that Windows 7 will be a 64-bit only operating system, supporting only 64-bit systems. This is untrue, as Microsoft said they're keeping 32-bit up until 2012 which gives us a while to prepare for these changes (although can't find where it originally said that luna22, thankyou!). As far as I can tell from research and running a separate x64 system, with Windows XP x64 and Vista x64 in two virtual machines, there is only one advantage. x64 registers more than 4GB of RAM, where x86 doesn't. That's it.

Not many people really need more than 4GB of RAM, but if you were to buy a x86 machine, like you normally would, you could plonk in 8GB of RAM but it'd only register half of that, a quarter with 16GB and an eighth if you had 32GB, and so on. If I'm honest, most 32-bit systems don't even top registering more than 3GB of RAM - the 4GB limit seems to be a technicality rather than anything else.

On the downsides of x64, there isn't a full set of drivers out for x64 systems yet; you'll still have a few missing, and if you use x86 drivers, it won't offer the full 64-bit support, which defeats the point altogether. Not many applications are x64 compatible yet anyway, so why would you want to buy a brand new x64 machine and realise half of your essential applications don't work?

I have a 64-bit processor on my primary desktop computer, and I chose to run a 32-bit version of Windows Vista Ultimate on it. No driver issues, no compatibility issues, it's fast, it works, and I don't have or need more than 4GB of RAM.

Students run many high-end programs and applications; graphics, sound, processor intensive applications and suchlike. There is no doubt in my mind that by the time Microsoft switches over to releasing 64-bit software only, using x64 machines and software will be fine. For a single desktop or laptop computer, x86 is perfectly suitable for the time being.

64-bit machines at this moment in time and the very near future are there for high-end servers and mega-computers (one less than super-computers), and not really designed for home use yet. Once the bugs have been ironed out, such as getting the drivers to the hardware, x64 computing will transform our lives, our work and our computers, without a doubt.

x64 is amazingly powerful, and will make things faster, easier to do, better looking and better sounding. This will be a revolution in computing, similar in scale to "the computer mouse", but for home/student use, we're not ready just now.

For the time being, I think x86 is perfectly fine. In comparison, "64-bit" is still in "beta" as far as the hardware manufacturers and driver writers are concerned, and it's up to them to iron out the bugs with them.

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

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  • Agreed - But demand drives progress

    Everything you say is true, but the more people who say I want 64bit and I want it now, the more progress you will see in 64bit apps and drivers. If 64bit demand is low, companies will turn a blind eye to it. Maybe we'll do that next year...or maybe after the next Windows OS goes gold, ho-hum. So start yelling, "I want 64bit and I want it now!"
  • Advantages

    "there is only one advantage. x64 registers more than 4GB of RAM, where x86 doesn?t. That?s it."

    Are you sure about that? I thought x64 has double the number of general purpose registers, and SSE registers (16 vs. 8).

    That should offer some significant performance increases for optimized code, while reducing the use of the stack for variable storage.

    Plus integer math for numbers greater than 2 billion can be done in registers rather than going to the FPU.
  • Just swtiched to x64

    Vista x64 (ultimate) seems faster/more stable but this is probably the result of a new install (my x86 was excessively cluttered). There are some points:
    1)NVIDIA driver - i downloaded the correct driver but this didn't work until win.update installed a corrected driver;
    2)cannot find a flash video driver for x64. there are some clones but i am hesitating;
    3)Microsoft VPC machines transferred without key authentication problems but not on the Sun xVM-amd64. Should i be using the Sun x86 version as i have an intel, not amd ???
    4)most open-source essentials installed nicely into "Program Files(x86)" and operate well. No problems with any command line tools (yet).

    Some slight differences but no outstanding reason for switching - i switch because of clutter, every 3 years a disk drive swap and it was the 4th monday on the ancient Mayan calendar.
  • 4GB limit is not a technicality

    "If I???m honest, most 32-bit systems don???t even top registering more than 3GB of RAM - the 4GB limit seems to be a technicality rather than anything else."

    the 32bit address space can only address 4gb of memory .However approximatly 3Gb is only displayed as usable by the system because roughly 1Gb( although it can be as high as 2Gb depending on settings in windows or whatever OS your using) has to be reservered so the OS can address the devices on your motherboard, USB, and a whole load of other stuff( DLLs and page file too). The exact amount of reserved address space required depends on the mother board and what features it has and what cards etc are connected and what way your Operating system is configured
  • RE: Why x86 is perfectly fine for now

    Back in the last century when 286 was moving to 386 there was a compelling technical reason to go 386: lack of memory for the applicaitons to run in. The average user ran into it all the time and companies were created to help you work around that. (QEMM anyone?) Thus the mass of users went 386 before businesses. As independants went 386 and wrote applications it pulled the business into the 386 world.
    Now, however, with the 4 GB RAM available, and every desktop app is more than happy (even with code bloat features), the mass of people have no reason to go 64 BIT. If everyone was clamoring to create the next Star Wars?? movie on their desktop they would - but the mass of people seldom push their system above 5% utilization so it buys them nothing to repuchase everything - a few thousand dollars of software - to do the same tasks / entertainment as they do now.

    Tom Philo
    • Ding!

      - The average user (not gamer, not video author) doesn't use but an insignificant fraction of the resources available on a 32-bit computer. They don't need anything else, nor will they in the foreseeable future. One can time shift and watch video without issue on a the current crop of machines, even at HD resolution. Sure, they'll get 64-bit because one day that'll be all that's available, but even then there will be no *compelling* reason for Joe User to have it. It will offer zero advantage over existing systems ... particularly given that everything including the toaster seems to be moving towards having embedded computational power. That distributed network of devices will dwarf the resources of any single system, even a 64-bit one, further negating any real need for it.
      - Things they are a changin'. Aren't they always?
  • ???

    what does a fire at a church have to do with x86?
    you still feeling buzzed from the accelerants you were using to set it a blaze?
    • Nothing. It was irrelevant and has been removed...

      ...from Zack's blog post.

      --David Grober, ZDNet
      David Grober
  • w/ x64 since Ahtlon64 deput

    I personally only had 1 driver issue with windows XP x64, and that was/is a crappy USB 5.1 soundcard. Nothing else, everything works perfectly fine ever since.
    Ever since I use Vista x64, even that error disappeared.

    Now I have a Vista x64 + XP SP3 32bit windows installed on a board /w 8GB Ram and guess what, Vista starts way faster, which is quite ironic.

    You wrote, that most of your apps doesn't work on x64 OS, which is odd, cause I never had a problem running 32bit apps on the x64, the only problem is, that it isn't backward compatible /w 16bit apps.

    Then you wrote, that 8GB of RAM is unnecessary. True enough, if you don't use your computer for many tasks at once. When playing a game like crysis /w a nice little background video encoding on my quad core I got a shabby 7.5GB memory usage. BTW it's true that it would also run /w 4Gigs of RAM, but it would be slower and would make your HDD LED light much-much more, while increasing load times in games.

    And /w this all, I don't mean, that x64 + 8GB are necessary, but then again, is a quad necessary when it isn't used that much?
  • source of "32-bit until 2012"

    ""Remember that we will be supporting the 32-bit versions of Longhorn Server until 2012, and extended support will be available through 2017," Sam Distasio, Microsoft group product manager, told me recently."
    -- Paul Thurrott @ Windows IT Pro, November 29, 2005
    luna 22
    • RE: luna22

      Thankyou! There was a Microsoft article somewhere, probably a roadmap page or similar which had the information on - but this will do nicely.

      Article updated, many thanks :)
      • Doesn't support your claim!

        It looks like you're confusing support of Longhorn Server (now known as Windows Server 2008) vs support for 32-bit in FUTURE operating systems.

        The fact that the current latest OS will continue to receive patches & tech support until 2012 in no way justifies your conclusion that "Windows 7" will support 32-bit!

        Anyway, the 4 GB limit is a Big Deal. Yes, you can run most anything with 1 GB RAM -- but you won't be happy.

        Today's faster processors can access a lot more data a lot quicker. To avoid waiting for the disk, wasting all that processor power, you need a lot more RAM. Yes, you can do without it, but who wants to wait?

        If you're doing toy stuff with small files, or you're just doing email and word documents (English major?), maybe you'll be happy with 2 GB and won't notice any improvement with 4 GB or more.

        But a LOT of people WILL mnotice the improvement. There's a marked difference between the performance of my wife's laptop and mine -- a lot more than the difference in processor speed. The biggest difference is due to RAM -- she has 2 GB, I have 4 GB. She's always paging -- and mostly she just does web browsing and email and text editing. Though she sometimes edits video, where she'd really benefit.
  • Security

    The main advantages I see are that no unsigned device drivers are allowed & apps must be able to run as a standard user (no file virtualization allowed). I see that as a good step toward a more secure OS. I say kudos to Microsoft for forcing those changes.
  • RE: Why x86 is perfectly fine for now

    Dude, I've been using 64bit windows since october 2005 (xp64). Running Vista64 since RC1 was released, and the final ever since that was released.

    I can tell you that absolutely everything is working now. No driver issues with any x64 hardware. No more software issues. (If you need DOS compatibility, use Dosbox)

    Oh, and I DEFINITELY need more than 4gb of ram, and I'm constantly maxing out my resources.
  • You can get some great deals for 8GB PCs right now

    My standard machine to order for a developer is a terabyte of disk storage using two physical drives, 8GM of RAM, and quadcore CPU.

    You can get something for total cost of ~ $1800. If you order from Dell you can get Ubuntu Linux pre-installed.

    So one way to go is 64-but Ubuntu Linux. One can then use Sun's recently acquired VM solution, VirtualBox. There is specific build release of VirtualBox that supports Ubuntu Linux. After that, create a VM and install Windows XP SP3 (with a valid key, of course).

    One then has 64-bit Linux as the main host OS, 64-bit Java 6 JVM (or the latest development JDK). And ready access to legacy Windows apps running in a 32-bit VM.

    Breaking past the limitation of the 4 GB RAM barrier via 64-bit OS is crucial. These days one needs to have at least an 8 GB RAM workstation to do software development and run all the various stacks and apps. For instance, a developer can run a VM to contain the stack of a middle-ware services layer that they are developing against. VM snapshots make that fast and highly repeatable for each developer - which leads to tremendous productivity gains when spread across workforce and across time.
    • RE: rogerv

      But when your a student, $1800 is too much. That in GBP roughly converts to ?900, but with VAT, add 17.5% to that and you're looking at ?1200-?1400 altogether. Too much for students who are already in more debt than an ex-president per se.
      • how about ~ $600

        The computer I'm using in my home is one I built some number of months back:

        Core2 Duo CPU @ 2.13GHz
        2 GB RAM
        384 GB harddisk
        NVidia GeForce 7300 256MB
        ASUS P5L-MX motherboard
        ASUS DVD drive

        I had an existing case but had to buy a new, late model power supply because of new conventions for connectors.

        It's running 64-bit Ubuntu 7.10 (am going to soon expand memory on the motherboard to its max of 4 GB RAM)

        VirtualBox works just fine on this PC too

        The same money would buy even better speced hardware today.

        This machine is quite fast and runs my Java IDEs (either Eclipse or NetBeans) very well. So 64-bit Java or 32-bit Java works well on Ubuntu these days.

        This kind of PC hardware config is very affordable and very decent performer, capable of holding enough memory even some decent software development activity.
  • Depends on the application.

    Photoshop allows me to use a dedicated 4GB of RAM - instead of sharing the same RAM with the operating system. When a native 64-bit CS4 arrives (Windows only), it's going to scream.

    Indeed, memory availability and dedicated 32-bit sessions is what makes the 64-bit OS viable. Or, at least, compared to 64-bit Linux from 2 years ago, I've had a much better time using 32-bit Windows apps under Vista-64...

    The OS seems faster to load, even if 64-bit code is said to be larger in size by default.

    More stable too; Microsoft not allowing unsigned drivers into the OS. Not that XP wasn't stable, but Vista has more active qualifiers running.

    And, the more people who use it means more support from other vendors WILL arrive for it.

    Kudos to Microsoft and other existing vendors for FINALLY giving 64-bit desktop computing the place it deserves.
  • RE: Why x86 is perfectly fine for now

    I use Internet Explorer 6 for all my web browsing needs, and don't enjoy Firefox or Opera as much. I think that
    • You gotta shake .that. dirt off your shoulder

      I use Internet Explorer 6 for all my web browsing needs, and don't enjoy Firefox or Opera as much. I think that