Most computers and operating systems in the 1990s and until the initial parts of the 2000s had a 32-bit system. Even several Android mobile devices and apps in the mid-2010s were still based on a similar system. This changed following the gradual and eventual wider adoption of a 64-bit system across different categories of consumer electronic devices. This article explains the key differences between 32-bit and 64-bit systems.
Computer Architecture Basics: Explaining the Difference Between 32-Bit and 64-Bit
Take note that the terms “32-bit” and “64-bit” refer to the architecture and capabilities of a central processing unit and associated software applications. Processors based on 64-bit computing or system have been used in supercomputers since the 1970s. Video game consoles such as the Atari Jaguar which was introduced in 1993 and the Nintendo 64 which was launched in 1996 were also based on the same system.
However, because the 32-bit system came first and for the simplest reason that most personal computers and operating systems developed during the 1980s were based on the same system, it persisted throughout the 1990s and even in the earlier years of the 2000s. The wider transition to a 64-bit system in the PC market and general consumer electronics market did not happen overnight despite the existence of the technology since the 1960s.
Intel released its first mainstream 64-bit CPU in 2006 through its Intel Core 2 Duo and ARM Holdings launched the first 64-bit version of its ARM architecture in 2011. Even Apple had its first 64-bit mobile system-on-a-chip in 2013 with the introduction of the A7 Bionic that powered the iPhone 5S. The HTC Desire 510 which was released in 2014 became the first Android smartphone that was based on the same system.
Nevertheless, 64-bit computing has trounced 32-bit computing and it became the norm across different processors that power different categories of consumer electronic devices and related software applications. The switch to this computer architecture makes sense because of its various advantages that expand the functionalities of computer systems. The following are further details about the difference between 32-bit and 64-bit systems:
1. Processor Register Size
A CPU based on a 32-bit architecture has 32-bit registers. This means that it can process data and memory addresses that are 32 bits in length. A 64-bit CPU has 64-bit registers. This allows it to handle 64-bit data and memory addresses. Take note that the bit size of the CPU registers is one of the determinants of the capabilities of a computer system.
2. Memory Addressing
The two also has different memory addressing limit. A 32-bit system is limited to 4GB of RAM. It also has a restricted number of memory locations that can be directly accessed This restricts the system when it comes to dealing with large amounts of data. A 64-bit system can theoretically address 18.4 million TB of RAM and it enables more extensive memory addressing and supports memory-mapping techniques.
3. Performance and Security
Another difference between 32-bit and 64-bit systems is performance. The latter provides better performance for tasks that involve the handling of large data and running memory-intensive software applications. It is also more secure because it can use more complex encryption algorithms and utilize modern security technologies.
4. Software Compatibility
Take note that a 32-bit software is designed to run on a 32-bit system. This system can also run a 64-bit software but with limitations. A 64-bit software is designed to take advantage of a 64-bit system. This software runs fast and is more efficient because it leverages the larger registers and memory addressing capabilities of the system. The system can also run 32-bit software but it cannot run 32-bit drivers or kernel extensions without emulation.
Conclusion and Takeaways: Highlighting the Difference Between 32-Bit and 64-Bit
A CPU or an entire computer system based on a 64-bit architecture or system is more powerful and versatile than counterparts based on a 32-bit system. Most modern computers and operating systems are 64-bit. The switch to this computer architecture comes from the need to expand the functionalities of computer systems such as personal computers and smartphones, and their relevant software applications. The wider adoption of this architecture is also a product of evolving computing tasks that involve vast amounts of information and complex operations. Those that are based on a 32-bit system have become increasingly rare. Some legacy applications and older hardware may still use this older computer architecture.