Blogs‎ > ‎Tech Stuff‎ > ‎

2012.10.05 Windows 32 bit vs Windows 64 bit

posted Oct 5, 2012, 10:32 AM by Troy Cheek   [ updated Oct 5, 2012, 10:33 AM ]
I recently broke down and bought a new desktop computer.  This was a big deal for me.  I'm serious.  This was a really big deal for me.  You see, I haven't bought a new desktop computer for myself in many, many years.  How many years?  Well, I think the last one I bought came with Windows 95 installed.  Again, I am completely serious.

When I bought this monstrosity of a computer, I did so with an eye to the future.  I picked a case literally twice the size that I needed.  It had room for more 5.25" drives than I owned.  It had spaces for 3.5" drives that I hadn't even bought yet.  It had room for a redundant power supply.  And as for the motherboard, well, it could hold motherboards which were bigger than any I'd ever seen.  I think it has room for eight (8) expansion cards, and I'm not sure that even to this day I've seen a motherboard with that many slots.

Rather than buy a new computer when this one quit working (or just because new hardware became available), I simply put the new hardware in this old case.  New video card?  Install it here.  New motherboard?  Install it here.  CPU?  Power supply?  DVD drive?  Here.  Here.  Here.  When I'd buy a new version of Windows, rather than install it over the existing OS or dual booting, I'd buy a new hard disk drive and install the new Windows there.  I believe this computer currently has three (3) IDE drives and three (3) SATA drives.  I'm not entirely sure, because I think some drives are still there but not connected to anything.

My current operating system is Windows Vista 32 bit.  I'd stuck with XP for a very long time.  In fact, I think Windows 7 had come out before I upgraded to Vista.  Before then, I was with Windows 2000 for a very long time.  I liked the stability compared to Windows ME.  What all these versions of Windows had in common was that they were 32 bit and limited to 4GB of physical memory addressing.  The math looks something like this:
232 = 4,294,967,296 bytes
4,294,967,296 / (1,024 x 1,024) = 4,096 MB = 4GB

Now, while there are some very complicated and technical reasons why a 32 bit operating system is limited to using only 4GB (well, 3.5GB or less when you consider that the computer hardware itself needs a little RAM to operate in), there are also ways around this limit.  Curiously enough, Microsoft's 32 bit "server" operating systems for "business" use seem to fly by the 4GB limit with ease, while any 32 bit "consumer" OS for "home" use just can't.  I was often bumping my head on that 4GB limit with Vista 32.  Now, I could have, at pretty much any time, upgraded to Vista 64.  However, some of my hardware was built back in the 32 bit days and didn't want to run on my computer when it had access to 4GB or more of RAM.  I know this because, if you're crazy, you can get Vista 32 to ignore the 4GB limit.  I've done it myself, but I don't recommend it.  In my case, I did little more than prove that some of my hardware didn't like seeing the full 4GB of memory, let alone any extra.  What was I to do?

Even though I work nearly every in an office which looks remarkably like the image to the right (borrowed from this blog), it never occurred to me that I could simply use more than one computer.  I'm the guy who used to network nearly a dozen old computer together back when SETI@home was a big deal, but I thought I couldn't use more than one computer at a time.  It was a mental block or something.  Even though I worked with it every day, even though I'd done it myself in the past, I couldn't picture having more than one computer on my desk.

Until I watched this very entertaining video.

Suddenly, I was reminded that I could use more than one computer at a time.  I suddenly realized that I could keep my old 32 bit system chugging along just as it was, serving the same purpose it always had, but also buy a new 64 bit system with tons of RAM and a memory-hogging video card and who knows what else.  I could move my heavy apps over to the new computer, do all my gaming and video editing there, and keep the old computer as a DVR and media server, which is what it had kind of morphed into anyway.  But now I wouldn't have to stop recording television shows to play games.  I could do both at once!

I went to the local computer store and specced out a new system.  Some highlights are as follows:

You know what the biggest shocker was?  Because I was buying all the parts from them, they put it together for me.  All I had to do was drive by and pick it up.  Now all I needed to do was start moving files around.  How hard could that be?  Tune in next week to find out.