What is the difference between a 32 bit and a 64 bit download file?


What is the difference between a 32 bit and a 64 bit download file?

In: Technology

Each file is designed for use with the corresponding operating system architecture.

What the heck does that mean?

The number of bits to your OS is essentially the width of the pipeline that carries the “Stuff” the computer does at any given time.

If computers aren’t your thing, think about video game systems.

Original NES was an 8bit system. That means the bones and brains of the NES itself was capable of processing 8 bits of data (e.g. 01001011) per each clock cycle of it’s processor. Of course to make things go faster one can increase the clock speed of a processor, but at some point you run into heat problems going too fast, so instead, technology advanced to simply run double the “stuff” at once, hence the birth of 16 bit architecture. This meant with the same speed of processor you could DOUBLE the amount of data you could process at once, effectively speeding up the processor’s computing power.

Of course in order to leverage this new hardware technology, files needed to take advantage of this, and thus were coded differently to break up their pieces into larger individual chunks. A 64 bit system can still use 32 bit files, just utilizing half of the pipeline with each clock cycle. (Using 32 bit files in a 64 bit system you can’t just take two chunks at once just because it has the room for it, it still only handles one chunk at a time.) This is why in Microsoft Windows you’ll have a “Program Files” and “Program Files (x86)” folder (the x86 refers to the old 32 bit windows architecture and is where modern 64 bit Windows systems store 32bit applications.)

But the opposite is not true, a 32 bit system cannot handle a 64 bit file, cause each chunk is twice as big as the system can handle, and you can’t do much with half a chunk, as it loses its meaning in machine speak.

Since /u/Bananajesus gave the technical answer here’s the practical differences:

* If you have a 64 bit system, you can use either. If you have a 32 bit system (ancient), only the 32 bit version works for you.
* 64 bit programs are typically a bit memory hungrier, since 64 bit data takes more room.
* 64 bit programs are typically a bit faster because they take advantage of newer processor features. Nothing very dramatic, though.
* 64 bit programs can use more memory. 32 bit code is limited to 2GB typically, 64 bit programs are effectively unlimited.

So, does this matter for you?

* In many cases, it makes little difference for the end user. For small programs you probably won’t notice anything different.
* That said, all modern development is on 64 bit, so you should prefer that if possible, if only because it’s what gets more testing.
* For large programs (3D editors, games, etc) it can make a **huge** difference though. 3D editors and games can run into the 2 GB memory limit, and often just crash as a result. So for anything big, you should definitely go with 64 bit. It might even look prettier, since using more RAM allows for bigger textures.

The CPU [1] in a PC or laptop can be an older 32-bit chip, or a newer 64-bit chip.

The 64-bit software is better, because it can use all of the large amounts of memory in most modern PC’s [2]. But it only runs on the 64-bit chips [3].

So if you’re downloading software from a website, the website will often give you a choice between a 32-bit or a 64-bit version of the software. Most people should pick the 64-bit version. Pretty much the only practical reason not to pick the 64-bit version is if you have an old computer with a 32-bit chip [4].

For what it’s worth, long ago the PC world went through a similar transition from 16-bit software to 32-bit software. The first 32-bit PC CPU was released in 1985, but it took 10-15 years before the software world completed its transition to the new tech.

[1] Central Processing unit, the part of a computer that “computes”.

[2] And other resources, like more CPU registers and larger address space.

[3] The 32-bit software will run on 32-bit chip, but it will also run on the 64-bit chip. Basically the only combination that doesn’t work is 32-bit chip + 64-bit software.

[4] Or a newer computer with a 32-bit chip. What matters is the chip, not the age. But new 32-bit PC’s are already pretty rare, and getting more scarce every year. So if your PC isn’t older than 2015 or so, it’s reasonable to assume it has a 64-bit chip.