There appears to be a shift taking place in the PC industry: the move from 32-bit to 64-bit PCs.
We've been tracking the change by looking at the percentage of 64-bit PCs connecting to Windows Update, and have seen a dramatic increase in recent months. The installed base of 64-bit Windows Vista PCs, as a percentage of all Windows Vista systems, has more than tripled in the U.S. in the last three months, while worldwide adoption has more than doubled during the same period. Another view shows that 20% of new Windows Vista PCs in the U.S. connecting to Windows Update in June were 64-bit PCs, up from just 3% in March. Put more simply, usage of 64-bit Windows Vista is growing much more rapidly than 32-bit. Based on current trends, this growth will accelerate as the retail channel shifts to supplying a rapidly increasing assortment of 64-bit desktops and laptops.
64-bit PCs running 64-bit editions of Windows Vista
typically have 4GB of memory or more. Compared to 32-bit systems, which top out at around 3GB of memory, 64-bit PCs can offer added responsiveness when running a lot of applications at the same time and have the potential for greater performance and new experiences as next-generations applications are written to take advantage of this new platform.
What started out as a gradual (some would say "glacial") movement toward 64-bit PCs, driven primarily by technology enthusiasts, seems to have turned into a swift transition, likely fueled by the falling cost of memory and consumers' desire to get the most out of their PCs.
This change begs a few questions:
Is the 64 bit market ready to go mainstream?
Will consumers realize the benefits from larger chips and 4GB or more of memory?
The answer to both of these questions is yes
- but a qualified yes
Preconfigured 64-bit PCs obtained from retailers or PC manufacturers should work quite well. This is in stark contrast to the experience of many technology enthusiasts who built their 64-bit PC from scratch and may have had to scour the Web looking for drivers. So, unless you really love to tinker with your PC, we suggest you buy a pre-built 64-bit PC at retail or directly from a PC manufacturer.
Beyond the box, you also need to consider the hardware peripherals and software programs you plan on using with your new PC. Any hardware or software product displaying the ‘Works with Windows Vista' or ‘Certified for Windows Vista' logo
must be compatible with both the 32-bit and 64-bit editions of Windows Vista in order to warrant the use of the logo. If you don't see the logo, visit the Windows Vista Compatibility Center
and check the 64-bit compatibility status. Hardware and software vendors continue to test and improve their products. Please note that the Windows Vista Compatibility Center is currently in beta. In some cases it is possible that a device may be marked as not compatible when in fact it is. I recommend that you also check with the device manufacturer to see if the compatibility status of your desired device has changed.
On the performance front, 64-bit PCs can provide a more responsive experience when running many applications simultaneously. Websites such as Bit.Tech.Net
and Tom's Hardware
have published performance benchmarks detailing some of the improvements realized from running the 64-bit PCs. In addition, PC Accelerators
built into Windows Vista, such as Windows SuperFetch
, improve performance by keeping commonly used programs in memory, even when the program is closed. More memory capacity on 64-bit PCs allows SuperFetch to do its job more efficiently.
But if you only use your PC for a few tasks, and rarely do them at the same time, then you're unlikely to realize a measurable performance benefit today. Of course, buying extra capacity for your future, unplanned needs is always worth considering.
In the future, we expect both compatibility and performance of 64-bit PCs to continue to improve. Most hardware devices have 64-bit drivers today and most software products work unmodified because of the 32-bit emulation technology in 64-bit Windows Vista (called WOW64). But there are some gaps, especially in the long tail of the market, but we expect rapid improvement now that 64-bit PCs are getting so popular.
Over time we'll see more 64-bit-optimized programs hit the market, which promise dramatic performance and experience improvements. A few key ones, like Adobe Lightroom & Photoshop
and Sony Vegas Pro video editing software, are due to be released this fall. If you're a software or hardware developer, visit our 64-bit readiness page
to learn more about 64-bit compatibility and optimization.