Whether you’re researching to buy a new PC or Mac, or you are trying to find out the system information of an existing computer, figuring out the difference between 32 bit vs 64 bit lets you know if a program or video game will properly install and operate on your computer before buying it. This can save you time and stress since the 64 bit software will not function with 32 bit systems. If your computer is more than ten years old, there may be a chance you are using a 32 bit operating system.

The 32 bit processor was the primary processor used in all computers until the early 1990s. Intel Pentium processors and early AMD processors were 32 bit, which means the operating system and software work with data units that are 32 bits wide. Windows 95, 98, and XP are all 32 bit operating systems.

The 64 bit computer has been around since 1961 when IBM created the IBM 7030 Stretch supercomputer. However, it was not put into use in home computers until the early 2000s. Microsoft released a 64 bit version of Windows XP to be used on computers with a 64 bit processor. Windows Vista, Windows 7, and Windows 8 also come in 64 bit versions. Other software has been developed that is designed to run on a 64 bit computer, which is 64 bit based as well, in that they work with data units that are 64 bits wide.

What Is a Bit?

The term “bit” is short for “binary digit”. A bit is the smallest unit of data in a computer, each one has a single value, either 0 or 1. All instructions that a computer executes and the data that it processes is made of a group of bits. For example, with 1 bit computing, you get two possible values, 2 bit means four, and eight with 3 bit. Bits are represented in many forms, either through electrical voltage, current pulses or by the state of an electronic flip-flop circuit.

Given that each digit in the number can be only 1 or 0, the total number of combinations is 2^32, which is 4,294,967,295. And 4.29 billion memory locations (each storing one byte of data) equate to 4GB, which is why a 32 bit processor can access a maximum of 4GB of memory without some workarounds in software to address more. With consumer versions of 32 bit, Windows can access only around 3.2GB since the kernel and system information get their own reserved memory. If you want to run multiple programs while browsing the Internet, while simultaneously editing high-resolution photos, you better have a 64 bit computer with more RAM than 4GB.

32 Bit vs 64 Bit

The two main categories of computer architecture regarding operating systems and processors are 32 bit and 64 bit. The 32 bit vs 64 bit architecture determines the range of performance and software capability. The difference in the number of calculations per second also affects the speed of performance.

A 64 bit processor can theoretically register 16 exabytes (over 17 billion GB) of memory; it is a million times more than the average person needs. Depending on the purpose and processor of your machine, a 32 bit architecture can still be a competent operating system.

While 64 bit is far more storage than what modern computers require, it removes all bottlenecks associated with 32 bit systems. For example, 64 bit systems run more efficiently, since memory blocks are more easily allocated. They also support 64 bit instructions and have 64 bit data paths, which enables them to process more data at once than 32 bit systems can.


The CPU register stores memory addresses, which is how the processor accesses data from RAM. One bit in the register can reference an individual byte in memory, so a 32 bit system can address a maximum of 4GB of RAM. The actual limit is often less, around 3.5 GB, since part of the registry is used to store other temporary values besides memory addresses.

64 bit processors can come in dual core, quad core, six core, and eight core versions in personal computers. Multiple processing cores allow for the increase in the number of calculations per second, helping the computer run faster.

In many cases, operating systems also decide in advance whether they will communicate with hardware using 64 bit “messages” (data structures) or 32 bit configurations. For this reason, an operating system running 32 bit may not be able to use drivers designed for 64 bit environments, or vice versa.


32 bit computers may be able to support a maximum of 3-4GB of memory, while a 64 bit computer can support memory amounts over 4 GB. This feature is important for software programs designed for graphic design, engineering, and video editing, as these programs have to perform many calculations to render their images. Software programs that require many calculations to function smoothly can operate faster and more efficiently on the multi-core 64 bit processors.


Generally speaking, 32 bit programs can run on a 64 bit system, but 64 bit programs will not run on a 32 bit system. This is because 64 bit applications include 64 bit instructions that will not be recognized by a 32 bit processor. While it is possible to install a 32 bit operating system on a 64 bit system, it is best to install a 64 bit version if possible. The 64 bit OS will allow your computer to access more RAM, run applications more efficiently, and, in most cases, run both 32 bit and 64 bit programs.

Installing a 32 bit OS on a 64 bit architecture system will work, but it’s not optimal. A 32 bit OS, for example, has more limitations—the standout being it can only really utilize 4GB of RAM. Installing more RAM on a system with a 32 bit OS doesn’t have much impact on performance. But, upgrade that system with excess RAM to the 64 bit version of Windows and you’ll notice the difference.

Exceptions to this rule include system utilities and antivirus programs that are written specifically for a 32 or 64 bit operating system. In these cases, you will need to install the version of the software that corresponds to your OS (which may be different than your hardware). Additionally, device drivers are often written for specific operating systems, so it is important to install 32 bit drivers if you are running a 32 bit OS and 64 bit drivers if your operating system is 64 bit.

These days, you are most likely already running 64 bit chips with 64 bit operating systems, which in turn run 64 bit apps (for mobile) or programs. But not always. Windows 7, 8, 8.1, and 10 all came in 32 bit or 64 bit versions, for example.

How to Know the Difference

When trying to determine 32 bit vs 64 bit, it’s usually as easy as scrolling through your settings or if you have windows, right-clicking the computer icon on your desktop.


If you are running Windows on a computer less than 10 years old, your chip is almost guaranteed to have a 64 bit processor, but it is possible that you may have a 32 bit version of the operating system installed.

With any version of Windows, right click on “My Computer” on your desktop, and select “properties”. Under the system heading, you should see “System type:”. It will probably read 64 bit operating system, x64-based processor. You can also use the Windows 10 search box to bring up the same page.


In order to determine the bit-rate of an Apple computer, it is a similar process to how you would check on a PC. Click on the Apple logo in the top left of the screen and choose “about this Mac”. A dialog box will show you the OS X version and the processor type. If you are running a version of OS X that is 10.5 or later, you have a 64 bit OS running on a 64 bit processor that can handle 64 bit programs.


Determining 32 bit vs 64 bit operating system and processor can take a bit more effort in Linux than it’s competitors. However, due to the nature of Linux, I have a feeling most Linux users already know what kind of computer they’re using.

To determine the bit-rate of the operating system, it is about the same as its competitors. Go to System Information in the System settings. However, the processor may only be listed, but it won’t display the bit-rate.

To determine whether your system may be under-utilized by running a 32 bit OS on a 64 bit processor, it just takes a little bit of time in the terminal. Simply run: “lscpu” then the second line down will list the CPU op-mode(s) which names the type of bit-rate your computer can handle. Some machines can handle both 32 bit and 64 bit operating systems.


The 32 bit vs 64 bit determines the capabilities of a computer’s performance. While there are 32 bit operating systems, like Linux, that have figured out a way to expand the machine’s RAM to improve speed and overall performance, the 32 bit processor is no match for the 64 bit processor. If the purpose of your PC is to edit videos, graphic design, or any other applications that require high-processing speed and plenty of RAM space, it is important to determine 32 bit vs 64 bit in your hardware in order to install the most effective operating system.