Although Windows XP had a 64-bit version, it wasn't until Microsoft released Windows Vista that consumers really had to decide whether to buy the 32-bit or 64-bit version.
Windows 7/8/10 also available in 32 and 64 bit versions and if you have opted for 64-bit, you may have noticed that there are two Program folders on your hard disk. Continue reading to explore the difference between 32-bit and 64-bit Windows and why the operating system needs two separate folders in which to store program data.
Windows 32 and 64 bit
The real difference between Windows 32 and 64-bit has to do with how much memory the operating system can address. "Address" simply means "keep track of".
Windows 7/8/10 32-bit (like previous 32-bit versions of Windows) can handle up to 4,294,967,296 bytes of information. This 4GB of memory. Theoretically, a 64-bit operating system can address up to 1.8446.744.073.709.551.616 bytes of information.
There are 16, 3 billion gigabytes. However, the memory limit on consumer versions of Windows 7 is 192 GB, which still over the physical limits of 8 GB to 16 GB for most motherboards. For Windows 8, 512 GB and for Windows 10, a huge 2 TB for the memory limit!
Switch from a 32-bit 64-bit operating system to more than just a jump in addressable memory. a change in a completely different method of tracking data. This is why the hardware (like a sound card) requires a completely different driver to work in 64-bit Windows.
Two program folders in Windows
If you have the 64-bit version of Windows, you may have noticed that there are two Program folders on your hard drive.
One simply labeled Program Files and the other labeled Program Files (x86) . The first folder is the default path for all your 64-bit programs. It does not have an extra label at the end because as a 64-bit operating system, it is assumed that 64-bit applications will go into this folder.
The second folder labeled Program Files (x86) is the default location for all 32-bit applications. In a sense, a folder designed for legacy software that is left at the time of 32-bit operating systems. The x86 portion of the folder name refers to the 32-bit x86 architecture on which the first 32-bit processors such as the CPUs 386, 486 and Pentium were developed.
Unfortunately, switching from 32-bit to 64-bit applications and operating systems is not as simple as Microsoft would like. To make the switch, every software vendor, hardware manufacturer and user should suddenly stop creating and using anything created on a 32-bit architecture and start using 64 bits. This is completely impractical because most people are unwilling to just junk their hardware and software investments and buy everything again.
The Microsoft solution for this 32-bit to 64-bit transition was to add legacy support for most 32-bit applications. In other words, most 32-bit applications will work in the 64-bit operating environment.
To simplify the transition, Microsoft has decided that all 32-bit applications should be loaded, by default, into the Program Files folder (x86) instead of being mixed with 64-bit applications into the normal Program Files folder.
Windows uses a sorting emulator to run 32-bit applications on 64-bit Windows. You may have seen some folders on your system that have the term WOW64 . WOW64 stands for 32-bit Windows on 64-bit Windows. Whenever you run a 32-bit program and need to access the program files directory, it is redirected to C without problems: Programs (x86) using WOW64.
You can quickly see which programs on your computer are 32-bit and which ones are 64-bit simply by browsing the two folders.
Every two months, I usually check the software developer's website to see if they have released a 64-bit version of the program. Sometimes you have to dig a little to find the 64-bit version of a program. Most vendors today still push 32-bit versions as their main download. For example, you can install the 64-bit version of Office 365, but not the default download.
Soon, however, most applications will be 64-bit, making the need for more Program Files unnecessary. However, even Microsoft, when it released Windows Vista 64-bit, failed to develop and release a 64-bit version of Office 2007 released at the same time. Also, many of Microsoft's default Windows Store apps on Windows 10 are still 32-bit apps.
Keep in mind that when we all switch to 64-bit applications, it's likely that talking about 128-bit architectures will force us to repeat the whole process. To enjoy!