What Is the Difference Between 32-Bit and 64-Bit Operating Systems?

The main difference between 32-bit and 64-bit operating systems is the type of processors they support, which determines the number of calculations per second they are able to perform. Furthermore, 32-bit operating systems can utilize only up to 4 gigabytes of RAM, whereas 64-bit systems support amounts over 4 GB.

A 64-bit operating system supports 64-bit processors that feature multiple cores, including dual-core, quad-core, hexa-core and octo-core processors. The higher the number of cores, the more processing power a CPU has. When compared to a 32-bit system, a 64-bit system with the appropriate 64-bit multi-core processor is better suited to handle difficult tasks, such as video editing or image rendering.

Another difference between the two versions is that a 32-bit operating system can only run programs and utilize drivers written specifically for the 32-bit instruction set, whereas a 64-bit system supports software written for the 64-bit architecture while allowing the computer to run 32-bit applications through software emulation. A 32-bit operating system can access 2^32 bytes of byte-addressable memory, while the 64-bit version can access 2^64 bytes, which amounts to over 18 quintillion bytes.

As of 2014, 64-bit operating systems are more common than 32-bit systems on account of the greater availability of 64-bit processors and their cheaper price. Since the 64-bit version Windows XP was released in 2001, Microsoft has offered both 32-bit and 64-bit versions of its operating systems, including Windows Vista, Windows 7 and Windows 8.