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Sales are perking up for 64-bit after years of dominance by 32-bit OS's

The hottest buzz in the tech industry in 2003 was 64-bit hardware and operating systems. That year the industry seemed on the verge of a computer revolution.  Then AMD CEO Hector Ruiz stated, "Our industry, right now, is hungry for another round of innovation."

AMD released its first 64-bit processors that year.  While sales were decent, there was no consumer 64-bit operating system to take advantage of the hardware.  Then finally in 2005, Microsoft released Windows XP in 64-bit form.  Yet again the 64-bit industry seemed set to explode.

The release was met with much criticism, though.  Part of the problem was necessity -- even in 2005 the average user did not need more than 2 GB, in most circumstances.  Another major hitch was driver support.  All drivers had to be rewritten to work with the new width.

Despite these difficulties, three years later, for the first time, the 64-bit industry is at last healthy and growing.  With virtually all new processors from Intel and AMD supporting 64-bit, 64-bit OS's are flourishing as well. 

In a recent blog, Microsoft's Chris Flores reported that 20 percent of new Windows systems connecting to Windows Update were 64-bit.  This is up from a mere 3 percent in March.  He stated, "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."

Retailers such as Best Buy and Circuit City are also catching on to the trend, offering largely 64-bit OS-equipped machines for their most heavily advertised models.  Many manufacturers are also throwing in their support; Gateway will be transitioning its entire desktop line to 64-bit in time for the back-to-school shopping season.  To put this in perspective, in its first quarter, only 5 percent of Gateway's notebooks and desktops were 64-bit.  In its third quarter, a whopping 95 percent of desktops will be 64-bit and 30 percent of notebooks will be.

Aside from the increased memory, one other possible cause for adoption is the increased availability of software that takes advantage of the increased capacity.  Adobe's various graphical design product lines have been revamped for 64-bit.  Another drive may be gaming, which is typically memory hungry. "64-bit versions of Windows will begin to find their way into high-end gaming notebooks, which increasingly are being used as high-end notebook workstations as opposed to strictly gaming systems," said IDC analyst Richard Shim.

Finally, it may just be inevitability that is helping 64-bit.  While the upgrade will only provide subtle benefits to the majority of users, even power users, it is an iterative advance.  And like most advances, after a period of reticence, people are finally warming up to it.

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RE: The significance of 64 bit?
By masher2 on 8/4/2008 11:07:50 AM , Rating: -1
There are a few implications. One is that the cpu can deal with 64-bit numbers, which are 4 billion times larger than 32-bit ones (2^64).

A 64-bit computer also has a much larger address space, meaning it can address and use much more RAM (usually 48 bits worth, or 65,000 as much as a 32 bit machine).

The downside is that 64 bit data and especially instructions are larger, and thus require more storage space. A 64-bit version of a program is therefore larger than its 32-bit cousin and, if it doesn't need the extra memory or numerics, can actually be slightly slower.

RE: The significance of 64 bit?
By Flunk on 8/4/2008 3:31:04 PM , Rating: 5
x86 instructions are variable length and not aligned to the number of bits each register can store. This means that 64bit instructions for x86-64 (AMD64) are not actually much longer than ones for x86 (i386). The part of the instruction that is increased in size is the memory address or literal.

The reason that the 64bit version of Windows takes up so more space on disc than the 32bit is all of the legacy 32bit libraries that are needed for compatibility, not that the instructions themselves are double the size.

Also, 64bit applications do no need any more memory space to operate than 32bit applications. The miniumum allocated memory size is still 8bits so if you have 32bits of data they still take up only 32bits of space.

So to sum it up:

64bit addressing lets us use more RAM.
64bit processing improves perfomance in some rare circumstances (with high precision floats and 64bit ints)
64bit instructions take up slightly more space on disk but you probably will not notice.
64bit addressing will NOT use more RAM.

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