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Microsoft Says Tipping Point Already Reached

According to a source inside Microsoft, over 25 percent of Vista installations in the US at the end of last year were 64-bit. There were several major drivers for the switch to 64-bit, most related to cheap DDR2 DRAM.

Jon DeVaan, Senior Vice-President of the Windows Core Operating System Division, agrees. "From our point of view we believe that we have accomplished the tipping point in terms of 64-bit adoption. Now, this happened to a large degree because memory prices are coming down, and another dynamic that we've seen in the United States is that the retail channel is looking to use RAM upgrades as a way to boost margin. So what that means is that 64-bit machine run rate is increasing rapidly, and that means our ability to support those 64-bit machines fully in the broad ecosystem is a really important thing."

Any PC with 4GB of RAM or more must use a 64-bit installation of Windows in order to address the full amount of RAM. Typically a 32-bit installation would recognize a maximum of 3-3.5GB of RAM.

Instead of purchasing a 32-bit version and then having to change to 64-bit later when they purchase more RAM, many are choosing 64-bit at the start. Over 75 percent of Windows sales are based on OEM installations of new computers.

The majority of Core i7 platforms are also using 64-bit operating systems, due to the triple channel memory setup using more RAM.

If you bought Windows Vista as a retail packaged product, Microsoft offers a free 64-bit upgrade DVD for the cost of shipping and handling. The upgrade will be a full clean installation over the 32-bit version. Windows Vista Ultimate already includes 32-bit and 64-bit versions on the DVD.

Many OEMs also provide a free or low cost option to switch to 64-bit Vista.

Windows 7 is expected to be the last to natively run at 32-bits. The next major Windows revision after it will be 64-bit native, running 32-bit applications through the use of a compatibility layer.

Windows Server 2008 R2, the server version of Windows 7, is already exclusively 64-bit.

With the switch to Windows 7, it would be easiest for PC OEMs to adopt 64-bit exclusively. That would reduce the number of SKUs (Stock Keeping Units) and drivers that would be needed by half, not an insignificant number when you consider that Windows 7 will ship in at least 4 editions. Multiply that by at least 34 localized language versions.

Additionally, the price premium of DDR3 will drop significantly as 50nm production kicks in. DDR3 is the memory of choice for AMD's CPUs using the AM3 socket, as well as Intel's Core i7 and Core i5 (Lynnfield). Due to lower power consumption, DDR3 adoption on laptops is progressing rapidly as well.

"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," said Chris Flores, a Director on the Windows Client Communications Team.

Since 64-bit Vista and Windows 7 can run 32-bit applications, the last remaining hurdle is driver compatibility. Many new devices now have 64-bit device drivers available for Vista, and those should be mostly compatible with Windows 7.

An important tool is the Windows Vista Compatibility Center. Devann thinks that 64-bit support will drive sales: "They can go here and look at 64-bit compatibility, and with the trend that we just saw this is a good place for communicating with your customers about your support for 64-bit, so that they can prefer your product if they have one of these 64-bit systems".

Devann addressed the crowd at WinHEC with the following message, "I urge everyone here to make sure that you have the right 64-bit support, and in general 32-bit software runs fine on 64-bit Windows, but when it comes to drivers, that's where the work is. And with this audience, it's something that we're all acutely aware."

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RE: Slight error
By CCRATA on 1/22/2009 12:25:52 AM , Rating: 3
Unfortunately microsoft never properly implemented PAE in windows. It works just fine in linux though.

RE: Slight error
By phxfreddy on 1/22/2009 8:32:59 AM , Rating: 2
Sounds like Microsoft does not want to repeat sales debacle of Vista! .... by switching to 64 bit system appears they can stampede the cattle!

RE: Slight error
By FITCamaro on 1/22/2009 9:08:36 AM , Rating: 2
64-bit had nothing to do with Vista's problems at release. The vast majority of systems with Vista at release were 32-bit. Drivers weren't ready for either version.

RE: Slight error
By dragonbif on 1/22/2009 12:34:26 PM , Rating: 2
32bit has to be the oldest technology used today. It is what 33-34 years old now, and I do believe Intel has the rights to the x86 process just as a side note.

RE: Slight error
By The0ne on 1/22/2009 12:53:31 PM , Rating: 2
Maybe when it first started but you really have to give it time for the industry to mature. I mean look at 64bit, it's been around for quite some time now and we're still not seeing full support for it. What I'm saying is it's not a fair comment to say 32bit has been around for 33-34 years when really the industry didn't get a hold of it until just a few years back.

Seriously, 15 years ago it was 8/16bit programming. 32bit wasn't widespread, nor the Windows OS.

RE: Slight error
By The0ne on 1/22/2009 1:02:13 PM , Rating: 2
Might be 20 years ago since I'm thinking about it more. I didn't get into 16bit/32bit until the 680030 and that was in 1992-3.

RE: Slight error
By William Gaatjes on 1/22/2009 6:10:06 PM , Rating: 2
Although the 68000 was limited to a 16 bit communications bus it had 32 bit registers thus one could argue the amiga already was 32 bit. That was in 1985.

Kinda like the consoles a few years back claiming to be 64 or 128 bit while only the path to the cache was 128 bit or having some 128 bit instructions.

RE: Slight error
By SlyNine on 1/23/2009 5:48:11 AM , Rating: 2
Or having 2 64bit CPU's.

RE: Slight error
By tasdk on 1/25/2009 2:33:09 AM , Rating: 2
There were even earlier 68000 PCs, such as the Apple Mac in 1984 and the Apple Lisa in 1983. I think the Lisa was the first 68000-based PC, although there are rumours that IBM engineers wanted to use the 68000 in the original IBM PC, but that the 8088 was chosen instead, for business reasons.

Unlike the Mac, Amiga or ST, the Lisa even had an MMU (a custom one, which I think was the only possibility with the 68000), which enabled memory protection under the Lisa OS. Although technically a separate issue, memory protection was one of the major new features of '32-bit' PC operating systems (Windows NT, OS/2, Linux, etc), since 16-bit systems like MS-DOS didn't offer it (because there was no MMU in the original IBM PC).

Mind you, the Lisa was outrageously expensive, so in a sense it would be more appropriate to compare it to Unix workstations from the same era (which also included MMUs). One example would be the 68000-based Sun-1, which was released in 1982, and was actually cheaper than the Lisa.

RE: Slight error
By Pryde on 1/28/2009 5:23:25 PM , Rating: 2
68000 was not a x86 processor, its memory system was only 16bit ( later expanded to 31bit ( yes I said 31))

Intel 80386 was the first x86-32bit processor. October 1985

AMD Opteron was the first x86-64bit processor. April 22, 2003 with the SledgeHammer core (K8)

While 32bit and 64bit were around well before these processors, it was not until these two were released that they became mainstream.

RE: Slight error
By Motley on 2/3/2009 8:55:43 PM , Rating: 2
Minor correction, the Atari ST had an MMU as well.

RE: Slight error
By Motley on 2/3/2009 8:57:11 PM , Rating: 2
And it wasn't 32/16 bit it was 32/24.

RE: Slight error
By afkrotch on 1/22/2009 1:11:20 PM , Rating: 2
Depends on how you look. Home use or overall use? 40286 was 16 bit and 40368 was 32. 22 years for the x86.

IBM's 360 mainframe was 32 bit and that'd put 32 bit at 44 years old. Course not like anyone could afford one for home use, let alone want to use their whole house for one mainframe.

RE: Slight error
By PrinceGaz on 1/22/2009 8:19:09 PM , Rating: 3
I assume you meant 80286 and 80386 (not 40286 not 40368 :p )

Yes, the 386 was 32-bit capable but the 32-bit capability wan't really utilised until Windows NT was launched in 1993, a full seven years after the 80386 chip was first launched. So that is 7 years when 32-bit capable chips were available for PCs, but we were using 16-bit OSs. It wasn't until Windows XP that the home version of Windows became 32-bit only (why they even bothered with Windows Me when 2000 was already streets ahead for new computers, amazes me - the compatability issues would soon have been sorted with games and other software which refused to run under it). So for home users, it was 15 years before Microsoft went completely 32-bit (1986-2001).

In that respect, the transition to 64-bit is proceeding somewhat faster. The first 64-bit AMD processors were released in 2003 and we had true 64-bit OSs soon afterwards (both Windows and Linux, and maybe others). Windows 7 will still have a 32-bit version, but it looks like being something which will quickly die out now that almost all current hardware has solid 64-bit drivers and the 4GB memory level is increasingly mainstream.

Instead of the 7-15 year transition from 16 to 32-bit, it looks like the 32 to 64-bit transition will be complete in 1-9 years (that allows for Windows 7 32-bit being sold until 2012), a full six years quicker than the last big move. And this is despite the 64-bit x86 move being done by AMD rather than Intel this time.

If anything, we should be amazed that x86-64 has been adopted so quickly (and be very grateful that the likes of PAE or any other form of memory-paging never caught on). That brings back nightmares of Expanded Memory and page-frames and lots of other DOS memory-nightmares I prefer to forget.

RE: Slight error
By Ammohunt on 1/23/2009 2:35:17 PM , Rating: 2
This is all fine and nice but i am holding out for 128-bit.

RE: Slight error
By Pryde on 1/28/2009 5:07:35 PM , Rating: 2
While PAE does increase the amount of memory the system can address it still has 32bit restrictions with limited memory per process. PAE is only useful in servers and even then 64bit is superior.

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