Windows 7 32-bit vs 64-bit

Martin Brinkmann
Dec 3, 2010
Updated • Jun 12, 2014
Windows, Windows 7

Computer users who want to buy Microsoft's latest operating system Windows 7 have two choices to make. First they need to decide on the edition of the operating system. At least three different editions are available for retail users, they are: Windows 7 Home Premium, Windows 7 Professional and Windows 7 Ultimate.

Windows 7 Home Premium is the cheapest of the three, Ultimate the most expensive. The more expensive editions come with additional features and it is up to the user to decide which features are needed and which are not.

Most home users will be perfectly fine with Home Premium, as the Professional and Ultimate editions concentrate on offering additional features to professionals and businesses mostly.

As I have said earlier this is only one of the two decisions that users need to make. They also have to decide whether they want to install a 32-bit or 64-bit edition of the purchased operating system. This decision does not have to be made during the purchase as the Windows product key is valid for both 32-bit and 64-bit versions of the selected edition.

But what's the difference? Take a look at the Windows 7 32-bit vs. 64-bit showdown below:

  • A 64-bit compatible cpu (processor) is needed to install a 64-bit edition of Windows. Options to find out include consulting the papers that came with the PC / cpu purchase, asking the vendor or running a tool like 64bit Checker which can provide the information if Windows is already installed.
  • 32-bit systems have a 4 Gigabyte RAM memory limit, which means they cannot address more than 4GB of RAM even if more is installed on the system. There are workarounds but not really for the average user. And not all of the 4 Gigabytes are available for the operating system as devices like the video card use that RAM as well. Microsoft has artificially limited the RAM available in 64-bit editions of Windows 7 to 16 Gigabytes for Windows 7 Home Premium, and 192 for Ultimate and Professional editions.
  • 64-bit editions have additional advantages, including an increased per-process limit, hardware enabled DEP (data execution prevention) and better Kernel protection.
  • But there are also a few downsides, at least for some users: This includes that 16-bit applications do not work anymore in Windows 7 64-bit, and that drivers need to be signed digitally. This could mean that some hardware or applications in rare cases do not work anymore on a 64-bit system.
  • The majority of 32-bit applications will continue to work on a 64-bit systems. It can however happen that some applications do not work at all, or run slower than on a 32-bit system.
  • The Windows 7 installation on the hard drive is larger for 64-bit editions of Windows. Microsoft recommends 16 Gigabytes of free space for 32-bit editions of Windows 7, and 20 Gigabytes for 64-bit editions.

Windows 7 32-bit vs 64-bit, which should you install? If your cpu is compatible with 64-bit editions of Windows, and you have or plan to upgrade to 4 Gigabytes of computer memory or more, then you should consider installing a 64-bit edition of Windows 7. Some users who need to work with 16-bit software, very old programs or stoneage hardware may want to consider using a 32-bit Windows 7 installation instead.

Users who do not know yet may want to consider visiting or using the following resources to aid them in their decision making process:

Have anything to add about 32-bit versus 64-bit Windows editions? Let us know in the comments.

Article Name
Windows 7 32-bit vs 64-bit
The guide looks at the differences between 32-bit and 64-bit editions of Windows.

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  1. Greg said on May 26, 2012 at 5:25 pm

    Please explain why Windows 7 Ultimate x32 bit does not finish install but repeats install pattern

  2. Anonymous said on October 30, 2011 at 3:11 am

    My OS is 32-bit with 2.0 Ram, so should i get Window 7 32-bit or can i use 64-bits?

    1. Martin Brinkmann said on October 30, 2011 at 9:57 am

      Which processor do you have?

  3. Naresh Sharma said on August 4, 2011 at 10:16 am

    I have purchased sony laptop vpceb44en. I have purchased data card of micromax MMX352G but no signal. My computer is 64 bit but the data card is 32 bit so it is not supporting the laptop. Kindly advise the action for this.

  4. zvz said on June 17, 2011 at 11:58 am

    Can it be true, disk performance drops down because of 64bit addresses? I had two similar hdd (hitachi) and installed win7 32 on another 64bit. Somehow it seemed to me on 64bit windows loaded slightly slower. Of course, disk test did not showed up any performance fall. Here some benchmarks –

  5. Wally said on January 3, 2011 at 6:59 am

    Can a 64 Windows 7 network with a 32 bit windows 7 or XP?

    1. Martin said on January 3, 2011 at 11:18 am

      I have not tried but it should be possible.

    2. Tom said on January 3, 2011 at 9:52 am

      Yes, the only difference between the two is the processing power of the cpu.

  6. Walter Earnshaw said on December 9, 2010 at 7:57 pm

    Thanks for the quick replies I got.
    I have both the 32 n 65 bit I want to keep the 32 bit and, somehow I want to load the 64 bit WITHOUT losing it.Have I got to load the 64bit on my C drive or can I load it on an external drive?

  7. Walter Earnshaw said on December 9, 2010 at 8:20 am

    I enjoyed your article on 32 bit vs 64 bit, but you made no mention if someone has loaded 32 bit on his machine and runs the Win7 Ultimate,
    how easy(or not easy) is it to:
    a)remove the 32 bit and replace with the 64 bit OR
    b)Keep the 32 bit loaded and add(or try ro) the 64 bit

    Could you help me, please.

    1. Martin said on December 9, 2010 at 10:18 am

      Walter, think of 32-bit and 64-bit as different program versions that are not compatible with each other upgrade-wise. This means that you cannot upgrade from 32-bit to 64-bit or vice verse. You may however be able to create a dual booting environment where you can install and load both versions. If you are not sure I’d suggest you go with the 64-bit as it is future-proof.

  8. Tom said on December 4, 2010 at 11:29 pm

    Further more the 64bit systems are future proofed. The dynamic nature of computer technology and increasing need for computer resources, within the next few years 32bit will be obsolete.

  9. ilev said on December 4, 2010 at 9:13 pm

    @kalmly ,

    If you have an original Win7 DVD (upgrade or full), you can install whichever version of Win7 from this DVD, as it contains all 6 versions of Win7 (Windows 7 Home Premium, Professional , Ultimate X 32/64 bit). All it takes to extract the desired version is a small BIT change.

  10. kalmly said on December 4, 2010 at 3:27 pm

    Unfortunately, almost all the new laptops come with the 64-bit version loaded – no choice given. I would love to trade my 64-bit for the 32-bit OS – without having to pay the $200 to do so. It has been a big irritation for all the reasons that Martin mentions above.

    Virtual is a slug.

    1. Gregory B said on June 13, 2011 at 5:34 pm

      Windows 7 64 bit runs very slow, because it opens up most of your programs which are still 32 bit in a syswow system container or emulater in order to run the 32 bit programs. So with all that extra ram and processing power, we are running old programs inefficiently on it. I wish that I had the 32 bit version of windows 7 on my machine. Only Microsoft has these issue, which makes the Mac look more appealing every day.

  11. Martin said on December 3, 2010 at 8:16 pm

    Alexander thanks for clarifying this further.

  12. Alexander Davis said on December 3, 2010 at 7:28 pm

    You should’ve mentioned that 64-bit Windows requires more RAM because each running process takes more memory. So if your system comes with 2 GB of RAM and you have no plans to upgrade, unless you don’t run many programs at the same time, this system should better run on a 32-bit OS. Another problem I noticed is that many popular programs and add-ons (e.g. Flash, video players, etc), only come in 32-bit editions, so you don’t take advantage of 64-bit OS anyway.

  13. DanTe said on December 3, 2010 at 7:18 pm

    I have installed both. And I find that I really have no problems with drivers. And the old 16 bit apps haven’t be running properly since Windows XP anyway. I have been using virtual OS for the old programs.

    The only reason to use the 32-bit version is for the low end netbooks or tablets that doesn’t come with a 64-bit processor. Otherwise, I would recommend stick with the 64-bit. It’s not like anyone is writing new 16-bit software anymore.

    1. Martin said on December 3, 2010 at 8:17 pm

      Dante, there are more reasons, for instance systems with little ram, and obviously the editions of Windows that do not ship with 64-bit versions. But you are right, that most users should (and it seems are) pick the 64-bit edition, especially if they have 4 Gigabytes of RAM or more.

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