Should I install 32-bit or 64-bit Windows Vista or Windows 7?

Update: use 64-bit if you have at least 2GB of RAM. If you have the choice between Windows Vista and Windows 7, use Windows 7.

The original article (written in 2007) is included for your reference below. It discusses the problems with 64-bit versions of Windows, some of which still exist, but to a much lesser degree. I’m using 64-bit Windows 7 on just about all my computers now, and it’s working great. I have quite a variety of hardware, too, and haven’t run into any compatibility problems.

The original article:

32-bit.

Well, that was an easy choice. Most new processors will support either, and in fairness, there are a few good reasons to install the 64-bit version of Windows Vista. If ALL of the following describe you, you should install the 64-bit Windows Vista.

  • I use a limited set of applications, and they are all available in 64-bit.
  • The hardware I use is all recent, and I’ve verified that 64-bit drivers are available.
  • I need more than 2GB of RAM (maybe for video editing or running multiple virtual machines).
  • I’m a geeky blowhard who is willing to waste hours and hours of time to evangelize a wider bus.

Actually, if that last bullet describes you, ignore the previous bullets–you’ll love 64-bit.
In summary, Windows Vista 64-bit is MUCH better than Windows XP 64-bit, but most people will still be happier using the 32-bit version of Windows. Vendors finally seem to be catching up with the drivers, and more applications are available. You’ll still run into some of the following:

  • Constant compatibility problems, including Web sites that won’t work properly (think SharePoint, or sites with some ActiveX controls)
  • Programs that aren’t available natively in 64-bit
  • Games that just won’t run
  • Updated drivers (VERY important during the first few months of Vista’s life) will take longer to find because 64-bit Vista requires all drivers to be signed, and the signing process takes time. You can’t turn this off.
  • Drivers for unusual hardware (like that webcam you bought three years ago) might not exist at all

Want a second opinion? Read Joe Hancuff’s experience with 64-bit Vista and Chris Lanier’s opinion on 64-bit Media Center.

This entry was posted in Featured, Reader Questions, Upgrade to Vista by Tony Northrup. Bookmark the permalink.

About Tony Northrup

Tony Northrup, MVP, MCITP, MCPD, MCSE, MCTS, and CISSP, is a Windows consultant and author living in Waterford, Connecticut, in the United States. Tony started programming before Windows 1.0 was released, but has focused on Windows administration and development for the last fifteen years. He has written more than two dozen books covering Windows development, networking, and security. Among other titles, Tony is coauthor of the Windows 7 Resource Kit, the Windows Vista Resource Kit, and Windows Server 2008 Networking and Network Access Protection (NAP). When he's not writing, Tony enjoys photography, travel, and being awesome. Tony lives with his girlfriend, Chelsea, her daughter, Madelyn, and three dogs. You can learn more about Tony by visiting his personal website at http://www.northrup.org and his photography portfolio at http://northrupphotography.com.

14 thoughts on “Should I install 32-bit or 64-bit Windows Vista or Windows 7?

  1. “Updated drivers (VERY important during the first few months of Vista’s life) will take longer to find because 64-bit Vista requires all drivers to be signed, and the signing process takes time. You can’t turn this off.”

    Yes, you can. Run cmd.exe as admin and enter the following command:

    Bcdedit.exe –set nointegritychecks ON

    That’s all. For more info see: http://download.microsoft.com/download/9/c/5/9c5b2167-8017-4bae-9fde-d599bac8184a/x64KMSigning.doc

  2. Thanks for the comment. I double-checked the paper you linked to, and with regards to the BcdEdit command it says:

    “A boot configuration setting is available for *prerelease* builds …”

    Otherwise you do have the option to attach a kernel debugger or use F8 at startup to select “Disable Driver Signature Enforcement”–but you have to do this every time you boot. So, these options are really only practical for developers.

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  4. Thank you! Finally i found someone that knows the memory issue, does his research, and can explain the issue! it took me over an hour of searching (maybe i’m just not that good at surfing) but finally found the answer to my question, how much memory can my new pc run? basically the answer is, your total ram less the video card and other perherials that need memory – and don’t bother with 64 bit (i’m not that geeky)

    thank you!!!!

  5. I know the comment is posted a little late, now being more than a year after the article was written, but to correct an error, since this article comes up high in some Google searches:

    64-bit windows never caused a problem running any websites. It was not an issue in XP 64-bit, it is not an issue in Vista 64-bit. Since early beta releases, long before the system was released publicly, Vista came with two versions of Internet Explorer: 32-bit and 64-bit. The 64-bit software has some issues with ActiveX controls and websites, especially Adobe Flash, but this is not an OS shortcoming. Simply use the 32-bit software and wait for the ActiveX developers to catch up to 64-bit coding.

  6. Yeah I found this out myself. Think it’s time to buy a mac that is already 64bit with none of the above problems.

  7. well i installed vista yesterday, 64 bit, had all the drivers i needed, -everything- works 100% perfectly. i’ve also got XP 32 bit dual booted just in case.. (best of both worlds, 32bit and 64 bit, xp and vista!)

    as far as i can see, everything from my built in webcam, to power controls to all my high end graphics setup and gaming on Crysis and UT3 runs without incident. bare in mind that the article does describe things “for the first few months of Vistas life”

    it was relevant then, but nowadays with recent hardware alot of issues have been solved and SP1, it’s 50/50 really.

    still, if you’re unsure about which you want.. 64 bit only has advantages in programs run specifically for 64 bit O.S (as stated in the article). you can always just take the safe option and get 32 bit, and you’re unlikely to ever notice a difference :)

  8. I lost aero form my vista home premium during a bad electrical storm. I need to reload it.

    Wher is a microsofts aero that cme with my O/S available?

  9. i’M TRYING TO GET iNTERNET EXPLORER32 BIT DOWNLOADED OVER 64 BIT, i CAN’T INTALL FLASH PLAYER

  10. i have windows vista service pack 2 with 32 bit operating system. I installed CATIA v5 but i encounterred a problem. a meassage was shown. it says ” installing a 32 bit media on vista is forbidden” what should I do now? thanks

  11. Well, you know, I’ve had about enough of Vista and its Kernel Mode Code Signing. The only real advantage goes to MSFT so that they can get money for each file that’s signed, which they are making mandatory. So while you and I can all WAIT all the accumulated extra time needed to read each signature for every file in it’s particular correlated installation locale (different on every computer), taking a phenomenal amount longer to load BOTH the OS and all programs on it. Know that it’s MSFT being the cause of the hangup because them being paid for driver file signing at ~$10,000 per file just wasn’t enough for them. Now they want to be funded for any file you might want to run on their operating systems. The last person to ever be paranoid is telling you that the reason MSFT never gives up their code in their OS’s has just been explained. They want more money, and they can enforce it while you use their system.
    Next thing you know they will impose excise in use fees on users . They will say that they incorporated it into the raised price of the software, for now that is. Corporates all eventually dissolve when people get sick of getting gouged deeper and deeper by them. Apple are no saints either. Don’t think they don’t have a master plan. Look at i-tunes. You know, they could have made i-pods record too but why would they if they can bill your account for every song? It’s a capitolistic society were in folks. The reason we get charged for minutes on mobil phones is because they can, not because they have to or it costs them any more. Same thing goes in the computer world. Remember NetZero “Free Forever”? Well, forever was not a very long time was it! Look at ebay. What the hell is a final value fee? It boils down to ..since you made more money than anticipated, we want more money from you. Unix/Linix/ Sun is about the only people out there with ethics. All these other greedy bastards will soon enough be just like what AOL became: All Official Losers. Sorry for the rant of truth, but thanks for reading it and being aware of it.

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