64bits. More than 2 times 32

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Dentists don't bother me. Due to an absence of nerves, they can repair my mouth and teeth without anaesthetics. The prospect of installing the 64 bit version of Windows Vista Ultimate scared me more.

The word-of-mouth on the use of 64-bit Vista has been "leave it for servers" and "be very careful with drivers" to "don't do it"

Rather than succumbing to the hearsay, I decided to install Vista Ultimate x64. Yeah, techies have shortened "64-bit" to x64.

Pleasantly and surprisingly, things just, well, worked. Strike one against hearsay.

Choice with Windows Vista

Inside my box of Vista Ultimate, there are two CDs: one for Vista 32-bit and the other for 64-bit.

These two CDs belie the great differences. Computing without bounds.


How RAM and device drivers are related

Hardware manufacturers must produce something called a device driver. This is a special thing that sits symbiotically within Windows operating system. Many drivers live near the kernel. The kernel is the beating heart of the operating system.

Operating systems are complex things. They sit between you, the software on your PC and the hardware you have installed. Hardware tends do strange things.

Hard disks have small failures, keyboards and mice are plugged in and out; the wireless network changes as you move around. Not to mention the choice of hardware devices: from USB finger print scanners to paper scanners and strange keyboards - the operating system, with the help of device drivers, must manage these oddities.

For the operating system to interact with the device driver, and subsequently the hardware; a part of memory must be left aside or mapped. This piece of memory is used as the post box through which In 32-bit versions of operating systems, this cannot be greater than the totally addressable memory: 2^32 (2 to the power of 32 = 4Gb). As this memory is locked away for the device driver: the memory available to applications is reduced.

My first Microsoft supplied laptop had 4Gb of RAM. With the installation of Vista Ultimate 32-bit, the amount of memory left was 3Gb. Major limitation.

So how to work with more than 4Gb? This is where 64-bit solves the problem. 2^64 is a big number, and more than 2 times 2^32. Lots more.


Operating systems all have bounds. 128K on the original Mac; the famous 640K barrier on DOS.  Various kilobyte, megabyte, gigabyte and terabyte limitations have fallen and are forgotten.

Gigabyte X38-DQ6

Windows for Workgroups and Windows 95 started the 32-bit revolution along with the 80386 processors of the time. Since the mid 1990s, the prospect of gigabytes of memory seemed remote. With high definition video and 3D worlds, memory, processor speed and network performance, different styles inputs: such as shown in Microsoft Surface; the requirement for more memory and processing power is stark.

3D math and environments not only are there an extra set of figures ("the magical Z-dimension"), but also the interaction of elements: light, shade, physics. This takes memory and processor performance. 3D is a large part of the future of how we will communicate with computers to each other.

This extra math and data comes down to memory. Having lots of it. And more than 3Gb of it.

Windows Vista, in its 64-bit versions support 128Gb and more of RAM. This is way more than 4Gb x 2.


Signed Drivers

Vista Ultimate x64 Install

As device drivers are generally mapped to a particular high place in memory, it is written with certain upper bounds in mind. With 32-bit operating systems, this is 4Gb. 64-bit Windows upper bounds.

As kernel device drivers sit inside with the operating system, quality is important. Microsoft, and you, don't want strange pieces of code doing evil things.

In the digital world, there is a way of determining the source of bits: digital signatures. Windows Vista 64-bit drivers need to be signed for kernel mode use (KMCS)

So, with different bounds and signed drivers: the ability to source drivers for your hardware is paramount when installing 64-bit Vista.

Since the release of Vista in early 2007, hardware manufacturers have been releasing drivers for 32bit and 64-bit Vista. Before installing on your workstation or laptop: I strongly suggest doing an audit of your hardware and check with hardware vendor's web sites.

My Results

So, what of my 64-bit experiments?


I've installed Vista Ultimate x64 on an Intel Quad-core (GeneralMelchett, my home workstation) and an AMD64 Athlon (my Media Center PC) with success. Both are running perfectly.

Installing Media Center, NVidia cards, hard drives in RAID configuration, various mice and cards; my only minor disappointment has been iTunes/iPod. Whilst iTunes installs, there are low-level device drivers to burn from iTunes, and the iPod is not recognised as a valid piece of device.

No more painful, theoretical 'speed of sound' barriers. Doing many things in one computer is no longer like pulling teeth. Even without the needle. Maybe I'll be old enough to hear the young-uns complain about 64-bit limitations. Heh.


Further Reading

The Discussion

  • User profile image
    Bucko Dessie

    Nice I've always been interested in 64Bit computing. I currentley have built this set-up:

    core 2 duo E6320 4MB L2
    1GB PC6400 DDR2 Corsair
    Nvidia 8800GTS Superclocked by EVGA
    600W Zalman PSU
    250GB Sata 2 Drive

    I dual boot with XP 64Bit and Vista X32 at the moment (I know 64bit supports some 32bit apps but I wanted a 32bit environment as well), I'm tempted to get another 4GB ram so I have 5GB ram (crysis runs like a dog on my system at the moment, although the 1.1 patch and latest Nvidia drivers have improved things a bit) then save up a bit more then get 8GB ram & sell my 1GB stick. By the time I get 8GB ram I might go Vista X64 full time.

    I do a lot of video/sound work on my PC for my University course and it's always handy to have a machine that renders fast (dual core really helps on that). However does anyone think my CPU would be a bottleneck with 8GB ram? I'm thinking of getting a Quad Core hopefully by the time I get 8GB ram (I work part time heh) quad core CPU's will be cheaper and my card hopefully as well so I can get SLI.

  • User profile image

    Nice post. I read it and actually understood it. Good work.

  • User profile image
    Nick Hodge

    @quickboy thanks for the feedback.

  • User profile image
    Nick Hodge


    That sounds like a sweet setup. In my next posting, I'll go into details of my own personal workstation setup.

    Once you go x64, there is no going back.

    In terms of the bottleneck: it depends on how the software is written; if you are getting excellent performance on a Dual Core machine, the likelyhood of extra performance in Quad Core is high. With processor intensive tasks, the amount of cache and the speed of RAM also starts to come into play.


  • User profile image

    i want to go 64 bit too!!! i actually asked for it when i configured and ordered my new gaming laptop with dell, but they say they dont have driver support for many of the components yet, the whole driver thing itself is one big problem too since dell releases them on a quarterly bases, when i got the laptop i had 2 months old drivers and they still have no new ones out so i am forced to use laptopvideo2go drivers to be able to play newer games and use the nvidia sli mode at all because the dell default drivers do support but not activate sli... anyway it is a xps m1730 with the core 2 extreme x7900, 4gigs of ram of which the operating system can identify 3.2 gigs, the geforce 8700m gt 256mb x2 gpu and enough hdd space... tips on how to go 64 bit and if my games are going to run in that environment would be greatly appreciated and thanks for the post.

  • User profile image

    I recently switched back from 64 bit to 32 bit Vista.  Over all my experience was very good, but there was one obscure device that didn't have 64-bit support.  Additionally, Portal (a game) had some weird loading issues, where upon loading it, it would flash between the desktop and black until I killed the process.

    That's the problem with Vista 64 bit.  Everything can be going just fine, but then you can run in to one unsolvable problem.  Still, it's pretty safe to go 64 bit if you want.

  • User profile image

    Incedentally, I just bought that processor mentioned in the post.  It works wonderfully.  I upgraded form a Pentium D 940 3.2GHz, and this thing kicks it pretty heard in the rear.  It runs over 20 degrees Celcius cooler on my system, and is much, much more powerfull.  With the Pentium D, Unreal Tournament 3 would max out the processor useage and be a little jumpy while running at 1920 x 1200.  With the Core 2 Quad Q6600 and the same settings, the processor usage never went above 50% during gameplay.  (Yeah, and it performed that well on Vista 64.)

    Now that I'm back in Vista 32, I'm curious to see if the game runs even faster.

  • User profile image
    Nick Hodge

    @googleman81: thanks for the feedback on Dell. Laptop and x64 support has been more restrictive than desktop PCs -- as vendors have not seen the need for >4Gb of RAM

    Users are starting to wander "since memory is so cheap, why not get more?" - and this will push manufacturers to go x64 for their device drivers.

    I see 2008 as the year of x64. Desktop and Laptop

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