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.
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.
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.
So, what of my 64-bit experiments?
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.
- Paul Thurrott's SuperSite for Windows: Windows Vista Feature Focus:P 64-Bit (x64) Support
- How to determine whether your computer is running 32-bit or 64-bit versions of Windows
- Installation choices for 64-bit consumer versions of Windows Vista
- Windows Hardware Development Central
- Tony Northrup, 32-bit Vista Memory Limits
- Tim Sneath: Choosing Between Vista 32-bit and 64-bit Editions
- Windows Vista Benchmark: 64-bit faster than 32-bit, 64-bit-computers
- National Instruments: A Closer Look at Vista Part III: 32-bit vs 64-bit Windows