People looking for a computer that can excel at gaming, video processing and other memory- and processor-intensive applications turn to 64-bit systems, which allow computers to work with large data sets in applications (such as video processing) and large databases much more efficiently. Although they have some clear advantages over 32-bit systems, 64-bit systems do have several drawbacks as well.
While most 32-bit applications can run in a “compatibility mode” with a 64-bit system, many users have experienced problems with incompatible device drivers. As outlined by Microsoft’s 64-bit FAQ, 32-bit drivers will not work on a 64-bit system.
In addition, 64-bit systems can be somewhat inconvenient when browsing the Web. For example, the 64-bit version of Internet Explorer cannot run Flash applications, greatly limiting browsing ability.
A Microsoft support article entitled “A description of the differences between 32-bit versions of Windows Vista and 64-bit versions of Windows Vista,” warns that not only are 32-bit device drivers not supported, but “32-bit programs may not be fully compatible with a 64-bit operating system.” It also warns users may have a difficult time locating programs written specifically for the architecture, and that not all hardware devices are compatible with a 64-bit system.
Also according to Microsoft’s FAQ, most antivirus programs designed for 32-bit systems will not run on a 64-bit one. Finally, if you are “currently running a 32-bit version of Windows, you can only perform an upgrade to another 32-bit version of Windows.”
Due to many of the compatibility issues, 64-bit systems are typically less stable than 32-bit ones. Microsoft recognizes that many 32-bit programs will not be fully compatible. And due to the lack of many drivers, and having to run many applications in a “compatibility mode,” 64-bit users should not expect their 32-bit programs always to function as expected.
Although this may change in the future, as long as most users run 32-bit systems, many applications are designed for, and therefore far more stable using, that architecture.
Mozilla’s popular Firefox browser does not even have a 64-bit version. A search of Mozilla’s support forums reveal a a large number of Firefox users who have experienced increased instability after upgrading to or purchasing a 64-bit system. The same can be found on any number of computer or tech-related support forums through a simple Internet search.
While 64-bit systems aren’t necessarily expensive, they are more often than not pricier than 32-bit ones. 64-bit systems need at least 4GB of memory to run properly, which may add to the cost of the computer. Microsoft states, “The benefits of using a 64-bit operating system are most apparent when you have a large amount of random access memory (RAM) installed on your computer (typically 4 GB of RAM or more).”
In addition, 64-bit hardware tends to be more expensive, and you will also need to factor in the cost of upgrading peripherals (such as older printers) whose drivers are no longer compatible.
None of this extra cost may even be worth it for some users, because most programs do not take advantage of the 64-bit system’s ability to efficiently handle large amounts of memory. Newer multimedia software will see a much improved performance boost, but older programs in general will most likely run at the same speed they did before.
If you are not going to use your computer for tasks such as image processing, video editing, gaming, and such, then chances are you will not see much of a performance boost at all.