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The 64-bit Question
As memory has become cheaper over the last few years, and as people run more demanding programs and a larger number of applications at the same time, the need for more than 4GB of system memory has become apparent. Microsoft has been working on this in their OS development for some time, and AMD laid the original groundwork with their “AMD64” processor advancements that debuted in the Athlon64 and Opteron lineup. Intel has followed suit with “EM64T” instructions for its CPUs, and now basically all desktop-class processors sold are 64-bit compatible. Newer motherboards and chipsets also tend to support 8GB or more of main memory, so on the hardware side the ‘perfect storm’ has arrived in which 64-bit software can flourish.
When running a 64-bit version of Windows, one also has access to 64-bit software titles. Right now I don’t know of any programs that are exclusively 64-bit, but several games and applications have been released over the last couple of years with versions compiled specifically for the 64-bit platform. The latest of these is Photoshop CS4, and the added performance and memory capabilities it brings to the table should be exciting to any digital photographer. There are also 64-bit versions of many 3D design applications, like Maya and AutoCAD, so I try to check with professional customers to see if they are planning on taking advantage of any of those when helping them configure a computer.
It is also worth noting that some software will not work properly in a 64-bit operating system. Microsoft went to great lengths to make 64-bit Windows emulate a 32-bit environment for older software, in a similar fashion to how 32-bit Windows can run 16-bit software (which, by the way, won’t work at all in 64-bit Windows). Because it is not native, though, some applications will have trouble – especially those that need “deeper” access to the system’s core, or kernel. Anti-virus applications almost always run into this issue, and for that reason there are many 64-bit native versions of AV programs. On the other hand, though, viruses are also mostly 32-bit – so simply having a 64-bit operating system can afford some additional protection.