64-bit n00b, doesn't want to be a b00b.
May 3, 2007 9:48 AM   Subscribe

Getting new laptop with x64 processor...should I get 32-bit Vista, or 64-bit? Does it matter? How about 64-bit XP?

New laptop purchase candidate has AMDx64 processor.
But my only knowledge of 64-bit computing is that it seems to provoke headaches.

I’ve gone through the 64-bit threads here, but many of them are a year or more old, so I don’t know if the situation has improved.. I wouldn’t bother asking, but considering that my last 3 computer purchases were basically free (recycling –No! Upgrading!- older machines to Linux), I’m fretting over spending $$$ on the wrong thing.

It’s just a ‘very-portable’ home/biz laptop that’s maxed out at 2gb RAM. So no bonuses for 64-bit’s higher RAM ceiling. Not for gaming, no overclocked CAD/video editing workstation, etc. Simply wanted a small notebook with Vista. It just so happened that the form factor I liked comes with a 64-bit processor.

Okay, you early adopters who might have gone through this already, a couple questions:

1) This will be my first Vista machine AND my first x64 processor. Will I have more or less problems with running a 64-bit OS on a 64 bit processor than I would running 32-bit version of the same OS on the same machine? Would I even notice any gain from x64, given that I’m only on 2gb RAM anyway? Does the x86 emulation or whatever lets it run in 32-bit mode suck and slow things down? Trying to pick which flavor of Vista will run smoother…

2) I ask because I would like to get Vista Ultimate, but the OEM for this only offers it in 64-bit, even though their Premium & Business offerings are 32-bit. I need to join a domain, so it’s Business at the least; but I am also interested in the Media Center stuff in Ultimate. If I’m stuck with a crap 64-bit Ultimate or a functioning 32-bit Business, I’m going to have to go with Business. No difference? Ultimate. Who owns either or both and can tell me about it?

3) Sort of eliminating the above question; if anyone has an OEM Vista Ultimate DVD: did it come with both the 32-bit and 64-bit versions on it, like I hear that the retail version does? If so, then we’re done: I’ll have the option to try both. for what works better. If not, repeat question 1.

4) I’m going to set up this machine with an XP partition to boot from for the times when Vista isn’t my friend. And I just so happen to have an unused XP Pro 64bit install package lying around doing nothing but being shrinkwrapped & legit. (I ended up with this as a gift from someone who tried XPx64 on a few machines in 2005 and gave up in tears.) “Why not save a couple hundred dollars and use it instead of buying XP again”, I say to myself “- they must have improved it since it came out”. But maybe it still sucks? Is XP x64 going to give me a whole other set of headaches, making it worth going out and buying a retail XP 32-bit copy for my dual-booting to safety needs? Expensive!

5) Bonus Question: Who was Casper the Ghost before he died?

Thanks for all your help, everybuggy.
posted by bartleby to Computers & Internet (9 answers total)
Definitely stick with 32 bit whatever your choice - the driver story is getting better for 64 bit Vista but is still sorely lacking, and with some of the specialized drivers you'll need for a laptop system it's not worth having a half functioning laptop until the third party driver manufacturers get updated 64 bit signed Vista drivers out there.

The main (as far as the end user is concerned) difference between drivers in 32 and 64 bit land on Vista is the signing - you can still install 32 bit unsigned drivers but any 64 bit driver you load must have passed msft's driver certification tests and be correctly signed. This is expensive for the driver writers - while it may ensure that only high quality drivers are installed, it has the effect that there just isn't any beta drivers out there with quick fixes, you'll have to wait for official releases that have gone through the full cert process. While it's still a developing infrastructure this poses problems for anyone running anything but bog-standard hardware systems.
posted by mikw at 10:02 AM on May 3, 2007

5: Casper McFadden.
posted by lowlife at 10:29 AM on May 3, 2007

To chime in about XP, as of six months ago, there were still a lot of hardware devices that hadn't gone to full 64-bit support, and a lot of the 32-bit drivers just plain won't work on 64-bit OSes. I was lucky enough to have both 32 and 64 bit licenses from an academic program, but the 64-bit XP was a nightmare; no amount of pushing or prodding would make the on-board sound work, and it refused to make my USB 2.0 slots speak 2.0. (This was with modern [<1 2 month old] hardware)br>
I can't imagine the situation has gotten much better, especially given how difficult and expensive it is to get 64-bit drivers certified for Vista installations. I'd go with mikw's advice and stick with 32-bit unless you think it's really going to create any sort of performance bottleneck.
posted by Mayor West at 10:33 AM on May 3, 2007

Only reason to work with x64 is if you need access to lots of RAM (which you state you don't) or you need to work with large numbers (>231).
Doesn't sound like you do, so I'd say no.
posted by signal at 10:45 AM on May 3, 2007

As signal said, x64 isn't faster than 32 bit xp, it just allows you to have more ram. I'd stick with 32 bit xp since the driver support is so much better.
posted by meta87 at 1:07 PM on May 3, 2007

First of all its a laptop, so you're probably not going to swap hardware beyond perhaps using the occasional USB device. So your driver concern is out right there.

Second, I've read that Vista 64 switches on the fly to handle 32 bit apps, so I wouldn't worry too much about software compatibility.

My only question is the laptop shipping with vista pre-installed? If so then the manufacturer has done all of the testing, etc for it and it shouldn't be an issue.

And yes, Ultimate includes both 32 and 64 bit editions - you choose what you want during the install. Your manufacturer probably only says 64 bit because that is their default for the installation.

I say go for it. In the short term you're not going to notice a difference performance-wise but who knows what the story will be in six months?
posted by wfrgms at 2:32 PM on May 3, 2007

My experience: The driver situation is, indeed, improving... very very slowly. If you can, browse through the drivers section of whatever brand your laptop is, and make sure they really truly offer drivers for all of the hardware you intend to use (notably, wireless adapter). Check your printer, if you use one, and any other hardware you already have that you intend to use.

I gave up on x64 in tears a couple of months ago (Januaryish) due to owning some odd hardware, but most of the basic stuff was usable... um.. kind of. (Bugs: Built in wireless adapter did not work. Modem conflicted? with display adapter, so that my screen [LCD] was peppered with static while I was connected via dial-up...... both of these resolved with switching back to 32-bit, but now I have new weird problems... ahh, Windows...)

P.S. I suppose it really goes without saying, but don't trust anyone. Specifically, if some guy in a store swears something will work with 64-bit XP, he's lying.
posted by anaelith at 3:12 PM on May 3, 2007

As most have said, 32-bit, without a shadow of a doubt, especially on a laptop. Performance, drivers: no benefits to going 64-bit that will make any difference to your computing experience, many negative gotchas that will.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:27 PM on May 3, 2007

Can someone explain how the murky 4GB barrier works in 32-bit Windows? To be more clear - currently, on a 32-bit CPU, if you put 4GB of RAM in the machine, it doesn't recognize more than about 3.5GB because some is reserved by the PCI bus, and of that RAM, you can only allocate 2GB to any given process because the kernel reserves a bunch. What about on a 64-bit CPU (still with 32-bit Windows)? If you put 8GB into the machine, do you get 3.5GB for the kernel, 512M for the PCI bus, and a separately addressable 4GB physical RAM that can be allocated to a process?
posted by Caviar at 10:06 AM on May 14, 2007

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