32 or 64 bits

Dear Computer Lady,

I am about to purchase a new computer, and am very confused over the 32-bit and 64-bit operating systems. How do I know which one I should purchase? Will the software I’m using on my Windows XP computer, such as Microsoft Office 2000, install onto the 64-bit Windows Vista Home Premium? I’m hoping I won’t have to purchase all new programs/software.

Thank you, Joan


Dear Joan,

Windows Vista does come in two different types that are referred to as 32-bit and 64-bit operating systems. The reason for these two versions is that CPU technology is changing from 32-bit to 64-bit.

Lets break this down so we can better understand the changing technology. The 32 and 64 refer to the number of wires the processor uses to specify an address in memory (RAM).

These wires are called the address bus. 

The address bus wires can only reflect one of two states, either they have an electrical charge applied to them and they are “on” or they have no charge applied to them, and they are off. In the computer world, a wire with no charge represents a 0 (zero) and a wire with a charge represents a 1 (one).

If I had an address bus with two wires, I could create a total of four unique combinations:


This would allow me to specify four RAM addresses, and so I could access 4 bytes of RAM.

A 32 bit processor would be able to create addresses for 4 Gigabytes of RAM so that would be the most RAM it could ever use. Technology has caught up with the 32-bit processor, and motherboards would now be able to support more than 4Gb if only the processor could support it.


A 64-bit processor is able to create addresses for  16 exabytes of RAM (that is over 16 million Gigabytes) . Of course, that much RAM is not possible in today’s systems due to limitations in motherboard and RAM technology, but the average system with a 64 bit processor supports anywhere from 8 to 24GB of RAM.

Because 64-bit technology is fairly new, you have a choice between the older 32-bit systems, and the newer 64-bit systems. Your choice should be based on the following two things.

1. How long do you want this new system to be compatible with changing technology? A 32-bit system will never be able to use more than 4GB of RAM. That might seem like a lot of RAM right now, but in a few years time, it will not be enough to run many of the programs and games that will be sold. If you are looking for a system that will run the latest software for years to come, you would be better off with a 64-bit system.

2. Do you want your system to be backward compatible with older hardware and software devices. 

Microsoft has a nice tool on their website call the Vista Compatibility Center, at:
Here, you can select hardware or software, and then search for your program or device. The results will tell you if your program or hardware is compatible with each version of Vista.  

To answer your question about Office 2000, I went to the Microsoft website and researched your question. According to  the website, Office 2000 will work with 32-bit versions of Vista, but not the 64-bit versions.



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