Windows 32-bit or Windows 64-bit? We still have several of our customers requesting a windows 32-bit configuration, or at least the drivers for it. Are they really needed?
Windows 32-bit has been around for a long time, and its age shows. Current processors and memory support can’t be fully used when a 32-bit Operating System is chosen. A 32-bit Operating System is only able to support 4GB of RAM.
But is there an issue moving a legacy system from 32-bit to 64-bit?
Most of the time the transition will be painless. The most important part of the puzzle is to make sure that the correct drivers for the system are loaded. A 64-bit Operating System will require 64-bit drivers to be loaded.
While the correct drivers are important, the same does not apply to the software. 32-bit applications will run in a 64-bit environment. Microsoft achieves this by running your 32-bit application on top of a 32-bit emulation called WOW64. WOW64 will interface the 32-bit application with the 64-bit OS. WOW64 runs in User mode, so the applications also have to run in user mode. 32-bit kernel mode device drivers or apps that rely on them will not work.
Windows will even create special folders for 32 and 64-bit. All 32-bit application file will be in C:\Program Files(x86) , 32-bit system files in C:\Windows\SysWOW64, while 64-bit applications and files can be found at C:\Program Files and C:\WINDOWS\SYSTEM32.
WOW64 has some limitations, but will work for the majority of cases. For those cases where your applications can’t run, an option is to install a Virtual PC. It is free software and may have its own set of issues or caveats, but should allow you to run your legacy application.
Intel has been strongly pushing for 64-bit support, and for newer chipsets and devices only 64 bit drivers are provided.
We are always aware of legacy and support issues, and see how the 32 to 64-bit change can look scary, but we have seen several customers transitioning without any issues, and being able to enjoy the extra performance and memory.