The 64-bit computer systems of today bring us a lot of computer horse-power. For the last several years, 32-bit systems have been the standard. They have given us great computing capabilities for the last few years, but clearly the advancements made by 64-bit computers make owning one very attractive.
Even though these advancements are quite remarkable, there is a lot of confusion about just what this big brother of the 32-bit computer system can and cannot do. No, it isn't twice as fast. No, it isn't impossible to find software that runs on it. So, what is the big deal about 64-bit? Furthermore, what does 64-bit mean, anyway? This article will answer these noteworthy questions.
It All Starts with 1 bit
All computers, of course, work on digital platforms. Every program you open and every other kind of action you take on your computer moves a pile of 0's and 1's around. The sensational and remarkable things your computer does for you are possible because of its ability to add series of very large numbers that consist of 0's and 1's.
One digit in the realm of computer technology can only be a 0 or a 1. We call this a bit. In our everyday world, digits consist of 10 numbers each. In other words, we use a decimal system. Computers use digits consisting of 2 numbers; a 1 or a 0. This system is what we know as a digital system.
The largest 8 digit number in a decimal system is 99,999,999, or 1 short of 100 million. The largest number yielded by 8 digits in the digital world is 256. 8 digit digital numbers are really popular in computer technology; they are called bytes.
Byte Sized Digits
In one Hertz of an operation, a 32-bit computer is capable of pushing around numbers as large as 4 digits of bytes, or 256 X 256 X 256 X 256. This number is 4,294,967,296. Another way to say this number is 4 Gigabytes or GB. Yes, I know this number looks like it is more than 4GB, but 1GB is equal to 1,073,741,824. Don't ask, it's just a digital thing. Anyway, this is why 32-bit systems can address up to 4GB of RAM.
Remember, we're talking about transferring large numbers in one clock tick. Most of today's computers make 2 billion or so clock ticks each second. Also note CPU's, since the Pentium 4 came on the scene, use hyper-threading technology. This allows more than one operation to be performed each clock tick.
A Megaton of Computing Capabilities
As you can see, 32-bit computer systems are capable of performing many calculations very quickly. However, 64-bit systems make them look feeble because in part, they employ dual core processors. So essentially, instead of having one hyper-threading CPU at work, they have two.
Mathematically speaking, the extra 32-bits, or 4 bytes 64-bit gives us, adds 4 more Byte digits to the 4GB number 32-bit is limited by. So theoretically, the amount of RAM a 64-bit computer can address is 4GB X 256 X 256 X 256 X 256. Probably, no computer will ever be able to address this much RAM even though it is theoretically possible.
In actual practice, the amount of RAM a 64-bit computer addresses is set by the type of chipset the computer is using. You will find these chipsets are engineered to be able to address about 10GB of RAM for the normal PC's and up to about 100GB for some of the big boppers.
If there ever comes a day, the architecture available no longer limits what 64-bit can do, what a magnificent computer would be made available! It would have the power we now could only get by using over 4 billion microprocessors and would be able to address 16 Exabytes (That's 16,000,000,000,000,000,000) of RAM!