Fast Forward's Help File

By Rob Pegoraro
Sunday, October 19, 2008

Q Why are you so down on Windows Vista's 64-bit edition? I run it, and I haven't encountered any problems.

AYou can find the 64-bit edition of Vista -- so named for its ability to process larger chunks of data than the normal, 32-bit version -- on an increasing number of PCs. This option can seem like an obvious step up: More is better, right?

But 64-bit Vista doesn't provide much benefit for many home users. It lets you work with extremely large files, but most people at home don't open anything bigger than a short video clip or one of Microsoft's Service Pack downloads. Complex computations can also run faster in this version -- but again, few non-professional users will see a significant speedup from this ability.

Vista's 64-bit edition, unlike the 32-bit flavors of Windows we've been using for years, can also accommodate 4 gigabytes or more of memory, and that may provide a simpler explanation for its newfound popularity. As memory gets cheaper and consumers become more aware of Vista's appetite for it, computer manufacturers have been shipping more memory on new systems -- but once they hit 4 gigs, they have to load 64-bit Vista.

This version doesn't cost extra, and by all accounts, it accepts far more 32-bit programs than 64-bit XP ever did. It also adds some useful system-level security upgrades. But old programs can still have problems, and older drivers (the software that lets Windows talk to peripherals such as printers) may not run at all.

You should at least inventory your old hardware and software before buying a computer with 64-bit Vista to see if they'll still work. If, however, you don't get more than 3 gigs of memory on your next machine -- even for Vista, that's a lot -- you can stick with 32-bit Vista and dodge this entire issue.

Rob Pegoraro attempts to untangle computing conundrums and errant electronics each week. Send questions to The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071 Turn to Thursday's Business section or visit anytime for his Fast Forward column.

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