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 Mar 23, 2005 - 12:00 PM - by Michael
* 64-bit theory vs practice

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PC Games/Hardware/Microsoft
TechReport has a look at theory vs practice in the realm of 64-bit computing today.

For some time now, various flavors of Linux compiled for 64-bit processors have been available, but Microsoft's version of Windows for x86-64 is still in beta. That's about to change, at long last, in April. Windows XP Professional x64 Edition, as it's called, is finally upon us, as are server versions of Windows with 64-bit support. (You'll want to note that these operating systems are distinct from Windows XP 64-bit Edition, intended for Intel Itanium processors, which is a whole different ball of wax.) Windows x64 is currently available to the public as a Release Candidate 2, and judging by our experience with it, it's nearly ready to roll. Once the Windows XP x64 Edition hits the stores, I expect that we'll see the 64-bit marketing push begin in earnest, and folks will want to know more about what 64-bit computing really means for them.

The immediate impact, in a positive sense, isn't much at all. Windows x64 can run current 32-bit applications transparently, with few perceptible performance differences, via a facility Microsoft has dubbed WOW64, for Windows on Windows 64-bit. WOW64 allows 32-bit programs to execute normally on a 64-bit OS. Using Windows XP Pro x64 is very much like using the 32-bit version of Windows XP Pro, with the same basic look and feel. Generally, things just work as they should.

There are differences, though. Device drivers, in particular, must be recompiled for Windows x64. The 32-bit versions won't work. In many cases, Windows x64 ships with drivers for existing hardware. We were able to test on the Intel 925X and nForce4 platforms without any additional chipset drivers, for example. In other cases, we'll have to rely on hardware vendors to do the right thing and release 64-bit drivers for their products. Both RealTek and NVIDIA, for instance, supply 64-bit versions of their audio and video drivers, respectively, that share version numbers and feature sets with the 32-bit equivalents, and we were able to use them in our testing. ATI has a 64-bit beta version of its Catalyst video drivers available, as well, but not all hardware makers are so on the ball.
If you're trying to work out whether or not to make the upgrade, it's a good article on the subject.

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