Dwight Watt - Newspaper article #3 4/1/2009

Question: What is the difference between a 32 bit and a 64 bit computer?

Answer: The difference in the computers is the amount of information the computer can work on at a time or transfer at a time between the components. The 64 bit computer can do complexer and more task faster than a 32 bit computer.

A 32 bit computer can work on up to 32 bits at a time. 64 bit is similar. There are two easier ways to picture this in normal everyday life. You can either think of them in term of sizes of words (and the computer considers these words) or like lanes on a road.

As we learned to talk and read we used very simple short words. When I was in first grade I learned to use 3 and 4 lettered words (clean ones) and then in 2nd grade we started in 5 and 6 letter words. Using longer words meant I could convey more complicate information quicker. Likewise most computers since the late 90s have been using 32 bit words (the original PCs were 8 bit machines). Now we have 64 bit computers.

Another way to look at it is to compare the number of bits to the number of lanes on a road. You can travel cars down a one lane road with a speed limit of 55 but the more cars you put on the road the longer it will take us to get from point A to point B. If you make it a two lane road then the cars can get from A to B much quicker at same speed limit. With four lanes we can even handle more cars efficiently. Likewise as applications have gotten more complicated and we do fancier things on our computers, for instance we edit pictures now, our pictures have grown in size from 2 megabit pictures 8 years ago to cameras shooting 12 megabit pictures and bigger, watch movies, expect web pages to have lots of graphics, and running several programs at a time is the same as having more cars on the road. Just by widening the road we can handle more cars efficiently, likewise changing the word size on the computer from 32 bits to 64 bits we increase the amount of stuff we can do in the same time.

Operating systems also come in 32 bit versions and 64 bit versions. The 64 bit version will work only on a 64 bit computer. The 32 bit versions will work on a 32 bit and 64 bit computer, however you do not get all the benefits of a 64 bit computer by running a 32 bit operating system on it.

Send me your questions about computers to me at the paper or to my e-mail dwight@dwightwatt.com and tell me you read this in the paper. I will pick a question to answer each week.

(c) 2009 by Dwight Watt
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