How to Choose Between 32-Bit and 64-Bit Windows Operating Systems

When you create a bootable Windows installer or install an OS from a disc, you’ll need to decide whether you want a 32-bit or 64-bit operating system. If you’re not sure what these mean, this question may confuse you. And worse, choosing the wrong option may hinder your system’s performance in the future.

Let’s discuss the differences between 32-bit and 64-bit Windows, and which one you should choose the next time you install Windows.

32-bit and 64-bit: What’s the difference?
We’ve discussed the differences between 32-bit and 64-bit Windows elsewhere, which we’ll briefly summarize here. Whether you can install a 32-bit or 64-bit copy of Windows depends on your computer’s processor.

Like Windows, processors are either 32-bit or 64-bit. 64-bit machines can process a lot more information at once, making them more powerful. 32-bit processors are still present in some older computers, but are almost completely superseded by 64-bit CPUs today.

If you have a 32-bit processor, your only option is to install 32-bit Windows. Conversely, while it is possible to install 32-bit Windows on a 64-bit processor, you must be running 64-bit Windows to take full advantage of the benefits of a 64-bit CPU.

Windows 11 is only available as a 64-bit edition. If you have a 32-bit CPU, you may not install Windows 11 at all. Windows 10 to Windows 7 are available in both flavours.

To see if you have 64-bit Windows installed on Windows 10, go to Settings > System > About. Under the Device Specifications heading, next to System Type, you’ll see whether Windows and your processor are 32-bit or 64-bit.

In older versions of Windows, right-click Computer in the Start menu and choose Properties (or use the Win+Pause screenshot) to see the same information.

In case you weren’t aware, x86 refers to a 32-bit architecture, while x64 simply means 64-bit.

Should I download 32-bit or 64-bit Windows?
Today, 64-bit installations of Windows have superseded the 32-bit versions in almost all cases. Installing 64-bit Windows is usually the right move, but it’s worth reviewing your current setup.

If you buy a new PC off the shelf, it will include a 64-bit copy of Windows. With a new PC that has a 64-bit version of Windows installed on a 64-bit processor, you’re all set. The only time you’ll find a PC with a 32-bit CPU is a used model. Avoid buying any computer you find this way, as it will be out of date.

When you’re upgrading an existing Windows installation, it may be a different story. If you’re upgrading to Windows 10 or 11 from a previous version, first check to see if your processor is 64-bit using the method above.

If so, you should install a 64-bit version of Windows when you upgrade. This gives you the best performance and prevents you from having to go through another upgrade later.

If you have a 32-bit processor and are upgrading to Windows 10, you can still install the 32-bit version. We’d recommend saving up for a new computer, as you won’t be able to upgrade your existing machine to Windows 11 later.

Installing the correct version of windows

While you can sometimes find physical copies of Windows at stores like Walmart and Best Buy, for most people the best way to install Windows is through Microsoft’s Windows download page.

Choose the edition you want, then click the Download button under the Windows Installation Media section to grab the Media Creation Tool. This will guide you through creating a bootable USB drive to upgrade your current PC or install Windows on another machine.

As you walk through the steps, the tool will ask you to choose the architecture for the installation, where you can choose either 64-bit or 32-bit. Windows will recommend an option based on what it detects from your PC. uncheck use recommended options box if you need to change it based on what you found before.

If you have to buy a new license, don’t worry about 64-bit or 32-bit when you get the product key. Buying a license gives you the right to activate and use Windows; It is not tied to architecture type either.

What are the advantages of 64-bit Windows?

Now that you know whether you need 32-bit or 64-bit Windows, what does using the 64-bit version of Windows 10 or Windows 11 really do for you?

The biggest change is that 64-bit Windows can handle a lot more RAM than the 32-bit version. 32-bit operating systems limit you to using 4GB of RAM or less. Thus, any RAM you install over 4GB is not usable on 32-bit Windows. 64-bit systems can use more RAM than you need (about 17 million TB, theoretically).

On 64-bit Windows systems, you’ll also see two separate Program Files folders in your system drive.

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