Before you pick up a copy of Windows 7, you'll have to decide whether you'll plump for the 64 or 32bit version. We take a look at which version of the OS will best suit you.

If you haven't got your hands on Microsoft's latest OS, Windows 7, already, you're probably very close to heading down to your local retailer to pick up a copy. But before you do, you really need to decide whether you'll opt for the 32 or 64bit version.

You might want to get the 64bit version so you can load up on RAM or just to get a jump on the future of home computing. But software and hardware designers are still catching up, so even with your beefy hardware and shiny new operating system, you might end up having a 32bit computing experience anyway.

64bit vs 32bit

The difference between 32 and 64bit systems basically comes down to this: 64bit systems can handle more RAM and more data. That's basically it.

Both versions of Windows look the same, it's just a matter of how much data these systems can handle at once.

A 64bit system can handle more than 4GB of memory (the maximum for 32bit), and can also process more pieces of data at once. For the average consumer, the most significant advantage this translates into is better graphics, since a 64bit system can process more visual detail than a 32bit machine can.

The 32bit problem

Even though 64-bit Windows systems were first introduced with Windows XP and then given a real push under Windows Vista, parts of the computing world are still coming to grips with the 64bit reality.

During the Vista years, most Windows users were still using the 32bit version of XP, so software designers remained focused on these customers and did not pay much attention to what was possible with 64bit Vista systems.

One example is Real Player, which only recently came out with a 64bit compatible version - Real Player SP 1.

Although you may have a tough time finding some applications primed for 64bit systems, it should be rare to come across software that simply won't work with the more powerful version of Windows.

As a general rule, 32bit versions of software will work on a 64bit system. But that kind of defeats the purpose of upgrading, doesn't it?

If you're not sure whether your favourite software will work on a 64bit system, find out at Microsoft's Windows 7 Compatibility Center.

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