William Stanek: Windows 7: Inside Track, Part 1 “64-bit and more”


William Stanek: Windows 7: Inside Track, Part 1 “64-bit and more”

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William here. Last week, James Gaskin from ITworld called and asked me to give him the inside scoop on Windows 7. He wasn’t running Windows 7 yet/much and had lots of questions. Mostly about migration and upgrades but also lots of other stuff too, like: Do you hate it? Do you love it? Is the UI Vista-like? Does it perform better than Vista? Is it just a collection of good utilities? Well, hmm… The short answers: No. Yes. Yes and no. Yes. No (and ouch).

After talking with Jim and telling him all the stuff I knew about migration, upgrades, etc., for Windows 7, I got to thinking that my responses would make for an excellent series of posts right here at the Microsoft Press blog. My goal in talking with Jim was to help his readers understand Windows 7 a bit better, and that’s my goal here too. I want to help you understand Windows 7 a bit better (and because of the more open, less formal format of a blog, this can be a bit more fun than the normal straight laces required otherwise).

As I’ve stated before, when it comes to favorite technologies, call me a zealot because I probably am. I’m not afraid to proclaim that I love technology that works, and I think Windows 7 is the best desktop OS I’ve seen. But even the best operating systems need to be installed, configured, and operated properly to run as expected. So heading in with your eyes wide open, prepared, and ready is the best way to go.

For starters, now is the time to seriously evaluate going to 64-bit installations. The majority of desktop PCs sold in the last three years are 64-bit-capable and can run a 64-bit edition of Windows 7. With laptops, it’s a slightly different story. Although many laptops sold in the last 18 months or so are likely to be 64-bit-capable, don’t necessarily expect this, especially with netbooks designed for Windows XP.

You’ll find that 64-bit Windows 7 editions perform much better than their 32-bit counterparts. There are some gotchas, however. 64-bit Windows editions natively run 64-bit drivers and that’s it. In the past, this might have meant using generic drivers, in some cases, with sound cards, video cards, etc., but the good news with Windows 7 is that we’re finally at the sweet spot for 64-bit technology. Hardware vendors are ready. They’ve been doing their 64-bit homework for quite some time now, and they have implemented and proven 64-bit drivers for the vast majority of their current products. That’s good news. Almost good enough to make a techno zealot like me have a big old happy grin. But (and you knew there was a but, didn’t you ;-) if you can’t live with the possibility of using generic drivers, don’t jump ship without ensuring vendor-specific 64-bit drivers are available for your hardware components.

Although hardware finally is at the sweet spot for 64-bit, the same is not true with software. 64-bit software is increasingly becoming available, but we’re a long way off from that sweet spot. Best-case scenario: we likely are 18 to 36 months away from the greatest software “catch up” race in the history of computing. And while I could of course be wrong, I call it a “catch up” race for a reason. Increasingly, to be competitive, software vendors are going to have to offer the real deal: full on 64-bit architected software (and not 32-bit software masquerading as the same). When it comes to current 64-bit offerings, be sure to read the fine print. Some applications in a particular application suite might be 64-bit; others might not.

If you’re wondering why upgrade to 64-bit if software’s not entirely there yet, I’ll say this: the 64-bit operating system itself runs faster and better, and the benefits to using 64-bit drivers are phenomenal performance. Not to mention that 64-bit Windows can natively access more than 4 GB of RAM. Home Basic can have up to 8 GB of RAM; Home Premium can have up to 16 GB of RAM; and higher editions can have more than 128 GB of RAM.

Well, that’s it. Next up: Windows 7: Inside Track, Part 2 “Upgrades and Migrations.”

William R. Stanek

williamstanek at aol dot com

Twitter at http://twitter.com/williamstanek

  • I am failing to install and use Visual Basic Express 2008 on Win 7 Ultimate. Is there some way to do this ?

  • I've been running 64-bit Windows since the release of Vista and I have to say my experience has been excellent.

    @M.Fortenberry - I've got both Visual Studio 2008 and Visual C# Express running on my 64-bit machines without problem. I don't think you are running into a 64-bit issue.  I'd suggest posting the details of the failure you are receiving in one of the MSDN forums to see if any one knows the cause of the problem.

  • I'm interested to hear you say that teh 64-bit OS runs faster and that 64-bit drivers perform better than 32-bit counterparts. I was previously under the impression that addressable memory was the main advantage of 64-bit and that there was no _inherent_ performance gain. Why is 64-bit more performant? Is there any hard data to back that up?

  • Michael,

    Late response and suspect same as Joel. The error message you are getting should help you resolve if you post to a forum or search support.

    Joel,

    Yes, 64-bit is excellent.

    Tim,

    64-bit OS with 64-bit drivers and 64-bit apps is faster than 32-bit OS with 32-bit drivers and 32-bit apps. That's a fact.

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