CPU Buying Guide

64-bit processors - the next generation

If you buy a new PC today, it will have a 64-bit-capable CPU installed. The reason for the move to 64-bit CPUs from 32-bit CPUs is largely due to the limits in the amount of memory that 32-bit CPUs can access. A 32-bit CPU can, at most, address 4 gigabytes of data. For many purposes, that's fine, but once you step into more demanding applications, be they gaming, video processing or even working with large databases, it becomes a limiting factor that slows system performance. As main memory in desktop PCs creeps higher and higher, we're getting closer and closer to that 4GB barrier.

A 64-bit CPU isn't hampered by those problems, as its increased addressing space of 64-bits versus the current 32-bits, allows it to address up to a potential 16 exabytes of memory -- that's 16 billion gigabytes, quite a jump from the previous generation. Having a 64-bit data path also doubles the amount of data that can be fetched at any one time, increasing data throughput within the processor itself.

The earliest 64-bit processors were server-based affairs designed explicitly for 64-bit operating systems, but the current crop of 64-bit processors, first seen in the consumer space with AMD's Athlon 64 line of CPUs. Consumer-level 64-bit CPU like the Athlon 64 can handle both current 32-bit operating systems and software, as well as true 64-bit software designed specifically for a 64-bit CPU. So with a 64-bit CPU, you're still going to get solid performance from existing applications, as well as a touch of future-proofing when 64-bit applications become more solidly mainstream. For the moment, the best work you can get out of a 64-bit CPU is in the gaming arena, as the CPU-intensive nature of gaming -- combined with several gaming engines which have been or are being optimised for 64-bit computing -- give gamers a solid edge.

Join the PC World newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

PC World Staff

PC World
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles


PCW Evaluation Team

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?