A 64-Bit Computer: Your Next PC?

Upcoming CPUs from AMD and Apple suggest 64-bit computing will come to a PC near you as soon as this spring.

What does that mean for you? Put it this way: It's not about more megahertz--it's about doubling the amount of data a CPU can process per clock cycle.

A 64-bit PC won't make your word processor run faster, but it can dramatically improve more-demanding applications, resulting in smoother, faster video encoding; better performance on complex programs like CAD; and richer, more detailed games. Over the long term, 64-bit computing will give programmers server-level power and could revolutionize what desktop software can do.

The 64-bit chips (Apple's IBM-made G5 and AMD's Athlon 64) process more data than 32-bit CPUs (Intel's Pentium 4, the Athlon XP, and the Motorola-made G4), and they can address more memory. While 32-bit chips address up to 4GB of physical memory, a 64-bit chip can address up to 16 exabytes of RAM--that's 16 billion gigabytes. (Apple's shipping G5, and high-end Athlon 64 PCs, due this fall, will likely hold a maximum 8GB of RAM, however.)

Though it has the 64-bit Itanium server chip, CPU powerhouse Intel has conspicuously not announced a 64-bit desktop chip. (Unlike AMD's and Apple's chips, Itanium can run 32-bit apps only under slower software emulation.) But there are rumors that Intel has ready a 32- and 64-bit-capable CPU, code-named Yamhill, in case 64-bit desktop computing takes off.

To take advantage of 64-bit chips, you need a 64-bit-capable operating system, apps, and hardware drivers. They won't emerge anytime soon.

Apple's Jaguar and Panther OS upgrades (both due this year) will support 32-bit apps that can make 64-bit requests of the CPU. But a full 64-bit OS has not been announced. Athlon 64 will work like previous Athlons under Windows XP, but its 64-bit abilities will be dormant until Microsoft ships a 64-bit Windows for the chip. That OS, which will support 32-bit apps, is in testing; no word yet on its ship date.

Most software vendors are vague about when their products will offer 64-bit support. Epic Games, maker of the Unreal franchise, is an exception. It has already updated Unreal Tournament 2003 and is awaiting a compatible 64-bit OS, says Tim Sweeney, company founder and lead programmer. In the works is Epic's first fully 64-bit game, due in 2005.

Join the newsletter!


Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Tom Mainelli

PC World
Show Comments

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles


PCW Evaluation Team

Andrew Teoh

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

Touch screen visibility and operation was great and easy to navigate. Each menu and sub-menu was in an understandable order and category

Louise Coady

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

The printer was convenient, produced clear and vibrant images and was very easy to use

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Walid Mikhael

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

It’s easy to set up, it’s compact and quiet when printing and to top if off, the print quality is excellent. This is hands down the best printer I’ve used for printing labels.

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?