Ken Colburn: Before you get too hyped up about the 64-bit revolution, let's make sure you aren't "buying a car based on the tachometer."
Q. Sixty-four-bit Windows 7 is a must for me as I bought a quad core PC for its power, only to discover that this power is limited by having a 32-bit OS. Do I need to buy the full version, or can I buy the upgrade version since I have Vista 32-bit? - Jesse
A. Before you get too hyped up about the 64-bit revolution, let's make sure you aren't "buying a car based on the tachometer."
Without question, the future of personal computing is in the 64-bit realm. Sixty-four-bit processors and operating systems have been out for quite a long time, but primarily are only useful to very knowledgeable techies who have specific tasks they need to address such as video editing, computer-aided design, graphic design or gaming.
Windows 7 is poised to change all of that for even casual users. But in my opinion, if you commit to it right now you are on the back end of the "leading edge," which often translates to the "bleeding edge" because of the problems that come with new technologies.
Here is why I view 64-bit computing in the late stages of the leading edge:
* Sixty-four-bit operating systems require 64-bit processors (which you have but most older computers don't);
* To take full advantage of the 64-bit platform, you must also have 64-bit applications, which are few and far between for the casual computer user;
* You must have 64-bit drivers for all of your hardware and peripherals (forget about support for really old components, printers, scanners, etc.);
* You must have 64-bit anti-virus software and other vital security software;
* You're wasting your time if you don't have more than 3Gb of RAM - actually 4-8 Gb to really make it worthwhile;
* You must be willing to put up with companies that are still trying to get their drivers and software compatible with 64-bit operating systems, which, thanks to Vista, is becoming much less of an issue.
While having a 64-bit operating system can be viewed as "future-proofing," the question you have to ask yourself is: are you willing to take the chance of compatibility problems in order to be ready for the future? For example, iTunes seems to be a common configuration issue for many 64-bit converts on Internet forums.
For most folks, seeing any appreciable difference between a 32-bit and 64-bit system while surfing the Internet, checking e-mail and writing letters is likely to be slim to none. Power users, hard-core gamers and vertical application business users are a different story, but that's not who reads my column.
None of the "average user" tasks really stress a properly configured 32-bit system. With all the 64-bit hype, too many users are improperly blaming the "32-bit limitation" as the reason their computers are running so slow.
The reality is that most folks don't properly maintain their computers and are inundated with unnecessary programs, hidden malware and cheap hardware that wouldn't have a prayer of running a 64-bit OS anyway!
For those buying a new computer with lots of 64-bit friendly hardware and lots of RAM, you're in a much better position to make the transition than those with older systems that have just barely enough hardware to run a 64-bit OS.
As to your upgrade question, you can purchase the upgrade version of Windows 7 64-bit, but you will have to do a "clean install" (wipe everything out and start from scratch) as you cannot perform an "in-place" upgrade going from Vista 32-bit to Win 7 64-bit.
In review, 64-bit is absolutely the way to go if you can verify your hardware, peripherals, drivers and programs are all compatible with a 64-bit environment.
If you are technically incapable of determining these things, too lazy to do the homework or don't want to have to wipe out your existing Windows Vista installation, stick to the 32-bit version (or consult a knowledgeable professional).
If you are somewhere in-between, wait a little while so that more of the issues can be discovered and you can benefit from the learning curve forged by others.
Ken Colburn is president of Data Doctors Computer Services and host of the "Computer Corner" radio show, which can be heard at noon Saturdays on 92.3 KTAR-FM and at www.datadoctors.com/radio. Readers may send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.