At the beginning of 2009 I’ve decided to migrate to Windows Vista 64-bit and take advantage of the additional features and improvements. Although some people say that the 64-bit version is not ready for mainstream usage yet, after using it for two weeks and running some benchmarks I must say that this is not true. In this article I will give you an overview of what it means to upgrade to Windows Vista 64-bit. I will present the benefits and limitations introduced by Windows Vista 64-bit, the things you should pay attention to before upgrading, the gain in performance and my user experience since working with it.
The benefits of using Windows Vista 64-bit
There are a couple of benefits when using 64-bit versions of Windows Vista:
- They Work With More Than 4 GB of RAM – from my perspective, this is a very important benefit. RAM memory is very cheap nowadays, and many people can afford installing 4GB or more. More memory translates into better performance when running games and applications that process large amounts of data, or when doing video editing and other tasks which use a lot of memory.
- Increased Performance for 64-bit Programs – programs which are designed to take advantage of a 64-bit operating system will run faster than their 32-bit counterparts.
- Enhanced Security Features – you will benefit from features such as hardware-backed Data Execution Protection (DEP) and Kernel Patch Protection. These features will help prevent security attacks that might succeed on 32-bit versions of Windows Vista which use methods known as buffer overflow and kernel patching. If all these terms sound like gibberish to you, then you should remember only the fact that 64-bit versions are more secure than the 32-bit versions.
Limitations introduced by Windows Vista 64-bit
Like in life, there’s no gain if there’s no pain. Installing 64-bit versions of Windows Vista introduces the following limitations:
- You Cannot Install 16-bit Applications – 16-bit applications were developed when Windows 3.11 and Windows 95 were on the market. All software companies are now developing only 32-bit or 64-bit applications. Therefore this is not exactly a big loss unless you want to install & use some application or game developed 10 years ago.
- You Cannot Install 32-bit Drivers – 32-bit device drivers are not supported. You must use native 64-bit drivers. This can be a problem if you are using old hardware or devices from producers which do not offer 64-bit support. They are not that many but you still need to be careful, especially with older devices. Double check if there are 64-bit drivers available for all your hardware before installing Windows Vista 64-bit.
- Driver Signing is Mandatory – this basically means that all drivers must be digitally signed so that Windows knows that they are provided by a legitimate publisher. This is not necessarily a problem. Driver signing is used by Microsoft to evaluate the quality of drivers that are installed. A digitally signed driver is one that has been more thoroughly tested for Windows compatibility. Therefore this is not only a limitation but also a benefit.
What you must consider when installing Windows Vista 64-bit
There are two things you need to consider when installing a 64-bit version of Windows Vista:
- Device Drivers – make sure you double checked the availability of drivers for Windows Vista 64-bit. Don’t forget to check also your external devices such as printers, scanners, etc.
- Incompatible Applications – there are some 32-bit applications that won’t function on 64-bit. However, most of them will work. Personally I have encountered only one application which did not work on my 64-bit Windows Vista. Still, I’ve easily replaced it with an alternative offering the same functionality.
Microsoft continuously updates the list of compatible hardware and software. If you want to know if the devices or software you are using work on Windows Vista 64-bit, check out the Windows Vista Compatibility Center. To filter the results more easily, you can also use it’s Advanced Search feature. Another good destination for finding software that works on Windows Vista 64-bit is the Catalogue of 64-bit Software.
Benchmarks on Windows Vista 64-bit vs 32-bit
In order to evaluate the percentage of improvement generated by the migration to Windows Vista 64-bit, I installed 3DMark & PCMark Vantage Pro Editions on my PC. The hardware configuration details of my system can be found in the screenshot below.
First, I ran both benchmarks twice on my Windows Vista 32-bit and recorded the best results. Afterwards I installed Windows Vista 64-bit and all the applications I use on a daily basis. Then I ran both benchmarks twice and recorded the best results. In order to evaluate the performance impact for 32-bit applications running on Windows Vista 64-bit, I also ran the 32-bit edition of PCMark Vantage on Windows Vista 64-bit and recorded the results.
3DMark Vantage results
3DMark Vantage is a benchmark measuring 3D gaming capabilities, based on comprehensive real-time 3D graphics and processor tests. As you can see from the screenshot below, the improvement obtained in Windows Vista 64-bit is only 0.8%.
The GPU score, measuring the performance of the video card, was the same in both versions of Windows Vista. The CPU score, measuring the performance of my processor in games, increased from 4257 to 4364, which represents an improvement of 2.5%.
From these results it seems that, unless they are optimized to run on 64-bit, you won’t have a very noticeable performance improvement in games. Other benchmarks seem to confirm this. However, there are performance intensive games such as Crysis who benefit a lot from playing on 64-bit.
PCMark Vantage results
PCMark Vantage is a benchmark which measures performance across a variety of common tasks such as viewing and editing photos, video, music and other media, gaming, communications, productivity and security. This gives you a pretty good overview of the overall performance improvement in general computing tasks.
As you can see from the screenshot below, the PCMark score was higher by 9.91% in Windows Vista 64-bit. This is a pretty good performance improvement.
The areas where PCMark reported the biggest improvements are: image manipulation, data encryption and decryption, data compression and text editing. The results are as expected: the biggest benefits are seen when processing large amounts of data and when working with math intensive applications.
In order to check if there is any performance decrease when running 32-bit applications on Windows Vista 64-bit I ran the 32-bit version of PCMark Vantage on it. As you can see from the chart above, the performance impact is very small. The decrease of performance was a neglijable 1.78%. Therefore you shouldn’t worry about losing performance when running 32-bit applications.
My user experience with Windows Vista 64-bit
After two weeks of using Windows Vista Ultimate 64-bit, I must say I’m pretty happy with it. There weren’t too many negatives about it, except the fact that I had to double check that I have drivers for it and replace an old Mustek scanner which had no 64-bit support. In terms of applications I had problems with RocketDock which does not support 64-bit versions of Windows and with the 64-bit version of 7-Zip which had some weird bugs. Fortunately, I quickly solved both problems by replacing RocketDock with ObjectDock and by installing the 32-bit version of 7-Zip which functions perfectly.
Update: RocketDock works on 64-bit, it is just not officially supported by the software developer.
Other than these two small annoyances I did not encounter any problems. Windows Vista Ultimate 64-bit looks the same as its 32-bit counterpart and there aren’t any special differences you need to get accustomed to. From a usability perspective both versions of Windows Vista are the same.
Windows Vista 64-bit – Is it worth the upgrade?
The answer is “Yes!.” The only downside is that you need to spend a bit of time investigating whether you have appropriate drivers for it and replacing one or two applications which don’t support 64-bit. However, the benefits do make up for these small annoyances. First of all, you are no longer limited to using 3.25GB of RAM and you can install as much memory as you need. On top of that, you do get performance improvements and improved security built into the Operating System.
If you migrated already to 64-bit editions of Windows Vista don’t hesitate to share your experience with us. Many people will want to know how it works for you.
NOTE: You cannot literally upgrade from Windows Vista 32-bit to 64-bit. You must make a clean install.
Performance Shootout: Vista 32-bit versus Vista 64-bit
Catalogue of 64-bit Software