Sunday, November 22, 2009

Will Win 7 Leave Users Champing at the Bits?

HERE WE GO again! Welcome to the hoopla, hype, and hubbub that invariably accompanies the release of any full-blown Microsoft operating system. I’m not saying that the excitement is unjustifi ed. For many PC users, the release of Windows 7 is a big deal; and it may be the event of the year or (considering its predecessor) the decade. After all, Win 7 promises to shake up the computing landscape in ways that Windows Vista didn’t: forcing upgrade decisions on consumers and businesses, while selling boatloads of new PCs, laptops, and netbooks to users who long ago highlighted October 22, 2009, on their Outlook calendars. I understand the enthusiasm. As our hands-on testing demonstrates, Microsoft ’s latest operating system is a winner and well worth the upgrade, even if you choose to take your sweet time about adopting it. Still, I can’t help feeling vaguely disappointed. Why? Because Windows 7, for most of us, will be a 32-bit operating system.

Given that desktop hardware has been capable of supporting 64-bit operations since 2003, we should be expecting more by now. Yes, the Windows 7 installation disc ships with a 64-bit version of the OS. But if you’re running 32-bit Windows now (and you probably are), there’s no easy way to upgrade to 64-bit Win 7. So by default, most of us will be eschewing the brave and zippy new world of 64-bit computing.

Even if you’re willing to go the extra mile of backing up your data, wiping your system clean, and performing a 64-bit install from scratch, you’ll probably have trouble with device drivers,
utilities such as antivirus, and maybe
even some browser plug-ins—in which
case your upgrade could turn into a
downgrade in a hurry. In other words,
we’re still stuck in 32-bit land, and I
don’t see that changing anytime soon.

The Business of Bitness
In case you’re not familiar with the implications of 32- and 64-bitness, I’ll keep it simple. A 64-bit machine can handle far more data and memory at any instant than a 32-bit machine can. And the rule of thumb for computing is: more bits, better; fewer bits, worse. Any PC or Mac built today has a core architecture designed to run in 64-bit mode. When you operate it instead in 32-bit mode, you let some of the system’s power go to waste. In addition, 32-bit Windows (or Linux or Mac) can’t take advantage of more than 4GB of RAM. In view of the minuscule prices of memory today, limiting yourself to 4GB represents a missed opportunity. The speed advantages of more bits may seem largely theoretical at this point, since the hardware, the OS, and individual applications must support 64-bit operations in order to show real improvement. The first two items are a given; the last…not so much: Most everyday apps are still compiled for 32 bits. They’ll run on 64-bit Windows, but they won’t give you any noticeable performance boost. Still, the fastest machine PC World has tested for this issue—an overclocked 2.66GHz Core i7 920 PC running at 3.6GHz—was a 64-bit powerhouse. If we had thrown any 64-bit apps at it (for compatibility, we used our standard WorldBench 6 test suite of 32-bit apps), it would have screamed.

Despite the potential advantages, we’re still at least one computing generation away from a common 64-bit experience. Though plenty of brand-new machines, unencumbered by legacy drivers and soft ware, will ship with 64-bit Windows 7, the vast majority of PCs are not new. Furthermore, workplaces around the world are chockablock with machines that will stay at 32 bits for the rest of their useful (and in some instances not-so-useful) lives. It’s a chicken-and-egg problem. Without a critical mass of vocal users who demand better-performing systems with more than 4GB of usable RAM, vendors won’t bother developing the drivers and soft ware that would make 64-bit computing a popular option. And we’ll continue to be trapped in this 32-bit morass for years to come. Maybe it’s time for impatient PC users to make some noise, bit by bit.

Source of Information : PC World November 2009

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