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Learning Guide: 64-bit basics for Windows administrators

Need to get up to speed on 64-bit computing? This guide introduces you to the basics, reviews best practices and pitfalls to avoid and provides troubleshooting help and advice.

 The first 64-bit processor actually came out back in 1992 when Digital Equipment Corp. introduced its Alpha AXP architecture. DEC is no longer around but today 64-bit processors are offered by Intel, AMD, IBM, Hewlett-Packard and Sun Microsystems. Already, 64-bit architectures, which handle twice as many bits of information in the same clock cycle as 32-bit architectures, can be seen in performance-intensive database management systems, servers, applications and desktops.

For businesses depending on complex data analysis, faster processors are becoming mandatory. Even Windows administrators who have no clear-cut timeframe for moving off their 32-bit servers need to evaluate their long-term buying plans, now that Microsoft's newest server software, such as Exchange 12, Longhorn and R2, will be running on 64-bit machines. This guide is designed to give these admins some of the information they need to do so.


64-bit Fundamentals  |  64-bit Administration



A 64-bit processor can process twice as many bits of data as a 32-bit chip can in the same number of compute cycles. But because it's the number of combinations of bits that really matters, this translates to much more than twice the processing power.

Moving from a 32-bit to a 64-bit architecture is a major change. Most operating systems must be modified to take advantage of the new architecture, while other software must be ported to use the 64-bit capabilities. For instance, older software is usually supported through a hardware compatibility mode (whereby the 64-bit processors support a 32-bit instruction set), through software emulation, or through the implementation of a 32-bit processor core within the 64-bit processor die (as with Intel's Itanium processors, which include an x86 processor core to run 32-bit x86 applications).

Windows Server 2003 is the first Microsoft operating system to fully support 64-bit computing (on Itanium). Learn more about processors.

  • 64-bit Windows -- when and why to use it
    The decision of whether to run 64-bit Windows in an enterprise becomes much easier to make when you cast a critical eye on the application that will be the star of the show.

  • 64-bit Watch
    We've assembled this reference guide to show you which 64-bit processors are available now for the hardware in your Windows network.

  • The lowdown on 64-bit
    We look at the architectures of Intel's and AMD's 64-bit processors, and analyze the pros and cons of each in the Windows world.

  • How 64-bit version of Windows differs architecturally from 32-bit version
    The x64 versions of Windows represent one of the few cases in which it is truly important for an admin to understand the underlying system architecture.

  • A primer on PCI devices
    Most of us are familiar with standard 32-bit PCI hardware: The interface connector on the card consists of one large and one small tab, with the smaller tab to the rear. There are also 64-bit PCI cards, which have a third tab at the rear that is larger than the second one but smaller than the first.

  • Survey says: 64-bit on readers' minds
    This survey asks users about their plans for implementing 64-bit technologies.

  • The 64-bit push is on for Windows shops
    Microsoft's decision to make future versions of Exchange and Windows 64-bit only means IT managers may need to reassess some of their long-range hardware rollout plans.



The IT industry is starting to migrate toward a 64-bit world, but the journey can be complicated. Read our collection of tips and advice below to help you navigate through the process.


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