Few would dispute that the recent arrival of 64-bit processors in business and consumer PCs marks a significant milestone, but calling it a breakthrough is premature. More and more PCs are shipped with 64-bit processors and 64-bit Windows as the default operating system. As the price of memory continues to fall, it is more affordable to include large amounts of RAM to take advantage of the increased computing power 64-bit systems offer. However, that will have to wait until more critical applications are rewritten to exploit the new chips’ horsepower fully.
The ability to access much more memory lets 64-bit systems process more data per cycle. This in turn enables more scalable, higher performing computing configurations.4 It also allows for the development of more far more sophisticated models and software applications.
The expansion of 64-bit processors comes at a time when hardware prices continue to fall. Virtually all PCs have been shipping with multicore processors for some years now, and the price of RAM has gotten lower and lower. This means that very powerful desktops, servers, or clusters of multiple computers can be assembled relatively inexpensively, bringing what was once considered supercomputing power to the mainstream business audience.
As a result of these trends, High Performance Computing (HPC) systems are becoming commonplace. These HPC systems are clusters of multicore or multi-processor servers, running together in parallel processing to crunch more data, more frequently, and faster. Combined with HPC systems, 64-bit architecture represents an exponential improvement in performance for HPC systems.
64-bit computing also allows for more efficient multi-tasking, stress testing, data encryption, and other functions where 32-bit systems can fall short. And, 64-bit systems can support larger files more easily. For instance, a 4 GB file (which is not unusual) on a 32-bit system cannot be efficiently “mapped;” that is, only portions of the file can be accessed at a time, whereas with a 64-bit system, the entire file can be accessed at once.