32-bit in a 64-bit world

Posted: December 8, 2009 in Apple, hardware, Mac OSX, software
Tags: , , ,

I was about to update a program i use quite often and had the option of grabbing the 64-bit version or the 32-bit version, and thats when i realized i wasn’t sure if i was running 64-bit or not.  Snow Leopard is a 64-bit OS but does not natively boot into 64-bit out of the box.  I first checked by rebooting and holding down the 6 and 4 buttons as it restarted, then opened system profiler. Nope – still says 32-bit as shown in “64-bit Kernel and Extensions”

systemprofiler

Not being one to rule out that i hadn’t made a mistake or not held the buttons down long enough, i then opened up terminal and checked the firmware – and sure enough, same thing, 32bit as shown by the “EFI32” in the screenshot below. (if you want to check if your Mac is capable of running 64-bit just type the command as below starting with “ioreg… )  If you have 32-bit firmware – thats the code that boots your computer – you cannot boot into 64-bit kernel.

32bit-terminal

If you can reboot into 64-bit mode, great, since tests show that the speed gains can be quite noticeable, but if not, don’t despair you can still take advantage of software that will run in 64-bit mode even on a 32-bit kernel and you will get some of the benefits even if you don’t see the true full performance. That being said, any speed increase is always welcome – you don’t hear people complaining about computers being too fast, or software being too responsive.

Some software may experience compatibility issues due to certain drivers, etc, but  typically the problems are minor and its quite easy to just try the software and see if it works in 64-bit mode.  There are a number of ways to check out which may and may not work.  Refer to the “Get-info” captures below.  In the first one for HandBrake.app you can see the version actually states it is 64-bit (the x86_64) and in the second image for Address Book.app you can see that the app has the option to Open in 32-bit mode which implies that the app is actually a 64-bit native app.  The third one, Comic Life.app, is not able to run 64-bit, its not an option as indicated by the ability to Open using Rosetta.

32bit-app-info

As you can see, there are some 64-bit apps out there, and as far as i know all the apps included with Snow Leopard are native 64-bit.  Running 64-bit programs can give you a little speed boost and make better use of your system resources, so whenever possible grab the 64-bit version of software when given the choice, its cheaper than a hardware upgrade.

tcg

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