How Many Bits? 32 or 64?
What is 64 Bit?
It seems strange but while most of us run 64bit computers we are using 32bit Operating Systems. Of course there are good reasons for this if you use Windows. Microsoft has not shown a great deal of support for 64 bit systems although it has provided them for some time. The level of driver support is reported to make Vista look good. However with Linux the situation is very different. Many distros offer a 64 bit option. While the level of support varies between distros they are mostly valid options.
So why would you use a 64bit version in preference to the standard 32 bit? The answer is as varied as why do you use Linux? There is a performance advantage but how much and whether it is discernible will depend on the applications you use. Those that manipulate large amounts of data will benefit the most but only if there are 64bit executables available. There is also the issue of addressable memory. 32 bit systems are limited to 4 gig of ram.
There is a good post of the Fedora forums with more information much of which is applicable to all Linux distros and not just to Fedora.
Having read that post and others I decided to give 64(x86_64) bit a try. I obtained a Fedora 8 x86_64 DVD and installed it on my Dell Inspiron 1520. I covered the 32bit(i386) installation earlier and so won’t repeat that except to say I had to follow the same basic procedure. The setup went as well as last time but with a few differences.
What was Different?
To have Flash in Firefox it is necessary to use nspluginwrapper and the i386 Flash plugin. This is covered on the Fedora forums where there is an area especially for x86_64.
The other pleasant surprise was that PulseAudio worked for me. Once I found that Kmix didn’t have Output enabled, the green light was off, I enabled it and I had audio. Note to self, when playing with Audio settings have the volume control on the desktop so if it suddenly works you don’t deafen everyone and have to fumble around to turn it down. Occasionally it fails to load on bootup or resuming from Sleep but that is much rarer than with i386 and the sound quality is much better. A restart of X usually fixes the problem anyway.
There were no other issues I hadn’t already faced with the original installation and so I am pleased with the change. There is a small performance improvement in things like image editing and I haven’t found any disadvantages.
I did mention in the previous post that my multimedia controls on the front panel weren’t working. Further investigation showed they were recognised but not assigned so I set up Amarok to use them and they all work fine.
Is It For You?
If you are using Windows, don’t bother. Unless you switch to Linux of course. For Linux users, if your favourite distro has a x86_64 option and your hardware is compatible and most PCs sold in the last couple of years are, see the link to the Fedora forum for info on that, give it a go. If your favourite distro doesn’t have a x86_64 option ask why or give Fedora a go.