I've just got my first 64-bit-capable laptop (previously I've only dealt with 64-bit on servers). Of course the first thing I am going to do is to format the hard drive and install Ubuntu instead of Vista, and the question is should I install 32-bit or 64-bit Ubuntu?

Here are the details which can matter:

CPU: Core 2 Duo 2 GHz, RAM: 3.45 GB. I am going to intensively use multitasking, virtualization (VirtualBox) and run memory-heavy Java, C# and native applications.

I ask because my experience shows that 32-bit desktop systems usually work faster and consume less memory. And as far as I know (have read somewhere, never tried myself) 64-bit Java is known to be extremely RAM-wasting compared to 32-bit JRE.

  • I cannot answer why 32-bit system worked faster in your case, however 64-bit systems consuming more memory is probably because it processes more than 32-bit systems simply due to it's capability to do so. By the way, is this experience of yours with both Windows and Linux? – Oxwivi Feb 17 '11 at 19:17
  • My experience of 64-bit on desktop (laptop actually) is with Windows 7 only, and the conclusion of it is that 32-bit Windows and 32-bit Windows applications do much (really) better than 64-bit in case of ordinary desktop (office, web, etc) usage. – Ivan Feb 17 '11 at 19:31
  • Then I suggest, if you have the luxury of time, to try out 64-bit Ubuntu and compare to judge by yourself. That's the only way you can get a solid proof to help in your decision. – Oxwivi Feb 17 '11 at 20:06

Points to consider:

  • Because address space is larger, applications do consume more RAM. It's ralatively tiny but can be a deciding factor if RAM is the deciding factor (eg in a rented server). Desktop and even laptop RAM is cheap though.

  • Native programmes do run faster but it's not always a tangible difference. For big things however (as you suggest you'll be doing) it can make a real difference.

  • Compatibility is larely irrelevant these days. Flash is available and Sun Java works (there's even a native JRE that's fairly complete). You can run most pure 32bit binaries just fine, it's just a case of installing its dependencies.

  • Security is not really a factor. 32bit kernels support NX bits and most of the touted features.

  • Neither is the total memory limit unless you have processes that require more than 4GB of RAM. The PAE kernel works.

  • You shoud also look to the future. I don't like to reinstall when I can help it. The future is 64 bit and its performance gains will only increase s GCC gets further extended register optimisations.

In balance, unless this was a very RAM-tight system with no scope for upgrade, I'd go 64 bit.

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  • Some BIOSes can make the memory limit as low at 2GB of RAM on the 32bit kernels. In a pinch, though, you can always install the -generic-pae kernel to gain that memory and the hardware NX bit while still staying 32bit. I would agree with the overall answer: go 64bit. :) – Kees Cook Feb 18 '11 at 6:31

I highly recommend 64 bit operating systems wherever possible. One of the biggest benefits is security, though you also get an increase in speed, the maximum supported memory, and a few other areas. For running Virtual systems, 64 bit systems tend to be a better fit :)!

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You should take in consideration that there may be some software which runs into 32 bit versions of Ubuntu and there is NO such version for 64 bit version. So, even when you have those so-called "alternatives" to perform almost any task in 64 bit versions, make sure that you have found an "alternative" that fits your needs and makes you feel comfortable.

In example: To the date, I haven't found an alternative for a 64 bit version that makes me feel as happy as Mobile Media Converter does. 

Many people can say that I "can do some things about" but what I wish is Mobile Media Converter for a 64 bit version.

Nowadays they have released a 64 bit version right here.

Further than that and even when you can force the software to install, you may experience problems to perform everything you are used to do with ease in a 32 bit system.

Good luck!

BTW: There is no need to add comments related to "alternatives" to Mobile Media Converter. The rest of the comments are welcome.

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  • That's why I am not certain. Another reason is that my experience shows that 32-bit desktop systems usually work faster (from my experience with 64-bit Win7 and MsOffice2010) and consume less memory. And as far as I know (have read somewhere, never tried myself) 64-bit Java is known to be extremely RAM-wasting compared to 32-bit JRE. – Ivan Feb 17 '11 at 19:10
  • There are serious differences between MS based systems and Linux, and what you say is correct for me: I stopped using MS Based Systems a couple of years ago because of that horrible slowness and I am now feeling happy with my Linux. I am using Israel Remix 64 bit which is not different from other distros, but when I moved to a 64 bit version from the 32 bit, I had to face lots of changes. Fortunatelly everything can be done in Linux, which makes the difference. And you can feel tranquil: Linux 64 bit is FASTER than any version of Windows (64 bit). Just get ready for the change and go ahead! – Geppettvs D'Constanzo Feb 17 '11 at 19:20
  • BTW Mobile Media Converter is a favourite tool of mine too. I use it to convert FLV files (which I grab from YouTube-like services) to MPEG2 files to play them on my oldie TV set-top-box. What's the problem with Mobile Media Converter on 64-bit Ubuntu? I thought 32-bit apps were meant to run without problems on 64-bit systems... – Ivan Feb 17 '11 at 19:40
  • Well no. As fas as I can say with my current knowledge. If you try to install a software which is made for 32 bit systems you will receive a "Wrong Architecture" error message. As I mentioned before, you can "force" to install via a command in a terminal: sudo dpkg --force-architecture -i [name of the package] and you will have the software running but there will be unmet dependences which you should try to fix manually. To the date, I haven't found a way to make MMC to transcode but it can download files from youtube. LOL. – Geppettvs D'Constanzo Feb 17 '11 at 19:45
  • So I understand this is just a package management issue... – Ivan Feb 17 '11 at 22:27

Definately, yes.

Using Virtualbox myself for a 500ish user network with several virtual machines, and no problems at all here. And since this works perfectly, only going with 32-bits would be a waste.

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If your system has 4GB of ram or more, then yes. Thats the quick and obvious answer (and I noticed nobody else mentioned it)

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  • thta's because there are other benefits than just using 4GB+ of RAM, WHICH btw, PAE kernels are able to do ;) – Uri Herrera Feb 17 '11 at 19:28
  • That's probably because I've explicitly specified that I have 3.45 GB, which is less than 4 GB. – Ivan Feb 17 '11 at 19:34
  • ill just ask this because its funny: where did you find that 3.45GB RAM stick? or are you using 2 1.725GB sticks? – djangofan Feb 21 '11 at 23:19

No question here, the answer is Yes. If you have more than 3.8 GB or so of RAM, you won't use it with 32-bit.

I use 64-bit for desktop Ubuntu (and other distros) as well as server ubuntu (and other distros). I have not personally run into any issues or reasons not to use 64-bit, and I've had more than 4GB of RAM on every system for about 4 years; therefore, I never felt 32-bit was an option for me (and although many would say "your milage may vary" here, I think 64-bit is old enough now to be considered tried, tested, and true).

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  • 32 bit Linux uses PAE (Peripheral Adress Expansion) so can handle up to 64MB. This is not reason to use 64-bit. However, 64-bit is tried and tested so unless you have unusual hardware that only has 32-bit drivers or want to use 32-bit only applications there is no reason not to go 64-bit. 32 bit applications can be made on 64-bit systems however. – Warren Hill Apr 26 '13 at 19:28
  • Good point about PAE on linux (I often forget about it, thanks for the reminder). I've stuck with 64-bit for any OS for years now so I don't think about it much ;) – static Apr 30 '13 at 16:56

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