Seven years after AMD first unleashed its Athlon 64 desktop chips, it looks as though the 64-bit revolution is finally about to kick off. Microsoft has revealed that out of all the Windows 7 installations out there, a massive 46 per cent of them are 64-bit.
The figures are based on the number of installations at the end of June this year, and make a stark contrast with the stats for previous versions of Windows. For example, 89 per cent of Windows Vista installations were 32-bit in the same time period, and a whopping 99 per cent of Windows XP installs used the 32-bit version.
The latter isn't particularly surprising, given that Windows XP 64-bit is a veritable haunted house of compatibility issues. However, the figures for Windows 7 show that 64-bit computing is quickly approaching being a standard. It's also worth noting that the Windows 7 figures will include the Starter Edition which is often bundled with netbooks, of which there isn't even a 64-bit version available.
On the Windows Team Blog, Microsoft's Windows communications manager Brandon LeBlanc cites memory access as one of the main reasons for the shift to 64-bit computing. A 32-bit operating system can only address 4GB of memory, and this includes all the odds and sods such as graphics memory, as well as the main system RAM.
Comparably, a 64-bit operating system can theoretically address millions of terabytes, although Windows 7 is limited to more practical amounts. The Home Premium Version can address up to 16GB of RAM, while the Professional and Business editions can address up to 192GB of RAM.
According to LeBlanc, the decreasing cost of memory has made it more practical for OEM system builders to load up their machines with more RAM, which in turn requires a 64-bit OS.
"OEMs today have fully embraced 64-bit," says LeBlanc. "We have seen many OEMs convert entire consumer lines of PCs to 64-bit only - which can be seen quite a bit today in North America. According to Stephen Baker at NPD, 77 per cent of PCs sold at retail in April 2010 in the US had a 64-bit edition of Windows 7 pre-installed."
He also points out that a much wider range of hardware is now compatible with 64-bit Windows 7 than it was with previous 64-bit operating systems. He puts this down to the hard work of Microsoft's partners, but also to the success of the Windows 7 Logo programme, which requires 64-bit compatibility, as well as Microsoft's online Compatibility Centre.