This question continues to pop up, even after all this time.
The news is mixed.
The good news is that 10GB is plenty of RAM for 64-bit Windows. By running 32-bit, you’ve only been using, at most, four gigabytes of your memory.
Unfortunately, the path to get there from here isn’t as easy as we might want.
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Almost all PCs sold in the last decade or so are 64-bit capable. Older machines may still have older versions of Windows running on them, and some of them — like yours — may be running 32-bit versions, even though they could run 64-bit.
Any new machine purchased today will almost certainly come with the 64-bit version of Windows 10, particularly if it has, or can be upgraded, to more than four gigabytes of RAM. Check your system properties to see which edition you have. In Windows 10, right-click on the Start menu, click on System (in other versions, right-click on Computer/My Computer/My PC in the Start menu), and click on Properties.
There is no “upgrade”
The first and most important thing to realize about upgrading from 32-bit Windows to 64-bit Windows is that regardless of the version or edition of Windows involved (XP/Vista/7/8/10, Home/Pro/Ultimate/Enterprise/Whatever), there is no upgrade installation.
The only way to switch from 32-bit Windows to 64-bit Windows is with a clean install. There is no path for an upgrade that would do things like preserving installed programs and settings. You must start over from scratch.
Since an “upgrade” from 32 to 64 bits is really a clean install, it boils down to these steps:
- Back up your machine completely. This preserves your data and provides a fallback should anything go wrong.
- Boot from Windows installation media and install the new 64-bit version of Windows from scratch.
- Install and update all of your tools and applications from scratch.
- Update everything, meaning make sure that Windows, as well as your applications, is as updated as possible.
- Restore data from your backup or other sources.
It’s a simple, short list that represents a lot of work.
Why you want to
If you’re running 32-bit Windows, you’re using less than half the 10GB of RAM you have installed. By the very nature of being 32 bit, the 32-bit version of Windows can access at most only four gigabytes of RAM, and typically much less.
64-bit versions are the only versions of Windows that have the ability to use more than four gigabytes of RAM.
Thus, I strongly suggest you move to 64-bit software to take advantage of the hardware you have.
A lot has been written about compatibility concerns when moving to 64-bits. Most of the concerns are overstated.
The majority, though certainly not all, of software that runs in 32-bit Windows runs in 64-bit Windows. Windows 64-bit has a compatibility layer specifically designed to allow 32-bit software to run.
In my experience, most software just works. Personally, I have never encountered a failure, although I have heard of rare cases where software fails — typically, it’s a failure to run in the latest version of Windows, but occasionally it’s a failure to run specifically in 64-bit Windows.
This is also an opportunity to see if your applications themselves have been updated to run in 64-bit. Just like Windows, applications updated to run in 64-bit Windows will make more efficient use of the hardware and will often run slightly faster.
My advice is pretty simple: bite the bullet and upgrade. Do the backup, reformat, and install-from-scratch described above. Plan to spend a little time with it.
But the result should be a nicely working machine that takes advantage of all the RAM you’ve given it.
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