Recently I received an email where someone asked me point blank why it seems like there is better adoption for 32bit Linux vs that of 64bit. Honestly, I can see why this would be confusing. With the general thought that 64bit Linux is faster, many people are finding themselves being drawn to it over that of the 32bit option. In this article, I will be explaining why the desire to try 64bit Ubuntu is just silly. Not saying you should avoid it by any means, rather that choosing to install it over that of a 32bit distro is simply unneeded most of the time.
The speed debate
There is the common belief that by using 64bit Ubuntu, that somehow you will be experiencing a faster Linux experience. The thinking is because most of us are using dual-core processors now, you will see a significant speed increase. News flash – you can experience this today on 32bit Ubuntu. Open up the GNOME system monitor and see for yourself. If you click into the resources tab, you will see a simulated CPU1 and CPU2. Each of these little guys is handling what it needs to and your system is running better for it. Replacing the 32bit Ubuntu install will do NOTHING to speed up casual usage. Despite many claims to the contrary, I have yet to see any actual proof that non-optimized software performances any better. And no, benchmarking is not something concrete to go with. It means nothing in most Linux user scenarios. It might be worthwhile with select video editing apps however, if the code is optimized for it.
If you happen to be thinking that you need to run with more than 4 GBs of RAM, then using 64bit Ubuntu would make sense. Because 32bit Ubuntu is unable to handle this itself, the need to go with the 64bit option would be a logical choice. Honestly though, this is only really an issue for servers, no one in their right mind needs more than 4 GBs of RAM for their Ubuntu box. Other OS’, sure. But not with a fresh install of a Linux distro like Ubuntu.
Software and Flash player
Not all that long ago, 64bit Ubuntu users had to use a sloppy wrap-a-round tool to make 32bit Flash work on their systems. It was unstable, messy and often times failed without cause. Today however, Adobe has a 64bit Flash product in beta testing. It works fine, but it’s not nearly as well supported as the 32bit option. So if you enjoy using Flash games and videos, be aware of this or choose 32bit Ubuntu.
As for software, I have found that every single application I have ever used on 32bit Ubuntu, works the same on the 64bit release. I have been told there are exceptions, but generally speaking the support is very good.
Which is the best option?
If you’re buying from a vendor like System76 that provides their machines with 64bit Ubuntu, stick with it. Not because it’s better, rather because the odds are it won’t make any real difference in changing. Might as well use what they’re supporting, right? Especially if buying a system with a LOT of RAM included. For the rest of you self-installers, I’d just use what your RAM dictates. If you are using 4 or less GB or RAM, why set yourself up with frustration with select software titles. While applications like Skype have begun to support 64bit Ubuntu. In the end, use what you want…I doubt it will matter much in the user experience anyway.