32bit Vs 64bit Ubuntu

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.

32bit Vs 64bit Ubuntu
Photo by chicodj


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.

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  • https://launchpad.net/~hyperair Chow Loong Jin

    If I’m not mistaken, Ubuntu’s 32-bit kernels have PAE support these days, meaning that you can access more than 4GB of RAM using a 32-bit kernel.

    Another thing worth mentioning is that using a 64-bit userland can cause the memory usage to increase slightly, as the C pointers and longs are now 64-bits rather than 32-bits, so you may actually see a performance drop if you don’t have enough memory to sustain a 64-bit Ubuntu.

  • D Lowrey

    no one in their right mind needs more than 4 GBs of RAM for their Ubuntu box. Other OS’, sure.

    When I built my AMD quad-core two years ago…I put 8 GB of RAM into it…because I couldn’t find/afford to put in the 16 the board would actually support. True…I run Windows 7…but I also use VMWare Player quite a bit as well. That being the case…I got the 8 GB and was so much more happier for it.

  • http://profiles.google.com/gregeden1950 Greg Eden

    As of now the only way to get hardware accelerated flash is a 32bit Linux with proprietary Nvidia drivers. So if accelerated flash is important to you the decision is easy. Canon only supply 32bit Linux printer drivers, although they can be force installed in a 64bit system.

    I run 64bit for no real reason other than I see it as the future. My quad core AMD CPU runs flash fast and smooth enough without hardware GPU help.

  • Anon
  • Karl

    I’m personally using one workstation that is using a Sempron 64 3000+ with Ultimate edition 2.9 64 bit and a laptop that is using Ultimate Edition 2.3 32 bit. Besides one using 32 bit cpu and the other one a 64 with 2 gigs of ram on the 64 and 1 gig on the laptop. THe difference is not that major like you have mentioned if your going to be doing some video editing then go with the extra ram. Otherwise for either distro whether it is a 32 or a 64 bit version 2 gig should be more than enough to normal daily usage.

  • Marc

    I’ve been using 64-bit Linux (openSUSE) for years now, without any trouble with Flashplayer or anything else. Why? Because it’s the correct architecture for my processor.

  • Anonymous

    i’m an animator. it’s important for many media programs. it’s also the way things should be, it’s the current technology and it should be treated as such.

  • 64bitForEver:-)

    What the hell, ‘no one in their right mind needs more than 4 GBs of RAM for their Ubuntu box’… Did you ever hear of multi-tasking… all those applications run quite smoothier when they have their own chunck of dedicated RAM assigned to it. Or running some virtual boxes on your system… I only use 64bit versions of any OS, i have 16Gb of RAM in my workstation and my Linuxbox runs very happily with it. Every modern cpu is a 64bit version, so why bother using 32bit ??? In the end… we will be only using 64 bit versions of any OS out there… And all software will eventually run on only 64bit. So i recommend 64bit any day 😉

  • http://profiles.google.com/jjw3579 Jason White

    “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.”

    I have several virtual machines which beg to differ with you.

  • http://twitter.com/ubuntism reTimer

    I agree with the author. There are very few tasks that need 64-bit systems.

  • http://profiles.google.com/travissparks1307 Travis Sparks

    In my experience, 64 bit DOES perform better than 32 bit. One of the reasons 64 bit has been slow to adopt and doesn’t seem like it’s better, is because everyone is still using 32 bit, and this article doesn’t help. 64 bit is the future of home computing. The more people start using it, the more software development would be done in 64 bit. Once that happens, then the difference will become more obvious. The same happened when processors went from 16 to 32 bits. New technology is slow to adapt because people don’t use it. It’s the same with Linux. If more people used it, then more software would be written for it. The only reason for NOT using 64 bit is because you’re stuck in the technological dark ages.

  • Pete

    I’m with the author here, and while we’re at it i think we should stop all medical research because, frankly, leeches and bloodletting are prefectly adequate methods of curing all ails 😉

    I dont understand the viewpoint here at all if i’m honest, i think maybe the author ought to consider that not everu Linux user runs the same software, or even has the same purposes for, their computer as he does.

    I began using 64bit linux the instant i got 64bit chip (and i am a user). Admittedly there is no obviously noticable speed increase, hell it might even be marginally slower; i couldnt really say. But it certainly isnt any worse than 32bit, i’m yet to come across an application that simply wont run in 64bit, and considering that linux is ostensibly free, its not like i’m paying a premium for the privelige.

    The duel cores bit is a little irrelevant as far as i can see and it may be that 64bit flash isnt supported by adobe, but lets be honest here. If a video wont load on youtube are you really going to call Adobes support line to complain? I’ve been using the 64bit flash since it came out and while it’s a little buggy it generally works fine. This is Linux after all, and considering how far it’s come over the past five years i really can’t complain.

    Anyway, i’m off to ditch my laptop in favour of some parchment and a donkey ….

  • Joe

    I have used several of her programs over the years and have been missing her newsletter, had no idea she was in ill health. So sorry to hear of her passing.

    My sympathy to her family and friends

  • http://profiles.google.com/techie.geek.girl Tracy Fortune

    I have known of Karen forever…I am shocked at her passing-

    to her family- Karen was AWESOME! So apperciated…

    My sincerest condolences~ I am so very sorry for your loss,


  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_FH2VRRUZX7KF6434DGPNJICQVY bob3160

    Sorry to hear of her passing. I’ve also used some of her clever tools.
    My condolences to her family. She’ll be missed.

  • Epiovani

    I am one of the “old timers” who knew and used Karen’s knowledge and software along the first years of the Internet.
    ‘What a drag it is getting old…’

  • Davalc

    I, too, have never met Karen, but I too, felt as though I did from her personable and most informative news letter. Most evident she was generous with her time and knowledge. I downloaded and use many of her utility programs. I once wrote her an email thanking her for her effort, news letter and programs. I too wasn’t aware of her illness until yesterday, when her dear friend wrote to Karen’s readers of the very sad passing of Karen.
    My condolences to her family and her friends.

  • http://twitter.com/GavinRoskamp Gavin Roskamp

    It sounds like the Replicator software was Time Machine for the PC before it came out for the Mac!

    She will be missed dearly.

  • http://chris.pirillo.com/ Chris Pirillo

    She made the BEST freeware.