August 3, 2007 4:00 AM PDT

64-bit PCs: Drivers wanted

Now that they're 64 (bits, that is), personal computers are still searching for developers to need them and feed them.

In 2003, Advanced Micro Devices released 64-bit chips for PCs in the form of the Athlon 64, and Intel followed suit in 2005. But the software needed to take advantage of those chips is harder to find than a Beatles song on iTunes.

Several issues have contributed to the problem, but as seen in other transitions, device drivers always seem to be front and center. Drivers are a vexing piece of the PC puzzle. They're small bits of software needed to make sure devices like printers, DVD drives and graphics cards connect properly to PCs and Macs, and they can cause major problems if something goes wrong.

Microsoft is requiring those device manufacturers to develop 64-bit drivers if they want their devices to work with the 64-bit edition of Windows Vista, in an effort to ensure that device drivers are written to proper standards. But hardware vendors and application developers haven't wanted to take the time and effort to develop new software for an operating system that very few people use. As a result, 64-bit Windows software is hard to find, although Microsoft says the situation is improving.

Apple, however, thinks it has found a quicker and easier road to bring its mainstream users into the 64-bit era. When Mac OS X Leopard comes around later this year, hardware makers will be able to use the 32-bit drivers they've already developed and qualified along with 64-bit applications built for Leopard.

"It's a nice migration path, and it recognizes the reality that the benefits of 64-bit (drivers) are somewhat limited," said Dean McCarron, principal analyst with Mercury Research.

In its simplest sense, 64-bit hardware allows a system to take advantage of more than 4GB of memory, the theoretical addressing limit of 32-bit systems. There are other performance advantages, but that's the main one.

But at present, putting more than 4GB of memory into a PC is a very expensive proposition. While that's starting to change, even today it's still pretty unusual for a PC to ship with more than 2GBs of memory.

Almost 90 percent of notebooks, and 73 percent of desktops, are bought by U.S. retail customers with either 1GB or 2GB of memory, according to CurrentAnalysisWest. Just over 15 percent of desktops come with 3GB, but desktops and notebooks with 4GB barely register on the needle.

Some gamers and scientific-computing professionals are already starting to push up against that limit, McCarron said. And as DRAM prices decline, 4GB of memory will become more common as a default option, he said.

So the hardware needed for a 64-bit world is getting close. The software, however, remains rare.

Microsoft released a 64-bit edition of Windows XP in 2005, but few people use it. Apple's Tiger operating system is able to address more than 4GBs of memory when run on 64-bit chips, but it's not a full 64-bit operating system the way Leopard will be.

And although Windows Vista is available in 64-bit versions, retail PCs are mostly sold with the 32-bit version of the operating system. Vista Ultimate comes with both 32-bit and 64-bit versions if you buy the boxed copy, but any other edition of Vista requires you to order the extra DVD from Microsoft an additional fee if you want the 64-bit version.

It's hard to estimate how many 64-bit users there are, Microsoft says, but it acknowledges that most mainstream PC users, and even many enthusiasts, have little reason to go 64-bit, for now. Even the next version of Windows, scheduled for the end of the decade, will arrive in both 64-bit and 32-bit editions, suggesting that Microsoft isn't prepared to fully commit to a 64-bit world this decade.

But in October, Apple plans to ship only one version of Leopard that can run both 64-bit and 32-bit applications. Apple thinks this will entice Mac OS developers to create 64-bit applications because every Mac shipping after October--and Core 2 Duo systems that upgrade to Leopard--will be able to run 64-bit applications, said Brian Croll, director of the company's OS X product marketing.

"If I'm an application developer, I can be assured that all those Leopard systems will be able to run my applications," Croll said.

Tiger, the current version of Mac OS X, has some 64-bit features that allow Macs to address more than 4GB of memory and take advantage of the Unix underpinnings of the operating system to run some 64-bit applications. But it doesn't allow Mac developers to create 64-bit applications using Cocoa, Apple's programming interface. That is what will arrive with Leopard.

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64-bit, 64-bit CPU, hardware maker, 32-bit, device driver

53 comments

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I've got 64-bit XP blues.
It's difficult to find a firewall that supports this OS, although antivirus products are slightly more common. Forget McAfee and Norton products, as well as ZoneAlarm/Checkpoint (forget all of them anyway, they stink). I was happy to see Avast is 64-bit, less so that Kerio/Sunbelt's firewall is not.

MS Office EXPLODES onto the screen in 64-bits, and then again, my dual-core AMD processor is a 5600+ so it's extremely fast. I can imagine how the next two sticks of 1Gb RAM will affect performance.

In all, it's a good OS bump but I'm not sure I'll be playing too many games on it (pity); I'll wait for them to catch up. In the meantime, I have a very secure and fast platform for at-home work and testing.

-R
Posted by Remo_Williams (488 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I feel your pain
Running XP 64 on a machine at home. Took me a week to get my Linksys WiFi card to work. Granted I could have easily gotten around that problem with a 30 foot cat5 cable, but to me, that shouldn't be necessary.

At one time XP 64 was a FREE download to anyone who had a valid XP 32 key, you basically traded one for the other. Not sure if they still offer that or not, but I thought that was a very cool offer.

It's been 4 years since AMD put out their 64bit processors... what's taking these hardware people so long to figure out that we are quickly moving to a 64bit world? Bigger apps and games are requiring more ram and in order to take advantage of that, we have to get past that 4gb 32bit barrier.

I'm really anxious about Crysis, but dread the Vista upgrade for DirectX 10 to fully utilize the game. I know you can hack DirectX 10 to get it on XP, but that seems pretty damn shady even for Microsoft to force you into a new OS by limiting DirectX to just Vista.

I am holding out as long as I can for my game machine on XP, but eventually it will have to go Vista unless MS changes their mind.

Pretty much every system sold now has a 64bit processor in it, so what's the f'n hold up on the 64bit support?
Posted by SeizeCTRL (1333 comments )
Link Flag
Vista 64 Bit Drives must be signed by MS
The author of the story fails to mention that 64 bit drivers for Vista must be signed by the Microsoft. This adds an addition set of steps to the release cycle. Namely, the hardware developer must submit the driver to MS, have it tested there, MS must sign it, and then deliver it back to the developer who may make it available to the end-user.

This cycle holds true for bug fixes.

OF course, MS charges a fee to sign the drivers.

Oh, and the signed driver can be revoked by MS at any time, if in MS's sole discretion the driver causes a security hole. (Note a security hole includes anything that might compromise the DRM built into Vista.)
Posted by John..k (8 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Way around it..
There's a way around the having to be digitally signed. I found the work around for a 3rd Party ATI console thing. You essentially put vista's driver check into a test mode that doesn't make it view the digital signing.
Posted by crazynexus (67 comments )
Link Flag
Interesting
I run 64bit Vista at home, and I've not run into any problems running software or finding drivers. THe only issue I had was my old dialup modem didn't have 64bit drivers, and I blame USR for that. Bought a modem that ran generic drivers that've been available since windows98, and had no problems (no longer use a modem, thank god). ATI, Asus, and Soundblaster have all released Vista64 bit drivers, and all my games save Medieval 2: TW run on it (I think that's just a patch issue). And like the previous poster, all my office type items just go pop right up onto the screen, it's great.
Posted by crazynexus (67 comments )
Reply Link Flag
64 Bit Software
I keep reading the comment that 64 bit software is available from MicroSoft for a fee. I wish this were true.

I recently made the mistake of #1 buying a Gateway PC with an AMD 64 bit chip and #2 buying a PC with Vista installed.

There is nothing wrong with the AMD, but Gateway provides 32 Bit Vista software only. When asked about upgrading to a 64 bit I was told that Gateway will not do that.

Micro Soft advised me that I can get 64 Bit Vista only if I purchase a new copy of Vista. The Vista that came with the machine does not qualify. In other words I have to buy the same product I already have in order to upgrade.

I am keeping my fingers crossed that Vista will go away like Windows Mellineum.
Posted by wyomingsundancer (23 comments )
Reply Link Flag
OEM
There's a qualifier in the OEM software... you don't get the same upgradability that retail copies and upgrade copies of vista get. So, you could say it's MS's business practice..or it could be because it's just OEM software. I bought OEM (as I build my own PCs), and sure, windows is only $80 when you do that, but I also can't upgrade my mobo unless I buy a new copy, and I had to make sure it was the 64 bit version, as the OEM does not have the ability to just get a new CD from MS to upgrade from 32 to 64.
Posted by crazynexus (67 comments )
Link Flag
Strange logic.
"I am keeping my fingers crossed that Vista will go away like Windows Mellineum."
You do know how business works, right? If you buy a product, they'll keep selling it. If you want a better OS than Windows, you have to buy a better OS than Windows. Fortunately, all of the alternatives are better.
Posted by Macaresafer (44 comments )
Link Flag
Keep Dreaming
Vista will not be the new windows millenium , over 60 million copies of Vista sold to date and counting ...
you should have checked with Gateway what version of Vista OS is included with your new PC if you wanted a 64-bit versiokn of OS .
Just because your PC has AMD 64-bit doesn't mean it will automatically come with a 64-bit version of the OS . Do your homework and quit complaining about nothing .
Posted by sokorie (18 comments )
Link Flag
OH I do so love it...
My Mac, that is. :-)

I have an old Power PC G5 iMac and its currently running OS 10.4.10 but I am looking to upgrade to Leopard when it comes out. NO problem with 32 or 64 bit, both are there, both will work fine, the drivers will all work fine. Life is so fine. :-)

Sorry, its friday and I just had to gloat a little. :-)
Posted by eldernorm (220 comments )
Link Flag
Easy solution
Just download 64 bit from internet and install it. You can use the same Vista serial key as you have - and you would have fully licensed software.
It is not upgrade from 32 bit to 64 bit. You do not need to pay money for that. Gateway might not provide you with all the drivers, but you can find them easily on the net.
If you can not find it on the net - then just ask someone to borrow 64 bit media - probably it will be Vista Ultimate 64 bit - but when installing you just choose the right version that you have - for example Vista Home Premium (it is legal - you are not using their license or serial - you have your own).
Posted by alenas (181 comments )
Link Flag
Not every time.
I can't remember specifics, but you can have it do it automatically on boot up (tha'ts how mine is at home). And that's entirely possible about the DRM, but I'm holding off on blueray and/or HDDVD anyway, not to mention my monitor doesn't support the whacko DRM that HDMI has built into it, nor does my video card. I'm one of those odd ones that's slowly upgrading their home theatre ;) So in my situation, doens't matter, but in yours or other peoples', that might not be the case.
Posted by crazynexus (67 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Next MS OS should be 64bit only
By the time the next MS OS comes out, there will be no reason to release a 32 bit version, except to help the industry maintain it's excuses for not pushing on to 64. When that OS comes out, virtually all CPUs relevant will be 64bit, and older 32 bit systems won't even have the power to run the new OS, (if history is any guide).

It's just time to move on. The change from Win 3.1 to Win 95 was the real push that brought on 32bit software. MS should use the next OS as the driving catalyst to move to 64, since Vista won't be it.
Posted by bemenaker (438 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Agreed
Too bad MS didn't have the vision to make Vista 64-bit only. DX10 isn't important enough to most mainstream users to make them want to switch from XP.
Posted by C.Schroeder (126 comments )
Link Flag
More than RAM
The biggest benefit from 64-bit computing is not raising the
RAM cap, although that will become increasingly relevant over
the years. The biggest benefit is the increased processing
capabilities. It is a jump forward similar to going from a single
core to a dual core chipset. Software must be programmed to
take advantage of it, and not all software will be able to take
advantage of it, but for those that can you may see twice the
performance.

It just pisses me off that Microsoft is dragging their feet so
much with this. Hopefully that doesn't hold back my Mac
software from going 64-bit.
Posted by CBWolf (56 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Almost never a big performance benefit
64-bit almost never improves the performance very significantly. In fact, all else being equal it will tend to DECREASE performance vs. 32-bit stuff.

The problem is that by going from 32-bit to 64-bit software you're memory pointers double in size. This is good in that it lets you properly address more then 4GB of memory, but it means more data being tossed around from the system.

The only time you'll see a performance benefit (not counting the addressable memory) is if you're actually USING 64-bit integers, and that is rare and usually pointless. 32-bit integers give you a range of 4 billion, so unless you have variables that need greater range you won't see any benefit at all (and, in fact, a slight decrease in performance) by using a 64-bit int.

There are a FEW applications that see a BIG benefit to 64-bit computing due to the 64-bit ints. Encryption is one good example where you can see at least a 2-fold improvement in performance. However this applications are definitely more the exception then the rule.

The original article is quite correct, the biggest benefit of the system is the larger addressable memory size, though the limit for 32-bit systems is actually only 2 or 3GB and NOT the full 4GB since some of your memory is reserved for use by the OS.
Posted by Hoser McMoose (182 comments )
Link Flag
For Linux: smooth sailing as usual
For all but the few propriotary drivers, 64 bit drivers are Just There for Linux. In many cases a recompile did the job, otherwise relatively trivial debugging fixed some glitches first. Linux 64 bit support has been there for many years and is 2nd nature.

My home theater PC runs 64 bit Linux (Fedora), flawlessly. Virusless, fanless, too. Works like a charm.
Posted by Frodo420024 (13 comments )
Reply Link Flag
What are you using for a video player ?
I've got a Fedora Home Theater PC, but running 32 bit mode - I Tried 64 Bit, but the drivers (at the time, I haven't checked lately) for my pcHDTV card weren't there *AND* - I was having problems with mplayer in 64 bit mode. (I didn't try xine)
Posted by John..k (8 comments )
Link Flag
I agree
As a Microsoft user, I do have a great respect for the Linux Distros. In simple, I believe that people who truly love their jobs are going to give a better performance. Linux is the proof, and Open Office is further proof, not to mention much more. XP64 and Vista are both in great trouble and I blame that on over management along with micro management, and nano management (yes they are all differant). With all that management they took the fun out of OS design.
Posted by Ted Miller (305 comments )
Link Flag
Using 64-bit Linux for 3 years now
I've started using 64-bit Linux a little more
than 3 years ago when I got my first 64-bit
processor (AMD Athlon 64). At that time I was
running Windows as my main OS and after seeing
how pathetic 64-bit support in Windows was (and
still is today, even in Vista) I started to use
Linux more seriously. Linux was runing almost
perfectly in 64-bit mode. And so were all the
apps. The only problem are the legacy closed
source propriatery app like Flash player which
still has no 64-bit version. The only open
source app that had problems with 64-bit world
was OpenOffice.org but it also now works just
fine 64-bit mode. So the only thing I can say
is, why wait for slow propriatery companies like
Microsoft to get up to speed when you can
already run in full 64-bit mode in the free and
open source Linux.
Posted by JLP (38 comments )
Link Flag
No Problems on my 64bit Vista
It wasn't that way at launch, but I can understand how the hardware manufactures were completely caught off guard by Microsoft's surprise release of Vista.

All kidding aside, I do understand why companies aren't exactly falling all over themselves to write 64 bit drivers for 5 year old hardware. They have already made their money and if it weren't for some are twisting from Microsoft, there probably would have been far fewer than were delivered.
Posted by webdev511 (254 comments )
Reply Link Flag
32-bit application run great on 64-bit Vista Ultimate
HOW strange the article doesn't mention this.
Many software vendors have 64-bit versions( Pinnacle Studio 11, WinTV, AverMedia, HP, etc...)
Have I been surprised that I have not had any driver issues with printers. 64-bit IE is awesome!
Posted by Bill.Tait (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Vista Ultimate...
...does cost £340 over here in UK, which is an absolute crime IMHO.
Posted by GeoNorth (51 comments )
Link Flag
Leopard is the right way to do it
Leopard is a universal binary that supports the following architectures
1) 32-bit x86
2) 64-bit x86
3) 32-bit PPC
4) 64-bit PPC

So, the OS has built-in libraries for all four architectures. So, the applications can also be quad binaries like this or a subset of that. The OS will load the appropriate libraries for appropriate machine architecture for optimal performance. So, developers can build quad-binaries with ease by just checking that option in X-Code. This is the way to migrate people quickly. Seamless. So, Apple will sell just one version of Leopard. People don't need to know what flavor it is. It is all hidden. This way developers are guaranteed that their apps will run on every machine that Leopard can run.

Microsoft way is to segment the market. They are killing themselves and slowing down the migration.
Posted by bommai (172 comments )
Reply Link Flag
One way to look at it
That is one way to look at it. Another way would be to say that since Leopard allows 32 bit drivers it is actually enabling third party manufacturers to delay their 64 bit support thus slowing down true migration to a 64 bit operating system. If all of your drivers and software are in 32 bit is it really a 64 bit operating system?
Posted by dmbainbridge (5 comments )
Link Flag
64 bits is not about RAM
Every time CNET talks about 64 bits it repeats the falsehood that this is to let you put more than 4GB in the machine. Both Intel and AMD have supported > 4GB RAM for a long time and Windows since at LEAST Windows 2000. IIRC Windows 2000 was limited to 16GB (because no bigger was available for testing), Windows 2003 to 64GB. 64 bits is about virtual, not physical memory.

What this means is that a single process cannot address more than 4GB, the part you care about is limited to 2GB (usually, unless you build the application has been build for /3GB and the system booted that way,... which is a bad idea because it limits the OS virtual address space to 1GB and that space is shared across processes).

A 'process' is an application and you can run more than one, thus you can utilize more than 4GB of physical RAM in a 32 bit system.

If you really care (eg you write database managers for a living), you can get more memory in your 32 bit app (on a 32 bit system) using the AWE (Address Window Extension) feature.

A little plus is that a 32 bit application running on a 64 bit system has a full 4GB virtual address space available to it.

And yes, you can run 32 bit and 64 bit applications on a 32 bit system (just reinforcing this as it's already been pointed out).

Most drivers in a 32 bit system already support up to 64GB of memory, well most might be an exaggeration but certainly any enterprise ready driver. Even 32 bit PCI supports this (a 64 bit address just takes two bus cycles).

So yeah, it's a shame MS didn't try to do something to shimmy 32 bit drivers into the 64 bit OS, but it wouldn't have been pretty.
Posted by ih8myusername (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
64 Bit
Increases the size of a data value that can be used in a single
cycle. The size of the value directly relates to the number of
addresses that can be accessed. It is not about RAM, but RAM is
certainly in that equation. It is certainly not all about RAM.
Addressing is a fundamental aspect of computing, and it is all
about memory storage, and management.
Posted by Thomas, David (1947 comments )
Link Flag
True, but ...
What you said is true. But, 64-bit software is significantly more efficient with RAM. 64-bit Half-Life 2 loads more than twice as fast.
Posted by i_am_still_wade (250 comments )
Link Flag
more ram is good ... but that's not what 64bits is about
To both comments in reply to mine, true. Yep, 64 bit apps use 64 bit pointers which takes up more space ... the apps might use 64 bit data too but most don't which is why the default data size on x64 is 32 bits. So yeah, more ram is used when running 64 bits.

And yeah, many apps run faster on 64 bits (though not all).

My point was that 64 bit virtual addressing is not a requirement for putting more than 4GB of RAM in your system ... a point which CNET makes every time it talks about 64 bits. 64 bit virtual addressing is about getting more virtual address space available per process, for Windows that means from 2GB available to an application (typically) to 8TB. But again, that's nothing to do with RAM of which you could already have 64GB in the machine.
Posted by ih8myusername (2 comments )
Link Flag
64-bit Vista and not a single driver crash.
I will admit though that my PC is high-end equipment and there seems to be good 64-bit driver support on the high-end gear. It's the old gear that there is a large GAP for 64-bit drivers.

Another benefit to going 64-bit. There are very few 64-bit capable virus, malware, phishing warez out there. Basically its the same argument for using Apple products as well. Hackers write malware for the greatest common denominator which is 32-bit Windows.
Posted by Axiomatic13 (24 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Apple and 64 bit
I used Vista Ultimate 64 bit on many computers. The only computers that I have problems with are Apple Macs. Apple does not provide almost any drivers in 64 bit flavor (there is no driver for iPhone, iPod, keyboard, backlight, bluetooth, ACPI).
Apple is just a dodgy company and seems that they released bootcamp, so just people would buy a Mac hoping to run Windows, and then apple did everything they could to make that experience unsatisfactory - so people would use more of OSX.
I do not want OSX I want Vista 64 bit. GIVE ME DRIVERS APPLE...
Posted by alenas (181 comments )
Reply Link Flag
My Head Exploded
You are upset with Apple because they don't have Vista 64-bit
drivers?!??

Please clarify. Otherwise, you sound ... not good.
Posted by Thomas, David (1947 comments )
Link Flag
What???
I've seen some dumb posts before, but yours indicates that you haven't been taking your meds.
Posted by Macaresafer (44 comments )
Link Flag
A little bit of history about this issue
Back when MS added Itanium support to Windows, Microsoft decided not to support 32-bit drivers because x86 emulation on Itanium is slow. Back when Apple ported Tiger to 64-bit for PowerPC G5, Apple decided to support 32-bit drivers because they were almost no performance penalties for running 32-bit code on the 64-bit G5.
Posted by Yuhong2 (27 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Microsoft? It's the aps and drivers writers!
Adobe says it will take 3-5 years to port their stuff over to 64bit. It's software companies like that that need a swift kick in the ass. That effect you apple peeps just as much as us windows peeps. So a reality check please!
Posted by claytovt (16 comments )
Reply Link Flag
64 bit power you will access.
Digging deeply into then future of computing it will likely be this
way.
What you have in your hand, laptop, cellphone, tablet, Nintendo
DS will not need more than 2-4 GB of ram and will likely not
need to do complex processor hungry tasks on board, this will
be done by a hosted or remote machine with a brain larger than
most people will ever need to use.
So you will simply access a desktop environment that will then
connect you to the services you need, look at iSCSI, 10 GB
ethernet, faster wireless speeds being more of a reason to return
to the centralised mainframe computing that was shifted away
from. When the mainframe was down so were you, lost
productivity due to long boot and login times adds up to a vast
number of minutes lost, more collectively than most halfway
decent modern server suffer downtime . Certain industries will
likely need you to sit next to the computer, like Flm or Graphics.
As long as you can reduce latency for real time tasks such as
movie editing down to zero over a network why have a lot of
hardware, each unit can fail, uses power, needs to be managed/
upgraded/serviced, not to mention protecting the units power
supply.
Datacentres and specialist users need 64 bit. Normal everyday
users are fine as they are now, if the developers write clean and
light code as the Open Source community like to do functionality
will determine success.
Normal users simply do not need 64 bit technology in their
hand, but they will tap in to it when they need as we get smarter
about how we get the content we want. You don't need 64 bit to
read email.........
Posted by mister dog (13 comments )
Reply Link Flag
this will be joke in a few years time
It reminds me of people saying that noone will need personal computers (that was seventies).
I think 64bit will be here and nothing can stop it...
Posted by alenas (181 comments )
Link Flag
64-bit is future
Posted by ianjude000 (5 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

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