64-Bit Operating Systems: Separating Fact from Fiction

February 24, 2010 11:14:11 AM PST

I know you all have quite a lot on your mind these days. Probably the number-one question that our customers have been asking us here at Universal Audio Customer Support is…

64-Bit B&W

What’s up with the 64-bit thing?

Well, dear readers, there is quite a lot of confusion about the new 64-bit updates for Mac and Windows OS and host applications and exactly what it is they actually do for us. Many people are under the impression that a 64-bit OS will make their recordings sound better. Sorry, not true.

It is true that the more bits used to represent an audio sample, the more dynamic range available, because dynamic range is proportional to word length, and frequency response is proportional to sampling frequency.

For digital audio, word length translates to dynamic range like this:

16 bit = 96 dB | 24 bit = 144 dB | 32 bit = 192 dB | 64 bit = 384 dB

But, dear readers, we are not talking about 64-bit sampling. We are in fact talking about 64-bit processing.

Sorry, folks. You still have to rely on good microphones and good mic placement. Also, great mic preamps like the Universal Audio LA-610 MkII, 6176, or the 710 Twin-Finity™ as examples. And lastly, you need top-of-the-line mixing and mastering effects. (See the UAD-2 DSP Accelerator Cards and the UAD Powered Plug-Ins-!)

Oh yeah, and a great band. Don’t forget the band, man!

So read on, and let’s take a look at what feature improvements you can expect from 64-bit processing in the new 64-bit Mac and Windows OS updates.

Mac Snow Leopard 64-bit OS

Today’s Mac computers can hold up to 32 GB of physical memory, but the 32-bit applications that run on them can address only 4 GB of RAM at a time. 64-bit computing breaks that barrier by enabling applications to address a theoretical 16 billion gigabytes, or 16 exabytes, of memory. It can also enable computers to crunch twice the data per clock cycle, which can dramatically speed up numeric calculations and other tasks.

The new Mac Snow Leopard OS X update comes in one version that runs both 64-bit and 32-bit applications. This is great because you won’t need to update everything on your system just to run a single 64-bit program.

64-Bit Chart

Is my Mac Pro 64-bit?

All Intel Macs, except the early Core Duo laptops and Minis, are 64-bit. Leopard is also a 64-bit operating system.

Is my application running in 32-bit or 64-bit mode?

You can find out by opening Activity Monitor in the Utilities folder, found within Applications on your Mac’s HDD. This will show you what applications are running on your Mac under the Process Name column. Find your DAW application on this list and then look on the far right where you should see the Kind category column. The Kind listings will tell you in what mode it’s running.

Windows 64-bit OS, Vista and Windows 7

One of the greatest advantages of using a 64-bit version of Windows is the ability to access physical memory (RAM) that is above the 4-gigabyte (GB) range. (Note: This physical memory is not addressable by 32-bit versions of Windows Vista.) This feature of the 64-bit versions of Windows is a welcome improvement for those who want to use large VI (Virtual Instrument) libraries, which take advantage of the larger memory sizes.

Managing Memory

Depending on the version of Windows that is installed (Vista or Windows 7), a 64-bit version of Windows supports from 1 GB of RAM to more than 128 GB of RAM. The ability to address more physical memory lets Windows minimize the time required to swap processes in and out of physical memory. Therefore, Windows can manage processes more efficiently. This memory-management feature helps improve the overall performance of Windows Vista and Windows 7.

Windows 64-bit System Requirements

To use a 64-bit version of Windows (Vista or Windows 7), you must have a computer that has a 64-bit processor and 1 GB of RAM (although 4 GB is recommended). Also, you must have 64-bit device drivers for the devices that are in the computer.

Brief Summary

64-bit processing will not:

1. Regrow your hair;
2. Cause you to suddenly become popular;
3. Help you win the lottery; or
4. Help get your band signed to a lucrative recording deal, earning you millions so you can retire to your newly purchased tropical island.

Although, the timing could conceivably coincide…

Final Thoughts

Well, that wraps up this UA Support Report. I hope I was able to clear up some of the confusion regarding the whole 64-bit thing.

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