Is It Time To Move To AMD64?

Yes, I’m a comparatively late convert to Open Source as I’ve only installed Linux on a production machine I used for everyday work back in 2009. At the time there wasn’t a lot of discussion about using a 64 bit version of Linux on x86, the mainstream was still on 32 bit at the time. Not a big problem, most computers only came with 2 GB RAM at most so there were only few advantages of using a 64 bit OS if the processor supported it. In the meantime a lot has happened and I decided that it’s time for me to finally make the move.

Reasons For Not Having Moved to 64 Bit So Far

Apart from not having been much of a question until only a few years ago there were a few other reasons why I haven’t switched to 64 bits up until now: The first reason is that it’s not possible to do a standard update from one Ubuntu software release to the next and change from 32 bit to 64 bit at the same time. The only way to migrate to 64 bit is to reinstall. The second reason was that I was still running Windows programs with Wine on Linux until recently that were compiled for 32 bits and, until a few years ago, even one 16 bit program initially written for Windows 3.1. Especially concerning the later one I was not sure that a move to 64 bit would not have had unforeseen consequences. Also, running in 64 bit mode means that the the operating system and programs use 64 bit instead of 32 bit address pointers, effectively increasing program size in memory. I’m not sure how much of an impact this makes in practice but it’s certainly another piece in the uncertainty puzzle.

On the side of reason, even today, there is still not really a necessity to switch to a 64 bit version of Linux, not even with 8 GB of RAM. Unlike Windows, Linux works just fine in 32 bit mode with 8 GB of RAM in PAE (Physical Address Extension) mode. Each task is limited to 4 GB of RAM but that still sounds like enough for quite some time to come. So why change?

Reasons For Moving To 64 Bit

As of late there is talk in the x86 Linux community when mainstream distributions such as Ubuntu might drop 32 bit support for x86 and only offer x86-64 versions. No decisions have been announced yet but I wouldn’t be surprised if that started pretty soon. Another reason for moving on at some point in the not too distant future is that some stuff does not run on 32 bit Linux anymore. When I wanted to experiment with Docker last year I found out that it wouldn’t run on a 32 bit Ubuntu. Interestingly enough, it’s possible to install a 64 bit Ubuntu in a virtual machine that runs on a 32 bit Ubuntu host. Yes really! This was actually the first time I was bitten by 32 bit. On goes the list of reasons with having de-installed Wine recently and I thus no longer need backward compatibility anymore. Furthermore, Google has recently announced that their Chrome browser which I used on my media PC for the sole purpose of running Netflix on Ubuntu will shortly only be available for 64 bit systems. And on the psychological side there are 64 bit smartphones available for quite some time now, so how can I possibly run a 32 bit OS on a notebook when even smartphones are doing better now…?

A Time To Change – The Next LTS

On my notebook that I use everyday I tend to only upgrade from one Ubuntu Long Term Release to the next every two years. The next LTS is due in April this year. So either I do it then or I have to wait for another two years. Still, I can’t just upgrade from one LTS to the next as a full OS re-install is required. However, since I’m already touching my stable system and have to spend quite some effort anyway to make sure everything is stable and like I want it, it’s a good time to do the extra step right there and then.

Is It Much Different?

So far so good, but is there a big change when moving from the 32 bit version of the OS to the 64 bit flavor? I’ll have some thoughts on that in an upcoming post.