Linux Distribution 64-bit v 32-bit
For General Users
64-bit Linux is generally recommended for computers that support it - see below for simple tests
- it has been in general use for over a decade and is now quite mature
- it supports an overwhelming majority of hardware
- usually includes the NX feature, that is likely to provide additional protection against malware
- many distributions no longer provide 32-bit versions
Note that Linux Distributions may variously refer to 64-bit Linux as "x86_64" or "AMD64". The two are equivalent and the latter works on computers that are trade-marked "Intel Inside" as well as AMD-based computers.
Computers that came with/were designed for Windows 8 or 10 have UEFI firmware and almost invariably 64 bit CPU. Installing 32-bit Linux on these can be problematic.
The exception is for computers having < 2 GB RAM. There a 32-bit distribution should be selected, whether or not the CPU supports 64-bit, but note that this is likely to cause problems in dual-boot arrangements. PC down to 1.2 GB, perhaps 1 GB should run 32-bit desktop oriented distributions adequately. Specialised mini-distributions can work well in 512 MB or less.
Test for CPU Model
A simple and reliable way to check whether a CPU supports 64-bit code is to boot a 64-bit distribution
- Parted Magic is a suitable distribution for this purpose, because a 64-bit it is only ~ 400 MB download and a 64-bit boot can be selected.
- alternatively, any 64-bit Distribution media could be used, if already to hand.
- a 64-bit kernel will quickly present an error message along the lines of "unsupported CPU/architecture" if a 64-bit capable CPU is not detected
If the above test indicates that 64-bit Linux is not supported then most 32-bit Linux should be suitable.
- the latter might variously be labelled "x86", "i586", "i686" or frequently no differentiator at all
Exceptions where a 32-bit Distribution is unsuitable include:
- a small minority are compiled for CPU later than "i686" (Pentium II or equivalent)
- these would begin to boot on earlier CPU, but quickly halt and display an error message
- beginners are faced with using a different Distribution (or obtaining a later computer)
- some Distributions are collated for specific hardware platforms eg eeePC netbooks
- these are likely to work incompletely on Desktops as well as other laptops
- the purpose of the Distribution would be clearly identified by the provider
In the absence of any guidelines from the distributor
- any 64-bit CPUI
- slower, single core models will perform more slowly
- 32-bit CPU slower than 1 GHz are generally suited only to specialised "older PC" Desktop oriented distributions
Varies substantially with the style of Distribution
- 2 GB RAM is adequate for any 64-bit Desktop distribution
- 1.2 GB RAM adequate for 32-bit Desktop distribution
- 512 MB RAM may be adequate for specialised server/NAS/router distributions
- all above assumes installation from DVD/USB stick Installation media
- more RAM is required to install from a booted Live distribution
- HDD smaller than 80 GB SATA are likely to be too slow for acceptable performance