Linux Distribution 64-bit v 32-bit

From Info Wiki
Revision as of 08:35, 24 October 2015 by Rpeters (talk | contribs) (altered recommendations for low RAM computers)

Jump to: navigation, search

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.

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. PC down to 1.2 GB, perhaps 1 GB should run 32-bit desktop oriented distributions adequately.

Test for CPU Model

64-bit CPU

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

32-bit CPU

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

Resource Requirements

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

Disk Space

  • HDD smaller than 80 GB SATA are likely to be too slow for acceptable performance

--Rod (talk) 17:19, 15 January 2015 (AEDT) --