Take a look inside most of today’s smartphones and tablets and you’re probably going to find dual- or even quad-core processors. You may also come across some with 2GB RAM! When did our portable devices get more processing power than most of the desktop computers I used just a few years ago?!


For the most part, we’re all running around in a 32-bit world on our mobile devices, but many (most?) of us are on 64-bit versions of our desktop operating systems. What’s the big deal with 64-bit? What advantages do we get by doubling our bits?

Imagine the number of bits in your system as the number of traffic lanes on the highway. Doubling the lanes more than doubles the amount of vehicles the road can carry. Speeds are generally significantly faster, and traffic flows much more smoothly.

64-bit systems have datapaths, integer size, and memory addresses that are 64 bits (eight octets) wide. That means more lanes for your data to flow through. More lanes means faster devices, smoother user experiences, less lag, and apps that can do more stuff.

Memory limits

32-bit address register can only reference 4GB of RAM. I know: “only” 4GB RAM. That sounds like a very high number and isn’t a problem on our smartphones and tablets today, but will be soon, and already is a problem on our desktop computers.

If you want to address more than 4GB RAM you need to upgrade from 32-bit hardware and software up to 64-bit versions. Theoretically you could then address up to 16 exbibytes (264 bytes; which is close to 16 exabytes: 1018 bytes). That’s a whole lot of RAM!

We’re not really pressed for RAM — not right now. Most smartphones and tablets have 1GB RAM or less, though some of the higher-end models include 2GB RAM. There aren’t going to be any devices running 3GB RAM, so our next step is the theoretical maximum of 32-bit systems: 4GB. By my estimation, this gives us somewhere around 18 months before we’ll start to feel the limitations of 32-bit.

Is there any hope?

18-months isn’t a long time, but there is still hope! Both mobile processors and mobile operating systems will need to be upgraded before we can take advantage of 64-bit processing, but we won’t need a whole new set of apps. Thanks to Android’s Dalvik VM we’ll only need an update to the VM, not to every app that runs within it. Of course, to take full advantage of the 64-bit environment, apps will need to be modified, but that’s only going to be necessary for those that are fairly heavy on resources (games, video editing, etc.). Otherwise, 64-bit will just mean a snappier experience with more RAM for us to run around in.

What do you think?

Do we need 64-bit smartphones and tablets? What advantages do you think we’ll gain? How long until we make the jump to 64-bit? Let us know in the comments!

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