Windows 7 Survival Guide: From 32- To 64-Bit

Windows as a whole -- Windows XP, Vista, Windows 7 and the operating system's server editions -- has been shipping in both 32- and 64-bit editions for some time now. That's more than long enough for hardware manufacturers to get on the ball and supply 32/64-bit device drivers for everything they sell.

In fact, most every printer, scanner, video camera, or other hardware device you can buy today comes with drivers for both platforms in the box.

That's great if you're buying a whole new system. But what if you're migrating over a printer, scanner, or webcam -- individual peripheral devices from an age just slightly before the 64-bit years?

That's where things get more difficult.

While 32-bit applications generally run without issues on 64-bit Windows, 32-bit device drivers aren't as lucky. There is so far no mechanism in Windows to take a 32-bit device driver, wrap it in an emulation layer, and use it in Win64. This means that a great deal of hardware, otherwise perfectly useful and totally functional, is doomed to be useless to a whole swath of existing Windows users.

There's no reason to take this situation lying down, though. Depending on your budget, circumstances, and needs, you can go a long way -- sometimes all the way -- toward getting unsupported hardware working again in 64-bit Windows.

Scanners and printers comprise two of the largest classes of devices that have been unfairly marginalized because of the 64-bit switchover. To that end, we'll be looking at both of these (with some occasional digressions) and exploring ways to make them operable.

Why 64-bit, Anyway?
Why use 64-bit Windows in the first place? Desktop machines that ship with more than 3GB of RAM also come with 64-bit Windows installed by default. It's the best possible way to make use of all that memory efficiently.

Individual 32-bit apps may only be able to use so much of that memory at once, but those of us who run a lot of apps side-by-side get a boost from it. Also, applications that perform certain kinds of processing -- encryption, for instance -- run markedly faster as 64-bit binaries.

Not every computing device is bound to go 64-bit. Netbooks, for instance, or low-end PCs that top out at 2-3GB RAM don't bother going 64. But at this point it's safe to say that most any desktop computer (and notebook) from the midrange on up will be 64-bit. As a result, the number of users who encounter legacy device incompatibilities will increase.

At least for the time being. Wait long enough and all of the incompatible hardware ought to fall out of use and be replaced with newer devices. But that's no strategy for those of us who have hardware to be used now.

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