32bit vs 64bit Ubuntu, that is the question…

By | 2007/11/26

Recently I’ve seen a good bit of discussion regarding 32bit vs 64bit installations of Ubuntu. We’ve even had long conversations at the office on the matter as well. For a long time I’ve simply installed 32bit on my Core2Duo machine, even though it supports the 64bit installation. I just didn’t see a lot of reason to make the step forward. Well, I thought I’d type up some of my thoughts on the matter and get some of the community thoughts…

32bit Ubuntu

The 32bit Ubuntu definitely get’s the most attention as it applies to the wider user base. There are more packages available for 32bit than there are for 64bit, but that gap is quickly closing. 32bit seems to run well enough on most machines, and a lot of people don’t really see the point for desktop use. I do hear a lot of arguments for 64bit on a server, but for a desktop most people just look the other way.

64bit Ubuntu

The 64bit Ubuntu install base seems to be slowly growing. I am one of the recent “converts” to 64bit Ubuntu. While I don’t immediately see any performance benefit I do see some benefit on principle. In the same way that more attention to an application improves the application, more attention to 64bit improves that platform as well. Basically, I think I’m in the 64bit camp right now simply because I believe it’ll never get “awesome” if nobody uses it, reports issues and resolves those issues.

So far I have not had any show stoppers with my 64bit installation. Everything seems to work the same way it did with 32bit. Again, I don’t think I see much of a performance increase, but on the principle of improving the platform I’ll continue to run it. Issues that were previous show stoppers such as flash not being available are now resolved. While Adobe still does not have a 64bit native flashplayer, Ubuntu 7.10 will auto-wrap the 32bit player for you in 64bit when it is needed for installation. So far I have not run into any missing packages for 64bit, although I’m sure they are out there someplace. Perhaps the more users we got on the 64bit platform the more quickly we’ll find the missing packages. Also, if you have 4G of RAM or more you’ll want the 64bit as it handles that amount of memory better.

Many of the Dell Laptop deals now include notebooks/netbooks that come pre-installed with Ubuntu 32-bit, but 64-bit redistributables are available for their higher end machines.

I suppose in the end it’ll come down to what the user is the most comfortable with but, again, if you’re already comfortable with potential issues with Ubuntu and feel like you can help improve the platform, why not run 64bit Ubuntu? It’ll only get better if you help us make it better..

Any other thoughts from the community on the topic? Any concerns you’ve run into? Any other pros and cons you might outline? The comment box is down ’bout two inches 🙂

32 thoughts on “32bit vs 64bit Ubuntu, that is the question…

  1. Camila Acolide

    Unfortunatelly, the 64-bit kernel still lacks tickless.
    Your laptop battery will last quite less.
    You can check this with powertop.

  2. Theodotos Andreou

    I had some problems on 64 Gutsy regarding java and flash plugins. I resolved those with some help from the forums. Currently the only issue I have is that I cannot use lightning,the calendar plugin of thunderbird. I tried to compile from source but failed miserably

  3. Richard Kleeman

    I have been running the Ubuntu 64bit version for about 18 months now. I have a dual Xeon EMT64 system and have noticed rather significant speedups with desktop responsiveness. In addition database programs like find and sql etc are maybe 50% faster. Encryption and codec manipulation are also a lot faster.

    I haven’t has any real issues with packages although as you say there are fewer packages available particularly for third party apps. I get by with the occasional compile either checkinstall or Debian recompile. Not very burdensome.

    One trap is that you need to install a bunch of 32bit libraries to get certain 32bit apps working. This takes a little effort. The forum is great however for sorting out issues like this.

    Summary: It is faster and there is more effort required but the latter is not huge.

  4. Lee

    I find 64bit great on Linux, except for two things:

    * there isn’t a wide enough selection of 32-bit compatibility libs. On a related note, I’m never sure if 32-bit stuff like OpenGL will work using the same acceleration as the 64-bit (I hope) Nvidia drivers, and whether 32-bit and 64-bit can share it. This all needs to be much clearer, or just completely foolproof, with a bit message saying “don’t worry” 😉

    * The 32-bit wrapper for flash and java have NOT worked for me at all. I’ve tried many permutations, with no luck. I’m currently using a 32-bit firefox install on my kde desktop, even though I’d much prefer to use only konqueror.

  5. Egon Willighagen

    I noticed a serious memory issue with 64bit Java, where the Eclipse would easily eat up 1GB memory, while the same run on 32bit took about half the memory… I have not been able to pinpoint the problem, but it made me reinstall 7.10 in 32bit shape on my 64bit system.

  6. ephemient

    I love my PowerPC Linux machine because it removes the temptation to run closed-source binaries — there are simply none available. x86-64 used to be good like that to, but there’s been more 64-bit binaries lately, and it can run the 32-bit stuff anyways. 🙁

    Performance-wise, 64-bit benefits from having more registers and slightly nicer calling conventions, but loses to 32-bit on memory usage because pointers and other data are twice as large.

  7. Anonimous

    I use the 32bit version of gutsy in may amd64 laptop mainly because once and a wile I need to run some windows app in wine and ,as far as a know, it is not supported in 64bit.

  8. JW

    I completely agree with your view of “it’ll never get “awesome” if nobody uses it”. That is what moved me to use 64-bit. So far, my only gripe is with the flash and java plugins, but I’m content to use “firefox32” if I really need to.

    The only thing I have left to try is Wine and Crossover — those will be for running games that I “cannot” live without (but have yet to go back to in 7+ weeks since last booting to my WinXP drive).

  9. Lane Lester

    Well, maybe I’ll try a 64-bit Kubuntu in a spare partition. In the past, I never could get a decent number of programs to work in a 64-bit distro. There was always something I wasn’t willing to do without.

    Regretfully, my time constraints do not permit me to be a guinea pig.

  10. Jesse Jarzynka

    I agree with many of the other posters. I’m definitely a tinkerer and don’t mind a little work to get something working properly, but why waste time with 64-bit for suck little gains on a desktop PC? With so much online media using flash now, I can’t see the worth in risking losing proper support for it.

  11. Mikkel Kamstrup Erlandsen

    I run 64 bit because I need to map more than 2GB of memory for my Java apps. At work we run an extremely heavy distributed indexer to produce a ~35GB index. After I changed to 64 bit I had a ~10-20 perfomance increase on the same box (and same heap size).

    I wouldn’t expect performance increases on ordinary desktop tasks. Maybe video/audio en/dec/trans coding…

    That the Java applet plugin does not work on the 64 bit platform is a major nuisance.

    Note that Flash works like a charm though.

    I have some ndiswrapper/broadcom issues too, but I honestly don’t know how that fares on 32 bit…

  12. Jim

    I’ve had 64bit gutsy on my laptop since release (actually since the RC) and I’ve not noticed any battery issues. My 56Wh will last about 2 hours with wifi doing normal stuff like web surfing (same as I got with 32bit feisty). I just installed my main desktop yesterday with 64 bit. I actually had both but was using the 32bit primarily. Now, I only have 64 bit. I also just downloaded 64bit Sabayon. I tried that distro about a year ago and liked it but had some graphics issues. Going to give it a try again.

  13. Pasi Savolainen

    Apropos, is there a way to upgrade to 64bit from 32bit via aptitude? Is it a matter of installing lib64* or is changing of sources.list necessary?

    I’d like to dist-upgrade it because my installation has been with me since ~2000 and I’m kinda attached to it 🙂

  14. Tom Mann

    With each release of Ubuntu I always try a 64-bit version first. I have noticed a massive improvement with 64-bit Kubuntu and will be trying 64-bit Ubuntu in the v.near future.

  15. don

    64-bit Kubuntu 7.10 is running very well on my Intel Core 2 Extreme/Intel D975XBX platform. An essential MS Visual FoxPro database runs on a Win XP virtual machine under VMWare Player 2.0 at 95% the speed of a native Win XP installation. With the third party codecs and packaged flash wrapper, Firefox provides fully satisfactory browsing for my purposes … good thing I don’t need Java or JRE, I guess! I don’t notice any lack of packages from the repos — there are even some new ones in 7.10, like Kdenlive, that I really appreciate having for 64-bit performance. Except for the Java thing (which one assumes is temporary), I don’t know why you would avoid the 64-bit OS if your platform is 64-bit.

  16. johan

    I’ve been running a 64-bit Ubuntu since February 2005.

    Gutsy has 64-bit packages for both Wine and Virtualbox. I’m not a big fan of Flash (which now works) or Java applets (there are several packages which I haven’t tried) anyway. Some unusual media codecs need 32-bit too. (I do use a chroot.)

    And too bad that a 2.6.24 kernel is required for tickless.

  17. Bob

    The 7.04 64 bit was disappointing without java and flash support. I JUST installed the 64 bit 7.10 today with a triple boot (32 bit gutsy, 64 bit gutsy and Debian 4.0)

    As always, your blog is timely and a thoughtful read.

  18. Julio Oliveira

    What about Skype

    I want to use it, but i install the deb package for i386 and it’s don’t work, how to do for it, to see the 32 bits dependency.

    Can i use a 32 bit soft in a 64 bit ubuntu ?

  19. Jesper

    @Camila Acolide: Ubuntu 8.04 64-bit will have a tickless kernel.

    @Lee: If you install 64-bit nVidia drivers, a 32-bit OpenGL compatibility library is also installed, so that 32-bit apps will also be able to use hardware-accelerated OpenGL.

    @Anonimous, JW: About running Wine on 64-bit Linux, see http://wiki.winehq.org/WineOn64bit

    @Lane Lester: What’s the problem? 32-bit software runs on 64-bit Ubuntu too – so that’s no reason to not use 64-bit Ubuntu.

    @Mikkel Kamstrup Erlandsen: No 64-bit plugin in Sun Java, that is for me the only actual disadvantage I’ve come across so far. This problem will be solved in the future; Sun Java 7 will include a 64-bit browser plugin.

    @Pasi Savolainen: No, there is currently no way to easily upgrade from 32-bit to 64-bit. You’ll need to do a full re-install.

  20. Herman

    Opera doesn’t support 64bits yet, as I use multiple OS’s to check my website, for me that’s an issue.

    Opera is of course closed source, but if flash can have a wrapper, surely Opera can.

  21. Joe

    I just got a sinking feeling this morning when I realized that there probably aren’t any matrix libraries in Java that are 64-bit and are as complete as the COLT library. When I try to use the 32-bit COLT library on a long process, eventually all it does is garbage collect. For this, there seems to be not just no speedup with 64 bit but a huge slowdown. I’m not happy about it, but I’ll probably have to go back to 32 bit Utuntu for the time being, until more complete 64-bit Java math libraries become available.

  22. Pha[N]toM

    @Herman on March 16th, 2008 1:01 pm
    Opera in beta (9.50…) supports 64 bit now (maybe, and the “stables” supports now too).

    In my laptop lives intel celeron 540 processor it supports 64 bit, system in 64bit really faster and stronger (checked in media conversions and compilation)
    It eats battery about 10% fasters, and what?
    In win xp battery lives about 2.5-3 hours (checked at same friend’s laptop), in ubuntu hardy 32bit – ~2-2:10 hours, in ubuntu hardy 64bit – ~1:40-2. Maybe, ive must install that shity suck (sorry, but in comments there is a tendention)?

  23. Saul

    @egon and generally,

    A 64-bit system will use 64-bit pointers, whereas a 32-bit system uses 32-bit pointers. Other fundamental types (size_t) suffer similarly. Therefore memory usage will be significantly greater on a 64-bit system, though egon’s reported 2x seems extreme. So if your system memory is at a premium, going 64-bit will actually hinder your performance.

  24. Jay

    64Bit and my Laptop is a LOT cooler, no more heat production!

  25. Randy

    I have the AMD64 Ubuntu running like a demon for everything except Gnome and Firefox. I installed KDE 3.5 and try to stay away from Gnome/GTK applications.

  26. Craig

    @Mikkel Kamstrup Erlandsen:

    There is now a 64 bit Java plugin available from Sun on Java 1.6, so I now run Firefox 64bit instead of 32 bit as I used to with the 64bit kernel. That was a major irritation but now luckily not an issue any more.

    I am on AMD64 and am very happy with it.

  27. Sudhir

    Well said, Saul.

    I realized that going to 64-bit would halve my available memory (almost). Going 32-bit for now.

  28. martin gugino

    I am wondering about 64-bit. After looking at the issue for 15 minutes or so, I’d say one should be at least medium competent on Ubuntu before going to 64-bit, just to be sure that one’s own level of familiarity is not the problem.

  29. Brahmam

    For VMWare which bit Ubuntu is better?
    RAM utilisation should me more on guest machine to running fast. 🙂

  30. ActionParsnip

    64bit flash and 64bit Java are rolling well, shame some companies like Canon and Brother only make 32bit apps. The day will come. 64bit FTW. If you still want 32bit with lots of RAM then 32bit+PAE can address up to 64Gb RAM

  31. Prashant

    I have developed 1 java desktop application in fedora 32 bit os and compile it on this machine now i have create jar file.now can i run this jar file in ubuntu server 64 bit os in auto start mode

    plz help me regarding this problem

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