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Debian 6 has multiple Linux kernel packages, and I'm interested in two of them:

  • linux-image-2.6.32-5-686-bigmem
  • linux-image-2.6.32-5-amd64

Consider that:

  • I'm not going to be running any application that eats over 4GB RAM
  • I have > 3GB of RAM installed
  • I want to remain on 32-bit userland

Why should I choose one over the other, if I have a processor capable of running each of them?

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I'm just curious why you would care to remain in 32-bit userland? It is possible to do so on a 64-bit system. There are some binary applications that are still 32-bit that require 32-bit libraries - so such libraries are available on 64-bit systems, but otherwise, why? – casualunixer Apr 14 '11 at 0:48
One reason: I am heavily-invested there. I have the entire repository of Debian 32bit x86 binaries, and moving implies throwing all that away (and getting the 64bit ones... so much!). Having a setup like this I don't always need to be on the network, and if I am, my installs are extra fast. Another reason: I heard about problems with certain things, like flash, and I'm not interested in the complexity (however small) of now running a 32bit app on that 64bit userland. I've seen a few complaints of how problematic it is to do such a mishmash. – Tshepang Apr 14 '11 at 10:01
up vote 1 down vote accepted

Advantage of a 64-bit kernel: if you ever want to run a 64-bit program, you need a 64-bit kernel.

Downside of a 64-bit kernel: with a 32-bit userland, it can be annoying at times, because many build scripts assume that the kernel and the libraries are the same architecture.

Performance-wise, I don't think you'll notice the difference. The 64-bit kernel should be better at crypto, but this would only matter if you did an awful lot of disk and network encryption and your CPU was the bottleneck (it hardly ever is).

So I'd go with a 32-bit kernel in your case.

Install both; if you ever change your mind, the other kernel will only be a reboot away.

See also My processor is 64-bit - does that mean I need the amd64 image?, What version of Ubuntu to use for Desktop with 8Gb RAM? (but they're about choosing between a completely 32-bit system and a completely 64-bit system).

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