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I'm going to be installing linux on my 64bit netbook.

Last time I checked I was advised that for personal computers (not servers) it is best to install the 32bit version. I believe the reasoning was that some software isn't compatible with the 64bit version.

That was more than a year ago. Which version should I install and why?

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4 Answers 4

up vote 7 down vote accepted

If your laptop has more than 3.5GB of RAM installed, you will want to install a 64 bit edition in order to take advantage of the full amount of RAM.

General use of x64 operating systems is becoming more and more widespread. I run a x64 bit version of Linux on my desktop and have no issues. If you install a x64 bit version, however, there are some caveats:

  • By default, 32 bit applications will fail to run. You must install the ia32-libs package to allow them to run.
  • Certain browser plugins (notably Flash) are either unavailable or only in beta form for 64-bit browsers. You may find it easier to install the 32 bit version of your preferred browser (along with the above-mentioned ia32-libs package) and use the 32-bit plugins.
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On the PC architecture, there is actually a speed benefit from the 64 bit architecture -- not because of the "64 bit" factor, but because they took the opportunity to finally implement more CPU registers. –  Simon Richter Dec 16 '11 at 7:40

In most distributions there is a PAE version of the Kernel. This kind of Kernel will let you address up to 64GB RAM with a 32-bit distribution.

You will find problems with some applications not available in 64 bits, like flash. And with other applications you will have to install x64 and i386 libraries duplicating the amount of necessary space.

Another disadvantage of x64 distros is that some applications (like Apache) use more memory than their 32-bit versions.

I'd recommend using a 32 bits distro with PAE Kernel.

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Flash 11 has official 64-bit support, and earlier versions of Flash (like "Square") did also. –  John Flatness Dec 17 '11 at 5:53
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Nevertheless in CentOS and Fedora is easier to install flash, skype and other third party applications in 32-bit distributions –  ghm1014 Dec 17 '11 at 19:08
    
@ghm1014 maybe update the answer to reflect the fact that flash IS available for 64-bit; also, how is it harder to install in 64-bit CentOS and Fedora? –  Tshepang Jun 10 '12 at 20:55

The main reason it usually comes down to (for home users) is the amount of memory installed on the device. 32-bit CPUs can only access ~3.7GB of RAM, while 64-bits can reach much much higher than that. If your netbook has more than 4GB of RAM (or you plan on installing more memory in the future), I would recommend 64 bit.

In terms of software, there are rare cases where some programs will give you a harder time on 64-bit CPUs. The worst thing you might have to do is install the 32bit libraries and manually link them.

This day and age though, architecture is becoming less and less of an issue.

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I see no real reason why to install 32bit nowadays. Most distributions will provide a 32bit version even if you installed a 64bit linux os.

For example the java-plugin is only available for 32bit Firefox.

So on a 64bit CentOS: yum install firefox.i386 and you will have a working Firefox 32-bit in your 64-bit system.

Intel processors might be a little bit faster with a 64bit OS, since they do emulate the 32bit mode. On AMD that does not matter.

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