Every company launching a phone nowadays will like to tell you that its new shiny device is powered by a 64-bit processor. It is not just a specification, listed in the hardware configuration for the phone. The fact that a phone has a 64-bit processor is, according to phone companies, is a big deal. Apparently, it is such a big deal that even Apple sang 64-bit paeans when it introduced the A6 processor.
But is it really so important? Should you, the consumer, buy a phone just because it has "64-bit processor"?
Well, to understand what is 64-bit technology and why you should or should not care about it
What is a 64-bit processor?
In simple words, 64-bit processors are computer chips that can support 64-bit computing. And by 64-bit computing we mean software supports 64-bit virtual memory addresses.
"The biggest difference between 32-bit and 64-bit CPUs is that a 32-bit CPU can only see 4GB of virtual memory. In practice, the OS will probably reserve 1-2GB itself, so applications are limited to around 2GB of virtual memory. Generally, we want the virtual memory to be more than 2 times the size of the physical memory, so if you have a smartphone or tablet with 2GB of memory, it would be great to have a 64-bit operating system."
So, what is the takeaway from this? Don't believe when a phone company tells you the 64-bit computer is significantly faster than the 32-bit. This is mostly a misleading statement. The 64-bit processors, when paired with 64-bit software, can utilise memory better. But in terms of pure performance, they may or may not be better than 32-bit processors.
Should you care about 64-bit processors in a phone?
it doesn't make a huge difference to consumers.
"In reality, 64-bits won't make a huge difference to customers. It's primarily relevant for high-end smartphones. But even for high-end phones and tablets, it's not going to be revolutionary. Most phones still have less than 2GB of memory, especially once we start talking about mid-range and low-end phones,".
But it should matter to developers. "You should note that 64-bits definitely does make a difference to programmers, and they should be much happier with 64-bit CPUs and OSes. But that isn't quite as visible to consumers,".
Should you a buy phone that has 64-bit processors?
if you are buying a high-end phone, it makes sense to buy the one that has 64-bit processor. "The 64-bit CPUs are important for devices (smartphones, tablets) with 2GB or more of memory. Right now, that's mostly high-end devices like Xperia Z3 or Galaxy Note (both have 3GB). But Moore's Law tells us that in two or three years, that much memory will be far more common and 64-bit will become increasingly important. So 64-bit is important for high-end devices today,".
But wait, there are other factors as well...
So we have established that the 64-bit processors can help consumers get more out of their phone, although these gains are evolutionary and revolutionary, unlike what phone companies will like us to believe. But the problem is before consumers can get the benefits of 64-bit processors, a lot of other things need to fall in place. Keeping this in mind, here are few important points that you should know:
1) A 64-bit processor without 64-bit support in the operating system is just like a 32-bit processor. In the world of Android for now, you get support for 64-bit computing only if your phone is running Android Lollipop and that too if the phone maker has enabled the support for the 64-bit computing.
This means if a phone company is asking you to buy a phone because it has a 64-bit processor but it is running Android KitKat, the company is misleading you. It may still be a nice phone but the 64-bit processor won't have anything to do with it.
2) If a phone has 64-bit processor but less than 2GB RAM, the 64-bit support is just marketing talk.
3) Good performance gains with 64-bit processors won't come until app developers start writing apps for 64-bit computing. For now that is not happening.
If you are buying a high-end phone, you can take into account 64-bit processor because this phone will likely be updated to better compatible software for 2 to 3 years. But if you are buying a mid-range or low-end phone, 64-bit processors should not make any difference to your buying decision. Right now, 64-bit processors make almost no difference and by the time software developers adopt this technology and start using it, your phone will most likely be outdated whether it has 64-bit processor or not.