Technical Notebook

Category: Ask a Geek Responses

Do you have a burning technical question, why does a computer do X instead of Y? Something I love doing is sharing my knowledge, and while I can’t guarantee that I can answer every burning question that people have, something I would like to do is at least open up to see if there are some questions that I can help out with. Whether it is something simple from someone less technically savvy, or something at the very geeky end of the scale, I would love to tackle any questions that I can.

Therefore today, I am putting the feelers out to my readers (and anyone that finds my little corner of the internet here). Is there a technical, geeky or computer oriented question you would love to get answered? As I said, no promises that I can answer every question but the ones that are on topics that I know, I can certainly give a whirl.

Some topics that I should definitely be able to assist with include:

  • Desktop/laptop questions (PC or Mac)
  • Web Hosting
  • Getting started with Dedicated Servers or VPSs
  • cPanel and WHM (web hosting control panels)
  • WordPress and Blogging
  • Speed optimisation of web sites
  • Atlassian suites of products (Confluence, Jira, Fisheye, Crowd)
  • iPads and iPhones
  • Software recommendations for Mac computers
  • How-To style questions
  • Recommendations on a product/service to do (X), I usually have a solution up my sleeve for most scenarios or can help find one out
  • Or come up with your own

The only thing I ask is that before you ask a question you have done your research, had a look on the internet, used Google and are still confused, puzzled or need further clarification. This is so that I can focus on giving help where a Google search hasn’t revealed the answer or someone needs a very specific response surrounding a particular scenario.

So with that in mind, leave a comment here with your question and I will see what I can do. If I can answer your question, you will get an answer and I will get a great idea for a blog post.

Stuart icon biggrin Ask a geek   what would you like to know?

After my recent post on 64 bit operating systems, I received the following comment on the post from Helen in LA.

Dear Stuart,
I am in the process of buying a desktop for my house and am currently computer illiterate (but learning more each day). Your article was extremely helpful to me and I think being a newbie that I should stick with the 32bit. It is my understanding that I will have fewer headaches and can always upgrade later.
I would love to see a newbie section on your site, but again am grateful for the information.
Sincerely,
Newbie in Los Angeles

I decided that the response was in itself worthy of a post so that I could help bust some of the jargon and hopefully help a few people in making their decisions on their next computer purchase. So Helen, I hope this answers the question, should a home user use a 32 bit or 64 bit operating system.

 

What is the difference between 32 bit and 64 bit?

The main restriction on a 32 bit operating system (and therefore the main reason to upgrade to 64 bit) is that 32 bit OSs have a limitation of 4GB of RAM. Due to the way that RAM is addressed on a computer (i.e. how everything knows where to find the RAM) and the fact that other components within the computer share the addresses the most amount of RAM you will see in Windows is between 3GB and 4GB and that will vary from computer to computer.

Another way of looking at it is as though all the components of your computer were houses on a street. Each requires its own address and your RAM takes up several of those addresses with a big apartment estate on the street which uses a large block of addresses. When more components “move in” on the street, the apartments start to loose their addresses bit by bit and can no longer be occupied. So the more “components living on the street” the less amount of “addressing space in the apartment estate” and hence less RAM is able to be accessed (a.k.a addressed) by Windows.

 

Am I likely to need more than 4GB RAM

As a general rule, for a home user I would see no requirement at this point in time to go for a computer with any more than 4GB of RAM, it is just something that you are very unlikely to use. I am a geek and I only use more than 4GB under very specific testing situations so I can be 99.9% sure that the average home user will be fine with 4GB.

 

To 64 bit or not to 64 bit

So that brings us to the 64 bit or not 64 bit question. To be honest 64 bit is not a headache perse but it can restrict you in certain purchasing decisions that you may have later down the track. Each time you purchase new hardware (say a webcam, scanner or even a printer) you will need to ensure that the manufacturer supports 64 bit operating systems, as they require a different set of drivers than the 32 bit operating systems. At a later stage if you find your needs change you can re-install the operating system to gain 64 bit functionailty but you will also need to re-install all your software and settings again and you must of course ensure that once again all your peripherals support 64 bit.

I guess the best way to look at it with the following question “Is 64 bit ready for adoption among the average home computer user?”. Personally I would say no, it still requires looking around for specific bits of software when they are required (and you need to know when they are required). I think with the adoption of Windows 7, the 64 bit environment is going to be far more widely adopted. The rate of adoption from manufactures with Windows XP 64 bit was almost non-existant. With Windows Vista 64 bit the adoption rate was far higher, my hope is that this will continue into the future and perhaps in a year or two it might just be at the stage of maturity where a lot of the complexity is removed.

Helen, I hope this answers your question and I thank you for the opportunity to respond.

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