The majority of applications running in 32-bit Windows will run in 64-bit Windows. Right now, I'm writing this in the 32-bit version of Office 2007, with 32-bit editions of Firefox, the Foobar2000 music player and the Pidgin instant-messenger client running -- all without noticeable performance problems.
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Two things will cause a given piece of hardware to be unusable in 64-bit Windows:
- It doesn't work with a 64-bit generic driver.
Most commodity devices -- mice, keyboards, storage devices, CD/DVD-ROMs or displays -- work with generic device drivers. However, those drivers may not enable manufacturer-specific features that are available only through the manufacturer's own drivers. For example, a keyboard with special function keys that can run macros or do other exotic things work, for the most part, with a generic driver. However, the special key only work if you have the manufacturer's driver installed.
The easiest way to test if a device has generic support is to plug it into a 64-bit Windows box and see if the box autodetects the device. If Windows can't find a matching driver for the device, odds are it doesn't have generic device support.
- It doesn't have a manufacturer-supplied 64-bit driver, either.
If there's no generic driver for a device, you'll probably find one on the device manufacturer's website -- but it might only be a 32-bit driver and not the 64-bit model. Windows warns you if you attempt to install a device driver for the wrong platform, although it's usually obvious from reading the device driver's labeling if it's an x86 (32-bit) or x64 (64-bit) driver. Many devices that require manufacturer-supplied drivers -- and are more than 3 or 4 years old -- do not have 64-bit drivers. Worse still, they probably never will, since that's outside the window of time most manufacturers will continue supporting a given device.
There are a few workarounds for using 64-bit devices in 32-bit Windows, like using Windows XP Mode (which lets you access the needed hardware by using 32-bit drivers in a virtual machine). But they're workarounds -- not actual solutions. If the cost of using Windows 7 Ultimate with XP Mode outstrips simply replacing the hardware in question -- or using a virtualization as a workaround in general is a hassle -- you may be better served by cycling out the unsupported hardware and going with something that supports generic drivers or has existing 64-bit support.
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|Serdar Yegulalp is editor of the "Windows Power Users Newsletter." Check it out for the latest advice and musings on the world of Windows network administrators.|