The tech world is buzzing with discussion about how the new Apple iPhone 5s, with its new A7 64-bit processor, will dominate the competition with increased speed. But the marketing tactics used by Apple may be causing consumers to think that 64-bit automatically trumps its 32-bit counterparts. However, that sort of comparison may be misleading.

When considering the A7’s processing speed, it’s important first to know exactly how the new chip works with other hardware, namely RAM, the temporary storage chips used in computers. Ultimately, it’s better to say that the A7 prepares Apple for the future but less correct to say that users will see instant gains in speed.

How 64-bit Differs From 32-bit

Joel Hruska, a writer for ExtremeTech, discusses the two main reasons a company might want to adopt 64-bit technology. First, he says, 32-bit chips are limited to using 4GB of RAM. Furthermore, 32-bit chips often limit single programs to using approximately half to two-thirds of that amount. In contrast, 64-bit chips can access up to 16 exabytes of RAM, which is a considerably larger limit.

The second reason a switch to 64-bit might come about, Hruska says, is because a new chip can often improve upon the inefficiencies generated in previous 32-bit models. But that argument could be made even for a progression from one 32-bit chip to a second 32-bit chip.

Any person considering using 64-bit architecture should consider the necessity of accessing more RAM and what effects an increased amount of temporary storage will bring. Computers need more RAM to run multiple applications at once. Servers make use of 64-bit for this purpose, because they may constantly process many sources of information at any given time. Smartphones, on the other hand, process only a few programs at once, and therefore they don’t have a need for more than 4GB of RAM.

In addition, RAM initialization, as Hurska point out, consumes a lot of battery power. Apple and its competitors are always looking to extend the life of their smartphones, so adding more RAM at this stage of the game would not be wise.

Future Proof

What a 64-bit architecture really does for Apple is prepare it for the future. Gains in battery technology could lead to a day when RAM initialization will be no concern and smartphones will operate for weeks on end. And, in foreseeing that possible future, Apple is ahead in the game.

For now, though, 64-bit is likely more of a marketing tactic — something catchy for users to hold onto. The A7 processor of the iPhone 5s, to be sure, has the potential to work through tasks at a faster pace than its predecessor. It’s a more refined, completely capable chip in a phone that improves on the iPhone 5 in many ways, but it’s not going to tear through tasks simply because of its 64-bit nature.

In short, Apple has made gains in processing technology, and its products and customers may be better off as a result. Just don’t get too caught up in the rhetoric.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons




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