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One of the major talking points you see mentioned when Snow Leopard is being discussed is 64-bit computing. But what actually does 64-bit computing mean? Well, let's take a look back first. The entire computer industry is currently transitioning to 64-bit technology from the previous 32-bit technology. 32-bit technology has limitations which are becoming more problematic as computers become more powerful and as users demand more from their computers. For example, even though today's Macs can hold up to 32 gigabytes of memory, 32-bit applications can only access a maximum of four gigabytes of RAM at a time.
64-bit computing on the other hand removes that limitation completely. Or if you want to get technical, 64-bit computing enables access to a theoretical 16 billion gigabytes of memory. And I am pretty sure you can't buy 16 billion gigs of memory right now. 64-bit computing also allows computers to nearly double the amount of data their processors can process in each clock cycle, which translates into dramatically faster calculations and other tasks. In Snow Leopard, almost all the built-in system applications like Safari, Mail, iChat, and the Finder itself have been completely re-written with 64-bit code so that they can all take the full advantage of all the memory in your Mac when necessary which results in boosts in overall performance.
Applications written with 64-bit code have a much easier time working with large files like video or huge images and just about everything should feel quicker and more responsive in Snow Leopard. 64-bit support in Snow Leopard also makes the Mac OS completely prepared for the computing enhancements that are coming down the road. According to Apple, Snow Leopard comes already to support up to 16 terabytes of RAM which seems like a ridiculous amount. But it wasn't so long ago that 4 gigabytes of RAM seemed like a ridiculous amount. Things change fast in the world of computers and Snow Leopard has been designed to be future ready, even if its capability seem a little over the top at the moment.
That said Apple realizes that we are still in a transition period, so Snow Leopard still runs both 64-bit and 32-bit applications. So you don't need to worry about updating all your software to run in 64-bit. Many software developers are still playing catch-up to Snow Leopard and having yet released 64-bit versions of their products. And for the most part the 32-bit versions of their software will still run perfectly fine in Snow Leopard. And for that matter, your Mac might not even be capable of utilizing 64-bit support. The easiest way to figure out if your Mac supports 64-bit computing is to go to the Apple menu, and choose About This Mac.
And you will see a window that looks like this. If you are using an Intel Core Duo, you are using a 32-bit processor and can't take advantage of 64-bit computing. If you are running an Intel Core 2 Duo, you are running a 64-bit processor and can take advantage of 64-bit computing. But the reality is that most applications are currently 32-bit and we won't see a complete transition to 64-bit computing for a few years yet. The point is that Snow Leopard is ahead of the game and capable of running both 64-bit and 32-bit applications.
So that's just a very brief overview of what 64-bit computing is and what it means for Snow Leopard and Mac OS X.
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