In the beginning…
Before the onset of 64 bit programs, 32 bit was the previous standard. These bits allow programs to address cells in RAM (where data that a program needs quick access to is generally stored).
With 32 available bits, that means only 4GB of RAM could actually be used. And some of that would generally be reserved by Windows/MacOS/Linux/Whatever obscure Operating System you’d care to mention. With 64 bits, you can access around 16,000,000,000GB RAM. So you should be alright for the next few years in that respect.
But as you might have noticed if you’re into your tech, computers have been being sold with more than 4GB of RAM and 64 bit processing for quite a long time. What took so long for the audio software companies to take advantage of this? It’s partly because it’s a massive investment of resources; for instance, Mac programs would have to be pretty much re-written for a new platform since their 64-bit API, Cocoa (An API is the toolkit which allows programmers to develop for a given platform) is so different to the previous 32 bit API.
The other reason is the usual business thing of “which company will take the plunge first?” – The first companies are going to find slow adoption of their new software, so it could be better business practice to be one of the later companies to adapt their software. Anyway – enough business – what does it mean music-wise?
So how can it help my music making workflow?
Since audio processing programs have a tendency to take up a lot of RAM, this is very useful. Previously, data was always read from the hard disk into the RAM as and when it was needed – but this means the computer can only be as fast as the hard disk allows it to be. Now, since there’s more accessible RAM, more audio data can be put into that space in advance, meaning things are much faster.
Also, for 64 bit plugins that use a lot of RAM, you’ll find greater stability the more ram you have.
So what about those 32 bit plugins? Well, you can use them on most DAWs, since for now they have a “bit bridge” – an invisible program that essentially translates from 32 bit to 64 bit and vice-versa. The problem with this is it takes a lot of processing, meaning things can actually be even slower! So ideally you should run all your programs and plugins in 64 bit or 32 bit.
Don’t get confused!
It’s important to not get mixed up between 64 bit processing and 64 bit audio resolution. The new 64 bit programs are nothing to do with the audio quality. They’ll only affect the speed and stability of the software, especially when dealing with a lot of audio files in the same project.
And now you know!