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Gaming In 64-Bit: Tom's Tests, Microsoft Weighs In

More Memory, Please

When you make the jump to a 64-bit ecosystem—and by that I mean a 64-bit processor on a motherboard with an aware BIOS (pretty much everything nowadays), a 64-bit operating system, and the requisite 64-bit drivers, the memory ceiling theoretically jumps to an astounding 16 exabytes of RAM—17.2 billion gigabytes. Realistically, processors, chipsets, and motherboards bring maximum capacity, even in a 64-bit environment, down to more familiar levels. A lot of the X58-based boards we’ve been looking at, for instance, top out at 24 GB of DDR3 memory.

In addition to increasing the amount of physical memory space available, stepping up to 64-bit also augments the virtual address space that was so limited in 32-bit environments.

Application TypeVirtual Address Space
Standard 32-bit2 GB
Large Address Aware 32-bit4 GB
Native 64-bit8 TB

As the chart indicates, running a standard 32-bit app on your 64-bit OS will still limit you to 2 GB of virtual address space (collective groan from the peanut gallery—most gaming titles are still 32-bit-only, including most of the titles we run as benchmarks). Applications written to be aware of large addresses (those with the /LARGEADDRESSAWARE linker flag) support up to 4 GB without any special boot mode. And native 64-bit apps get up to 8 TB of virtual address space—and Microsoft says it can increase that number without impacting the OS or applications when the need arrives.

The desire to shift away from the first type of game, standard 32-bit, is immediate and pressing. Indeed, it was an issue even before 64-bit operating environments became pervasive. I remember battling it out on some intense eight-player maps in Command and Conquer: Generals where, at a certain point late in the game, the app would simply run out of address space and completely fold. That had to have been sometime in 2004. The guys over at AnandTech wrote about a similar situation they experienced in Supreme Commander back in 2007. Given the very known nature of these virtual address space limitations, you’d think that game developers would be taking a more hurried approach to making the transition.

  • salsoolo
    i went 64-bit from last year. i hope that game devs go 64-bit. and every programmer too.

    with Windows 7 around the corner, m$ already said that they expect the majority of windows installations will be 64.
  • curnel_D
    "Given the very known nature of these virtual address space limitations, you’d think that game developers would be taking a more hurried approach to making the transition."

    This mainly has to do with resources. Most developers use the same engine they've built or bought for a span of many years. Take bioware, for instance, who used the Auroa engine for 9+ years, knowing that it was limited to single threads and low memory.
    To switch to 64-bit, these developers would have to take the time not just to modify their existing engines, but more likely rewrite the entire engine because of the changes involved. Something that some developers just cant afford.
  • curnel_D
    Oh, and deffinately drop GTA. None of the GTA or games that use the GTA engine have ever been any good on PC, and have never been consistant in indicating graphics performance due to their poorly developed and optimized code. It's a waste of time.
  • amdfangirl
    I say the benefit of having full access to 8GB of DDR2 is enough to make me switch to 64 bit. Not using a Page File and being able to use native 64 bit programs like those found in CS4, is worth it enough. The advantage of being able to execute native 64 bit instructions is absolutely heavenly powerful speed boost(CS3 vs CS4).
  • spearhead
    indeed 64-bit is good and you can see that in games and applications which take advantage from it. it might require a bit more ram but then 64-bit can handle more applications running at the same time and execution of those applications seems to be alot faster that is what i can tell from my experience with 64-bit vista
  • nathanlh
    One of the reasons that x64 games might run slower on 3GB of system memory than their x86 counterpart is that x64 code should be somewhat larger due to the 64 bit addressing itself. If the x86 code is already feeling the squeeze on 3GB, the x64 code will be even more so - resulting in more memory swapping to disk. Also, one of the benefits of x64 code is the use of more general purpose registers which the x64 games tested here might not have made use of.
  • Chris - could you check the same thing on AMD platform? AFAIK there are some performance differencies between AMD and Intel @ 64bit
  • amdfangirl
    ^ There were some on Linux with the Athlon 64 and Pentium 4. Gap has really closed tho, I'd say.
  • apache_lives
    heh we forget the main concepts here with 64-bit:

    NO ONE uses a system with nothing bar windows a single game installed - they have a few security apps, torrent apps, messenger, keyboard/mouse apps etc - they all sap up resources, so 64 bit gives all apps all the memory they need - for example 8gb is useless to a 32-bit app, but when you got that hungry game ASWELL as a hungry background app etc they both get the full amount of memory!

    Also lessens the "thrashing" effect on HDD's and helps there lifespan etc

    As for why there arnt any benifits for 64 bit games etc - there all still native 32-bit because all those morons still think there 2gb and XP is "sufficent and up to date" - move to 64-bit so we can all benifit!
  • amdfangirl
    ^ +1

    We should all be 64 bit.

    Those who play hardcore games should have at least a x64 proc.

    So, devs should make 64bit games simply.

    The world will transition in due time.

    We just are at the frontier.