Ubuntu 9.04: 32-bit vs 64-bit benchmarks

Distros

In depth: Most Linux users run a 32-bit distro, and many of them run a 32-bit distro on a 64-bit computer. The question is, why? We put 32-bit Ubuntu 9.04 head-to-head with its 64-bit counterpart to see what difference it really makes, and whether old compatibility worries are justified.

Using TuxRadar as an example, we know that 77% of our visitors run a 32-bit Linux distro, which is astonishing given that 64-bit Linux has been around for so long. All modern Intel chips support 64-bit out of the box - that's all Core 2 chips and all Core i7 chips, plus most Xeons and many Celerons. On AMD's side, all Athlon 64, Turion 64, Phenom and Phenom II chips also support 64-bit. But although Linux was first out of the door with support for these chips, early implementations were plagued with problems and extensive use of compatibility layers was needed to make things work.

No longer. Thanks to extensive testing and feedback from the community, 64-bit Linux is as stable as 32-bit Linux, so there's little reason not to use it unless you have a need for a specific, 32-bit only app. Even Wine happily supports 32-bit Windows apps such as Microsoft Office or Half-Life 2 running on a 64-bit Linux installation, and cross-platform mainstays such as VMware, VirtualBox and Java have already been ported.

Trust us: we spend our days working for the world's finest Linux magazine, which means we test all sorts of crazy software on all sorts of crazy configurations, and 64-bit Linux really has improved a lot in the last three years. Honestly, if 64-bit wasn't up to mission-critical stability levels, do you really think Red Hat would dare to include it in its Enterprise Linux production line?

Why bother?

Of course, the other side of the coin is "if it's just as good for most users, why should 64-bit be used at all?" And the answer to that is "performance".

You see, for a long time Gentoo people have proudly said that compiling software by hand means you get something optimised for your CPU, and that's absolutely true - large chunks of Ubuntu are compiled for Intel 386 chips, for example. But x86-64 effectively provides a reset: x86-64 chips are guaranteed to include all of the i686 functionality plus SSE support, along with more processor registers, which means any program compiled for 64-bit is guaranteed to be optimised for your chip.

Once you accept that there's no stability or software difference to using 64-bit, the real question is, does it make any noticeable performance difference? To decide that, we ran a series of real-world tests using Ubuntu 9.04 "Jaunty Jackalope" on a fairly average computer to see just how 64-bit performs. We could have chosen any number of other distros - Fedora, OpenSUSE, Mandriva and more all have excellent 64-bit support - but we've got Ubuntu Jaunty installed on just about everything right now, having put it through lots of tests in the last few weeks, so it was just the most convenient!

The tests were:

  • System boot time. We reduced the Grub timeout to 0, enabled automatic login, set Firefox to launch and load Google.com as its start page, and timed the system from pressing the power button to seeing the Google logo.
  • Decompressing a tar.bz2 file. We used Linux 2.6.28 for this; it weighs in at 50.2MB.
  • Compiling the kernel. Unsurprisingly, we used the freshly decompressed Linux 2.6.28. To reproduce this test, run "make menuconfig" then exit with the default settings and run "make". (Warning: this compiles a lot of functionality, so it will take some time to run.)
  • Ogg encoding a WAV file. We used episode 6 of our podcast, which was 400MB in WAV format, encoding at the default quality (3).
  • Power Flasher, which is an Adobe Flash benchmark.
  • Google's V8 JavaScript benchmark using Firefox.
  • Blender rendering using Blender Render Benchmark 0.2.

In short, we've tried to cover a range of tasks that everyday users will be interested in, then put it all together in graph form for people with short attention spans.

Our test machine was the most "standard" thing we could find - a Dell Optiplex with a dual-core Intel Core 2 running at 2.13GHz with 2GB RAM and an ATI Radeon HD 2400 Pro with the restricted drivers as provided by Ubuntu.

The results

32-bit vs 64-bit: Ubuntu 9.04 boot time.

Unsurprisingly, boot time doesn't really vary depending on your CPU compilation - the tiny difference is small enough to be safely ignored.

32-bit vs 64-bit: Ubuntu 9.04 bzip2 extraction

bzip2 is a very common compression format on Linux, but 64-bit makes only a small dent in the extraction speed.

32-bit vs 64-bit: Ubuntu 9.04 Linux kernel compile.

Compiling a super-sized Linux kernel took over an hour in 32-bit mode (64 minutes, to be precise), but 59 minutes in 64-bit, knocking five minutes off the time - a nice bonus, but nothing to shout about.

32-bit vs 64-bit: Ubuntu 9.04 Encode Ogg files.

Converting from WAV to Ogg is one area that has clearly been optimised for 64-bit processors, running at almost twice the speed.

32-bit vs 64-bit: Ubuntu 9.04 Flash performance.

Adobe produces only a 32-bit version of Flash that must be run through a Linux compatibility layer. That layer is flawless in terms of stability, but it does slow things down a bit as can be seen. To show you the future, we ran Adobe's latest 64-bit Flash 10 alpha release, which you can see provides a healthy performance boost.

32-bit vs 64-bit: Ubuntu 9.04 Firefox Javascript performance.

Firefox's Javascript performance gets a 13% performance boost under Google's V8 Benchmark.

32-bit vs 64-bit: Ubuntu 9.04 Blender render performance.

This one is a no-brainer: 3D rendering is an easy win for 64-bit processors because it's so heavily CPU bound.

Is it worth it?

Putting aside the issue of Flash for a moment, moving from 32-bit to 64-bit is pretty much painless. In fact, you can't tell the difference without running uname -a in a terminal - all the programs you're used to are likely to run identically, and ultimately it's only a matter of time before x86-64 becomes the standard.

Then there's Adobe Flash. Not only is it pretty much ubiquitous on the web, but it's also completely closed-source - Gnash, the free software project that aims to replace Flash, is such a long way away that it just isn't an option for everyday users. Adobe has said that it intends to release 64-bit Flash for Flash 11, so until then you must either install the 32-bit build and suffer slightly degraded performance or go for the 64-bit alpha build and handle updating it yourself.

Although we certainly wouldn't recommend average users to use that 64-bit alpha, we should at least say that it worked just fine for us in our tests - don't let its "alpha" tag fool you into thinking it will take down your desktop.

At this point, using a 64-bit distro is rather like enabling hyperthreading on your CPU - you get a free performance boost for your PC, and if that means you can put off upgrading it for another six months then it's an easy win. As we said earlier, it's a nice bonus. Sure, 5-10% isn't a lot, but when it's across your whole desktop and comes at no cost, why not? If you do use an application that isn't in Ubuntu's repositories, check around first to see if other users have any experience of running it in 64-bit.

Have your say

Here's where you come in. If you're running a 32-bit distro on a 64-bit chip, what's stopping you from making the switch? Is there a specific app that isn't ready? Have you had tried in the past and had problems? Or is it just not something you care about?

We asked our Twitter followers what was holding them back from using a 64-bit distro - here's what they had to say...

  • aricg: Mot every program has a 64bit version, or its buggy I never saw a big speed difference for personal use.
  • Edwards80: Occasional annoyances/compatibility issues outweigh the, as of yet, small benefits.
  • DilbertDave: Using 32bit Ubuntu. I'd be worried about 64bit driver availability. It's flaky in Windows in my experience.
  • cavang: I am using a 32 bit one because 64 bit doesn't bring any advantage at all (I have 2GBs ram) and 32 bit works perfectly for me.
  • nine_L: Utter ignorance!
  • Muzer0: This used to apply to me until today, so I'll answer: Pure ignorance. I expected it to be as bad as Win for 64-bit. I was wrong.
  • asmodaous: For me I play wow through wine and I hear there is no 64bit version.
  • gmclean: Flash is not yet 100% awesome, is it? Java's basically there. I also have some interesting issues with playing videos. I use Deb64.
  • tweetsponge: With 4g or less of memory and a server kernel i just don't see any real need or motivation via features to go 64-bit.

Send us a message @tuxradar/Identi.ca or @tuxradar/Twitter with your views on Ubuntu 9.04 and we'll put the best here.

Disclaimer: the TuxRadar server runs Ubuntu 8.04 with x86-64. Is nice!

You should follow us on Identi.ca or Twitter


Your comments

Skype hanging occasionally

Does nobody here have problems with skype under 64bit? My Flash is alright it only crashes (gray box instead of vid) sometimes when I open multiple tabs with flash vids and then close some of them...
But it will always work in other browsers...

Don't blame User's here.

"Most Linux users run a 32-bit distro, and many of them run a 32-bit distro on a 64-bit computer. The question is, why? ..."

Don't BLAME the user's here.

"OpenSolaris" offers pretty-well one distro to fit both cpu needs. If a 64-bit capable cpu, ... is detected it installs 64-bit, if 32-bit cpu, ... is detected it installs 32-bit.

All the Linux Distro maker's should be doing the same now.

In fact on Linux Mint's site , even the latest Linux Mint 7 offers a 64-bit version at the bottom of the page and then they warn the user that 32-bit might be more stable ... than 64-bit.
Like WTF !!!?

Like I said, don't blame the user. It's the Linux Distro maker's who are ALL at fault here.

Skype problems

I also had problems with Skype on 64 bit Ubuntu Jaunty. I obtained it via the Medibuntu repositories. The main problems I experienced were periods of hanging after a few mins of talk, then the other person could hear me but I couldnt hear them, Skype refused to close down properly also I couldnt alter my display pic in fact it wouldnt show one! All these problems disappeared when I went back to 32 bit Jaunty.

Skype problems on 32 bit too

Skype on 32 bit Ubuntu 9.04 hangs after 10 mins or so of voice chat, program has to be closed by force quit.

f

f

I run the 64 bit version but I'll not, anymore

The 64-bit flash plugin runs me into craziness and I'll surelly not want it, anymore...

I don't use blender neither OGG conversion... Extract and boot fast is good, but it's not the bigger of my problems.

C programming is such worse in 64bit version too... I'll have to rebuild all the things... Argh...

flash is out for 64 bit!

flash is out for 64 bit!

Am I 64?

Does 'i686' output from uname mean 64 or 32 bit?

"ed@ubuntu:~$ uname -a
Linux ubuntu 2.6.28-13-generic #45-Ubuntu SMP Tue Jun 30 19:49:51 UTC 2009 i686 GNU/Linux"

Sorry to be thick.
;-)

Needs to be clicky

I run 64bit on my laptop and desktop and 32 bit on my kids system since its single core. However I will load my inlaw's new dell laptop with 32 bit since its easier for beginners. I have a tough time with sudo commands being a rookie and pretty much just copy and paste what I can find off the net, the inlaws would lost.

Am I 64 bit question answered

@ Am I 64? No i686 is 32 bit

Ubuntu 9.04 x64 rocks

Been a Linux fan for years and rand x32 on my Dual Core x64 doe a few months, after getting my Dell Inspiron 1525 pre-installed, I decided to take the plunge to x64 purging the Dell version and installing 8.10 then 9.04 just one word WOW. I have it on both my Laptop and my Mini 910 what a total joy. I tried Windows XP x64 and spent a week finding @$@#$#$ drivers Dell was totally 1000 useless,'We just support 32 bit' I gave up the XP install and carefully placed the MS brand CD in a towel and snapped in half my MS inventory is now '0' end of frustration. eof now has totally new meaning.

Issues with 64bit ubuntu

I loaded Ubuntu 9.04 64bit on my new AMD phenom 2 550be and it seems I'm getting some very,very slow response time that i wasn't getting with 32bit. If i'm copying a file and try to do anything else... i mean anything, firefox takes like 1 minute to open or terminal or anything... very strange stuff. I was thinking maybe it was something with powernowd but i uninstalled that...so i'm perplexed......when i do a /cat/proc/cpuinfo it says it shows 800mhz and it is supposed to show 3.1ghz and the cache shows as 512kb (L2) which is right but the 6mb (L3) doesnt' show up in there....

Driver issues

I had some trouble with drivers in my toshiba e105, then I stepped back to ubuntu 32bit version

64 bits own

64 bit Gentoo no multilib (doesn't include 32 bit packages as installable) and no 32 bit elf support in my kernel. Everything is working great. Even the CAPTCHA thing is working. About to try 64 bit wine with (blegh) 32 windows programs (read: games).

Benchmarks lie

Its interesting that you never see benchmarks that use real network loads, because 64 bit loses badly.

If you're using your linux system as a web server, router, firewall or other network device, 64 bit is not a win. Small benchmarks fare well, but the larger code and larger structures result in more cache misses and lower performance at the network level.

Heard you can install the

Heard you can install the 32bit Firefox under 64bit ubuntu 9.04, so does anyone know how to do this? I'm running 9.04 64bit, but I have Flash issues with all the browsers I'm running (done the Alpha Adobe thing already).

If you can set the OS to work with a 32bit app, that might solve a lot of headache.

I know for example that Apple's OSX is NOT fully 64bit, and Safari is running in 32bit mode and so it's kind of a hybrid 64bit/32bit OSX solution at the moment.

Perhaps Linux should do that for a while until all the app people catch up?

swich from 32 t 64

How someone that is runing a 32 bit can switch to 64??

Problems with matlab

I've tried to get Matlab running on my 64-bit ubuntu, but it just simply didn't work. So that's pretty much what made me go back to 32-bits, cause I need it for my work.

Problems with compiling from source with some 32bit software

Im working with 64bit debian right now,and for the most part I have not problems at all.

That said I have thought of going back to 32bit becuase when trying to compile from source with some programs I run into 32bit library support issues, it is realy hard to get the 32bit libraries when running 64bit

student

I am thinking of switching back to 32 bit because Java performance on 64 bit is very slow. It is more obvious when you run IDE such as Netbeans.

Not going 64-bit on desktop

Not going 64-bit on desktop ever unless I can afford more than 16Gb RAM. 32-bit PAE compiled kernel works for me all the time.

MySQL very slow on ext4 64 bit

I've switched to Ubuntu 9.10 64 bit recently, did a fresh new install using ext4 as the file system, and was really shocked how my brand new Core i7 860 2.8 GHz was slower than Core 2 Duo 2.4 GHz on my MacBook Pro. I too do Ruby on Rails dev, and all my specs, and cucumber tests were running really slow. After a day of investigation, it turned out that ext4 is the problem. Found another post on the net saying that MySQL runs slow on ext4, so I reinstalled my Ubuntu 9.10 on ext3 instead and just now I can tell I am running real Core i7. The box is flying now with 8GB of RAM ;-)

Apart from that, no other issues at all. No problems with flash, runs happily in Firefox and Opera.

One good thing to know about

One good thing to know about 64bit is that if you use a ADM CPU (At least Phenom II) it WILL crash if you have high file IO. I have two machines with different hardware that will freeze when ever I run too high file I/O for too long a time. Copying a 1TB disk full of data unto a raid does not work on any of these machines. I am not the only one having this problem but since the system just freeze you get no dumps or any indication to where the problem is and no one want to touch the problem or even pretend that it exists. It seems to be memory related when 100% memory is used the machines freeze.

SO, right not 64bit is unusable on AMD CPUS/chipsets.

Whatever

After reading this post and the replies I decided to give 64 bit Ubuntu a try on a Dell Inspiron laptop (AMD 64 dual core Athlon X2) worked right out of the box flawlessly, found all the drivers I needed, and seems to be more stable than the 32 bit version, which sometimes glitched on reboots. The only hiccup was I had to get the Flash 10 Alpha, which works fine on everything so far, including youtube.

been 64 since ages

always used 64 bit,no worries,
tried 32 few times, didn't noticed big differences.

32 is vanilla
64 is darkChoco ;-)

Thanks

In short, 64bit Linux of most flavors, are worth trying.

I have always used Debian for my servers(E-mail Hosting, File, Clusters, etc...) and have been very happy with stability, speed, etc.... Was using XP Pro on my workstation the entire time(Hesitated because of Adobe InDesign). Decided to install Ubuntu 64bit to test and play around with on the same hard drive(dual boot with XP Pro). I haven't rebooted back into XP since(yeaher). Was thinking on trying 32bit, but after reading all of the comments and this article I'm not going to bother. I will be trying other flavors, but Ubuntu seems pretty nice and will leave it as my main OS until I find something better.

Thanks for some very useful information and comments.

What about extra memory usage under 64bit

The argument i've always heard for not using 64bit was the additional memory usage it requires. Since most computers do not have over 4G and memory is usually a limitting factor, I can see one opting to use 32bit to save on the additional space 64bit requires for the memory addresses.

There's absolutely no mention of this in the article or comments.

I've been running 64bit on my t61p for a while. After doing some distro research in the past for my VPS server (512m of mem), I decided to use 32bit because it would allow me more memory for running apache.

Now I'm ready to install another distro on my laptop and I am opting for a 32bit, not because I've had problems with 64bit, but because I want to save memory.

memory usage

I think most computers these days come with at least 4GB of ram. I just got a basic laptop, and it had 4GB. With 4GB of RAM, you really have to be doing a lot to use up all the memory. I can run a guest os with virtualbox and run mutliple os's as vm's at the same time, and it handles it fine. With older computers, yeah, it's probably pointless to run 64 bit. But, all new computers should use 64 bit OS's.

some applications are still buggy on 64bit

There are still some applications don't work on 64bit, especially those not used wildly.

horriible wars with flash...

It is killing me, I have no idea how do you all cope with that, but flash doesn't work on that version.

Its failures are often and random, there is totally no way I'll switch back to the 64 bit, and I really advise all the new to Ubuntu, never switch to 64 bit, you'll loose your life...

Why I am still using 32

I have not made the switch because I am in college and there is a local 32 bit repo. Otherwise, to update the system, I will have to use the restrictive and poor 100 Mb per day connection

I'm moving up.

I think that 64 bit versions are pretty painless. I have 6 GB of RAM, and with limitations of the 32 bit versions coming on us fast, I think that for many of us, it is time to switch. I'm moving up.

_

64bit Ubuntu 8.04 runs pretty good on my HP nx6325, only flash at times becomes with "white screen", then I need to reload the page in browser and starts to work again. Other stuff is working very good.

Be careful!

Although 64bit increases cpu performance, it uses up double amount of RAM. So if you have less than 2GB of RAM, stay with 32 bits or performance will heavily decay since the system will run out of RAM!

@Netogallo

No, only pointers do (64bit pointers vs 32bit pointers), which make up an absolutely trivial amount of memory usage. In the vast majority of programs the difference in memory usage should be <1%.

RAM!

64 BIT uses more RAM so if you have less then 4 GB dont waste your time or your performance will be about an 8088 from 1980s.

AdobeAir is a reason for me to stay 32

BBCIplayer and few others apps don't work well on Ubuntu 64.

:)

64 Bit sucks memory but its good

Hay .. 64 bit takes a hell lot of resources than 32bit. Try running 64bit Ubuntu(my beloved) on quad core AMD64 (x4) and you will understand. Even a server flavor take a whoop lot of memory.

I had to drop that for my new server dev. and use 32bit. Check it out.
64bit is cool but you need more resources than the whole STATE needs against the terrorist out there.
Its a fact.

686 optimization? gimp?

thanx for the benchmarks. in future i'd like to see something similar including a distro compiled for 686 performance optimization.

a gimp benchmark would be nice too.

might also be nice to use 4 gigs of RAM to see the way memory is allocated makes any difference.

Old computers du! otherwise

Old computers du! otherwise we would stick with win7!!

64 bit sounds good.

AMD did wonders with the 0x86 one day i can see intel and amd dropping 32 and 16 bit mode support on their server models in a few years.
64 bit mode with it's 16 * 64bit registers, huge linear address space with new instructions and better floating point regs and instructions is the way to go.

Gone back to 32 for a while

The beta Flash 10 64 bit supposedly has a security hole.
So until Adobe release vers. 11 64 bit I am staying with Ubuntu 10.04 32 bit.
I lose about 0.8 GB of the 4GB memory that's installed but as I'm not using memory intensive apps at the moment I don't mind. Anyway I can still dual boot 9.10 64bit for experiments.

No more support for 64 bit flash for Linux

:(

citrix

As far as I know there is no 64 bit Citrix reciever client out there. So 64 bit is no option for me

Article is forgetting....

Forgetting the fact that you don't really benefit of 64-bit unless you actually have over 4GB of RAM. They didn't mention that you waste twice more memory when running 64-bit applications because they do what they are designed to do: address more memory. So this is a game of go. 64-bit with over 4GB, great! But 64-bit with 2GB, not so great!

Want to try?

Ubuntu 32-bit system load: 179MB RAM
Ubuntu 64-bit system load: 358MB RAM

32 bit always seems to be a

32 bit always seems to be a little slower for me when I go back. I've been using 64 bit for a loong time, and don't really have any problems. If I need a 32 bit OS, I just chroot a 32 bit environment with debootstrap. I even wrote a complete chroot creating script which rocks. :)

I am going to install Debian 64bit

I am going to install Debian 64bit because I use an Atom D510 processor and any performance increase is useful and welcome on it.

I think x86 version is the first choice of many people because is always RECOMMENDED on download pages.
Recommended sounds like RISK FREE.

your getting it all wrong,

your getting it all wrong, 64bit is a process. read it up, its nothing to do with the OS, its the chip-set.64bit can handle faster process,s and more ram, so running 64 bit on a 32bit computer is unnecessary and useless. it might run but u will not get any benefits.64bit cpu's and chip-set will out perform any 32bit equivalent, hands down. the only problem is backward compatibility as most programs are written as 32bit, this is only an issue on win xp 64bit. backward compatibility is only available on win vista/7, and ubuntu.

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