Prior to Windows Server 2008, most servers did not have much of a RAM requirement above 4 GB. In Windows Server 2008, it is time to give some thought to x86 vs. x64 computing in regards to memory allocation. The chart in Figure A shows the RAM maximums available with the different versions of Windows Server 2008. Figure A
Now that all new hardware is x64 capable, it is almost a no-brainer to go ahead and provision systems with the x64 editions of Windows — this includes the Standard and Web editions, which can hold more RAM. The only real distinguishing factor is whether these machines will be virtual machines or carry a heavy workload as a physical system. If new Windows servers (including selected virtual machine workloads) will be doing very little work, it may make more sense to only provision them with 4 GB of RAM.
When comparing x86 to x64, the systems should be made x64 (if possible) if there is any foreseen need to increase the RAM beyond the 4 GB limit. However, cases can be made for x86 installations; namely, drivers that need to be installed for certain equipment, vendor support for third-party applications, and the possible need for 16-bit applications (read 10 things you should know about 64-bit Windows Server) can become great obstacles in adopting x64 distributions of Windows. The other side of the discussion is to minimize the number of editions of Windows Server 2008 that you use in your environment, which is a very valid management point.
Increasing the footprint of operating systems is something that most administrators want to avoid, but this one may be an exception. With Windows Server 2008's x64 versions being able to process more RAM, the case becomes quite clear. This becomes an even more convincing case when we consider that the x86 versions of Windows Server 2008 will likely not go beyond the base release, paving the way for the x64 platform exclusively available with Windows Server 2008 R2.
Visit the Microsoft Windows Server homepage for more comparisons of Windows Server 2008 versions.
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Rick Vanover is a software strategy specialist for Veeam Software, based in Columbus, Ohio. Rick has years of IT experience and focuses on virtualization, Windows-based server administration, and system hardware.