Will the x64 Edition be for you?

Written by Clem on Monday, August 18th, 2008 @ 6:58 pm | Main Topics

The PC market is in an interesting situation at the moment. Almost all the computers that are sold today come with 64 bit processors, which obviously support the AMD64 architecture but also i386. Owners of these computers are faced with a choice: running a 64bit operating system (AMD64) or a 32bit one (i386). The reality is that most of the software available at present is available for i386 and not always for AMD64. The older architecture is also more stable and is still seen as a reference by editors and developers. Last but not least, very few applications actually take advantage of the improvements of the new architecture so running an AMD64 operating system may actually not be faster than running an i386 one, and in some cases it could even be slower…

… so here is a new architecture which is ready, which a lot of people have the hardware for, but still… the software world doesn’t seem to be ready for it. I386 is still the predominant reference in the market and people will need a strong reason to change. That strong reason is the amount of RAM i386 can support: 4GB RAM. A budget computer (low to middle-range) now comes with 2GB of RAM and the upper market has already reached 4GB. No matter the performances, many users won’t run an operating system which doesn’t recognize all their memory. So we need to get ready and the same way we’ll have to support i386 after AMD64 becomes the reference architecture, we have to support AMD64 now even though it’s not fully on par with i386 yet.

I started working on the x64 Edition and I’m planning to make it as similar as the Main Edition as possible. Eventually I’d like to replicate all changes made to Main to x64 so that I can maintain both editions and release them at the same time. I’ve asked Chris (known as “lakehousetech” on the forums) to perform a benchmark and he compared the performance of Elyssa R1, Hardy i386 and Hardy AMD64. His results are available here:

http://upload.linuxmint.com/blog/p236/elyssa_hardy_x64_benchmark.ods

As you can see, none of the three systems clearly outperformed the two others. So based on this benchmark performance wouldn’t be a reason for you to switch to the upcoming x64 Edition, not yet anyway. A real objective reason to make the switch  would be if you already had more than 4GB RAM. Other than that we’d recommend you stick to what we do best and what receives most of our attention: The Main Edition.

This is also the reason why we’re considering this an edition rather than declining Main into two architectures. Every 6 months and with each release we’ll of course reconsider our position and re-assess the readiness of this architecture until it comes to par with i386 and we give it the same exposure as our main product.

x64 will start as a separate edition, one for enthusiasts and high spec computers. We’ll put all our efforts into it as it will eventually become our main product but for now we still consider it an alternative edition.

Comments and questions are welcome (I’m sure we’ll get a lot on this topic :) ).

Note: It’s hard to say when this edition will be ready. The goal for Mint 5 was to start this edition and have an x64 version of Elyssa. We’re still aiming for this and this is receiving as much attention as ongoing development for Mint 6 (new mintUpdate, Application Manager (new mintInstall frontend), OEM support, Upgrade Manager). Once this edition is in place we’ll want to work on both architectures at the same time so there won’t be any delay between their respective releases.

49 Responses to “Will the x64 Edition be for you?”

  1. valkyr Says:

    I have an AMD 64-bit X2 processor but I am using Mint dual-booted with 32-bit Vista Home Premium. I will switch to 64-bit editions if I get compatible drivers. That’s the main problem for me. The drivers for some hardware are either not present in the 64-bit form or do not take advantage of the 64-bit architecture. Even drivers for Windows 64-bit are not available. Why switch to 64-bit if one can’t use the present hardware?

  2. Alex Says:

    Hoo boy, I’m ready for x64, not just because it sounds better, but because I intend to get 8gb of RAM cooking. I think it’s projects like this that will drive the adoption of x64 rather than a project like this kind of waiting for the market (well that’s not accurate as the market is buying x64 hardware – so “software” market) to make the jump. My only concern is, like Vista x64, how do hardware drivers fit in to this equation?

  3. George Herlin Says:

    If I may, I’d like to make the following comment:
    Mint has targeted 32bit architectures(mostly with great success) as a bundle of OS, applications and drivers, whether FOSS or not, targeted at the desktop “market”

    I can’t think of a current “desktop” application that uses (usefully) gigabytes of memory, though, of course, there is nothing as constant as change, and (as Mr W. Gates III said when both he and I were young men) “however capable any machine’s hardware is, software developers will find ways of creating alpplications that will bring it to ts knees.

    There is, however, a niche for such machines: database servers. They will benefit from as much memory as you can throw at them, and are the backbone of any modern Content Management System, as well as many other business and engineering applications.

    So, if I may be so bold, rather than concentrating on x64 desktops, how about translating the Mint ethos into x64 edition(s) that target the needs of those running such systems: ready-made high-availability DB systems and web servers, with simple system image, backup, failover/load-sharing.

    Of course, such systems would have to support LVM, and maybe could serve as SAN servers (another area where more memory is always good).

    Many people running systems on limited budgets use the Redmond products because they are perceived as requiring less expertise. I believe that that is incorrect (when something goes wrong, they are frequently flummoxed…), but making such systems easy to set up can only help them spend money on what really counts in that area, which is becoming knowledgeable…

    Cordially yours

    George Herlin

  4. George Herlin Says:

    OOps, wrong (chimeric) e-mail address…

  5. manmath sahu Says:

    Thanks a ton for such informative posting! Previously though installing a 64 bit will increase performance in every situation. Poor me!

  6. Chris Says:

    That the 32-bit (x86) architecture does not support more than 3GB isn’t true. It is possible to compile the linux kernel with large memory support (“PAE” memory addressing) for the i386 architecture.
    Look for the line CONFIG_HIGHMEM64G = y) in your kernel .config.
    I’ve tried this feature and it works like a charm.
    So the memory limitation of the i386 archecture isn’t really a problem for linux. :)

  7. xwin78 Says:

    I have been dreaming of the day when Mint Goes x64–I have RAM already purchased and ready. I would also be willing to test it if you need systems. I have a spare Core 2 Setup just for testing and hacking. Let me know if you need and I’ll happily give Her a whirl. By the way, since it will be a completely new build will it be called Elyssa or something else?

    Thanks LM Team

  8. Matthew Says:

    This is perfect timing, as I just ordered parts for my x64 system yesterday. I’d love to test and help out.

  9. Anthony Says:

    Well x64 is best with big numbers the main winners are encryption and compression. Drivers well most of them can be recompiled cant they and they should basically work now. (apart from the specific 1386 bits)

    I have 4GB showing as 3GB in mint… Such a shame.

    But dont forget we are moving into a mine field area I remmember reading somewhere any more than 2GB it is highly recommended to have ECC but manufacturers keep on pushing non ECC Ram. I had to reduce my speed of my ram to prevent RAM related ZFS errors which could of been fixed with ECC.

    Making the jump to x64 is only a good thing since it will push developers to innovate. We have to move ahead and develop to the future of 128bit CPU’s which I think SUN will have first….

  10. darco Says:

    I had the Ubuntu HH X64 edition but had probs w/Flash. Went back to 32 bit. I also dual boot to Vista Ultimate x64 and play games w/o any probs. Used x64 Mod drivers for my Nvidia 880 GT. Was able to play Crysis in 64 bit mode….other games are fine. No driver issues at all.

  11. anonymous Says:

    Ok, I agree as long as this change is for a better performance of any program we run, and not for selling us more ram. Beause I think a good program is one that makes what you need with the lowest system requirement as possible.

  12. Jeremiah Says:

    To quote Eric Raymond “The industry-wide switch to 64-bit hardware is opening a critical transition window during which the new dominant operating system will be determined. This window will close at the end of 2008*” This announcement by Clem (Mint) is very good news for Linux.

    (*) http://www.catb.org/~esr/writings/world-domination/world-domination-201.html

  13. Luke Says:

    Sometimes, every little shred of additional performance really counts.

    In looking over those benchmarks, I note that while the differences in performance between i386 and x64 aren’t great, they are there. And for the most part, x64 achieves better performance.

    On a typical modern desktop PC, this performance difference won’t be noticeable for the average user. A state of the art Intel Core 2 Duo processor is so fast that the difference between i386 software and x64 software is barely noticeable.

    However, on a netbook – a small, lightweight laptop – the difference could be very important. The next generation Intel and Via netbook CPUs, the Intel Atom 3XX series and the Via Nano, are both x64 chips.

    Now, while they are both 64 bit, they are also both quite underpowered compared to a state of the art desktop PC CPU. So when you are trying to run multiple programs concurrently on multiple virtual desktops, or playing back HD video, such chips are pushed to their limit.

    In such cases, using x64 based software instead of i386 software could provide enough extra speed to make the system usable, as opposed to clunky. When using underpowered CPUs, even the small differences between i386 and x64 loom large. At the margins, what is normally considered small, can become rather large.

    Given this, I believe it would be wise for Linux Mint to develop and fully support an x64 edition. The first x64 netbooks will be released later this Fall, and a flood of them will arrive in 2009. Netbooks are the fastest growing segment of the PC industry, and many of them run Linux by default. In order to keep up with this important trend, Linux Mint should support x64.

    Thank you,
    Luke Seubert

  14. Tim Says:

    I personally probably won’t use x64 because I don’t realy want to run it on my main machine and I don’t have a test machine.

    Having said that, I really want to use x64 and anything that is like that that is new and an improvement (I was disapointed when heard that Mint had ipv6 disabled by default).
    If I sore a stable Mint KDE x64 edition, with good reviews and little hardware problems then I would switch to it.

    *dreams about Mint KDE x64 with KDE 4.2 and ipv6, all programs optimised for x64 and no hardware problems*

    The sooner Linux Mint gets x64 going the better.

    Tim

  15. Kurt Frank Says:

    I’m certainly looking forward to this release, having an 8GB quad core system (I’m into virtualization).

    While it is indeed true that there is little or no need for the vast majority of applications to move to an x64 code base, that is not necessarily true of the operating system that those apps run on.

    It would be very few apps that use more than a GB, but you many want to run more than one. I can tell you that once you start mucking around with virtual machines, memory just seems to evaporate.

  16. Ger Mulvey Says:

    I currently use Ubuntu x86_64 not because I have a super fast machine or more than 2gb of ram. I run it because for me it works and works well. Otherwise what is the point in having 64 bit computers? I don’t use Mint because it has no 64 bit option.
    The first OS that gets a foothold in 64 bit be it windows or Linux is likely to dominate the OS world. Linux needs to lead the way and set a benchmark. Micro$oft missed a golden opportunity with Vista, mainly because it was way bad. But if it had been good and only in 64 bit it could have been a different story. At some point soon the switch has to be made. As said all modern hardware is 64 bit. So why are we not utilizing it as we really should. I understand there are good reasons for using 32 bit and many people may not have the opportunity or money to upgrade. But there are now less and less reasons not to use a 64 bit Linux OS.

  17. Husse Says:

    @ Tim ipv6 is not used yet

  18. Fredx Says:

    I think it is high time we get Linux Mint with 64bit support… I am looking forward that… :)

  19. GS Manners Says:

    Is that a benchmark? No offense, but were you really testing the *CPU* speed? It’s already a well-known fact that 64-bit outperforms 32-bit in any category related to heavy CPU usage (rendering, encoding, compression). In all other categories, you’re really only testing the hard drive/mobo speed.

  20. Tim Says:

    @Husse I know. But, like x64, it should be.

    We have this problem these days that the developers or whatever don’t implement it because the users don’t use it and the users don’t use it because not all the developers have implemented it.

    ipv6 is not used because not everyone supports it and it is not supported becuase no one uses it.

    Almost the same things goes for x64

    Having said that x64 will be widely used before ipv6 so it is certainly the one to focus on first.

    I don’t really htink that it is bad that Mint doesn’t support ipv6, because as Husse said, it isn’t used. But as I said, it should be.

    Tim

  21. mcurran Says:

    Why try so hard to make x64 sound less than what it really is? I would really like it to be called Main as well. Shit, if it’s based off of Ubuntu x64, then why is it not up to par. Did you start this one from scratch? I doubt it. These updates are so depressing. If it’s not ready, then just release it now please.

  22. mcurran Says:

    In this release: Could you please consider fixing the issue where the boot/low level framebuffer support selects the highest possible resolution, instead of just going with the lowest possible resolution (e.g. is like 640×480 or 800×600, instead of finding the highest possible, and setting virtual/gdm to that resolution)? The ideal OS would be able to get my grub to 1680×1050 without any user intervention; however, that’s probably a wet dream, huh? Well, howabout at least getting gdm to conform, instead of every user having to go the extra mile right from the start – It’s like welcome to linux… Noobs will be like, “Nah, I’m all set.” I’m sure there’ll be way better turnout that’ll accompany this easy little fix.

  23. Chris Says:

    @GS Manners: Yeah it looks like a benchmark to me. Agreed that some more could be tested, but this was a comparison between average application usage. 64 bit isn’t going to be useful unless 64 bit applications that can use the entire register are used. There really isn’t any good reason to switch unless you perform scientific work, or modeling/simulation that requires it. People continually ask for 64 bit, but have no idea that it won’t make a damn bit of difference when they are instant messaging they’re buds, or surfing the net on Firefox. Why don’t you take the time to perform a benchmark test and let us know what you find?

  24. Chris Says:

    phish! Call me when we get to 5nm processors at 256bit

  25. Jerasimos N. Mantas Says:

    19 August 2008

    Hello to everyone concerned:

    With all the banter about i386 and x64 architectures (and the distros to go with them, a la carte) we have forgotten the all-important-but-frequently-sidestepped “documentation maintenance” problem. I, for one among so many that are scattered in this growing Linux community, would like to volunteer some of my time and expertise for writing support (ie: documentation support/editing, etc). I have asked Ubuntu’s proprietors (Canonical), as well as OpenOffice.org to keep me in mind, or on active duty for what I can offer in services “gratis”, but I haven’t gotten any replies so far. Maybe posting my comment here might help some more in getting the word out about my wish to help in a less dramatic role of Operating Systems Development and Maintenance.

    Sincerely and respectfully,

    Jerasimos N. Mantas, IT Consultant, Technical Writer
    Semi-retired technical system consultant
    Toronto, Ontario Canada
    jerasimosmantas AT gmail DOT com

  26. C17 Says:

    I have AMD64 3800+, but I always download the i386 version of all Linux distributions, because the packages to install apps. of 32 bits appears first than 64 (if appears for 64 bits version).

  27. marcus0263 Says:

    Full disclosure, I don’t run Mint as my Desktop but I do recommend/setup Mint for a number of people/environments.

    I’ve been running a complete 64Bit Gentoo Desktop for two years now. It’s just not the “RAM”, it’s the stability of 64Bit. So far the only issue I have is with the complete incompetence of Sun not having a 64Bit Java Plugin. To get around this I just run a 32Bit Firefox binary. But the rest of my system is 100% 64Bit, it’s wonderful. 64Bit is just out and out more “efficient” and IMO rock solid stable. That alone is a reason to migrate over to a 64Bit system.

    The pure laziness of the few application developers as shown with Sun’s lack of a 64Bit Java Plugin is no excuse not to enjoy the benefits of 64Bit land. Sure there a “few” hold outs who haven’t ported their applications/drivers over. But very few, it’s not like it was 3-4 years ago. Only reason I’d run 32Bit on 64Bit architecture is if I had less than a Gig of RAM.

    Clem, you’re doing an outstanding job with Mint. Your direction with the project has benefited with your common sense approach has produced a very well balanced/professional quality Distro. This is why I have highly recommend Mint since the “Barbara” days.

    Cheers

  28. beep_gr Says:

    Who needs more than 2G ram???
    Only vista…

    I have P4 @1,4 with 1G ram and linux uses around 600MB

    Don’t spend your money…

  29. Chris Says:

    I’d use a 64bit Distro… if I had a 64bit processor ;) How about a Server Distro of Mint Linux?

  30. ricardo nunes Says:

    hi all,

    i’m using right now sidux amd64 so i really would like to try mint64.

    i’m curious clement, how are you dealing with flash plugin?

    rjnunes

  31. Clem Says:

    Ricardo: I don’t know yet.. I haven’t come that far. Right now I’m porting our tools and upstream deviations towards AMD64.

  32. gambasvb Says:

    i am using AMD Sempron LE 1500… but i can’t using Linuxmint Elyssa i386…
    huhuhu…
    when linuxmint amd64 will be realesed ?

  33. Eradicator Says:

    My computer has 4 Gb RAM, that is main reason of 64 bit OS. Now i use ubuntu x64, but mint is much better IMHO.

  34. Pro-Linux Says:

    Hello:
    I have been using 64 bits Linux, for a while (may be 2 years?).
    First OpenSuse, then I switched recently to Ubuntu 8.04.1
    I am totally satisfied with Ubuntu 8.04.1 (Hardy LTS) amd_x64.

    The wireless works. (BroadCom chip): native driver is slow.

    Ndiswrapper supposed to be better (not Installed yet)

    The Nvidia drivers works (incl. 3D) …and the quality is better than Vista x64!

    Compiz works great.

    Skype 2.0 works fine, including the webcam.(I had to install 32/64 bits packages).

    Firefox x64 3.0 works beautifully: fast stable as a rock, great features!

    Conclusion: Would be great to have “Linux Mint-amd-x64″ working just as well!

    Several KDE 4.1 apps works just fine (Dolphin, K3B, and more…).

    Some day, when it is ready, I hope.

    P-L.

  35. Dejan Says:

    Comon, give us a download link even if it’s in pre-alpha stage :)

  36. Cathbard Says:

    The one app I’m interested in a benchmark for is sadly missing and that application is Inkscape. How about a few tests on that for we artists. Once one adds a few blurs it quickly gets into the realms of needing a supercomputer or one is waiting for redraws for longer than actually creating the drawing. There is a 64 bit package of the beasty and i am told that inkscape is single threaded on 32 bit kernels so it would be an interesting test.

    And beep_gr, who needs more than 2G of ram? I think I’ve just answered your question – artists. Blender can’t have too much ram either. There are lots of apps out there that will eat as much ram as you can throw at them.

  37. doug Says:

    When I was using Mepis and they came out with an x64 edition I tried it, and there was a noticeable speed difference. Drivers were not a problem, just Flash, and an odd but annoying bug where *every* app that was running in the taskbar had the same icon, an ‘X’. Other than those two things it was very successful. The lack of Flash was the biggest problem, though.

  38. Matt Everett Says:

    Although it must be done eventually for now it seems like a waste of time when Linux distro have so many other pressing issues.

    Plus AMD appears to be potentially exiting the CPU making business and even if they aren’t their CPU’s have become fairly irrelevant.

    But, HEY it’s gotta be done eventually. As I see it though you can’t do much about slack X64 drivers, so why bother with the rest.

  39. martin0641 Says:

    This isn’t a debate, this is fence sitting. Everytime *ANYTHING* changes, curmudgeonly types sit around and talk about how great the past was. We need 64 bit, right now, because anything else is wasting development time by supporting two architectures. If people would just rip off the 32bit band-aid, and just accept the reality of future architectures, it will be over faster, more developers will be able to spend time more time patching up the last few issues that the 64bit versions have. All of the “effort” being poured into 32bit development is not going to have nearly as long of a tail as 64bit development will.

    I’m not saying we don’t need the 32 bit version for the time being, but a 64 bit “no-compromise” version needs to be available alongside the 32bit version until a critical mass is reached, after which 64bit will reign until we need more than the 16.8 million terabytes of ram that 64bit lets us address. Modern chips usually only support 40 or 48 bits anyway, but just like the move from 16 to 32bit, this needs to happen to converge development on a single track. This is not about speed or perceived need, it’s about the simple reality that multi-core and cheaper hardware mean that Hypervisors, Virtuilization, and thinner clients will be the norm very soon for even “regular” people (even if the technical aspect is transparent to them).

    Multicore, fast internet, UWB Video capabilities, better batteries, and smaller parts are bringing thin back in a big way as people realize that everyone having a 12 core system on their desk is not only stupid, it’s wasteful and expensive for most people. Those core systems, which could begin to come pre-installed in homes just like an A/C or washing machine, will need 64bit capabilities and smartly coded multi-threaded software.

    The last piece of this puzzle is going to be properly using 3D acceleration and Video acceleration through a VM. Once that’s done, everything else is in place for everyone being able to use a “nettop” at wire speed in your home or on the go that has full access to the resources of your core system. I like the idea of a 3lb system that is nothing but a keyboard, an OLED, and a wireless link that gives me access to the real monster sitting in the closet with full audio/video/movie playback support. And on this day, I want to see the Mint logo when I turn it on.

    So please keep trying to advance the state of the art, Mint rocks, and 64bit Mint rocks mo-betta, and mo-futureproof.

  40. felipe alvarez Says:

    opensuse uses PAE kernel, which supports more than 8GB ram, but still considered x86_32

  41. shetlandboy Says:

    i will agree with beep_gr most of the time you dont need more than 2GB of ram but that doesn’t stop people like me who use my laptop for science demonstrations and other fairly high end graphical uses.

    i wont be using the 64x version as neither my pc nor my laptop have good enough processors but they both do need all of the ram they have installed almost every day

    keep up the good work with linux mint and doing a 64x version is the right thing to do

  42. Riversbooks Says:

    Clem, great update and very educational for us less tech savvy


    Take care and thank you

    Mike Dillingham, Author/Owner
    Http://home.gci.net/~sleddog
    http://www.riversbooks.blogspot.com

  43. Jed Says:

    I have been waiting for x64 mint for ages !! ( it feels like ) …
    i have 4gb and hoping to go up . been sticking with ubuntu but when this is out i will switcharoo .. honestly i’d be surprised if x64 gave a performance boost unless it was thrashing the swap memory for anything , x64 is not faster than x32 ! :)

  44. luxorvan Says:

    I personally still favor the 4.0 over the newest release, I’m not sure why. But i386 wasn’t good for my newly purchased motherboard/cpu combo which was 64 bit . I eventually switched over to the latest ubuntu 64 bit and things are great! I’m glad theres finally going to be 64 bit available through Linux Mint! I’m running a sempron64 3000+ 128k on ecs goal3+ sis based m/b, 768 mb ddr400, 128mb ddr2 pci-e nvidia based graphics card(msi) and 160gb wd-caviar ata hd. I use xserver-xgl and the proprietary driver. I can’t wait until the 64bit release and I will be downloading it whens I see its available!

  45. Jonas Says:

    Doesn’t the 64-bit edition work with Intel processors?

  46. infamous Says:

    I’ve been waiting forever for 64 bit, but the average person doesn’t know what a bit is. So I think maybe it’s more of a challenge to convince software developers to write something for a small market share. If someone really needs 64 bit for a certain ap they can always dual boot.

  47. Bryan E. Boone Says:

    The lack of a 64 bit edition keeps me from installing/using this on my primary development box.


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