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:
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.