Microsoft ExcelSince the introduction of Microsoft Excel 2010 several versions ago, Excel has been available in 64‐bit; this has been a topic of discussion and interest for many Excel users. With all the buzz around the 64‐bit version, many of us wonder: Is 64‐bit Excel better than 32‐bit Excel? Should I make the switch? Is 64‐bit MS Excel the solution to poor Excel performance?

First, let’s explore exactly what 32‐bit and 64‐bit really means. A 32‐bit system can process the data in 32‐bit pieces whereas 64‐bit can process double that. Because more data is being processed at once, the system will operate more quickly and will use the physical memory more efficiently. Installing the 64‐bit version of Excel will certainly make your Excel models run faster and more efficiently but consider whether it’s really necessary before you take the plunge.

You need to consider three components: the software, the operating system, and the hardware. Just because you have 64‐bit capable hardware does not mean you have a 64‐bit operating system or software, but if you want to run the 64‐bit, your machine and operating system need to be 64‐bit. See below to check which hardware, operating system, or software you are running.

Increasing to the 64‐bit version of Excel will increase the speed, capacity, and efficiency of working in Excel significantly. For those working in Office, what this means is that you are no longer limited to 2GB file sizes. Anything over around 50MB does not work very efficiently on 32‐bit hardware. Most Excel files rarely exceed 20MB, unless you are working in Power Pivot. So, if you’re a heavy-duty file size Excel user, you’ll notice a big difference, but otherwise, consider whether you are really going to gain much advantage with the upgrade. If you’re having trouble with your memory, see this article for some more information on improving memory problems in Excel.

The file size supported by 64‐bit Excel is limited only by the system capacity (hard drive) and memory (RAM) available for storage and computation respectively. Also, the 64‐bit solutions also offer much better security features than the 32‐bit versions.

What Are You Using at the Moment?

To figure out what is on your machine, there are three different things that you need to consider here: first, is your machine 64‐bit capable, is the operating system 64‐bit, and is the version of Office you’ve installed 32‐bit or 64‐bit? Whilst you can’t install 64‐bit Office on a 32‐bit machine, it is entirely possible (and very common) to have 32‐bit Office installed on a 64‐bit‐capable machine. In fact, this is often the default option when you install Office, even if you are running the 64‐bit edition of Windows. It is also important to note that 64‐bit computers can still use 32‐bit‐based software programs, even when the Windows operating system is a 64‐bit version.

To check whether your computer is 32‐bit or 64‐bit capable:

Windows Version Steps
Windows 10 1.  In the Windows search bar, type About your PC.
2. Select About your PC in the list of results. The Version and System type are shown on the About screen.
Windows 8 1.  Swipe in from the right edge of the screen, and then tap Search. Or, if you are using a mouse, point to the lower-right corner of the screen, and then click Search.
2.  Type system in the Search box, and then tap or click Settings.
3.  Tap or click System.
·   If “32-bit Operating System” is displayed in the System type field, the computer is running a 32-bit version of Windows.
·   If “64-bit Operating System” is displayed in the System type field, the computer is running a 64-bit version of Windows.
Windows 7 / Vista 1.  Click Start, and type system in the Start Search box.
2.  Click System Information in the Programs list.
3.  Select System Summary in the navigation pane, locate System Type under Item in the details pane.
·  If the value starts with x86, the computer is running a 32-bit version of Windows.
·  If the value starts with x64, the computer is running a 64-bit version of Windows.

Lastly, to check if your version of Excel is 32‐bit or 64‐bit, do the following:

Excel Version Steps
2013, 2016 or 2019 Select the File tab from the Excel ribbon, select Account and then About Excel.
The version and bit-level of Excel will be displayed in the top line of the window.
2010 Select the File tab from the Excel ribbon, and then select Help.
The version and bit-level of Excel will appear under About Microsoft Excel.
2007 This version is 32-bit.

What to be wary of before installing the 64-bit version. Once you have established that you have a 64‐bit‐capable computer, this doesn’t mean you necessarily should instantly install the 64‐bit operating system and Office software. Bigger is better, right? Hold on a minute. While 64‐bit does improve the capacity of the file size, there are some limitations with the 64‐bit. Despite the fact that it has been around for several versions, there are still a few features, add‐ins and other pieces of software don’t work well with the 64‐bit version of Office.

The 64‐bit Excel is a little more stable, but if you are sticking to fairly standard Excel functionality, the switch from 32‐bit to 64‐bit will probably not impact you; in fact, you probably won’t even notice the increased capacity. For Power Pivot users though, the additional amount of RAM that 64‐bit can access might well come in handy, especially if you are regularly working with data models that contain over a million rows.

However, if you need to use advanced features with add‐ons like ActiveX, VBA codes from an older Excel version or other third‐party add‐ons, you could encounter all sorts of problems. This is because many Excel add‐ons are 32‐bit versions that are not fully compatible with the 64‐bit Excel. Of course, if you upgrade to 64‐bit Excel, then you’ll need to upgrade for the rest of Office, and you may encounter similar problems with add‐ins for these products as well. Users have particularly complained about add‐ins for Outlook, such as not syncing with mobile phones or other devices.

Microsoft’s latest version of VBA is Visual Basic 15.5, which comes in 32‐bit and 64‐bit formats. For ActiveX controls and other third‐party add‐ons, you need to either edit the source code (if you can access it) for 64‐bit compatibility or look for an alternative or upgrade.

Lastly, if you are planning to build a solution or a tool using 64‐bit Excel, you need to ensure that your solution will work on both 32‐bit and 64‐bit Excels. Given that 64‐bit Excel is still not as prevalent as 32‐bit, building a 64‐bit compatible solution could be detrimental to its popular adoption or usage.

In summary, if you are looking at moving to 64‐bit Excel, you need to evaluate how you use Excel today. Unless you are a data‐hungry Power Pivot user with the need to generate Excel files bigger than 2GB, there is no real value in making the switch, as 32-bit Excel is perfectly adequate for everyday financial model building.