Excel 32 Bit vs 64 Bit

Beginning with version 2010, Excel became offered in two “bitness versions”: a 32-bit and a 64-bit. Prior to Excel 2010, only the 32-bit version was available.

The 32-bit and 64-bit versions of Excel are practically the same in terms of the features they provide to the user, but they are still different “by design,” as we will see right below.

Differences between Excel 32 bit and 64 bit are: Excel 64 bit can’t be installed on a 32-bit Windows; 32-bit version has a 2GB to 4GB memory limitation (2GB for versions that don’t have the LAA capability, and 3GB for versions with LAA update) whereas the 64 bit doesn’t; and the 64 bit is more secure with DEP feature enabled by default.

In the following sections, I will discuss the differences between Excel 32-bit and Excel 64-bit, including their benefits and downsides, how to know which bitness version you have, which one to choose, and some installation requirements and scenarios.

1- What is the difference between 32-bit and 64-bit Excel?

– Excel 32 bit can be installed on 32-bit and 64-bit Windows

The first difference between Excel 32-bit and 64-bit is that the 32 bit version can be installed on 32 bit Windows or 64 bit, while Excel 64-bit can only be installed on a 64-bit Windows.

– Excel 32 bit has memory limitation while 64 bit doesn’t

The difference between the 32-bit and 64-bit versions of Microsoft Excel is the amount of virtual memory that can be accessed by the program.

  • For Excel 32-bit:

The virtual address space available for Excel 32-bit is limited to 2 GB of RAM that is shared with the open workbooks and the activated add-ins.

However, this 2 GB limit is increased to 3 and 4 GB of RAM for Excel versions that have the Large Address Aware (LAA) feature enabled, i.e. updated 32-bit versions of Excel 2013 and newer. On a 32-bit Windows, the virtual memory is increased for these versions to 3 GB, while on a 64-bit Windows, it is increased to 4 GB of RAM.

  • For Excel 64-bit:

The 64-bit version of Excel does not have the same virtual memory limitations as the 32-bit version, and can access up to 8000 GB of RAM, which is a massive amount of memory that is more than enough, even for heavy Excel use.

– Excel 64 bit has DEP by default as opposed to 32 bit

DEP, which stands for hardware Data Execution Prevention, is a Windows built-in security feature that was introduced with Windows XP and Windows Server 2003 and that helps defend memory against harmful code.

DEP is enabled by default in Excel 64-bit, which is an advantage compared to Excel 32-bit where you need to do it manually through the Group Policy settings.

2- How to know if Excel is 32-bit or 64-bit?

To check which bit version you have, Excel 32-bit or 64-bit, you can follow these steps, depending on the Excel version you have:

  • Excel 2007 and older: The version is definitely a 32-bit one, as there was no 64-bit version of Excel at that time.
  • Excel 2010: Click on the “File” tab, then on “Help“. You’ll find the Excel bit version in the “About Microsoft Excel” section.
  • Excel 2013 and newer: Click on the “File” tab, then on “Account“. Finally, click on “About Excel“. A window will display with the Excel bit version and other information.

3- Should I choose Excel 32-bit or 64-bit?

Now that we know the differences between Excel 32-bit and 64-bit, let’s see how we can decide which version to install. You should just keep in mind that there is no better bit version; the best bit version is the version that suits your situation and your needs.

Here are some criteria that will help you to determine which bit version to choose, Excel 32-bit or 64 bit:

– Choose Excel 64-bit if:

  • You have a 64-bit Windows, AND You usually work with large Excel workbooks that contain complex calculations and a lot of complex features such as Power Pivot, 3D Map, connections to external databases, etc.
  • Or, you have a 64-bit Windows AND you’re developing add-ins for Excel. With the 64-bit version of Excel, you’ll be able to produce both versions for add-ins: 64-bit and 32-bit.

– Choose Excel 32-bit if:

  • You have a 32-bit Windows (you can’t install 64-bit Office on a 32-bit Windows).
  • Or you need to use 32-bit add-ins that don’t have a 64-bit version and therefore can’t be installed on a 64-bit Excel; no matter what the bit version of your Windows is.
  • Or you need to use some 32-bit controls that don’t have a 64-bit version, e.g. Mscomctl.ocx and comctl.ocx controls; no matter what the bit version of your Windows is.

4- Can I convert Excel 32 bit to 64 bit or vice versa?

Microsoft doesn’t provide a way to convert Excel 32-bit to 64-bit or vice versa; so if you want to use an Excel version with a different bitness than the one already installed (i.e. you have Excel 32-bit and want to have Excel 64-bit, or conversely, you have Excel 64-bit and want to have Excel 32-bit), you’ll need to first uninstall the current version, then install the new one having the different bitness.

5- Can I have Excel 32-bit and 64-bit on the same computer?

The official answer from Microsoft is that it’s not possible to install Excel 32-bit and 64-bit on the same machine.

However, you can still install Excel 32-bit and 64-bit on the same device following one of these two ways:

– First method: Install and run the other Excel from a virtual machine (VirtualBox, VMware, etc).

Second method (the tip is from StackExchange network):

  • Pick two different Excel versions with different bitness (e.g. Excel 2021 64-bit and Excel 2019 32-bit).
  • Then, first install the 64-bit version of Excel.
  • After that, install the 32-bit of the other Excel version.

6- Can I install Excel 32 bit on a 64 bit Windows?

A 64-bit Windows can host 64-bit applications, as well as 32-bit ones. So, if you have a 64-bit Windows, you can definitely install Excel 32-bit on it.

7- Can I install Excel 64 bit on a 32 bit Windows?

Unlike Windows 64-bit, a 32-bit Windows can only host 32-bit applications. So, if you have a 32-bit Windows, you can’t install Excel 64-bit on it; only 32-bit Excel is allowed.

8- Is office key valid for both 32-bit and 64-bit?

The licence key for Office or Excel (if you got it as a standalone application) is valid for both 32-bit and 64-bit versions, as long as it is the same Office or Excel edition (home, professional, etc.). So, if you have a 32-bit Excel and want to install a 64-bit version instead, from the same edition, or vice versa, you can definitely use the same licence key.

9- Final thoughts

In this article, we discussed the differences between Excel 32-bit and 64-bit, which are the hosting platform compatibility, the amount of allowed memory, and the DEP security. We also learned how to know if we have 32-bit Excel or 64-bit, when to choose each one, and the possible installation scenarios for each.

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Jeff Golden is an experienced IT specialist and web publisher that has worked in the IT industry since 2010, with a focus on Office applications.

On this website, Jeff shares his insights and expertise on the different Office applications, especially Word and Excel.

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