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It's Time to Ditch 32-Bit Linux for 64-Bit

We have plenty of Linux distributions tailored for 32-bit systems.

So, why do I want to discourage using 32-bit and upgrade to 64-bit Linux instead?

There are a couple of reasons, and one of the biggest reasons came to the spotlight this week.

32-Bit: Ancient Hardware for E-Waste?

Of course, Linux distros allow you to re-use older hardware, unlike any other operating system.

You get the possibility to convert a system to a media server, a storage server, and whatnot.

Here, I’m not giving you the idea to contribute more e-waste. It is always good to utilize your hardware as long as possible without replacing them.

However, the reasons not to use 32-bit systems may be more compelling than ever. The key highlight would be in terms of security and maintenance.

Improved Security With 64-bit Linux

Spectre vulnerability made the buzz in 2018 as a dangerous security issue for processors. While it was fixed for Intel and AMD processors, it was not a pretty situation.

Unfortunately, a new exploit, Retbleed, a variant of Spectre, is here affecting Intel and AMD chips.

You can see it in action in the video below shared by the researchers who discovered it:

So, naturally, we need appropriate measures to address a fix for this new security vulnerability.

Here comes the shocker: 64-bit Linux kernels have received a fix for it to protect the necessary Intel/AMD processors in question. But, Linux 32-bit kernels remain vulnerable to Retbleed, as reported by Phoronix.

Pawan Gupta (Intel) responded to the concerns in the kernel mailing list by mentioning:

Intel is not aware of production environments that use 32-bit mode on Skylake-gen CPUs. So this should not be a concern.

Also, it is rare to see any efforts for 32-bit maintenance. So, it should not come as a surprise.

Hence, if you use your system for any tasks that a security issue can disrupt, you should steer clear of 32-bit kernels.

Of course, exceptions can include that you have an entirely offline setup. So, it would be up to you, but it is not recommended.

Don’t Care About Security?

Even if you do not have a problem with not getting critical security fixes like Retbleed, there will be more trouble with 32-bit systems in 2022.

Software maintainers aeventually giveup on tools and Linux distribution updates to work well with 32-bit systems.

So, you may not be left with actively maintained programs for your 32-bit Linux system very soon.

Hence, it would be a good idea to make the switch (and upgrade) now.

Do you still use 32-bit Linux? What do you think about it? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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