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How to Use a 64-bit Web Browser on Windows

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64-bit version of Windows don’t use 64-bit browsers by default – they’re still in their infancy, although even Adobe Flash now supports 64-bit browsers. Using a 64-bit browser can offer significant performance benefits, according to some benchmarks.

This article is for Windows users – 64-bit Linux distributions include 64-bit browsers, so you don’t have to do anything special on Linux.

Mozilla Firefox

ExtremeTech found that the 64-bit version of Firefox 8 was 10% faster than the 32-bit version in the Peacekeeper browser benchmark. Mozilla doesn’t yet offer official, stable 64-bit builds of Firefox, though. If you want to run 64-bit Firefox on Windows, your choices are an official-but-unstable nightly build or a stable-but-unofficial Waterfox.

Mozilla offers nightly builds of Firefox for testers – they’re constantly updating and can break, so they’re not the ideal candidate for your primary browser. The Firefox Nightly website lists 64-bit builds for Linux, but doesn’t even mention that the Windows ones exist.

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Instead, you’ll find them buried on Mozilla’s FTP site. Look for the “win64” installer.

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Waterfox is a 64-bit build of Firefox for Windows. Unlike the nightly version from Mozilla, Waterfox is based on the stable releases of Firefox. It’ll be a more bug-free, stable experience than the nightly builds. It even uses the same profile Firefox does.

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According to Mozilla technical writer Jean-Yves Perrier, “There are currently no plan to release a 64-bit release of Firefox for Windows in 2012.”

Internet Explorer

Believe it or not, Microsoft’s Internet Explorer is ahead of the curve when it comes to 64-bit browsing on Windows. If you’re running a 64-bit version of Windows, you’ll find a 64-bit version of Internet Explorer already installed and available for use in your Start menu. No other Web browser installs a 64-bit version by default yet.

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You’ll run into a snag if you actually want to use the 64-bit version of Internet Explorer as your default browser, though. To avoid confusion for users that might end up accidentally setting 64-bit IE as their default browser and running into plug-in compatibility problems, Microsoft won’t allow you to set 64-bit IE as your default browser.

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You can still pin the 64-bit version to your taskbar or add its shortcut to your desktop, though.

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If you want to set 64-bit IE as your default program for certain file types – say, .htm files – you’ll need to know its location. The 64-bit version is located at C:\Program Files\Internet Explorer\iexplore.exe, while the 32-bit version is located at C:\Program Files (x86)\Internet Explorer\iexplore.exe.

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Google Chrome

Sorry, Chrome fans – Google Chrome only has a 64-bit version for Linux. According to the Chromium project website, neither Chrome nor Chromium can currently be built for 64-bit Windows.

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The upside is that it should only need “a small number of tweaks” to compile for 64-bit Windows. But it appears that no one has done the work yet.

Opera

Opera is now releasing 64-bit development snapshots for Windows. These will likely be unstable, so using them as your default browser is a bad idea. Opera advertises out-of-process plug-ins as a new feature that will allow 64-bit versions of Opera to run 32-bit plug-ins.

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The development snapshots are branded as “Opera Next” and have a black-and-white logo to remind you of their incompleteness.

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Plug-ins

Plug-in compatibility has always been the big problem with 64-bit browsers. Compiling a browser as a 64-bit binary is one thing; it’s another to drag plug-in developers along. In the past, 64-bit browsers have lacked Flash and other popular plug-ins. These days, the most popular plug-ins — Flash and Java — now have 64-bit versions. You may not already have them installed, though.

Visit the Adobe Flash Player download page in a 64-bit browser and you’ll be prompted to download the 64-bit installer. It includes a 32-bit version for your 32-bit browsers.

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If you use Java, you can download a 64-bit build of Java from the manual download page. The 64-bit build includes a 64-bit plug-in – if you use both 32 and 64-bit browsers, you’ll have to install both Java packages.

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Do you use a 64-bit browser? If so, do you see a speed difference? Share your experiences in the comments.

Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.

  • Published 04/2/12

Comments (30)

  1. Sarris

    You missed Pale Moon x64. It’s faster and more windoze optimized than the others you noted.
    I’ve been using it for years and it exhibits none of the memory problems or crashes that (used) to come with Firefox. Don’t sell this one short. It’s the best of the best.

  2. rob

    i gave up trying to use waterfox because it is so unstable on my 64-bit system. the 64-bit pale moon browser, however, has been perfect in the last month i’ve been using it. if chrome ever starts to go wobbly, it’s pale moon for me.

  3. david

    x64 no se refiere a la velocidad, se refiere a la capacidad de utilizar mas de 4gb de RAM

  4. Brian

    Thanks for the comprehensive coverage of this confusing subject.

    A beginners question:
    Can Java, Flash, and Pale Moon all be installed on ones computer?
    How is it determined which one is active?

    Thanks for any help.

    Brian

  5. OJ

    I tried both nightly x64 and waterfox and everything was pretty stable and fast. The only problem I had is that I couldn’t get in browser pdf-viewing to work. No plugin seems to work with x64 yet.

    Has anyone found a solution for this?
    Until I do I’ll probably stick to trusty firefox/aurora/nightly.

  6. Brian

    Sorry for my confusion.
    I should have been asking if Java and Flash are installed which one becomes the active one.

    Brian

  7. beergas

    One little extra for those who assign a program to be run w/ IE 9 x64 like with a keyboard list.
    Make sure to set the IE as mentioned in article or end up with x32 version & not know it tho sometimes the website may fail to open properly as at tip off.
    Like for MS Intellitype assign key or in a desktop shortcut, point to Prog Files for sure – don’t use
    the default values. Worse is if using a website menu of most visited websites, the initial launching website menu must be launched using IE 9 x64 or all the menu’s links will open with x32.

  8. Ken

    Been using IE32 and 64bit for a long time. If your using a 64bit machine get to know the upsides and down, then you will be ok.
    Don’t for get you can rename the shortcuts, 32, 64IE. also you have run IE without addons to get you out of those moments you didn’t read the message “this plugin does not work with IE8,9″ ;-)

  9. Rafael

    I currently use Firefox 11, Used all mentioned above except MS Internet explorer. Noticed little if any improvement, some were slower. The FF nighty build was the worst/slowest of all, not builds are for testing purposes only, 100% correct, should not be used for browsing.

  10. grinder

    I’ve tried Waterfox but it’s quite unstable and IMHO slower on my Win7 x64. I don’t care how it works with synth tests – I need it performing well in the real web.

    Will try Pale Moon though – thx for the tip, Sarris!

  11. Doc

    I only use Firefox Portable as my web browser, and, IIRC, there’s no 64-bit version of Firefox Portable. Also, I don’t always run a 64-bit OS (the PC I’m on right now is XP 32-bit, for example), and I want to be able to back up and restore my configuration if I have to move from PC to PC or reinstall Windows.

  12. PCUser

    +1 for Pale Moon x64 except they had status bar built into the core meaning they state that status-4-evar is not compatible and breaks PM x64 but I’ve not noticed any breaking of PM x64 using status-4-evar.

    It is a stupid decision that they made if you ask me. Other than that, PM x64 is the fastest.

    With 39 extensions & 85 userstyles, you notice how PM x64 blows any other mozilla build out of the water.

  13. Sarris

    FYI, I’m running Java x64, Flash x64, 46 Firefox add-ons, 15 scriptish scripts, and 12 Stylish scripts on Pale Moon x64.

    It’s really fast and rock solid. Never had an issue.

    Now if the Moz boys would do Thunderbird in the x64 version…….

  14. PCUser

    @Sarris

    There is a 64bit build of thunderbird, not by mozilla them selves but the roll out updates are slow as hell as they are still sitting on 10.

    *=. wiki*mozilla-x86-64*com/Thunderbird:Download

  15. Arston

    I just tried that Pale Moon and stayed quite amazed. It’s very fast, VERY snappy, and, for god’s sake, I opened 30 tabs at once with only slight lag. I wouldn’t do that on Chrome. It also has some other nice features.

    Though, I can’t leave Chrome. It just has godly features without I feel like… like using someone else’s computer.

    Though I could definitely recommend Pale Moon. I actually already did – twice.

  16. Perry

    I’ve run Waterfox since it was introduced and it’s been rock solid.

  17. Anders

    How is Pale Moon better than Waterfox?

    I just gave it a quick try and I just noticed that tabs aren’t placed in the top bar, that’s a deal breaker for me. I guess there might be a fix for this of course.

  18. Sarris

    @ Anders; Pale Moon x64 & x86 are optimized for windows with newer hardware. Waterfox is a x64 bit compiled stock standard version of Firefox. No code changes.

    Go to Pale Moon and read. He explains it perfectly.

  19. rocky

    Good to know about the How to Use a 64-bit Web Browser on Windows

  20. andriajohn

    Thanks for giving the more information about the How to Use a 64-bit Web Browser on Windows

  21. Chris Hoffman

    Pale Moon makes various other changes, while Waterfox doesn’t change the default Firefox interface and such, so I thought I’d just mention Waterfox as the “Firefox for x64″ here. It’s very interesting to hear that Pale Moon seems faster than Waterfox for most of you.

    Benchmarks have been all over the map for x64 browsers. Some have shown performance improvements, while some have shown decreases. And you definitely shouldn’t run a super unstable build as your real browser, which is why Waterfox/Pale Moon or IE 64 is the best bet.

    I just thought it would be interesting to see a round-up of what’s available, since a reader asked for this post. Expect 64-bit browsers to become more mature (and the default!) in the coming years.

  22. astralcyborg

    I’ve tried Waterfox, too. It ran ok, but I didn’t see any major difference with the original 32 bit Firefox.
    From the plugins, only Flash, Java and Silverlight were loaded at 64 bit.

    But…from a certain point and after that, I don’t know what happened, but during a visit into the web page of live messenger, Waterfox crashed and after that, every time I started it, it crashed before it even appeared. Firefox launched ok (note that Waterfox uses the same profile of Firefox).
    I’ve tried to uninstall Waterfox, delete the Firefox profile directory and the Firefox cache directory and still after Waterfox’s reinstallation, the same problem remained.

    I’ll try to use Waterfox after the next update (currently version 11)….

  23. Victor

    Mas que usar 4 gb de capacidad en RAM x64 expresa la arquitectura en el que el sistema fue diseñado, por lo tanto usa una mayor velocidad de transferencia y cantidad de RAM.

  24. Chris

    @@@OJ
    I tried both nightly x64 and waterfox and everything was pretty stable and fast. The only problem I had is that I couldn’t get in browser pdf-viewing to work. No plugin seems to work with x64 yet.
    Has anyone found a solution for this?@@@

    Have you tried NITRO? They have a native 64bit version of the reader and the pro version.
    Chris

  25. Diego A.

    @Anders, right clic on Navigation toolbar, select Tabs o top, that’s all, Pale Moon is a very stable and fast x64 web browser, I’m using it since a days ago and I’m very happy with PM’s performance.

    Diego A.

  26. cjrcl

    Even though Adobe sentenced that Flash Player 11 is not available on Windows Vista x64, I found a way to make it running with Pale Moon x64 or Waterfox just by deploying NPSWF64.dll (NPSWF64_11_2_202_233.dll in my instance) in the “plugins” directory which may have to be created manually parallel to your main executable.

    Get the dlls here: http://notepad.patheticcockroach.com/2243/flash-11-for-portable-browsers-32-and-64-bits/

  27. cjrcl

    Waterfox is no worse than Pale Moon for unmodified versions should be no less stable than modified ones which Pale Moon falls into.

  28. SrgtRock

    To make IE 64 bit the default, simply go to “\Program Files (x86)\Internet Explorer” and rename iexplore.exe to something else, like iexploreold.exe. Next go to “\Program Files\Internet Explorer” and copy the iexplore.exe from that folder and paste it into the (x86) folder, and voila, anytime you open ie, wether from a link, or popup or whatever, it will always open the 64 bit version. Of course you will need to setup your permissions for the x86 folder to rename and copy the file there.

  29. Chris Hoffman

    @SrgtRock

    Good tip — that should probably work. I considered adding that tip to the post, but I was worried that renaming it like that could break things for some users, so I erred on the side of caution.

  30. Theredguy

    +1 to palemoon x64. Just installed wow its snappy. Just have to figureout whats going with silverlight so I can use netflix and it will be default.

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