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Word size

Word size

(also word length, word width)

Word size definition

Word size refers to the number of bits processed, stored, or transmitted simultaneously by a computer’s processor or memory. It determines the amount of data a processor can handle in a single operation, affecting the system’s overall performance, addressable memory, and data types it can manage. Common word sizes include 16-bit, 32-bit, and 64-bit, with larger word sizes typically providing better performance and larger address spaces.

Word size examples

  • 16-bit: An older word size, common in the 1980s and early 1990s, that allows for 65,536 unique memory addresses and is limited to 64 KB of addressable memory.
  • 32-bit: A more modern word size that can handle 4 GB of addressable memory and provides faster processing times compared to 16-bit systems.
  • 64-bit: The current standard for most modern systems, offering increased performance, larger addressable memory (up to 16 exabytes), and support for more complex data types.

Choosing the right word size

  • Consider your performance requirements. Larger word sizes typically provide better performance.
  • Ensure compatibility with your software and operating system because some may only support specific word sizes.
  • Keep in mind the memory requirements. Larger word sizes allow for more addressable memory.

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