I am ready following on this website:

"Another big difference between 32-bit processors and 64-bit processors is the maximum amount of memory (RAM) that is supported. 32-bit computers support a maximum of 4 GB (2^32 bytes) of memory, whereas 64-bit CPUs can address a theoretical maximum of 18 EB (2^64 bytes). However, the practical limit of 64-bit CPUs (as of 2018) is 8 TB of addressable RAM."

It confuses me little that how in the above example of 32-bit system 2^32 is used to calculate the addressable RAM? I thought 32-bits means that the ALU registers length is 32-bits so data bus size is 32 bit instead of address bus. Same for 64-bit architecture. Please correct me if my understanding of architecture bits vs bus-widths is wrong above.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Just to interpret "practical limit of 8TB": there is no real limit, it is just that nobody has wanted more than that, so nobody has done the work, in terms of virtual memory architecture, extra pins and so on, in order to implement it. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 3, 2019 at 9:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ @MartinKochanski Intel Ice Lake has put the limit on 57 bits for memory bus, 64 TB. \$\endgroup\$
    – Jeroen3
    Commented Jul 4, 2019 at 6:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ The 32 bit Pentium Pro was able to handle 64 MB memory. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 4, 2019 at 6:29

1 Answer 1


As with many texts written for beginners the situation has been somewhat simplified.

The assumption is that a 32-bit processor does all address operations and calculations also in 32 bits. From that it assumes a 32-bit address bus. Therefore the maximum address range is 4GBytes.
That same reasoning is then extended to a 64-bit processor.

In real life it can be a lot more complex. A good example would be the MC68000 processor, which was sold as a 16-bit processor, had 32-bit wide registers and a 24 bit address bus.

If a processor has an MMU that can also extend a 32-bit address bus to more bits. There are some 32-bit processor systems out there with a 40-bit address bus.
In the early days of computing I added a sort of MMU* to my MC6809 processor which extended the 16 bit address bus to 20 bits giving me a whopping 1Mbyte address range with an 8-bit processor.

*A 16x8 SRAM.

  • \$\begingroup\$ my 1st HDD was 6MB from NPL then 10MB Seagate and 5/5MB DMA cartridge \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 3, 2019 at 7:39
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    \$\begingroup\$ Or the Intel 8086: 16-bit processor, 16-bit address registers, 20-bit address bus (segment registers supply the missing 4 bits). \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 3, 2019 at 9:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ It becomes even more interesting with bit slice processors. I did a design many years ago based on the old Am2900 family. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 3, 2019 at 14:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ @oldfart: A small correction: The MC68000 had a 24 bit address bus. There was a software-compatible family member with 20 address bits and an 8-bit data bus, the MC68008, so you might have mixed up the two. \$\endgroup\$
    – sh-
    Commented Jul 3, 2019 at 20:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ @sh- Thank you, text corrected. \$\endgroup\$
    – Oldfart
    Commented Jul 4, 2019 at 6:08

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