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Occasionally I need to roll a server that doesn't need 4GB or more of RAM. Is there a downside (performance or otherwise) to just using 64-bit Windows 2008 on everything? This way I'm still in good shape if I need to increase the RAM on the server later.

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Your title says "2008" but your tag says "2008-r2". 2008 is available in both 32/64 bit. 2008R2 is 64 bit only. Regardless, the minimum spec RAM is 512MB. You'll be fine with 4GB. – jscott Mar 7 '12 at 18:25
up vote 4 down vote accepted

The downsides are that the less RAM you have, the more you'll page to and from the disk, especially if the server has applications like SQL on it.

It works fine with 2GB. I have servers in 2008 R2 servers in production that have 2GB of RAM in them. They work just fine, but they don't do a whole lot.

Off on a tangent, a relatively idle 2008 R2 VM using Hyper-V dynamic memory sits at around 400MB.

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No worries about paging, if they need more RAM they'll get it. I guess I'm more concerned that I should be using a 32 bit OS for systems that don't have a lot of RAM. But I don't see any downsides to just using 2008 64 everywhere. – Chad P Mar 7 '12 at 18:41
No, I would never recommend a 32bit OS over a 64bit OS when you have a choice. I would also never recommend running Server 2008 x64 when you can choose Server 2008 R2. – Ryan Ries Mar 7 '12 at 18:44
Server 2008 R2 runs fine down to 256MB of RAM... It's really the applications that eat RAM like a fat kid in a cake shop. – Chris S Mar 7 '12 at 19:54
Especially if you choose to utilize the Core installations. Jeez, talk about a small footprint. – JohnThePro Mar 7 '12 at 20:52

Whilst 64bit memory allocation would take up more memory because of the larger memory tables (not really a lot in the grand scheme of things), you have to remember that a 64bit OS processes will also be able to make of 4GB+ of address space, you are not just limited to the physical RAM, the address space will spill over to the swap space.

The biggest thing in favour is of course the upgrade path. You can always add more RAM to a 64bit OS where as you hit an early wall with a 32bit OS.

It really depends on what processes you are running.

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