This number “64” is important to some people making music. Here, we get to explain why, if you should even be concerned, and what it’ll mean to run Live in 64-bit. Photo (CC-BY-SA) shizhao.

Sung to the tune of the Beatles’ iconic “When I’m 64 [bit]…”

Do you need memory? /
Lotsa more memory? /
You want sixty-four.

Ableton Live 8.4 is available in beta, making 64-bit available to Live users, and thus making Live exactly two times more in the sound as the previous version.

Wait, no… that’s not right. Let’s try again: With 64-bit, you get twice as much of things as Live in 32-bit, because 64 is twice 32.

No… also not right. Let’s back up.

64-bit has been a surprisingly-anticipated feature in Live. But, while it’s a logical evolution for the software, its most significant utility is for people who need to consume lots of memory in their sets and sample libraries. 64-bit operation is something we’ve been talking about for a long time in audio; in CDM’s first year, we were talking about the advent of a 64-bit version of SONAR for Windows. (That’s the year 2005.) But actually seeing it has taken more time, as operating systems, drivers, software, and plug-ins have caught up. The important question is why you need it in the first place. 64-bit computation really boils down to one major issue: you can get a marginal improvement in performance (something Cakewalk’s engineers measured early on), but the real reason to do it is greater memory access.

If you are memory hungry, this is a bigger deal. Ableton Live, as a 32-bit application, maxes out at 4 GB — a bit less if you’re running on a 32-bit version of Windows. So, assuming you have a 64-bit OS and CPU and additional physical RAM, having a 64-bit app means you eliminate that RAM ceiling, with the ability to use up to 16 exabytes. (That’s not a typo. It translates to “more RAM than you can possibly have right now. It’s like seeing a speed limit on a highway that reads 50000 mph, when you’re driving an ordinary VW Jetta.)

There are also significant performance advantages to running 64-bit software; while you shouldn’t theoretically see two-fold gains (despite the increase in number), 64-bit computation has repeatedly proven to yield additional performance. And you get that performance “for free” – that is, you can do the same things with a lighter load on the CPU. Specifics vary depending on context, but that’s a good thing – once you ensure you have compatible software to make the transition. (Update: there are some very interesting anecdotal reports in comments, in which there is a halving of CPU load as indicated by the meter. That is actually better than should be happening, in theory, so I’ll be curious to hear what is prompting enhanced performance. But generally, performance improvements are a benefit of 64-bit computation on modern processors.)

The 64-bit Live 8.4 is still a beta, though, and there are some caveats. What works:

  • 64-bit plug-ins.
  • ReWire. (ReWire is now 64-bit, as are apps like Propellerhead Reason.)
  • Existing Live sets with internal instruments.

What doesn’t work:

  • Max for Live.
  • Video.
  • 32-bit plug-ins — without an adapter.

Max for Live and video support are coming soon.

Plug-ins are, for most people, the potential deal-breaker. There, we’ve got bad news, and some (better) good news. The bad news is, Ableton doesn’t include a built-in adapter for using 32-bit plug-ins in your 64-bit set. That’s something I very much hope Ableton solves by the time they ship their next major upgrade; most other hosts already provide something like that. (Even little-known hosts like Renoise and Reaper do that.)

But you can use your 32-bit plug-ins with the 64-bit beta. Adapters like jBridge on Windows make 32-bit plug-ins operate relatively seamlessly. An early version of Ableton’s FAQ suggested that you could only open 32-bit Live sets in the 64-bit version if you had 64-bit versions of any plug-ins you were using. I followed up with Ableton on that, though, and learned that – so long as you have jBridge running as the adapter – you can open that set, and 32-bit plug-ins will run in the adapter. So, opening 32-bit sets shouldn’t be a problem in the long run.

For now, I wouldn’t recommend running Live 8.4 as your primary version, but it is labeled a beta. You can install the 64-bit version, however, alongside your current, stable 32-bit setup. That seems the best option, as with any beta. And if Ableton can include a standard, supported wrapper format, then Live in 64-bit could well be ready for prime time, especially once video and Max for Live support is done.

On the other hand, if your memory needs are modest – or you don’t have tons of available memory to begin with — for now, sticking with the current version of Live is your best bet. This is beta software, after all.

But, if you do like testing, it probably is worth installing 8.4 alongside your current version so you can try it out, particularly if you add in a bridge plug-in, and you don’t rely heavily on Max for Live. If you do push the envelope with memory usage, we’d love to hear how it goes for you. (Just makes sure to file bug reports / feedback if you find anything Ableton should know.)

When it’s finished, this will be a free update for registered users of Live 8 – all of its versions.

Details from Ableton:
32-bit versus 64-bit FAQ

Also, I understand that the number that follows the number “eight” is the number “nine,” and I suspect if anything happens regarding numbers higher than eight, we’ll cover them here.