Today we all have a 64-bit compatible computer, as well as an operating system prepared to take advantage of this architecture. 32 bits are a thing of the past. However, as often happens, during its life dependencies have been created that force developers, such as Microsoft, to continue supporting this architecture, even if it is a drag. And although you cannot officially remove the support for it, there is a little trick with which we will be able to remove the 32-bit support completely from Windows 10 to work only with 64 bits.
WOW64, responsible for running 32-bit programs
WOW64 is a component that is installed by default in all 64-bit versions of Windows. This component acts as an emulation layer through which 32-bit instructions are emulated on top of the 64-bit operating system.
For compatibility, this component must always be installed. However, we have to pay a price for having this compatibility, and it is that emulating the 32-bit architecture implies a loss of performance in the system and, in addition, opens the door to possible computer attacks.
This is not the only compatibility component that Windows has maintained for a long time. Older versions of the operating system included NTVDM, an emulation layer to run 16-bit programs (designed for DOS) on 32-bit systems.
NTVMD is still available in the 32-bit version of Windows 10, although 64-bit operating systems have already deprecated this feature.
Reasons to remove WOW64
At first, many may think that WOW64 offers a compatibility layer that we do not have to eliminate. And indeed it is. The advantages that this component brings us, especially when running old software, are very valuable.
But using this component also implies assuming a series of disadvantages that, although they are present among us and we have always ignored them, could actually be mitigated.
- WOW64 takes up a lot of hard disk space, in addition to consuming resources by loading the emulation layer into memory.
- The performance of emulated 32-bit programs is generally lower than that of native 64-bit programs. These programs are also often unstable.
- Most of the programs that we often use are prepared to run in 64 bits, so it is unnecessary to have 32 bits on our PC.
- Very old 32-bit programs often have security gaps (in themselves, or in their libraries or APIs) that can pose a security problem for the PC.
- Most computer viruses are compiled for 32 bits.
- Windows does not control the integrity of the wow64log library, which is injected into all 32-bit processes. If a malicious library is installed on our PC we could be in serious danger.
- Antiviruses have a difficult time inspecting the security of 32-bit applications when running within the 64-bit emulation layer.
Microsoft is working on different emulation layers (such as WSL, the Windows subsystem for Linux, Windows Sandbox, Hyper-V, etc.) that could perfectly replace the WOW64 emulation layer.
We remember that Apple, for example, no longer supports 32-bit programs from macOS Catalina. Also many Linux distros , such as Ubuntu, are already working on ending 32-bit compatibility systems towards a 64-bit native future.
Problems of removing WOW64 from Windows 10
Of course, we must bear in mind that unofficially removing 32-bit compatibility in such a complex operating system can cause problems.
In Windows 7, for example, we will not be able to enter the desktop customization options, the appwiz.cpl component (add or remove programs) will not work, nor will the default multimedia player of the operating system.
With the development of Windows 10, Microsoft has worked hard to reduce its dependencies on 32-bit. Most of the components of this operating system have already been upgraded to 64 bits. And older applications are gradually porting to the universal UWP platform and OneCore.
Of course, some aspects that we must take into account are:
- Some game programs (such as Steam and Origin, among others) have not yet made the jump to 64-bit. There are even many games that are designed to run in 32 bits, so if we disable this compatibility layer it will be impossible to use them.
- Some versions of Office 365 work in 32 bits. We must make sure to download a 64-bit compatible version.
- Some programs, like Chrome, although they are 64-bit are installed in the 32-bit programs directory. An absurd flaw but one that Google has not bothered to correct.
- Some 64-bit programs use 32-bit installers, so it would be impossible to install them.
- Some internal operating system updates could fail due to not being able to load processes that, oddly enough, are still 32 bits.
Even Windows 10 still has some 32-bit programs, like the OneDrive client .
That said, we are going to explain how to disable 32-bit compatibility in Windows 10 very easily. We will also explain how to re-enable it in case of problems. But all at your own risk.
Disable 32-bit support in Windows 10
Windows does not have a global switch that allows us to disable this compatibility layer. Not even through a PowerShell command or with changes in the registry we can do this.
However, there is a repository on GitHub called “stfuWOW64” that allows us to block the 32-bit compatibility layer in Windows 10 in the simplest possible way and without breaking anything in the operating system: simply by replacing a library.
We must access this link and download the file ” wow64log.dll ” that appears in the repository to our computer . If we don’t trust ourselves, we can access the “src” folder of the repository, download the C code file, review it and compile it ourselves. Downloading the DLL directly will simply save us time.
Once this library is downloaded, we simply have to copy it to the “System32” directory of the Windows folder on the hard disk. And ready.
We restart the computer and this new configuration will begin to work. We can test it by running any program compiled for 32 bits, such as Windows 10 Notepad itself that we will find in the SysWOW64 folder of the Windows directory (where the original 32-bit Microsoft programs are stored).
The program will not open directly. We won’t see any error messages or anything like that.
Turn it back on
The “wow64log.dll” file has been designed to allow us to lock the 32-bit compatibility layer without modifying any system files or any genuine Windows components. In this way, the probability that something will go wrong is very small, and it is even very easy to reverse the changes.
If we want to reactivate the 32-bit layer of Windows 10, all we have to do is delete the «wow64log.dll» library that we copied to the System32 folder in the previous step.
After restarting the computer, the WOW64 32-bit compatibility layer will work as it always has.