It’s hard to evaluate a new piece of technology without considering its processor. The trouble is that it’s quite difficult to decode what a processor does, even if you are a techie.
Processors are the brains behind a computer. They control the logic that performs calculations and run programs on your computer.
In this guide, we’re going to talk about what processors are, how they work, and discuss the basic elements of a processor.
What is a Processor?
A processor is a piece of hardware that interprets the instructions that drive a computer. Processors are known as the brains of a computer with good reason: without it, computers could not run programs.
Processors are often referred to as CPUs. Technically, there is more than one processor in a computer, such as a Graphics Processing Unit (GPU), but the CPU is arguably the most important one.
Processing units take instructions from a computer’s Random Access Memory (RAM). When these instructions are received, the CPU decodes and processes the action, and then delivers an output.
Intel and AMD are the most well-known businesses in the CPU industry for desktops, laptops, and server computers. Intel Core and AMD Ryzen are some of the most popular desktop processors. Apple, Nvidia, and Qualcomm are known for their mobile device CPUs.
Where is the Processor Located?
Processors are located on the motherboard of a computer. They attach to what is known as a CPU socket, or a CPU slot. There is usually a lever next to a CPU which is used to ensure that it remains attached to the motherboard.
What Makes a Processor a Processor?
There are four components to a processor: the ALU, FPU, registers, and cache memory.
The Arithmetic Logic Unit (ALU) carries out all the arithmetic and logic operations. It operates with integer numbers, which are whole numbers. The Floating Point Unit (FPU), manipulates floating-point numbers, which are numbers that include a decimal.
Then there’s the register. The register holds instructions received from other parts of a computer. It then tells the ALU what processes to carry out and stores the results of those operations.
Finally, processors include L1 and L2 memory. This cache of memory allows the processor to store data locally, without having to retrieve it from the RAM. The inclusion of this component helps make a CPU quicker and more efficient.
How Does a CPU Work?
CPUs may come with more bells-and-whistles than ever before. At their core, they are made up of the same set of processes. These processes are called the fetch-execute cycle. This cycle has three steps: fetch; decode; and execute.
The first step in the fetch-execute cycle is fetching. It involves receiving – or “fetching” – an instruction. This instruction is passed from the RAM to the CPU.
When the processor receives an instruction, it will keep track of the one it is working on using a program counter. All the instructions it receives are stored in an instruction register.
When an instruction has been fetched and stored in the instruction register, the CPU processes the instruction using its decoder. This turns the instruction into a series of signals that can be interpreted by other parts of the CPU.
At the end of this process, the decoded instructions are executed. Instructions are sent to other parts of a processor to be executed. Once these instructions have been executed, they are usually saved inside a CPU register. This helps improve the speed of a processor because it can remember some of the instructions it has previously processed.
CPU Specifications: A Quick Rundown
While CPUs all do the same thing – process instructions – the specifications for a CPU vary depending on its use case. Let’s discuss a few of the top specifications you should know about.
32 and 64-bit Processors
There are two main types of processors: 32 bit and 64 bit. These numbers refer to how many bits can be transferred at once between different parts of the CPU.
32-bit processors became well-known for their power. More recently, computers have been able to process up to 64 bits. The higher the bit count, the faster the processor will be.
Clock speed refers to how many instructions a CPU can process per second. These are usually represented in gigahertz (GHz), and you’ll see this number a lot on processor specifications. The greater the clock speed, the faster a CPU will run.
Most of the time, it’s only necessary to compare clock speed when you are evaluating CPUs from the same generation. This is because while clock speed is an influencing factor in the speed of a processor, there are other components that matter just as much.
L2 and L2 memory is where a CPU stores commonly used data. Instead of having to call on the RAM every time the CPU needs to process an instruction, the CPU can store some instructions that come up often inside itself. Cache is faster than RAM because it is part of the processor; the more cache you have, the faster your CPU will be.
How do Processor Cores Work?
Back in the old days of computing, a computer processor would have a single core. This means that it could only perform one set of instructions at once. Hardware engineers have pushed this limit and today multi-core processors have become a standard. Multi-core processors have multiple cores so they can execute different instructions at the same time.
Most computers today have between two and four cores. You’ll often hear these setups referred to as “dual” and “quad” core, respectively. Some processors have up to 12 cores, depending on their purpose. The more cores a CPU has, the more instructions the processor can interpret.
Processors with multiple cores are simply two or more CPUs on a single chip. A quad core processor is four CPUs, all on the same chip. These are then linked so they can work together.
CPUs are an essential part of a computer. It is responsible for processing the data that allows you to run programs on your computer. In recent years, there have been vast improvements made to CPUs.
The introduction of multi-core processors, as well as new innovations such as hyper-threading, allow our computers to operate faster and more efficiently. Now you’re ready to start talking about CPUs like a computing expert!