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You already know that old folk saying, “there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch”. It is usually applied to explain that the quality of a good or service is closely related to the amount of money someone spends on it. Although this saying has a few exceptions, it is generally very accurate, especially in the world of technology and computers and can definitely be applied to the purchase of computer hardware components.
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What is a computer processor, what is it for, what is the difference between a single-core processor and a multi-core processor, and what factors affect the performance of a processor in a computer – read all of that in this article.
First of all, what is a processor?
The CPU, or Central Processing Unit, is the main component of every computer, tablet, smartphone, smartwatch, and similar device that uses a data processing unit. Since the processor is, so to speak, the brain of the computer, its main task is to take care of the calculations, which must be done in the shortest possible time.
A processor is a component located inside a computer. Even if you opened a computer, you would not be able to see the processor. The reason for this is that the processor is located in the case, thus being safely hidden from the eyes and hands of the user. Specifically, if you want to find out exactly where the processor is on your computer, you will need to remove the case cover, disconnect the cables, remove the heat sink and fan, and only then will you see the front of the processor. Each computer processor is made in the shape of a small square, which contains a large number of connectors at its bottom. With smartphone processors, the situation is a little bit different, but the principle and functions are exactly the same. In this article we’ll be talking exclusively about computer processors.
How does a computer processor work?
As we have already said, the main purpose of a processor is data processing. We will show this with an example. Each time a user clicks on an application, which is marked with the .exe extension, the processor receives instructions on what to do next. However, these instructions are first sent from working memory or from hard drive to the processor, after which the processor processes the commands it received.
Once the processor receives the command, it will process it using computer logic. After processing the command, the processor will execute it. These results of the initial command will then be visible to the user. This means that if, for example, you click on an application on your computer that marks a game, the processor will process that command immediately after your clicked on an icon, afterwards which the visible results will be sent out. These results will be visible on the output units of the computer, i.e. on the screen and through the speakers (for example, the user will hear the sound of starting the game).
Although this procedure seems simple, the thing is that all this must be done within a few seconds (no longer than 2-3, the fewer seconds pass from the user’s click on the application, the better). If there is a downtime in any of these steps, there will be a famous “freeze” or “lag” in the operation of the computer (which usually happens when a user on a weaker computer tries to run a demanding application).
Processor clock speed
Another very important thing with a processor is the internal clock. Every processor, whether it is a computer or a smartphone processor, is equipped with an internal clock. This internal clock is used to show the rhythm of the processor. Rhythm is measured by the operating clock , and the operating clock refers to the number of operations that an individual processor can perform in one second.
Processor clock speed is typically measured in Megahertz (MHz) or Gigahertz (GHz). Here is an example. Let’s say that a processor has a clock speed of 3.0 GHz. The higher the clock speed the better, because the computer will be able to perform more operations per second, but there is another problem. The higher the CPU clock speed, the more power the processor will consume. More electricity also means more heat. If you have a processor that has a clock speed of 4.0 or more GHz, then you probably know that such processor is very difficult to cool or prevent them from overheating. In addition to clock speed, there is another very important factor that affects the performance of a computer processor, and that is the cores.
As processor speeds became harder and harder to perform, computer processor makers and experts came up with an ingenious idea: in addition to clock speeds, they created multiple processor cores, making multitasking much simpler and something that was much easier to achieve. The more cores a processor has, the better it will process data, whether it is data that requires only one core, but also data and applications that require multiple cores at once. Today, for example, it is increasingly the case that highly-demanding applications, such as games, use more than one core.
If you played any of the newer games, on two computers that have processors with different clock speeds, number of cores, and models, you saw that the game behaved differently on those two computers. Specifically, on a computer that had a newer-generation processor in it, which had a higher clock speed and more cores, the game worked better and more fluidly; the player could get more frames per second without experiencing any stuttering. Unfortunately, a very large number of applications still function in a way that utilizes only one processor core.
Processor cores work in such a way that they are connected to a single processor slot and share computer resources together. In this way, the processor, in addition to improved performance, is also cheaper to manufacture. Multi-core processors can be homogeneous and heterogeneous. Homogeneous are those that contain two or more identical cores, while heterogeneous ones contain cores of different architectures.
Cache memory can be most easily explained as a form of pre-memory between the working memory of a computer and a processor. Cache memory is usually very small in capacity and very fast, and is used to store commands that arrive directly from working memory, before reaching the processor. Thanks to cache memory, processors can process data and information directly from working memory fluidly and without jamming. Cache memories are divided, depending on capacity, into L1, L2, L3 and L4.
How important is the CPU?
Up until early 2010s, the CPU was an extremely important PC component. However, things have changed drastically in recent years, as improvements in computer processor technology have become very minor, and most of the processing power has been moved to the graphics cards. People who bought Intel’s CPUs based on Haswell architecture in 2014 are still able to play latest games without any performance downgraded, provided that they bought a more powerful graphics card since then.
However, CPU is still an extremely important PC component, and with increased core count and higher clock speeds, it seems that the CPU technology is going into a new era. Whether it’s productivity or gaming, spending your money on a powerful CPU is a worthwhile investment.