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Getting to Know Technology: Processor

Getting to Know Technology: Processor

A computer is a complicated device, so it needs something to help it “think.” Because of this weighty responsibility, the component that serves this purpose is arguably one of the most important of all a computer’s pieces. Known as a CPU, this little chip is truly essential to the computer’s function. For today’s Tech Term, we’ll examine it a little more closely.

What Does a CPU Do?
A CPU, or central processing unit, sits atop the motherboard and decodes the instructions that it receives from the RAM, or Random Access Memory, before sending these instructions to the appropriate components of the computer. Whether you’re accessing a document from your computer’s local memory or even starting up the operating system, your CPU is playing a key role.

This is not to say that a better CPU necessarily translates into better performance, mind you. What it will do is help your programs, applications, and system-as-a-whole run faster. Other beneficial effects require other components to be improved.

How Does the CPU Work?
The CPU has worked in essentially the same way since it was first introduced. Its function can be effectively split into three distinct tasks: fetch, decode, and execute.

  • Fetch - First, the CPU receives its instructions from the RAM in the form of a series of numbers. These instructions are small portions of the greater operation that the computer is performing. As the CPU receives each instruction, it is stored in what is called an Instruction Register.
  • Decode - Once the instruction is stored, it is sent to a specialized circuit, referred to as the instruction decoder. The decoder translates the instruction into actionable signals to the rest of the CPU.
  • Execute - Finally, the instruction is forwarded to the part of the CPU that can enable it to be completed. This final version is also written to the memory on the CPU register, so it can be quickly accessed later.

Choosing Your Next CPU
If you’re considering an upgrade, switching your CPU for a better one can be an effective way to improve some aspects of your computer’s performance. A good rule of thumb to remember: the more cores, the better. While the earliest CPUs only had one, the latest go all the way up to 18 cores and beyond. Most modern PCs have two to four cores.

Of course, you should also consider other factors when selecting a CPU. For instance, you may have heard the terms “32-bit” or “64-bit” tossed around in reference to CPUs. This determines the size of the data sample that the processor can handle. Frequency is another variable you should keep in mind, as it refers to the operating speed of the processor itself. It isn’t outside the realm of possibility for a faster dual-core CPU to outpace a slower quad-core. On top of all of this, your computer’s motherboard might only support a limited number of CPUs on the market.

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