If you’re just learning about the world of computers and electronics, the terminology used to refer to different parts can be confusing. One component term you may have encountered is “CPU,” which is an acronym for central processing unit. In short, CPUs reside in almost all devices you own, whether it’s a smartwatch, a computer, or a thermostat. They are responsible for processing and executing instructions — the brains of your devices.
What makes a CPU a CPU?
The CPU is the core component of what defines a computing device, but it isn’t the sole component — again, it’s just the brains. It’s a chip that sits in a special seat (socket) located on the main circuit board (motherboard or mainboard) inside the device. It’s distinctly separate from the memory, which is where it temporarily stores information. It’s also separate from the graphics card or graphics chip, which renders all video and 3D graphics displayed on your screen.
CPUs are built by placing billions of microscopic transistors onto a single computer chip. Those transistors allow it to make the calculations it needs to run programs that are stored on your system’s memory. They’re effectively minute gates that switch on or off, thereby conveying the ones or zeros that translate into everything you do with the device, be it watching videos, or writing an email.
One of the most common advancements of CPU technology is in making those transistors smaller and smaller. That’s resulted in the improvement to CPU speed over the decades, often referred to as Moore’s Law.
In the context of modern devices, a desktop or laptop has a dedicated CPU that performs many processing functions for the system. Mobile devices and some tablets instead utilize a System on Chip (SoC) which is a chip that contains its CPU alongside other components. Intel and AMD both offer CPUs with graphics chips and memory stored on them too, meaning they can do more than just standard CPU functions.
What does a CPU actually do?
At its core, a CPU takes instructions from a program or application and performs a calculation. This process breaks down into three key stages: Fetch, decode, and execute. A CPU fetches the instruction from RAM, decodes what the instruction actually is, and then executes the instruction using relevant parts of the CPU. The executed instruction, or calculation, can involve basic arithmetic, comparing certain numbers together, or moving them around in memory. Since everything in a computing device is represented by numbers, those simple tasks equate to what a CPU does. It’s what facilitates everything from starting up Windows, to watching a YouTube video.
In modern systems, the CPU doesn’t do everything, but it still must feed to specialized hardware the numbers they need to function. It needs to tell the graphics card to show an explosion because you clicked on a fuel barrel (whoops), or tell the hard drive to transfer an Office document to the system’s RAM for quicker access.
Cores, clocks, and costs
Originally, CPUs had a single processing core. Today’s modern CPU consists of multiple cores that allow it to perform multiple instructions at once, effectively cramming several CPUs on a single chip. Almost all CPUs sold today are at least dual-core. Four cores are currently considered “mainstream,” while there are more expensive chips ranging from six to a massive 32 cores.
Some processors also employ a technology called multithreading. Imagine a single physical CPU core that can perform two lines of execution (threads) at once, thereby appearing as two “logical” cores on the operating system end. These virtual cores aren’t as powerful as physical cores, but they do share the same resources. Overall, they can help improve the CPU’s multitasking performance when running compatible software.
Clock speed is another number that’s highly advertised with CPUs — the “gigahertz” (GHz) figure quoted on product listings. It effectively denotes how many instructions a CPU can handle per second, but that’s not the whole picture regarding performance. Clock speed mostly comes into play when comparing CPUs from the same product family or generation. When all else is the same, a faster clock speed means a faster processor, but a 3GHz processor from 2010 isn’t going to be as fast as a 2GHz processor from 2018.
So, how much should you pay for a CPU? For a general outline unless you’re a hardcore gamer or someone looking to edit photos or videos, you don’t need to spend more than around $350. Stick to a recent generation of CPU.
For Intel CPUs that means eighth, ninth, or 10th-generation chips. You can determine their generation by the product name. For instance, the Core i7-6820HK is an older sixth-generation chip while the Core i5-10210U is a newer tenth-generation chip.
AMD does something similar with its Ryzen CPUs: The Ryzen 5 2500X is a second-generation chip based on its new “Zen” core design while the Ryzen 9 3950X is a third-generation CPU. We made the indicating numbers bold so you can see for future reference.
How important is the CPU?
Although the CPU isn’t as important for overall system performance as it once was, it still plays a major role in running a device. Since it is solely responsible for executing commands within programs, the faster your CPU, the faster many applications run.
That said, a fast CPU isn’t everything. A processor, no matter how powerful, can’t easily render the latest 3D games, nor can it store information. That’s where other components, like graphics cards and memory, come into play.
In short, the CPU isn’t everything, but it’s highly important. In general, a faster CPU will mean that your system or device will run faster. At the very least it won’t be a bottleneck in its own right. Multiple cores and threads can help you do more things at once.
Types of CPU’s
1. Single-core CPU
It is the oldest type of CPU which is available and employed in most of the personal and official computers. The single-core CPU can execute only one command at a time and its not efficient in multi-tasking. It signifies that there is a markable declination in performance if more than a single application is executed. If one operation is started, the second process should wait until the first one is finished. But if it is fed with multiple operations, the performance of the computer is drastically reduced. The performance of a single-core CPU is based on its clock speed by measuring its power.
2. Dual-core CPU
It is a single CPU that comprises of two strong cores and functions like dual CPU acting like one. Unlike the CPU with a single core, the processor must switch back and forth within a variable array of data streams and if or more thread is executed, the dual-core CPU manages the multitasking effectively. To utilize the dual-core CPU effectively, the running programs and operating system should have a unique code called simultaneous multi-threading technology embedded in it. Dual-core CPU is rapid than a single core but it is not robust as quad-core CPU
3. Quad-core CPU
The quad-core CPU is a refined model of multiple core CPU features and design with four cores on a single CPU. Similar to dual-core CPU, that divides the workload in between the cores, and quad-core enables for effective multitasking. It doesn’t signify any single operation which is four times faster rapid than others. Unless the applications and program executed on it by SMT code will fasten the speed and becomes unnoticeable. Such types of CPU are used in people who need to execute multiple different programs at the same time as gamers, series of supreme commander that is optimized in multiple core CPU.
4. Hexa Core processors
It is another multiple core processor which is available with six cores and can execute the task which works rapidly than the quad-core and dual-core processors. For users of the personal computer, the processors of Hexacore is simple and now the Intel is launched with Inter core i7 in 2010 with Hexa core processor. But here the users of smartphones use only quad-core and dual-core processors. Nowadays, smartphones are available with hexacore processors.
5. Octa-core processors
The dual-core is built with two cores, four cores are built-in quad-core, Hexa comes with six cores where the octa processors are developed with eight independent cores to execute an effective task that is efficient and even acts rapidly than quad-core processors. Trending octa-core processors comprises of a dual set of quad-core processors that divides different activities between the various types. Many times, the minimum powered core sets are employed to produce advanced tasks. If there is any emergency or requirement, the rapid four sets of cores will be kicked in. In precise, the octa-core is perfectly defined with dual-code core and adjust it accordingly to give the effective performance.
6. Deca-core processor
The processor with double core comprises two cores, 4 cores are available with quad cores, six cores are available in hexacore processors. Deca-core is available with ten independent systems that are deployed to execute and manage the task that is successful than other processors that are developed until now. Owning a PC, or any device made with a deca-core processor is the best option. It is faster than other processors and very successful in multi-tasking. Deca-core processors are trending with its advanced features. Most of the smartphones are now available with Deca core processors with low-cost and never become outdated. Surely, most gadgets in the market are updated with new processors to give more useful purposes to people.
Who makes CPU’s?
There are two major manufacturers of computer processors, Intel® and AMD®. For both manufacturers, there are six general lines of processors. In all cases, a computer’s CPU must be compatible with the motherboard, memory, power supply, and any graphics cards.
Qualcomm, Exynos and ARM Cortex makes CPU’s for Android phones & tablets.
Apple Cyclone CPU’s are used in most iPads & iPhones