Processors & What Matters for You!

What is a Processor:

A Processor, also called CPU, is short for the Central Processing Unit.  The processor is essentially the brains of a computer that is responsible for interpreting and executing codes that makes a computer function.  There are two main architecture types of processors that you can find in a computer today, but theres one dominant type, the x86-64.  An x86-64 processor uses CISC, or complex instruction set computing, which uses code that offers multiple instruction sets and can execute multiple commands simultaneously.  While almost all computers today use x86-64 processors, it is important to note that Apple’s M1 processors are ARM based. While an x86 processor can offer superior performance, an ARM based processor can offer better energy efficiency.   An ARM based CPU uses RISC, or Reduced Instruction Set Computing, which simplifies code and focuses on speed.  One way the speed of a processor can be measured is by its clock speed.

 

Clock Speed:

Clock speed is traditionally measured in Hz (Hertz) which is how many times per second the CPU can complete a work cycle.  A Work cycle consists of reading, interpreting, executing and then storing that code.  The faster the clock speed the faster your processor can complete these work cycles.  Computers have improved greatly over the years due to the adding of more transistors onto the chips which allows for faster cycles.   Back in the 70’s and 80’s clock speed was measured in the MHz, which equates to roughly 1,000,000 cycles per second.  Today almost all CPU’s are measured in GHz, or about 1,000,000,000 cycles per second.  When a processor has a faster clock speed it tends to draw more power.  Todays processors have also become much more efficient.  While processors use to offer one solid clock speed, today most processors have a base clock speed and a turbo boost clock speed which allows for a computer to adjust its clock speed and draw less power, except for when it begins to interact with more complex instruction sets.  Due to higher clock speeds drawing more power we have essentially reached a limit of around 6GHz due to a higher power consumption generating more heat which is bad for the CPU. This is why having multiples cores can be beneficial when doing more resource intensive tasks such as gaming, music production, and rendering 3d models or complex imaging.

 

Cores:

A Core is essentially a part of a processor.  A computer complete billions of work cycles per second when completing a simple task such as typing on a watching a video on YouTube or typing on a Word document.  Having multiple cores allows the processor to split up the work load which can be very helpful when multitasking on a computer.  More resource intensive tasks will often have system requirements of having a quad core CPU, but for most people who only plan to surf the web and type documents a dual core processor is often sufficient.  Most Intel laptops up until 2018 were only dual core until the release of Coffee Lake which was Intels 8th Generation CPU.  Most laptops from 4th-7th Generation are dual core with four threads.

 

Threads:

A Thread is a virtual core which allows a task to be broken up even further.  While Intel uses technology called hyper threading, AMD uses simultaneous multithreading however they are the essentially the same task.  While it is common for most processors now-a-days to have twice the amount of threads as cores, it is possible for there to be the same amount of cores as there are threads.  These are usually found the the i3 cpus and more energy efficient cpu’s.

 

Cache:

Another important detail about processors is their cache.  Cache holds information directly in the processor which can often speed up processes as it will not need to retrieve as much information from the RAM.  Having more RAM can beneficial as it saves the most used instruction sets on your computer so tasks can be completed faster.  Typically a processor with a more cores and higher clock speeds have more cache.

 

 

Fun Facts:

*A CPU Generation can be told by the first digit of the model number.  I.e Core i7-8770 is Intel’s 8th Generation CPU, and a Ryzen 5600 is a 5th Generation AMD CPU

*Intel uses LGA, or Land Grid Array processors in their desktops while AMD uses PGA, or Pin Grid Array.  The difference is with intel the pins that make contacts with the processor are on the motherboard, and with AMD they are directly on the chip.

*If pins get bent it will cause the CPU to not function properly, however they can be bent back into place.  Depending on the pin location of the pin, some may be removed completely allowing for the processor to be functional once again.

 

 

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