What Do You Need To Know About A CPU?

Written by: Jin Hui Soo

If you are new to the world of tech and computers and looking to learn more about it, you have come to the right corner. One acronym that often pops up when you look up on computers or electronics is CPU. What does a CPU mean? And what does it do? Don’t you worry, we got you covered.

Introducing… A CPU

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The Central Processing Unit, or commonly known as a CPU, is the brain of computers and electronics. It is one of the crucial parts of the computer system that performs all the logical operations of a device such as running programmes, playing music, down to the simplest tasks such as unlocking your device. 

This small yet mighty square chip is often located on the device’s motherboard (mainboard) and it interacts with the other hardware parts such as RAM (memory) and GPU (graphics card) to operate your computer. Make no mistake, the CPU may be referred to as the brain but it is distinctly separated from the memory. This means you can easily upgrade this part, as long as your motherboard supports it.

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Source: Vector Stock

So what does a CPU do for your computer? A CPU is responsible for calculating, processing and executing instructions. It goes through a process that is broken down into three key stages; Fetch, Decode and Execute. The CPU fetches the instruction from the RAM, decodes the instructions and then executes the instructions using relevant parts of the CPU. 

In simpler terms, it functions like a brain. For instance, by double-clicking the Google Chrome shortcut on our display - the CPU processes our instruction and executes them by opening up Google for us. Similar to us picking up a cup, we first think of picking up a cup and our brain will send the message to our hands to take the action.

Cores, Threads And Clock Speed

When CPUs first came about, they came with a single processing core. As you now know that CPU is the brain of the computer, the core is the brain of the CPU. In today’s generation of modern CPUs, they are equipped with multiple cores which means more brains to perform multiple sets of tasks at once in a single CPU chip. With that, you can expect your computer to perform faster and multitask more efficiently. 

Moving on, threads. Or I would like to describe them as the brain nerves. Threads are virtual cores or codes that help to perform specific tasks - every time you open an application, it creates a thread that handles the tasks of that specific application. 

For instances, when you open a Microsoft Word application - this process creates a thread to show a loading circle that spins continuously while the second thread loads the information (the quick access toolbar, page) and presents it to you.

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A single CPU core usually has up to 2 threads per core. Hence, the more cores your CPU has, the more threads there are to help your computer multitask. Although physical cores are more powerful than threads (virtual cores), threads do help to improve the CPU’s multitasking capabilities overall. 

Clock speed is another feature to look out for in a CPU. Often measured with “gigahertz” (GHz), this tells us how many instructions your CPU can process in a second. Clock speed often comes into play when we are comparing CPUs from the same generation or family. By looking at the GHz, you can tell that the higher number portrayed for clock speed, the faster the processor is. That said, this does not mean that a CPU from 2016 with 5GHz is going to perform as fast as a CPU from 2020 with 3GHz

The Importance Of A CPU

Although a CPU is a crucial component in a computer system, it is good to note that there are other hardwares that play a big role in overall system performance. Since the CPU does most of the work in processing and executing commands, a fast performing CPU does increase the performance of your computer.

By handling all these tasks, the CPU will tend to heat up as well, and that’s where you’ll need a cooler to keep the CPU’s temperature low so it can perform optimally. There are multiple types of coolers - fan coolers, all-in-one liquid coolers, water block coolers, and the list goes on. It’s up to you to decide which cooler works best for your budget and PC case as some can get quite big

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Even so, there is only so much your computer can do with just speed alone. No matter how powerful your processor is, it cannot render the latest 3D animations and store information. Thus, only with a good combination of graphics card, RAM, cooler and CPU, can you achieve a good computer system performance.

In a nutshell, a CPU is an important part of your computer system but solely having this single chip does not equate to good overall system performance. It will definitely help to increase your computer’s performance in daily operations especially, with the help of multiple cores, threads and high clock speed.