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By Dave Page
Spend any time around computer geeks and you will certainly hear the term ‘CPU’ at one time or another. For most people, a CPU is just something that every computer needs to work. However, if you are inclined to learn a bit more about how your computer works, you may actually want to know what a ‘CPU’ is.
The term ‘CPU’ stands for central processing unit and it is the brain of your computer. Just like your brain, the CPU works in conjunction with a computer’s memory to carry out specific commands and tasks. CPUs are also simply known as processors.
If you have ever read any other articles on CPUs, it can sometimes be difficult to decipher exactly what the central processing unit of your computer actually does. However, you do not really need to be a technically inclined person to understand how the brain of your computer works.
The first step of operation for the CPU is to store instructions in the memory of the computer. Whenever you run a program on your system, specific instructions from the program are sent to the memory and stored. The central processing unit then accesses the memory, retrieves the instructions, and then prepares to execute them.
Before the CPU can execute the instructions it has received from the memory, it must first decode them. After the instructions have been de-encrypted, your CPU will execute them and then returns some sort of result. This result may include storing information in the memory or on the hard drive or displaying something to your screen. Whatever the instruction directs the CPU to do, it does. The speed and performance of your CPU/processor determines how quickly the task is completed.
Your CPU may also have what is known as a CPU cache which also helps to speed up its performance. The cache memory is smaller and faster than the main memory of the computer and stores copies of frequently used information so that it does not have to access the main memory every time it performs a process.
Whenever your computer’s processor wants to access the main memory for instructions, it will first check to see if that information is already in its cache. If it is already stored there, then CPU reads it from the cache location, which is quicker than accessing the main memory since cache memory is local.
CPUs have come a long way since the early day of central processing units. What used to occupy an entire room will now fit easily in the palm of your hand with tons of room to spare. The CPU of your computer is usually a small square with many metallic connectors on the underside that attach to the motherboard via the CPU socket, or slot. These small processors can become very hot after operating for a while and normally have a small fan and heat sink attached on top to help dissipate the heat generated.
If you are purchasing a new computer, you should check the type of processor included in the unit since the CPU is essential to your computer’s function. To get an idea of what type of processor you need for your work, be sure to do some research online and ask around computer forums before making your purchase.