A central processing unit is usually the most important component in a computer system. It is primarily responsible for most of the computing and data processing that takes place within a computer. The only common exceptions are certain graphics-related calculations, which are typically done by additional processing units installed on video cards. The central processing unit is the main component of a computer that determines the execution speed of a system.
There are several ways to measure the speed of a central processing unit. One of the most common methods used is called clock speed. At a fundamental level, a computer processor basically takes charges of electricity and uses them to do calculations. Each time it receives an electrical charge and processes it, this is called a clock cycle. If the processor does this too quickly, it will have a fast clock speed. In general, clock speed is measured in gigahertz, which means they can usually do this billions of times per second.
An Intel central processing unit.
Measuring clock speed does not take into account the efficiency of a processor. Some processors have lower gigahertz ratings, but they use their cycles more efficiently and offer more speed in real-life usage. Other measurements, such as scan instructions per second or math calculation speeds, can often give the user a better picture of how the processor will perform when compared to others.
Some processors are made to have multiple execution cores. This means that the overall speed of the processor is split so that it can multitask. In some cases, a multi-core system is described as being similar to having two processors, and in terms of functionality, this is usually quite accurate. When using a multi-core system, the user will often find that the system can run more software simultaneously without difficulty. Technology for multi-core processors continues to improve to allow for more cores on a single chip.
The speed of the central processing unit has been one of the main areas of computer technological improvement. With almost every new generation, central processing units become much faster and often add additional functionality. Sometimes the speed of technological improvements to processors was so fast that consumers had a hard time keeping up with manufacturers. Most people don’t necessarily need a system with the most advanced high-end processor, so early adopters might include people like gamers or those with jobs that require the use of especially demanding software.