What is cache memory?

Cache memory (pronounced money) is extremely fast memory that is either built into the computer’s central processing unit (CPU) or located next to it on a separate chip. The CPU uses cache memory to store instructions that are needed repeatedly to run programs, improving overall system speed. The advantage of cache memory is that the CPU does not need to use the motherboard’s system bus for data transfer. Whenever data must be passed over the system bus, the data transfer speed slows down to the capacity of the motherboard. The CPU can process data much faster, avoiding the bottleneck created by the system bus.

The CPU uses cache memory to improve the overall speed of a computer system.

It turns out that once most programs are open and running, they use very few resources. When these resources are cached, programs can operate faster and more efficiently. All other things being equal, caching is so effective at system performance that a computer running a fast CPU with little cache may have lower benchmarks than a system running a slightly slower CPU with more cache. The cache built into the CPU itself is known as Level 1 (L1) cache. The cache that resides on a separate chip close to the CPU is called a Level 2 (L2) cache. Some CPUs have built-in L1 and L2 cache and designate the separate cache chip as Level 3 (L3) cache.

RAM card.

The cache built into the CPU is faster than the separate cache, running at the speed of the microprocessor itself. However, separate cache is still almost twice as fast as random access memory (RAM). Cache is more expensive than RAM, but it’s worth buying a CPU and motherboard with built-in cache to maximize system performance.

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Disk caching applies the same principle to the hard disk as memory caching applies to the CPU. Frequently accessed hard drive data is stored in a separate segment of RAM to avoid the need to retrieve it from the hard drive continuously. In this case, the RAM is faster than the platter technology used in conventional hard drives. This situation will change, however, as hybrid hard drives become ubiquitous. These disks have built-in flash memory caches. Eventually hard drives will be 100% flash drives, eliminating the need for RAM disk caching as flash memory is faster than RAM.

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