What is clock speed?

Clock speed is a measure of how quickly a computer completes basic calculations and operations. It is measured as a frequency in hertz (Hz) and most commonly refers to the speed of the computer’s Central Processing Unit (CPU). While developers and computer users may refer to this term in relation to CPU performance, it has fallen out of favor as CPUs have become more complex. The easiest ways to increase the clock speed on a computer include upgrading components and “overclocking” a piece of hardware.

Clock speed refers to the speed of a computer’s processor or CPU.

What do clock speeds measure

There is a small quartz crystal inside a CPU that vibrates at a specific oscillation or frequency. This frequency defines the “speed” of processes on the computer and is usually very high; they are typically measured in megahertz (MHz) and gigahertz (GHz). One megahertz equals one million cycles per second, while one gigahertz equals one billion cycles per second. So a computer with a clock speed of 800 MHz is running 800 million cycles per second, while a 2.4 GHz computer is running 2,400 million cycles per second.

A dual core CPU mounted on a motherboard.

These cycles define the speed of all processes on a computer. This ensures that all components and memory work together at a rate that remains harmonious. Different components and processes can also run at a fraction of the speed of the primary CPU, which allows each element of a computer to run on its own and still run at the primary CPU frequency.

Clock speeds and computer performance

There is some controversy over using clock speed as a benchmark for computer performance, and many CPU manufacturers seem to be abandoning its use as a primary indicator of performance. The problem comes from the fact that while clock speed works as a pretty reliable indicator of how a chip made by one company compares to another of their chips, it’s a poor indicator of how it can compete with a different company’s chipset. . Many other elements can also affect computer performance, which makes CPU speed even less effective for general computer benchmarking. The amount of random access memory (RAM) a computer has, the speed of that RAM, and the type of hard drive used in a computer can all play significant roles in determining performance.

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Comparing CPUs

When comparing one Intel® chip to another, for example, clock speed is a pretty good indicator of the differences between them. All other components being equal, an 800 MHz Pentium® computer performs most processor-based tasks nearly twice as fast as a 400 MHz Pentium® computer. When comparing a Pentium® chip and an AMD® chip, however, AMD® tends to accomplish most tasks faster than a comparable Pentium®.

For this reason, AMD® stopped listing clock speeds as the primary method of advertising on their computers, instead of assigning a number to the computer to show how it performs compared to a Pentium®. Intel® has also started moving away from advertising speeds, primarily due to the introduction of laptop-oriented CPUs, which have much lower clock speeds to optimize portable performance. If only speed were indicated, these processors would look inferior to your desktop CPUs.

Improving CPU performance

There are a number of ways in which a computer user can increase the speed of his or her computer. Upgrading an older CPU to a new one, for example, can provide hardware with a higher clock speed or multiple “cores.” Multi-core processors are essentially two or more CPUs in one, which offer greater performance for software programs that can take advantage of multiple cores.

It is also possible to “overclock” the processor. This basically increases the clock speed of the CPU beyond what is recommended by the manufacturer, allowing the computer to run faster. Overclocking the CPU is not generally recommended, however, as it produces additional heat that can damage the processor or other components and typically voids most computer’s warranties.

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A stick of DDR-RAM, a type of memory.

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