What is computer processing?

Computer processing is an action or series of actions that a microprocessor, also known as a central processing unit (CPU), performs in a computer when it receives information. The CPU is a type of electronic “brain” for a computer system and executes a series of instructions that are powered by software programs installed on a computer’s hard drive and loaded into random access memory (RAM). Although modern computer systems have become much faster and more complex than their earlier counterparts, they still perform the same basic type of computer processing.

A RAM card, which is used in computer processing.

At their basic level of function, CPUs are composed of a set of transistors that, through a series of binary electrical states of 1s and 0s – or “on” and “off” states, perform mathematical and logical operations that, together , add up to computer processing capacity. Instructions given to a CPU by a software program change the states of these transistors to perform calculations for the software program. These results are normally sent back to RAM for use by the software program.

Central processing unit of a computer.

There are four distinct states that processing goes through to produce meaningful data output for any program. These states are commonly referred to as fetch, decode, execute, and write-back. Fetch is the first state in which the computer accesses its memory to retrieve instructions, which are always a series of numbers represented by binary code. Binary code is a series of eight bits of digits – strings of 1s and 0s – that together represent a “byte” of data.

Computer processing is generally performed according to information received from software installed on the computer’s hard drive.

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After getting these instructions, the computer’s processing decodes them. That is, instructions are now broken down into meaningful pieces or series of bytes by the CPU’s control unit (CU). These instructions are then executed by the CU.

When the instructions are complex math calculations, the CPU uses its arithmetic logic unit (ALU) to perform them. In the final processing step of the computer, a write-back of the data takes place. It is piped back into the computer’s memory for use by the software program, or it can be stored in memory registers within the CPU itself for later use by the program.

These four processing steps run through the CPU continuously as long as a software program is loaded into memory and running on the computer itself. These cycles of processing power by CPUs are continually increasing in speed as computer systems become more advanced, with computers now capable of gigahertz processing cycles. One gigahertz computer processing cycle is the equivalent of 1 billion instruction sets executed by the CPU every second.

A computer processor is also called a microprocessor or chip.

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