What is a Processor? A Comprehensive Definition of a CPU

Defining the Central Processing Unit (CPU)

Buying a new computer  in today’s world can, without doubt, be something of a challenge. The major hurdle in this regard emerges when trying to choose one that best fits one’s needs. One of the components that you are likely to hear about when hunting about for a new PC is the Central Processing Unit (CPU). The CPU is also widely referred to simply as the processor. Of all the components that are on a computer, the CPU is one that you should take a close look at since it has such a large bearing on its performance. So, what is a processor on a computer?

What is a Processor?

  • The Central Processing Unit (CPU) is an important electronic component on a computer, where  basic logical, arithmetic, input/output (I/O) and control operations are carried out. This is what allows various programs to be executed.

Why are CPUs Important?

Above is the simplest answer to that you will ever find for the question “What is a processor.” The processor is often described as the heart of any computer. That is because it is the part that does most of the “computing” on a computer.

What is a CPU?

A typical processor is made up of two components, the Arithmetic Logic Unit (ALU), which is responsible for all the arithmetic and logical operations, and the Control Unit (CU), which directs the operation of the processor.

The CPUs that are on most computers are, today, housed on single chips that are known as microprocessors. CPUs are complex devices, which are made up of billions of transistors.

Importance of knowing about processors when buying new computers

Now that we have answered the question; “What is a processor,” it’s important to point out that this is one component about which you should be knowledgeable when buying a computer.

There are a number of reasons why people buy computers, but the majority of them have to do with the fulfillment of one particular need or the other.

We have previously written an article on how you can easily and quickly check out the specifications of a given computer. While that is important, it will not mean much if you have no idea what you are looking at.

The CPU is the Most Important Component on a Computer

As we have mentioned several times while trying to answer the question; “What is a Processor?” the CPU is the most important component on a computer.

It is, therefore, one of the items that you should seriously look at when hunting around for a new PC.

How are Processors Measured?

What is a processor
What is a processor? The one on my laptop is clocked at 2GHz

One of the things that you need to understand is that processor speed is measured using Megahertz (MHz) and Gigahertz (GHz).

1 MHz means that the processor goes through 1 000 000 cycles per second, while 1GHz means that it goes through 1 000 000 000 cycles per second.

Do Higher Numbers Mean Faster Computers?

There are a number of things that determine the performance of a computer. This includes processor speed, RAM and much more.

However, all things being equal, CPU’s that are clocked at higher speeds should perform better than those that have lower clock speeds.

As an example, if all the hardware and software components are equal, a Processor that is clocked at 3GHz will run faster than one that is clocked at 2GHz. This means that applications will load and run faster on the 3GHz processor.

What is a Processor? The Murky Waters

However, when it comes to Processors, things are hardly equal. Companies such as Intel contribute to the confusion by releasing CPUs that have numbers and letters that can only remain mysterious.

Intel is the biggest computer CPU manufacturer in the world

You may have stumbled, while carrying out research before buying a new laptop or a new desktop, across names such as Core i3, Core i5 and Core i7. While you would intuitively think that processing speed rises from the Core i3 to the Core i5, and from there to the Core i7, that is not always the case.

As an example, there are Core i7 processors that are clocked at 1.33 GHz. The arena becomes even murkier if you consider that the processors have different versions for desktops and for laptops.

Single, Dual, Quad and more Cores

Need some more confusion? How about the fact that, although almost all the processors that are now out there have a minimum of 2 cores (found in the entry level Core i3s),  Core i3 and Core i5 processors come with both dual and quad core versions?

Computer programs are yet to catch up

So, how many cores should you go for in a processor. Well, the answer to that comes back to the issues to which you are going to put your new computer. It also comes down to the types of programs that you are going to be running.

Although there are processors that have up to 60 cores, buying one would likely be a waste money, since most of the programs that are out there can only use a few cores at a time.

When running a program that has not been optimized for hyper-threading on a multi core processor, the program will only use one core.

How many cores do I need?

For most ordinary, day to day computer uses, a quad core processor will be more than enough. You can up the ante to eight cores should you be into intensive gaming.

What is a Processor: The Conclusion

In any case, I hope I have fully answered the question “What is a processor?” It is, in simple terms, the part that does the computing on a computer. Its where the logical, arithmetic, I/O and control operations are carried out.

Need to know more about computers? Why not read this article in which I talk about Random Access Memory (RAM)?

You can also check out our popular article on the modern definition of a computer for more insights into computers and computing.

%d bloggers like this: