A CPU (Central Processing Unit), or simply ‘processor’, is the core component of any computing device; the brain, if you will. It sits in a socket on the system’s motherboard and processes the billions of calculations required to run a computer. It works alongside the other components, including the memory (RAM), which temporarily stores information the CPU needs to process.
What makes a CPU, a CPU?
A CPU consists of billions of microscopic transistors placed onto a single chip. The transistors allow the CPU to make all of the calculations needed to run any programmes on your system. In the very early days of computing, CPUs were hulking machines in their own right. As technology has advanced, the size of a CPU has gradually become smaller and smaller, and almost immeasurably more powerful at the same time.
What does a CPU do?
A CPU takes instructions from programs and applications and performs the calculations necessary to return a result. It’s a vast oversimplification but you can think of the CPU as a calculator. The process itself is broken down into three key stages: fetch, decode and execute. Split up, the full process is:
- Fetch: The CPU fetches the instruction from RAM
- Decode: The CPU decodes what the instruction is
- Execute: The CPU executes the instruction using the relevant parts of the CPU
Since everything a computing device does is fundamentally represented by numbers (ones and zeros), the CPU is required to make everything happen, from starting up your PC, shutting down and every action in-between.
The 3 Cs
When searching the market for a CPU, there are 3 key areas that you should consider before making the final decision. These are the 3 Cs:
Cores – Back in the early days, CPUs only had a single processing core. In the early 2000s, Intel found a way to fit two processing units onto one chip and the term ‘cores’ is used to denote how many CPUs were on a CPU (hopefully you’re still with us!). Nowadays, a modern CPU can consist of multiple cores, so multiple CPUs within one physical unit, allowing it to perform multiple instructions simultaneously. Today’s CPUs are almost always at least dual-core or 4 core, with 6 and 8 core becoming more standard. As you move towards more high-end CPUs, you can find 10, 12, 16, 20 and even 28-core CPU’s which offer incredible levels of processing power.
Clock Speed – Alongside cores, the other most advertised feature is the clock speed. You will see this featured on product listings as “Gigahertz” (GHz). This effectively decides how many instructions a CPU can handle in a second. If you find two processors within the same generation which share similar stats and features, a faster clock speed will be the thing to look for, as a faster clock speed means a faster processor. One thing to bear in mind, though, is that a CPU from 2012 with a 3.00GHz clock speed isn’t always going to be as fast as a CPU from 2020 with a 2GHz clock speed.
Cost – The question everyone asks when shopping for processors: “How much do I need to spend?”. As a general guideline, and unless you are looking to build a powerful workstation that can run several programmes at once or a mega gaming PC, you most likely won’t need to spend much more than £250. However, if you’re not quite sure what you require, get in touch with our team by emailing [email protected]. Alternatively, click the link below to check out our full range of CPU listings.
Should you prioritise the CPU?
Earlier, we called the CPU “the brains of the device”. So, surely, it should be the top priority when building a PC or a server? After all, a human wouldn’t be able to survive without a brain!
And yes, your system wouldn’t work at all without a processor. However, it’s also important to consider the other parts of the system as well. No matter how expensive and powerful your CPU is, it won’t be able to store information like a storage drive, processes the graphics of your favourite video game like a dedicated graphics card will, or even work to its maximum capacity without the necessary memory.
It’s important to find a balance between all of the parts that will make up your system. If you have any questions regarding CPUs or anything to do with IT systems, get in touch using the button below!