Perhaps the most well-known piece of computer hardware in the world, although not always for the correct reasons, is the central processing unit. It is not uncommon for people to refer to the entire computer or even a router as a “CPU.” In fact, a single CPU is small enough to fit in the palm of your hand, and it is unquestionably the most vital component of any computer. Here is all the information you need about CPUs.
Brain of the Computer
Simply stated, the Central Processing Unit (or CPU) is the computer’s brain, the component responsible for actual processing. CPUs are comprised of one or more cores, each of which is capable of completing tasks, in order to perform this logic. CPUs also require access to memory where data can be stored, the faster the memory, the more quickly duties can be completed. Rather than a hard disk drive (HDD) or solid-state drive (SSD), a CPU should get its data from RAM (which is reasonably fast and can store a large amount of data) or its cache (which is part of the CPU and is rapid but stores only a small amount of data).
Instruction-set architectures (or ISAs) are the most fundamental component of a central processing unit (CPU), similar to virtually all other forms of processors. Frequently, the differences between two distinct ISAs are so great that software that runs on one ISA will not likely function on the other. Even CPUs that use the same ISA may employ a distinct microarchitecture, a design method for CPUs that is less fundamental than the ISA. Various microarchitectures offer varying levels of efficacy, efficiency, and functionality.
Here’s what makes the CPU special: it excels at completing tasks in serial, sequential order, as opposed to performing multiple tasks simultaneously. This is the reason why the first CPUs had a single core, and even two decades after the introduction of the first dual-core CPU, most consumer processors have eight cores or fewer, whereas server CPUs typically have between 32 and 128 cores. CPU designers are focused on improving per-core performance by increasing clock speed or frequency (the amount of work or instructions executed per second) and instructions per cycle, which varies based on the microarchitecture.
CPU Landscape and the Companies That Design Them
Although there are numerous CPU designers in the world, I will only discuss the largest and most influential ones, many CPU-making companies produce chips for electronics such as calculators and industrial machines, which are not particularly fascinating. There are remarkably few competitors in the PC, phone, and data center industries.
Intel, AMD, Arm, and RISC-V International are today’s leading companies. You are all familiar with Intel, as it is one of the world’s oldest computer companies. Intel developed the x86 ISA, which it shares with AMD, and the two companies have been rivals since the 1990s. Arm maintains the ARM ISA and licenses it to companies such as Apple, Samsung, and Qualcomm, which produce custom ARM CPUs with superior performance compared to Arm’s standard ARM cores. In contrast, RISC-V International allows anyone to use and modify its open-standard RISC-V ISA.
Despite being the eldest of these companies, Intel and AMD are among the most limited, as they only produce CPUs for PCs and data centers. Intel was once involved in the phone market but ultimately abandoned its ambitions to dominate smartphones. In contrast, Arm and its allies have a hand in virtually everything. The traditional stronghold for ARM CPUs has been phones and smartphones, but Amazon and Google are introducing ARM to the data center, and Apple and Qualcomm are even challenging Intel and AMD in PCs.
However, RISC-V has a negligible presence in these crucial segments, gaining ground primarily in industrial applications. To compete with Intel, AMD, and Arm, RISC-V International and its partners plan to bring the ISA to PCs, smartphones, and data centers. In the coming years, it will become clear whether RISC-V will severely disrupt the status quo, which has remained unchanged for decades.
What Your Device’s CPU Means for Its Performance
The CPU is one of the most essential components in devices such as PCs and smartphones, whether the device is used for gaming, productivity, or casual tasks such as web browsing and video watching. There are so many different CPUs with varying combinations of microarchitectures, core counts, and other features that it is impossible to provide a comprehensive overview of what to look for on a specification sheet. If you are an average user seeking to purchase a great CPU, I have some advice for you.
One of the most essential things to realize is that having more cores does not necessarily result in greater performance. Not every application will utilize every core, and those that do are typically used for content creation, such as rendering videos or creating 3D models. It’s not a bad idea to purchase a modern CPU with a large number of cores, but you can often find a better bargain if you opt for a CPU with slightly fewer cores unless you absolutely require every available core.
Gaming is a particularly difficult workload for CPUs, as high clock speeds and a large amount of cache are the most essential characteristics of a great gaming CPU. However, a low-end CPU may perform similarly to a high-end CPU if you select graphics settings that reduce the framerate. In a game like Star Wars Jedi: Survivor, one CPU may only be capable of 90 FPS while another is capable of 120 FPS, but if you play at 60 FPS, both CPUs will be equally capable. If you’re content with the standard 60 FPS, even budget CPUs will suffice.
This applies to desktops, laptops, and smartphones: to get the best notion of how a CPU will perform, you must read reviews. This is the only way to determine which CPU is ideal for a given task, requiring you to sift through numerous graphs and tables of numbers. Spec sheets never reveal the whole story, and you should never accept marketing claims at face value. And don’t be too concerned with finding the ideal CPU. The odds are that the majority of chips will function properly for whatever you intend to do.
Now it’s your turn to share your thoughts and questions about CPUs. What did you find most interesting about the article? What do you think the future holds for CPUs? Let us know in the comments below! Remember to add our site to your bookmarks if you’re interested in reading more articles like this one.