What is the Computer Processor?

The computer processor is the common name for a CPU, or the central processing unit of any desktop or laptop computer. It is the internal component that interacts with all the other parts of the computer. Due to the major role it plays in the computer system, it is essentially the “brain” of the computer.

Amazingly, the modern computer processor is housed in a single, very small, chip called a microprocessor. The microprocessors are made of silicon onto which small transistor wires are etched. The width of the wires on the silicon chip are minute and measured in microns. The width of each wire typically measures less than one micron; in contrast, a human hair is approximately 100 microns wide. The San Francisco Bay Area in California is nicknamed the “Silicon Valley” because of its large production of the silicon clips. Intel and AMD are the leading names in the current market.

The computer processor works by executing a series of stored instructions, referred to as a program. It must retrieve, decode, execute, and write back the data in speedy succession. The processor retrieves certain data, performs a specified process with the data, and then stores the data in memory. The memory used may be either the systems memory or an internal memory called a cache. Having a cache allows the computer to access recently used data more quickly, so it speeds up computing time. The size of the cache is expressed in bits, such as, 32-bit or 64-bit. This means that the processor has the ability to process internally 32 bits or 64 bits of data at any one time.

In summary, the computer processor has two primary functions:

1) Arithmetic Logic Unit (ALU) – performs all mathematical and logical operations.

2) Control Unit (CU) – extracts instructions from the computer memory, decodes, and then executes them.

Every computer processor has its own built-in clock. This internal clock dictates how fast the processor can process data, which is made up of zeros (0s) and ones (1s) called binary digits or bits. Speed is measured by millions of cycles per second, known as megahertz (MHz). The higher the megahertz — the faster the computing speed. Megahertz can range from a low of 25 MHz to a high of 4 GHz. Faster speeds save time. Efforts to boost computing speeds make computer processors the objects of constant innovation.

Emily Davies writes on computing and technology. If you want to know more about computing products and see the latest offers on laptops, printers, graphics cards and processors.