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  • Nick Thomas

Processors

Under that giant (well not quite so giant these days) fan and metal grill that's attached to your computers motherboard, there lies an After Dinner mint slice of silicon and metal, the beating heart of your computer - the CPU (Central Processing Unit).


I've talked previously about CPUs in the last blog post about what to look for when buying a computer, but skipped the details in favor of not overloading the post with information. Today I'll go into a little more detail. It won't be as useful in a real-world sense, but if you're the slightest bit curious, I promise it'll be digestible.


A few years ago I cut up a fiber glass pool, pulled it out and filled in the hole with sand using a wheel barrow and a shovel. It took me many months and while I was doing this, I realized I was performing the role of a processor.


Processors have 3/4 main factors that affect their speed: Clock speed, Front Side Bus (FSB), Cache and Cores. Clock Speed: This is 'the number' that you see all the time - 1.6Ghz, 2.7Ghz etc, it's the speed at which it can complete instructions - the higher the better Front Side Bus: This is the speed at which data can be sent from or received by the CPU. Cache: This is a very small cluster of memory (actually there's 3 clusters, but for the sake of simplicity....) that exists directly on the CPU for repetitive tasks. The more cache, the more data can be stored locally and doesn't need to be sourced from the rest of the system, be it the memory or the SSD / HDD. Cores: You've maybe seen "quad-core" or "dual-core" (there's a few more, but those are the frequent ones) - This refers to separate sections of the CPU that processor data independently so you can work on multiple tasks at the same time. Ok, that's a bunch of jargon, what's this go to do with sand and wheel-barrows? Well... When you're filling in a hole in the ground, you take your wheel barrow (Cache) and you fill it at a certain speed (FSB), then you move it to the back of the house at a certain speed (Clock Speed), then dump it in the hole at a certain speed (FSB again) and you return to that mound of sand (Clock Speed again). It was only myself doing it this day, so I only had 1 Core. Suppose you had a wheel barrow that was twice the size(Cache) or that you could fill it instantly(FSB) or that you could walk it to the hole and back at the speed of light (Clock Speed) or that you had 4 people performing that same action (multiple cores). That works well enough, but I know the analogy for the cache is tenuous. A more fitting analogy for that might be.... a handy man that has his tools on his belt, so as he's going around your house, he can fix things without needing to return to his vehicle to swap out tools. The bigger his tool belt (Cache) the more commonly used tools he can store on his person, the less tool-swapping, the more efficient the work.

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