What Is a Processor? Everything to Know

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by Bethanny Parker

Published September 7, 2022

Reviewed by Monali Mirel Chuatico

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According to Moore's law, the speed and power of processors double about every two years. This means that if you buy a computer today with the best chip available, two years from now, there will be one that works twice as quickly. Under normal use, most computers last 5-8 years, according to Business News Daily.

However, if you play a lot of video games with intense graphics or do a lot of video editing, you may want to upgrade to the latest technology every two or three years. One of the most important things to consider when selecting a new computer is the speed of the computer's processor. To ensure that your new computer lasts as long as possible, you should try to get the fastest processor you can reasonably afford.

What Is a Processor?

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You might be wondering, "What is a processor?" or "What is a computer processor?" It might help to think of the processor as the "brain" of the computer. The processor is a circuit that performs all of the calculations needed to run the computer.

Modern computers often have more than one processor. For example, a gaming computer typically has both a central processing unit (CPU) and a graphics processing unit (GPU). The GPU takes some of the burdens off the CPU by processing any graphics that need to be rendered on the screen.

Although most people think of PCs when they think of processors, other devices can have processors as well. A smartphone is a good example. Smartwatches, calculators, tablets, TVs, and even cars have processors, too.

How Does a CPU Work?

So, how does a processor work? Whenever the computer user performs an operation, the operating system sends instructions to the processor, which interprets and carries out those instructions. Some processors have multiple cores, which allow them to process many instructions at once.

If the computer has a GPU, that frees up the CPU from having to interpret the instructions for rendering graphics on the screen. This allows the CPU to focus on the other tasks being performed by the computer.

The CPU contains a floating-point unit (FPU), an arithmetic logic unit (ALU), cache memories, and registers. The FPU and ALU perform calculations on numbers and send the results to the registers. The caches serve as short-term memories for the processor.

But how does a CPU work? There are three simple steps:

Types of Processors

There are five types of processors, including microprocessors, microcontrollers, and embedded processors. Media processors and digital signal processors (DSPs) make up the final two processor types. A microprocessor, which contains an ALU, a control unit, and various kinds of registers, is most often used in PCs.

The Intel Core i7 and Intel Core i9 are two popular microprocessors. The Core i7 debuted in 2008 and is used for anything from low-end content creation to high-end gaming. The Core i9 launched in 2017 and is good for content creation, as well as for maximizing the frame rate in games.

Two other examples of popular computer processors include Apple M1 and M2 chips, introduced in 2020 and 2022, respectively.

What Is a Good Processor Speed?

You may be wondering, "What is a good processor speed?" The answer is, it depends. If you only use your computer for word processing, you don't really need a fast processor. If you work with 10-15 browser tabs open at once, you probably do.

However, very few applications are more demanding than games. If you are doing a lot of high-end gaming, you'll need a clock speed of 3.5-4.0 GHz or higher with good single-thread performance, according to HP. A multi-core processor is essential for gaming.

Where to Buy a Processor

When you buy a computer, it comes with a processor. However, many people prefer to build their own computers to get the exact specs they want. In that case, you should expect to pay between $200-$1,000 for a good processor.

You'll also need to buy a motherboard, case, GPU, and many other components, making sure that each component is compatible with your CPU and motherboard.

Here are a few places you can buy processors:

Frequently Asked Questions About Processors

Is 8 GB of RAM enough?

For most people, eight GB of RAM is enough. However, if you use several applications at once, open many browser windows at once, or play video games on your computer, you may consider upgrading to 16 GB or even more.

Eight GB of RAM can handle basic productivity apps, such as Microsoft Excel or Word. You probably won't need more than 8 GB for your work computer unless you are using memory-heavy applications, such as Adobe Photoshop or CAD software.

What is a good processor for a laptop?

AMD and Intel both manufacture processors that work well in laptops. For example, AMD's Ryzen 6000 series performs well in laptops. Intel's Core i3 to Core i9 processors are also popular in laptops.

When comparing Intel processors to AMD, keep in mind that AMD's Ryzen 3 compares to Intel's Core i3, Ryen 5 to Core i5, Ryzen 7 to Core i7, and Ryzen 9 to Core i9. Since the numbers correlate with one another, it's easy to compare laptops with Intel processors with those that come equipped with AMD processors.

What is the fastest computer processor?

Intel's 12th generation Core i9-12900KS launched as the world's fastest desktop processor on March 28, 2022, according to an Intel news release. The processor delivers up to 5.5 GHz max turbo frequency. This processor maximizes performance for gamers and other extreme computer users.

Of course, Intel and AMD develop new computer processors all the time, so it's just a matter of time before one of them releases something even faster.

Feature Image: Weiquan Lin / Moment / Getty Images

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