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One of the most important components in a computer is the processor, also commonly referred to as a central processing unit (CPU). It has a major impact on system performance and also determines what type of software can be used by the computer. To find the processor that best fits your needs, you can use the performance indicators below as comparison metrics.
A core is a single physical processor that is a part of the larger unit and is the component that executes code and performs calculations. However, the terms processor and CPU are often used to describe the whole unit rather than just the core. The advantages of having multiple cores include increased overall system performance and multitasking capabilities—provided the operating system and software support multi-core CPUs.
A CPU’s clock speed indicates how quickly it can perform calculations and is measured in multiples of hertz. The greater a CPU’s clock speed, the more calculations it can perform in a given amount of time. Prior to multi-core CPUs, clock speed was one of the most important determining factors for performance. For multi-core CPUs however, both the number of cores and the clock speed of those cores must be taken into account to determine performance.
Cache memory is a small amount of physical RAM on the CPU that is used to store frequently accessed data. The larger a CPU’s cache is, the more data it can store for quick access. Typically, server processors will have larger caches than desktop and mobile processors because servers must meet the needs of many users.
The voltage rating for processors is a measurement of how much power a processor needs to draw in order to run at its rated specifications. You should aim to find a processor with a lower voltage rating for more energy savings and lower heat generation. Alternatively, you can manually increase voltage to increase CPU clock speeds at the cost of system stability.
To understand the advantages of multi-threading, it is important to know what a thread is in computing terms. A thread is a task that a CPU executes and how quickly it is executed depends on clock speed. Without multi-threading, a core can only execute one thread at any given time. For this reason, multi-core CPUs can calculate many more threads than single-core CPUs if both are given an equal amount of time.
With multi-threading, one core can handle multiple threads seemingly simultaneously by switching between them very quickly. To an operating system, a quad-core CPU that supports multi-threading can appear as if it has eight cores instead of four.
A die is a small circuit that is cut from a large wafer of semiconducting material, usually silicon. For manufacturers, smaller die sizes are desirable because they lower production costs and allow for more CPUs to be made from one silicon wafer. For IT professionals and end users, smaller dies mean a reduction in energy consumption, heat generation, and potentially prices.
64-bit computing allows software to have access to more system resources such as random access memory (RAM), which can speed up performance. In comparison, 32-bit (x86) computing has a 4 GB system memory limit and software cannot utilize as many system resources. For servers and desktops that will be running resource-intensive programs, a 64-bit environment is recommended. But in order for a computer to run 64-bit software, it must have a 64-bit processor.