A central processing unit (CPU) is a piece of hardware which carries out instructions set by programs. This component is not only used in computers but is also used in devices such as smartphones. The CPU is also commonly known as a processor.
There are many different models of processors and some are faster than others. A processors speed is measured in GHz (Gigahertz) or MHz (Megahertz). 1GHz equals to 1,000MHz. If you are buying a new computer, the speed will be measured in GHz. As a general rule of thumb, the higher the GHz the faster the processor. This means that a processor with a speed of 3.8GHz is likely to be faster than a 2.4GHz processor. There are many other factors which impact a processors performance though including power consumption, core count, architecture design, temperature and more.
Another common term you will come across when looking at processors is the core count. Modern processors have multicore technology which allows the computer to process more information at once. A multicore processor could have two cores, four cores, six cores, eight cores or more. When buying a processor or new computer it’s important not only to consider how fast it is, but also how many cores it has.
In addition to the speed and core count of a processor another term used for processors is cache. Cache is a small amount of available storage in a processor which is much faster than a hard drive. This small amount of storage, which is usually measured in MB (Megabytes), is used to store data which is required by the processor quickly.
The processor is installed on your motherboard and is covered by a heatsink. Depending on your type of computer, motherboard and processor it may be user removable. If you want to upgrade your processor it’s important to check your motherboard supports a different model as not all processors can physically fit into a motherboard socket. The processor is covered by a heatsink to prevent overheating as they run very hot. Modern computers often do not start up without a heatsink installed to prevent the processor from being damaged.