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Computer Components: What is the CPU?

written by: heatherlorrmay•edited by: Rebecca Scudder•updated: 9/19/2008

You probably have at least one computer in your home but do you know your CPU from your hard drive? Lets take a look.

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    CPU

    Are you currently planning on purchasing a new computer soon and find yourself lost or confused when doing research?  Maybe you walk into a computer store and feel alone in your search for understanding when the sales person starts talking about processor speed and processing cores.  You are not alone, computers have become a staple in the home but most people do not know their RAM from the BIOS or their Hard Drive from their CPU.  Becoming knowledgeable and informed about computer components will not make you a nerd but you will be able to make your next computer system or component purchase from a more informed position.

    Whenever someone starts to query buying a new computer or a new computer component, most sales people will ask how much CPU power you want, and the normal response is “a fast one”, but what really is the CPU and why should you care about the speed?  You may have heard people call their entire computer the CPU and you may believe yourself that the chassis your computer components are installed in, is the CPU.  Technically the CPU is one of the many components inside your chassis.  This Central Processor Unit is probably one of the smallest and definitely one of the the most expensive components in your computer.  The CPU is charged with taking all the inputs created by you, the software, and the hardware and making something coherent from it.  To really simplify the functions of the computer the CPU is the brains of the operation.  

    Physically, the modern computer CPU is usually small and square with several metallic connections on the underside.  The metallic connectors allow the CPU to attach directly to the motherboard and is held in place by a small lever or clamp.  CPUs get very hot and to help control the heat, a fan and heat sink are usually attached to the CPU.  Today it is not uncommon for home computers to have two, three, or even four individual CPUs installed on the motherboard.  Combining more than one processor allows for greater CPU speed and the ability to spread the work load out between several different processors.  

    You may have also heard the term “dual core” or “quad core” CPU.  This term explains the total number of CPU processing units built into one CPU casing.  A dual core has two processing cores and a quad core has four processing units.  If your CPU has more than one processing unit it may be able to multi-task quicker and if you are looking to increase your CPU speed and do not have a computer that can handle more than one CPU installed on the motherboard, you may find that a multi-core is the answer to your dreams.  With a multi-core CPU you increase your computers brains without having to feed another body.

    Before modern CPUs came into existence, a computer had to be physically rewired and reprogrammed in order to perform different tasks.  The CPU of these old computers were custom-designed and programmed for a specific application.  Imagine this was still the case and you needed to have a separate CPU for each program on your computer.  We would still be in the era of computers the size of houses.  Luckily though the size, construction, ability and general form of CPUs has changed since the beginning of the computer revolution, the basic design and demands of the CPU have not changed.  

    Today, we demand more and more from our computers and the equipment around us.  Without the modern CPU, computers, cars, and even children’s toys could not meet our demands.  These smaller and smaller electronic brains are being installed in everything around us.  Your car now tracks your driving and monitors all the internal workings of the engine, and your child’s toy can talk back.  Our lives are quickly becoming controlled by the electronic brain known as the CPU.

    Understanding your computer:

    >>>>What is the Motherboard?

    >>>>What is the Hard Drive?

    >>>>What is the Video Display?

    >>>>What is RAM?

    >>>>What is the Video Card?

    >>>>What is the CD-Rom/DVD?