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Beginner’s Guide to Understanding CPU: How Parts make up the Whole

written by: Ashwin Satyanarayana•edited by: J. F. Amprimoz•updated: 6/6/2009

Just talking about the CPU won't do it justice because it wouldn't be complete without the other hardware elements. The understanding of the CPU has a lot more to do with so many different parts coming together to render the CPU its magic. So read on how different parts of a CPU make it up:

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    The Heart of the Machine

    The previous article in this series would have introduced you to the amazing choice of input/output combinations that are possible for us, thanks to the computing power we now enjoy. Starting from there, the journey to understanding a PC shouldn’t be very difficult (I doubt if can ever reach the end because the road keeps stretching just when you think you are near your destination).

    On a very simple foundation, the computer is made up of the following parts:

    • A basic set of instructions (called programs) that control, process and direct data input from one of the various input sources and then delegate what to do with this data, depending on the input.
    • A central Processing Unit (CPU) which actually processes data and performs actions according to the instructions in the program mentioned above.
    • A memory which provides space for the Central Processor to store information or hold the results of its work to await further instructions or to store this data for further processing -- think of it as a white sheet of paper on which you might want to put some numbers down as you go down a long string of calculations.
    • All sorts of Input/output (I/O) devices that help us input data to the computer and again help the computer to display or to spew out the processed data back to the users in ways we humans understand -- like text, graphics, sound, multi-media, etc.
    • A permanent storage medium -- like a disk drive -- which can store data for long periods of time for us to access when we need to and also helps the computer store some important system specific data.

    CPU As shown above, the picture depicts the overall layout of the CPU. Although the CPU is more complicated than the simplistic image you are seeing, this should form a strong basis for your understanding of the processor. The elements of the CPU, as seen in the image above, constantly interact with it to enable the various functions that a computer performs.

Understanding the CPU

This series is all about trying to understand the inner workings of a computer -- the CPU and its intricate working mechanisms.
  1. Beginner’s Guide to Understanding the CPU: How the CPU Works
  2. Beginner’s Guide to Understanding CPU: How Parts make up the Whole
  3. Beginner’s Guide to Understanding CPU: Introducing the BIOS Chip