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What is a Processor

The processor, also known as a microprocessor or a CPU (central processing unit), is the brain of any computer. It's the component which does all of the calculations that it takes to run a program and perform various tasks such as playing music or videos, compressing files or rendering webpages. The processor is by far the most influential component when it comes to the overall speed of your computer. Processors are constantly evolving and speeds typically double every year and a half.

Microprocessor speed is measured in hertz. The first general-purpose, commercial available microprocessor was the Intel 4004, introduced in 1971. It had a speed of 740 KHz (kilohertz). Today's processors are measured in gigahertz (one billion hertz) with speeds of modern processors surpassing 3 GHz.

Most of today's CPUs are multicore designs. Each processor core acts as a separate processor. Processors are available in the dual-core, quad-core and 6-core varieties. The more processor cores you have, the faster your computer will be. You'll be able to run more programs, more demanding games and get everything done much faster. For programs and games designed to take advantage of multicore processing technology, a dual-core processor can, for example, provide up to twice the performance of a single-core processor of the same speed.

Modern processors are also 64-bit. 64-bit computing allows you to install more memory and ultimately provides better performance and compatibility with future applications and games. 64-bit computing is rapidly becoming the norm, just as 32-bit computing replaced 16-bit computing in the 90s.

Processors for personal computers are manufactured either by AMD or Intel. While Intel is the oldest processor manufacturer, AMD is a worthy contender, especially thanks to its cheaper product line and less demanding motherboard compatibility issues.

Processors are, for the most part, a fairly easily upgradable component, at least in desktop computers. If you want to upgrade the processor, you should first determine the brand and model number of your motherboard and then look at the manufacturer's website to find which CPUs are compatible with that model. You don't need to install any drivers for a new processor, although some upgrades require a BIOS update which will normally be explained by the motherboard manufacturer. New retail processors also come with an approved heat sink or fan for cooling, as well as the thermal paste which aids heat conductivity between the processor and the metal heat sink.


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