Understanding Processors

Contents Table:

 What A Processor Does:

A processor does very much what its name suggests, and that is to process information, or data.  It is more commonly know as the CPU or central processing unit.

It is very much the brain of the computer. Like the human brain every decision the computer makes is formulated by the processor.

If you think of it like this. Every time you type something on your computer keyboard your fingers move to the right keys (hopefully) and you type what you want to type. This is because your brain has processed what needs to be done to make this happen, both physically and mentally. Although the human brain at present is much more sophisticated it essentially does the same job as the CPU.



Processor Socket types:

Understanding the different LGA socket types is essential when building a gaming computer. A processor is built to fit into a socket within the motherboard. Therefore the socket specification for the processor has to be the same of that of the motherboard socket. There have been a lot of different of sockets over the years.  The ones you need to know about  at the present are the socket 1155, 1156, 2011,1366.

CPU Clock speed:

Clock speed often baffles people when it comes to understanding processors, this is especially true when you add to the equation multiple cores and hyper-threading.

Lets first understand more about clock speed itself.

Clock speed is the measurement of cycles per second (htz). In computing and in processors this is measured by an oscillating quartz crystal.

Theoretically the higher the clock speed the faster the processor. However this becomes a more complex issue when you introduce the use of multiple cores. For instance a dual core (2) processor running at 3.2 GHz will not be as fast as a quad core (4) 3.2 GHz processor. (See the section on processor cores first if this is not making sense, if it does read on). Both processors may have the same clock speed but because the quad core has 2 more cores than the quad it can work on 4 things at once as opposed to 2.  So 4 cores running at 3.2 GHz will be working at 12.8ghz (4 times 3.2). Wheres as the dual core is working at 6.4 GHz (2 times 3.2).

For general purposes and for understanding processors,  it it fair to say that higher clock speed generally means a better processor.

If you want a more detailed and in depth understanding of processor clock speeds check out: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clock_rate.


Understanding Processor Cores:

Understanding processors that are Multi-cored is in theory quite simple. The best way to imagine it is separate processors packaged within the one processor.

It used to be that processors were built with just one core. Meaning one processor really was just one processor. However modern designs starting with the dual core processor incorporated 2 separate cores into one single processor unit. This in theory doubles the processing power.

It is important to remember that multicore processors are only effective with software and programs that are designed to use multiple cores. Most modern games are now built to take advantage of this feature when it is needed.

It is possible to buy processors with up to 8 or more cores at the present time.

Most games on the market at the moment only really make use of 4 cores at the most.

For more detailed information check out: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Multi-core_processor

Overclocking Gaming Processors:

Understanding processor overclocking.


Overclocking is essentially increasing the clock rate of your processor by adjusting its parameters. This is done for many reasons.

overclocking can improve the speed and performance of your processor. People overclock to save money on buying a CPU. The thinking is you can buy a cheaper CPU and overclock it to a higher clock rate. If done properly this can indeed save you money. But you have to be very careful not to damage the processor, through either too much stress or overheating.  Be prepared to invest in a high quality cooling system in order to keep the overclocked processor stable.

Another important factor is that not all processors are unlocked for overclocking. Most AMD CPU’s are now unlocked, but Intel are a bit more hit and miss. They usually indicate if a CPU’s unlocked by placing a ‘k’ after the series number, so look out for this.

For a detailed step by step guide on how to overclock your processor check out: http://www.wikihow.com/Overclock-a-PC

Understanding hyper-threading:

Hyper-threading is often a misunderstood part of the processor set-up. There seems to be a certain faction of sales people who will tell you that hyper-threading doubles the use of one core. They would have you believe that hyper-threading can execute more than one task at a time on one of your processor cores.

This is however very misleading. A processor has always only been able to execute one command at a time. The use of multiple cores allows a processor unit to execute multiple commands at once only because cores are essentially there own processor. The idea that hyper-threading will then use a core to execute multiple commands at once is just wrong.

So what does hyper-threading do. Well put simply for this summary, it does very much how it sounds it adds another thread to the processor core. Instead of all commands being routed down one thread to a core there is two threads. So if one fails or stalls the other takes over till the other recovers. So hyper threading basically helps the smoothness of data fed to the processor core.

The use of hyper threading really can only be felt if you are using very resource hungry 3d rendering or encoding software. For most gaming hyper-threading will add little to the mix. However 3d gaming my change this and hyper-threading my then play a more important role.

For much more detail check out: http://www.overclock.net/a/hyperthreading-explained

Understanding Turbo boost:

Turbo boost is a great addition to the processor. It is in essence a very simple concept, and the word turbo is used in the same context of how turbo is used in car design.

Turbo boost works by dynamic overclocking. This is done automatically by the processor and only for short bursts when it senses that you need some extra clock speed. It’s essentially the same as the process of manual overclocking which you would do through the bios, only the processor does it for you. It overclocks the clock rate but will bring it back down when it is not needed therefore not overheating you system. It will also bring it back down if it feels the processor is over reaching itself.

For more detailed information check out: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intel_Turbo_Boost



Tri-gate Processors:

Tri-gate otherwise known as 3d transistors are a new addition to the ivy bridge generation processors.  They are a redesign of the previously 2d transistors which were much less efficient with the electrons that flowed through them.

Intel and AMD are always striving for more efficient processors that can work at higher levels but with less power, and also less power leakage. This approach allows for processors to take on a heavier work load without getting overheated. The resistance in transistors before the introduction of the Tri-gate transistors was a limitation to the progress of processing power and something which had to be addressed.

So how do Tri-gate transistors work? well making them 3d has allowed for three surfaces for electrons to flow rather than just one. This is demonstrated in Intel’s video above. I would also suggest you read: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tri-gate_transistors_%28Intel%29#Tri-gate_transistors. for a full understanding of the tr-gate transistor.

From the consumers point of view this technology is a great thing. Not only does it make the processor 37% faster (according to Intel) it also means the processor will need less power to work and thus saving you money on your power bills.

Understanding Sandy Bridge and Ivy Bridge:

Sandy bridge and its successor ivy bridge are forms of micro architecture that the processor is built around.

Sandy bridge replaced the Nehalem micro architecture in the early part of 2011 and has since been succeeded by the Ivy bridge micro architecture.

Intels ‘i’ generation of processors are built around these micro architectures and are at present the top consumer available processors.

The sandy bridge chip works on the planar double gate transistor set up with the transistor being made at 32 nanometers.

This has quickly been surpassed by the ivy bridge processors that work with the more efficient Tri-Gate transistors and are built on the smaller 22 nanometer technology.

Check out: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sandy_Bridge for more details about Sandy bridge and Ivy bridge processors.







Pictures by:

By Pixan (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Eric Gaba, Wikimedia Commons user Sting [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By CountingPine at en.wikipedia [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons

By Mixabest (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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