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Computer Processing Hardware

Updated on March 23, 2018
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Alfred is a long-time teacher and computer enthusiast who works with and troubleshoots a wide range of computing devices.

Computer data processing is the core function of the computer, a task which is majorly accomplished by processing hardware such as central processing unit (CPU) and the graphics processing unit (GPU) microchips.

It is the CPU that is at the very center of all kinds of data manipulation. Without it, the computer is utterly useless. It is to the computer what the brain is to man.

The GPU meanwhile is usually reserved for processing and rendering of images, videos and other graphics-intensive assignments.

In new and budget laptops, the accelerated processing unit (APU) is also becoming the preferred processor. The APU is a single microchip that integrates the CPU and GPU.

Intel processing hardware
Intel processing hardware

The Central Processing Unit (Microprocessor)

The microprocessor is an integrated circuit (IC) chip made from silicon semiconductor material, with millions of electrical components on its surface. Before the advent of modern microprocessor, previous computers used smaller multiple integrated circuits strewn all over a circuit board.

The CPU as we know it today was first developed by Intel Corporation in 1971, to work inside the mushrooming personal computer installations. Personal computers were just becoming a darling to many. The CPU ultimately became the core processor in the Fourth Generation computers of the 1980s and later decades.

The first Intel processor was a 4 bit CPU called Intel 4004 and was replaced by newer designs with 8 bit, 16 bit, 32 bit and 64 bit processor architectures.

Aside from Intel, below are other popular manufacturers of computer processors:

  • AMD i.e Athlon 500
  • Cyrix i.e Cyrix Cx5x86
  • Via i.e. Via Quad-Core
  • Motorolla i.e. Motorola 68060

Intel 4004 microprocessor
Intel 4004 microprocessor | Source

The microprocessor works in close coordination with the main memory and secondary storage devices. There are other subsystems and peripherals that will work to help gather, store and disseminate data and information, but the processing tasks are exclusive to the microprocessor chip.

Units of CPU

The CPU contains three very important units that drive the computer during data processing:

  • Control unit
  • Arithmetic and logic unit (ALU)
  • Registers and cache

The Control Unit

The control unit manages and supervises the operations of the processor and other components that are crucial in data processing. It is always in direct communication with the ALU and the registers and reads and interprets application instructions, transforming them into a series of signals which can be executed by other processor units.

Arithmetic and Logic Unit (ALU)

ALU boasts of electronic circuitry which is responsible for all arithmetic and logic operations. These arithmetic operations basically include additions, multiplications, subtractions and division. Logic operations usually handle comparison computations like testing the EQUAL TO, GREATER THAN and LESS THAN conditions.

Registers and Cache Memory

Though not truly memory, registers and cache memory are storage locations inside the processor, which respond to the instructions of the control unit. They are faster than computer main memory (RAM) and thus allow the processor accomplish its tasks optimally. They store and move data within the processors as deemed necessary.

Basically, registers are used to store the most frequently accessed data items in order to feed the processor reliably.

Multi Core Processors

Despite growing limitations, especially in regards to the chip physical size, the desire to churn out more power from new processors continue to evolve.

One such innovation was the introduction of the multicore processor, a single microprocessor chip capable of multiple processor cores. In 2005, Intel and AMD released roadmap chips with multicore designs.

Intel’s Pentium D was a non-native dual-core processor compared to AMD’s Athlon X2 dual processor, a chip intended for higher end Servers. But this It was only the beginning of revolutionary trends in microprocessor chips. Over the next years, multicore processors evolved from dual-core chips i.e Intel Core 2 Duo to ten cores i.e. Intel Xion E7 – 2850.

Overall, multi-core processors offer more than the basics of a single core processor and capable of multitasking and multiprocessing assignments even within individual applications.

Which of the two microprocessor brands suits your needs?

See results

How the CPU Works

When the microprocessor receives a task and is to carry out relevant data processing, it goes through a number of stages.

Input: It all starts when the computer user inputs data via the keyboard: e.g. 2 + 3

  • the processor control unit receives the above instruction as raw data from RAM via the memory bus i.e. instructions to manipulate and make additions of the two numbers.
  • Second, the control unit interprets the instructions and fetches the data to the arithmetic logic unit (ALU). (i.e. the two numbers: 2 + 3)
  • the ALU manipulates the data by performing relevant processing (adds the two numbers: 2 + 3)
  • the control unit then sends the result back to the computer the main memory through the memory bus. (the sum of the two numbers)
  • The processed data is then disseminated into useful information through relevant media (output)

Output: The processed data is then displayed on the monitor as information: i.e. 2 + 3 = 5

Mobile Processing Hardware

Whereas traditional supercomputer and personal computer microprocessors have experienced monumental evolution, the lucrative sector of mobile computing is expanding fast and is facing its own challenges.

Manufacturers of microprocessors are integrating all sorts of features to enhance individual experience. The balance between faster speeds and heat control remains a headache while not forgetting the impact of faster processors on mobile batteries.

Examples of Mobile Processors:

  • Snapdragon chips from Qualcomm
  • A7 chips from Apple
  • Exynos from Samsung
  • Tegra from NVIDIA
  • Atom from Intel

Graphics Processing Unit

Commonly referred to as GPU, the graphics processor also churns out mathematical calculations, only this time, with a preference for images, video and other kinds of graphics.

These tasks were previously handled by the microprocessor but when graphics intensive CAD applications became commonplace for engineers and designers, there arose the need for a dedicated processing hardware capable of handling such tasks without affecting the overall performance of the computer.

nVidia GeForce MX440SE
nVidia GeForce MX440SE | Source

The typical GPU comes in three different shapes. Usually, it is attached separately to the motherboard, is integrated with the CPU, or come as a separate add-on chip to the motherboard.

The GU is available for desktops, laptops and mobiles.

Intel and Nvidia are the leading graphics chipsets in the market, with the latter being the preferred choice for core graphics processing.

© 2014 Alfred Amuno

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