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When we think about the benefits of computing power in the 21st century, it’s becoming increasingly clear why we use these digital machines so much.

Computers function very similarly to human beings – they process information, remember things, and make decisions. Sometimes they work fine, and sometimes they lag behind. But no matter their design, their inner components play a big role in how efficient they will perform.

One of the most important parts of the human body is the brain. It is responsible for processing all the information we take in and creating the world around us, at least from the viewpoint of our own perspective. The computer equivalent is the central processing unit or CPU.

The CPU is the brains of the computer – it takes in all the information from hardware signals, software commands, and user-inputted data to direct the machine on what to do next. It’s the equivalent of our brains sending signals to put one foot in front of the other, wipe our mouth when we eat or do a variety of other tasks we often rarely ever give a second thought to.

The CPU of a computer has several important components. This includes the heatsink and the CPU cache. CPU cache and speed are both important factors to consider about this type of hardware.

Understanding the Basics of the CPU Cache and Speed

Before we go over five interesting facts about CPU cache and speed performance, it would be wise to discuss the major components of these units and provide a definition of each.

The first part of the CPU worth mentioning is the core – or more accurately, the cores. Most processors have multiple cores today, but what exactly is a core? This term is simply used to describe individual processing units within the CPU. Dual-core processors and even quad-core processors are extremely common in today’s computers.

The next aspect of the CPU to discuss is the clock speed. This can also be called the clock rate, and it determines how quickly the unit can process information. The speed represents the number of cycles of instructions a CPU can process per second. This measurement is usually done in either megahertz (MHz) or gigahertz (GHz). Clock speed needs to exist within a range that the hardware can safely allow and can be changed in the computer’s BIOS.

CPU cache can be thought of as a small amount of memory that is installed within the CPU. In contrast to RAM, which is sometimes just called memory, the CPU cache is already installed into the processing unit. This allows it to store certain amounts of information the CPU needs which could take longer to retrieve if stored with RAM. Cache is available in three levels, referred to simply as L1, L2, and L3.

Finally, there is the processor type. This can be somewhat confusing, as many people think the type involves how many cores there are or who makes it. But CPUs typically come in two main types: CISC and RISC. RISC (reduced instruction set computing) CPUs are smaller with fewer instructions and a lower speed. CISC (complex instruction set computing) CPUs are bigger, faster, and have hundreds of instructions in most cases.

Now that we’ve covered the basic terms associated with CPUs, let’s talk about five surprising facts concerning CPU cache and speed.

CPU Cache and Speed Facts Many People Don’t Know

Less Cache Means Slower Speeds, Even with More Cores

There’s a common perception in technology that bigger and newer automatically mean better. The newer unit that boasts more cores is automatically better, right? Yes and no.

While newer CPUs aren’t always better, these comparisons can be made according to a variety of criteria. Newer architecture can sometimes mean better performance, but more on that shortly. Let’s say a CPU boasts the fact that it offers four cores.

To sweeten the deal, let’s say it comes with hyperthreading capabilities – meaning each of the four cores can run as two cores, bringing it to a total of eight logical cores. That’s all the processing power most people will ever need – which means there are no downfalls to his CPU provided it has a good clock speed. Right?

Again, yes and no. While it will still be fast, its CPU cache also plays a big part in its performance. Most of the time, quad-core processors will come with an at least L2 cache. But if your processor only has L1 CPU cache, it could mean you’d be better off taking your money and looking elsewhere.

CPUs with more cores can offer better performance in some areas, but they can’t be as fast as possible without enough cache.

Clock Speed Can Be Hindered by Other Components

3.4 GHz, 4.0 GHz, 4.5 GHz – the clock speed of the modern processor is often displayed by manufacturers like a badge of honor. In some ways, it is, as it demonstrates how much performance you can expect from the unit in terms of speed.

Even on dual-core processors, a good clock speed means you can expect smooth performance with little sticking or lagging. Thanks to overclocking technology, many CPUs can even blast past their stock clock speed and achieve even higher performance – so long as they have the right hardware to work with them.

Let’s say you’re taking part in an intensive task like playing a PC game on high settings and going for a high frame rate. You could have a powerful CPU with good cache and multiple cores, as well as a high clock speed. But what if your graphics card is middle-of-the-road in terms of its performance? This could result in the phenomenon of bottlenecking.

If the parts that are designed to work together aren’t similar to each other in terms of performance capabilities, the slower of the two can actually diminish the quicker one’s performance. It’s a classic example of a weak link bogging down an entire chain, or in this case, bogging down a more powerful part.

Changing Your Clock Speed Isn’t Always a Good Idea

If you have a CPU capable of turbo performance via overclocking, you may be excited to enter the BIOS and crank up the settings to really unleash the power of your hardware. But should you?

There’s a good reason CPU clock speeds are set at the rate they are. Hardware is only built to be pushed so hard. Machines that work hard produce a lot of heat, and when they’re turned up beyond their safe limitations it can lead to issues like overheating.

If you have the appropriate cooling hardware, it is a bit easier to push your hardware further. So if you have a liquid cooler, you may be a bit safer turning up your Turbo-capable processor past a certain point. But once you start turning it up too high, you can irreversibly damage the unit and even risk harming other parts of your system.

Cores, CPU Cache, and Speed Aren’t All That Matter

You’ve got a great CPU in mind – for the price, it offers everything you need. Let’s say it’s a quad-core with plenty of L3 caches and a high enough clock speed for doing anything you need. There’s nothing else to consider, right?

Technically, processors from reputable manufacturers with all the above specs likely have good architecture. But architecture itself as an aspect of CPU performance many people look past.

What is the CPU architecture? Simply put, it’s the way the unit is built and how it is programmed to process data. Companies with better products and bigger names usually lead the way in architecture innovation, and they do this by building their products around what users will typically need the processors for.

CPU Cache Is Expensive, But Worth It

One of the main reasons people look more toward cores and clock speed when they buy a processor is because of their expectations regarding performance. But another reason is that of the price.

The more cache a processor has, the higher the price. This leaves many people inching back toward the idea of going with L1, even when they could really use L2 or L3. It can be easy to think in terms of a budget, but if you’re concerned about value, don’t underestimate cache.

Cache is an important aspect of CPU performance and can have a big impact on how the unit performs. If you want speed, responsiveness, and consistency, consider CPU cache in the same way you would CPU cores or clock speed.

Learning More About CPUs and CPU Cache

When you begin to study processors and the hardware associated with them, it becomes apparent just how complex they are. But the more you know about a processor, the easier it is to find a good one that meets your needs.

Processors come in many forms and have many important aspects that affect their reliability. Look for good manufacturers, plenty of cores, solid speeds, and of course, plenty of caches – preferably of the L2 or L3 variety! Doing so can help you get more performance and better results.

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