3.4. Processing Data

The CPU

CPU Chip
CPU Chip by Bru-No Pixabay

The core of a computer is the Central Processing Unit, or CPU. It can be thought of as the “brains” of the device. The CPU carries out the commands sent to it by the software and returns results to be acted upon. The earliest CPUs were large circuit boards with limited functionality. Today, a CPU can perform a large variety of functions. There are two primary manufacturers of CPUs for personal computers: Intel and Advanced Micro Devices (AMD).

The speed (clock time) of a CPU is measured in hertz. A hertz is defined as one cycle per second. A kilohertz (kHz) is one thousand cycles per second, a megahertz (mHz) is one million cycles per second, and a gigahertz (gHz) is one billion cycles per second. The CPU’s processing power is increasing at an amazing rate.

Besides a faster clock time, today’s CPU chips contain multiple processors. These chips, known as dual-core (two processors) or quad-core (four processors), increase the processing power of a computer by providing the capability of multiple CPUs all sharing the processing load. Intel’s Core i7 processors contain 6 cores and their Core i9 processors contain 16 cores.

Faster & Cheaper

Faster and cheaper are two words that have driven the computer industry for decades. This phenomenon of “faster, cheaper” computing is often referred to as ‘Moore’s Law’, after Intel co-founder, Gordon Moore. Moore recognized that microprocessor transistor counts had been doubling every year, enabling the development of more powerful chips to be manufactured at cheaper prices.[1] Moore’s Law has been generalized into the concept that computing power will double every two years for the same price point. Another way of looking at this is to think that the price for the same computing power will be cut in half every two years. Moore’s Law has held true for over fifty years. (See image below).

 

Moore's Law the number of transistors on integrated circuits doubles every two years. This is important for other aspects of computing, like processing speed and the cost of computers.
Moore’s Law by Max Roser & Hannah Ritchie via Wikimedia Commons shared under CC-BY (click to enlarge)

The limits of Moore’s Law are now being reached and circuits cannot be reduced further, but a new law, Huang’s Law has arrived. This law, named for Nvidia’s CEO Jensen Huang, says that Graphics Processing Units (GPUs) which power artificial intelligence, are increasing faster than Moore’s Law. In fact the performance has more than doubled every year. [2]


  1. Moore, G. E. (1965). Cramming more components onto integrated circuits. Electronics Magazine, 4
  2. Mims, C. (2020, Sept 19). Huang’s Law Is the New Moore’s Law, and Explains Why Nvidia Wants Arm. The Wall Street Journal.  https://www.wsj.com/articles/huangs-law-is-the-new-moores-law-and-explains-why-nvidia-wants-arm-11600488001

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Information Systems for Business and Beyond by Shauna Roch; James Fowler; Barbara Smith; and David Bourgeois is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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