The brains behind the performance: what is a CPU for?

Discover the critical role CPUs play in gaming, productivity, AI, and more. What are they, why they are important, and more.
Christopher McFadden
What is the CPU for, exactly?


  • The central processing unit, or CPU, is often thought of as the "brain" of a computer.
  • It is part of the computer that executes most of the computations and instructions required for a computer to work.
  • Despite its significance, a CPU is something that many people are unfamiliar with.

If you use a computer during your daily life, there is a piece of hardware buried deep within the machine that, without it, would make your computer, effectively, a costly ornament. The CPU, or central processing unit, is one of the most essential parts of any computer. But do you know what it is?

If not, we hope by the end of this guide, you will have a clearer understanding of what a CPU is and how it functions within the overall design of a computer. It is a tall order, but one we are more than willing to take on. Let's get stuck in.

What is a simple definition of a CPU?

The main part of a computer, the CPU (central processing unit), is responsible for processing the bulk of data and instructions. It carries out program instructions, conducts mathematical calculations, and manages input/output operations.

The brains behind the performance: what is a CPU for?
What is a CPU?

If you compare a computer to a living animal, the closest organ would be the brain when talking about the CPU. Even though this is a common way to compare the two, it is essential to remember that a CPU is not precisely the same as the human brain.

This is because while a CPU is in charge of carrying out program instructions and mathematical computations, it lacks the cognitive and decision-making capacities of the human brain. Instead of implying that the CPU is as smart or flexible as the human brain, the comparison is more accurate when used to talk about the CPU's central role in processing data and keeping a computer running.

In this sense, the CPU takes instructions from memory, decodes them, executes them, and stores the findings in memory. It is an integral computer and does everything needed to run programs and apps.

What exactly does a CPU do?

The CPU does most of the processing and calculations that programs and applications need to run. It is, therefore, the main piece of the kit in charge of carrying out program commands, calculations, and input and output processes.

For this reason, a CPU's main functions within a computer include, but are not limited to: -

  • Fetching: A special register called the instruction pointer, or program counter, is where the CPU stores program instructions after the CPU has fetched them from memory. It holds the memory address of ("points to") the next instruction that would be executed or, in some cases, points to the current instruction being executed.
  • Decoding: The CPU breaks down the instructions into a sequence of commands that the computer can carry out.
  • Execution: The commands are carried out by the CPU in the sequence designated by the program.
  • Memory management: The CPU controls the computer's memory, allocating and freeing memory as required for program processing.
  • Operations involving input and output: The CPU manages operations involving input and output, including reading from or writing to a hard disc, a keyboard, or other peripherals.

In general, the CPU's function is to carry out the instructions given by the software operating on the computer, enabling it to carry out various tasks and processes, from straightforward calculations to complex data analysis and software applications.

In short, no CPU, no computer.

Where is the CPU typically found in a computer?

The motherboard, the main circuit board in a computer, is usually where the CPU is found. In most cases, the CPU is inserted into a particular socket on the motherboard (more on that later), intended to hold the CPU firmly in position and enable communication with other computer parts.

The brains behind the performance: what is a CPU for?
The CPU is the "brains" of your computer.

The location of the CPU on the motherboard may vary depending on the sort of computer. In desktop computers, the CPU is typically placed close to the motherboard's center, whereas in laptop computers, the CPU is frequently placed close to the motherboard's edge to save room.

The chipset, which controls communication between various computer components, and RAM (Random Access Memory), which offers short-term storage for data and instructions, are usually linked to the CPU and other parts of the motherboard.

Overall, the CPU is a vital part of a computer system and is essential to how well it runs.

What, exactly, is a computer's motherboard?

The motherboard, a computer's primary circuit board, is frequently referred to as the "heart" or "backbone" of the device. It organizes the communication channels between the computer's parts and acts as its central hub.

The CPU, memory slots, expansion slots, connectors for peripherals and storage devices, and several other types of chips and controllers that control data transfer and instructions between components are all usually found on the motherboard.

The motherboard is responsible for joining all the computer parts and allowing them to interact and "cooperate". It is made to support a particular kind of memory, such as DDR4, and it is made to work with a specific type of CPU, usually installed in a socket on the motherboard.

The motherboard's dimensions and shape can change based on the kind of computer it is intended for. For instance, desktop motherboards are frequently bigger and have more expansion ports than laptops or other portable motherboards.

Overall, the motherboard is essential to a computer's operation, and its design and capabilities can significantly impact the system's performance and usefulness.

Why is CPU important?

If you've read up to this point, we are confident you can answer this yourself, but for convenience, the CPU is essential for several main reasons:-

  • Processing power: The CPU performs most of the processing and calculations necessary to operate programs and applications. How quickly a computer executes tasks and processes information depends on the CPU's speed and power.

  • Compatibility: A computer's CPU decides what software and operating systems it can execute. Selecting a CPU compatible with the software you want to run is crucial because various CPUs have varying architectures and instruction sets.
  • Multitasking: A computer's CPU enables it to execute several programs simultaneously, switching between them and allocating resources as necessary to keep everything running smoothly.
  • Energy efficiency: A computer system's CPU affects energy efficiency. Choosing a balanced CPU for performance and energy usage is critical because more powerful CPUs use more energy to run.
  • A computer system can be updated and enhanced without replacing it entirely, thanks to the CPU's upgradeability.

Overall, it cannot be emphasized how important a CPU is as a part of a computer system. It is in charge of most of the processing and calculations necessary to operate programs and applications, and it significantly impacts how well a computer system functions and performs overall.

Is the CPU important for gaming?

In short, it is crucial.

The CPU is crucial in deciding how rapidly the computer can process the information and instructions required for the game, even though the graphics card (GPU) is also essential for gaming performance.

The CPU must be quick at processing and carrying out game software commands and other background tasks that the operating system and other software may be performing for a game to function smoothly. The CPU may battle to keep up with the demands of the game if it is too slow or has insufficient cores, which can cause frame drops, stuttering, and other speed problems.

Furthermore, contemporary games frequently demand a lot of processing power, particularly those with expansive open worlds, accurate physics simulations, and sophisticated artificial intelligence. A strong CPU is even more crucial in these games because it manages all the intricate computations required for these features.

As a result, while having a decent GPU is essential for gaming, a quick and powerful CPU is also necessary for getting the best possible gaming performance.

What should you be looking for in a CPU?

If you are toying with building your PC from scratch, or are considering buying a new one, then there are a few basic things you need to consider about the CPU. In most cases, you'll want to compare and contrast the following aspects of potential chips: -

  • Performance: One of the most crucial things to consider is the CPU's speed. A CPU with many cores and a high clock speed will enable faster working and better multitasking, so keep this in mind.
  • Compatibility: The CPU should work with your computer's motherboard and all other parts, including the kind of RAM installed.

  • Power usage: Pick an energy-efficient CPU that doesn't use excessive amounts of power, which can affect the system's total energy usage and temperature.
  • Price: The cost of CPUs can range from low to high, so it's essential to pick one that fits your budget while offering the performance and features you require.
  • Brand and reputation: Consider the manufacturer's name, industry standing, and track record for building dependable, high-quality Processors.
  • Use case: Take into account the CPU's particular use case. For instance, you might want to select a CPU with a greater clock speed and more cores if you intend to use the computer for gaming or video editing.

To find a CPU that offers the best performance, reliability, and value for your requirements, one must consider various factors. These factors include performance, compatibility, power consumption, price, brand, reputation, and use case.

And that is your lot for today.

The CPU executes most of the instructions and computations required for the computer to operate, making it a crucial part of any computer system. Anyone seeking to learn more about computer hardware must understand how CPUs work, the various available types, and the elements that influence their performance.

If you fully grasp these basic ideas, you'll be better prepared to make wise choices when upgrading or creating your computer. In the years to come, the CPU will continue to develop and become even more potent and effective as technology progresses.

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