What is a Central Processing Unit?

A CPU, or central processing unit, is like the brain of a computer. It's the part that tells the computer what to do and makes sure everything runs smoothly. Think of it like a tiny boss inside the computer that gives instructions to all the other parts of the computer, like the memory and the hard drive. It works by following a set of instructions, called a program, that tell it what to do step by step. It goes through these instructions one by one and completes tasks, like opening a website or playing a game, based on them.

The meaning of Central Processing Unit (CPU) refers to the primary component of a computer that is responsible for executing instructions and processing data. It is often referred to as the "brain" of a computer, as it is responsible for carrying out the majority of the computations that occur within the system.

The CPU is a microprocessor that consists of a control unit, an arithmetic and logic unit, and a set of registers. The control unit is responsible for fetching instructions from memory and decoding them into a series of commands that the CPU can execute. The arithmetic and logic unit is responsible for performing arithmetic operations, such as addition and subtraction, and logical operations, such as AND, OR, and NOT. The registers are small storage locations within the CPU that are used to temporarily store data during processing.

The CPU operates on a clock cycle, which is a series of steps that are executed to perform a single instruction. Each clock cycle is divided into two phases: fetch and execute. During the fetch phase, the control unit retrieves the instruction from memory and stores it in a register. During the execute phase, the arithmetic and logic unit performs the necessary calculations to carry out the instruction.

The speed of the CPU is measured in gigahertz (GHz), which indicates the number of clock cycles that the CPU can execute in one second. The higher the GHz, the faster the CPU can perform computations.

CPUs are available in a variety of configurations, from single-core to multi-core processors. A single-core CPU can execute one instruction at a time, while a multi-core processor has multiple processing units that can execute multiple instructions simultaneously. This allows for increased performance and faster processing times.

Simplified Example

The Central Processing Unit can be thought of as the ‘brain’ of a computer. While a human needs a plethora of other organs to act in harmony, their being and calculations are controlled by their brain. This is much like a computer, where the Central Processing Unit does the thinking, however, cannot operate properly without the rest of the body.

Who Invented the Central Processing Unit?

Maurice Wilkes, a pioneering computer scientist, is often credited with coining the term "CPU," which stands for Central Processing Unit. In 1947, while working on the Electronic Delay Storage Automatic Calculator (EDSAC), one of the earliest stored-program computers, Wilkes introduced this term to describe the core component responsible for executing instructions within a computer.

Wilkes made significant contributions to the development of early computing systems. His work on EDSAC laid the groundwork for stored-program computing, marking a shift from fixed-function machines to programmable computers. The term "CPU" became a fundamental part of computing terminology, representing the brain of a computer where arithmetic, logic, and control operations are performed, solidifying Wilkes's impact on computer architecture and the foundational language of computing.


Intel Core i7-11700K: The Intel Core i7-11700K is a popular CPU designed for high-performance computing. It has 8 cores and 16 threads, making it suitable for demanding applications like gaming and video editing.

AMD Ryzen 5 5600X: The AMD Ryzen 5 5600X is another example of a CPU commonly used for high-performance computing. It has 6 cores and 12 threads, making it well-suited for gaming and other demanding applications.

Intel Xeon E5-2699 v4: The Intel Xeon E5-2699 v4 is a CPU designed for servers and high-performance computing. It has 22 cores and 44 threads, making it well-suited for complex data analysis and other intensive applications.

  • Graphical Processing Unit (GPU): A graphical processing unit (GPU) is a specialized computer chip designed for processing graphical data.

  • CPU Miner: A CPU miner is a software program that uses a computer's central processing unit (CPU) to perform complex calculations in order to mine cryptocurrency.