PC Hardware

The Centeral Processing Unit

This tutorial presents an overview of the central processing unit (CPU), which functions as the "brain" of the personal computer. Like the brain, the CPU is a complicated, highly integrated component performing many simultaneous functions. Understanding the principles that underlie the workings of the microprocessor is critical to understanding the computer and its operation.

Lesson 1: Microprocessors

A microprocessor is an integrated circuit that contains a complete CPU on a single chip. In this lesson, we examine the microprocessor from its inception to the current state-of-the-art chip. It is important for a computer technician to understand the development of the processor and what makes each version different from its predecessors. This knowledge gives us an understanding of the enhancements each new design offers over earlier ones and how the system components can take advantage of the new features.

After this lesson, you will be able to
  • Describe how a microprocessor works.
  • Define different types of processors and describe their advantages and limitations.

Estimated lesson time: 40 minutes

Computer technicians, fortunately, aren't required to design microprocessors, only to understand how they work. Microprocessors can be viewed as little black boxes that provide answers or perform a variety of chores on command. We also need to understand the external data bus, because it is the means by which the CPU accesses system resources.

Before You Begin

You should be familiar with the terms and concepts introduced in Tutorial 1, "Introduction to Computers," and Tutorial 2, "Understanding Electronic Communication."