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Definition

The Central Processing Unit (CPU) is the computer component that's responsible for interpreting and executing most of the commands from the computer's other hardware and software.


All sorts of devices use a CPU, including desktop, laptop, and tablet computers, smartphones... even your flat screen television set!

Components

The two typical components of a CPU include the following:

  • The arithmetic logic unit (ALU), which performs arithmetic and logical operations.
  • The control unit (CU), which extracts instructions from memory and decodes and executes them, calling on the ALU when necessary.

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Types

In the past, computer processors used numbers to identify the processor and help identify faster processors. For example, the Intel 80486 (486) processor is faster than the 80386 (386) processor. After the introduction of the Intel Pentium processor (which would technically be the 80586), all computer processors started using names like Athlon, Duron, Pentium, and Celeron.


Today, in addition to the different names of computer processors, there are different architectures (32-bit and 64-bit), speeds, and capabilities. Below is a list of the more common types of CPUs for home or business computers.

Note: There are multiple versions for some of these CPU types.

  • AMD processors
  • Intel processors
  • ARM processors

The AMD Opteron series and Intel Itanium and Xeon series are CPUs used in servers and high-end workstation computers.


Some mobile devices, like smartphones and tablets, use ARM CPUs. These CPUs are smaller in size, require less power, and generate less heat.