Regarding personal computing, there are two main types of processors: CPUs and GPUs. But what are they, how do they work, and what should you know about them before making a purchase?
In this guide, we’ll answer all of those questions and more. From explaining what CPUs and GPUs are to which you should prioritize when looking at PC and laptop deals, we’ve got you!
What is a CPU?
A CPU, or Central Processing Unit, is responsible for carrying out the instructions of a computer program. It performs basic arithmetic, logic, and input/output operations.
A team at IBM created the first CPU in the early 1950s. It was called the IBM 701 and could perform up to 2930 calculations per second. Today’s CPUs are millions of times faster. They can carry out billions of instructions per second.
CPUs are often described as the “brain” of a computer. That’s because they control everything that happens on a PC or laptop. A computer would be nothing more than an empty shell without a CPU.
How does a CPU work?
We’ve likened a CPU to a computer’s brain. But how does it actually work?
A CPU comprises two main parts: the control unit and the arithmetic logic unit (ALU). The control unit is responsible for fetching instructions from memory and decoding them. Meanwhile, the ALU carries out the instructions.
Both the control unit and ALU are made up of tiny transistors. A transistor is a switch that can be turned on or off. When it’s “on,” it allows electricity to flow through. When it’s “off,” it doesn’t.
Transistors are so small that millions of them can fit onto a single CPU chip. That’s why CPUs are sometimes referred to as microprocessors. The entire CPU is connected to the motherboard, communicating with other system parts, such as memory, storage, and input/output devices.
A CPU chip isn’t just a single transistor. It’s made up of millions of them. The number of transistors on a CPU chip is called its “die size.”
Nowadays, CPUs come with multiple cores. A core is like a mini CPU. It can carry out instructions independently from the others.
For example, a quad-core CPU has four cores. That means it can carry out four times as many instructions per second as a single-core CPU.
CPUs with multiple cores are better at multitasking and running multiple programs simultaneously. That’s because each core can handle a different program. So, if you’re running a web browser, a word processor, and an email client simultaneously, each can be assigned to a different core.
Take the Intel i7-7700K, for example. It’s a quad-core CPU with a die size of 149mm^. That gives it around 12.0 x 109 transistors. In other words, it has 12 billion transistors!
What is a GPU?
On the other hand, a GPU, or Graphics Processing Unit, is responsible for rendering images, videos, and three-dimensional graphics. In other words, the processor produces the image you see on your screen.
The first GPUs were created in the early 1970s. They were used primarily in video game consoles such as the Atari 2600 and arcade machines.
But it wasn’t until the 1990s that GPUs became more widely used. That’s when companies like Nvidia and ATI started producing GPUs for the PC market.
Nowadays, almost every laptop and computer has a GPU. And high-end PCs often have two or more GPUs. That’s because the demand for better graphics has only increased over time.
And with the rise of video streaming and online gaming, people want smoother, more realistic visuals. That’s where GPUs come in.
How does a GPU work?
A GPU is made up of thousands of tiny cores. These cores work together to process and render images, videos, and three-dimensional graphics.
GPUs are often used for tasks that require a lot of repetitive calculations. That’s because they can carry out many instructions at the same time. This is known as parallel processing.
For example, when you’re playing a video game, your GPU might be responsible for drawing the game’s scenery while also calculating the movements of the characters and objects.
Meanwhile, your CPU would be responsible for tasks such as loading game levels and saving progress!
GPU core count
Just like a CPU, a GPU comes with multiple cores. And the more cores it has, the better it is at processing and rendering images.
For example, the Nvidia GTX 1080 Ti has 2880 CUDA cores. That’s nearly three times as many as the previous generation GTX 980! This means you can play the latest games at higher resolutions and frame rates.
CPU vs. GPU: What’s the difference?
If you’re still wondering what the difference is between a CPU and a GPU, here’s a quick summary:
- A CPU is responsible for carrying out the instructions of a computer program. It performs basic arithmetic, logic, and input/output operations.
- A GPU is responsible for rendering images, videos, and three-dimensional graphics. In other words, the processor produces the image you see on your screen.
- The main difference between a CPU and GPU is their purpose. CPUs are designed to carry out general-purpose calculations. GPUs are designed for specific tasks such as video processing and graphics rendering.
- Another difference is that CPUs have a few cores while GPUs have thousands of cores. This allows GPUs to carry out parallel processing, which means they can execute many instructions at the same time.
CPU vs. GPU: Performance
The number of cores is not the only factor that determines the performance of a CPU or GPU. The clock speed is also important.
The clock speed is the number of instructions a processor can execute per second. It’s measured in megahertz (MHz) or gigahertz (GHz).
For example, a CPU with a clock speed of four GHz can execute four billion instructions per second.
In general, the higher the clock speed, the better the performance. But other factors affect a processor’s performance, such as the number of caches and the bus speed.
CPU vs. GPU: which should you prioritize in a PC or laptop?
Now that we’ve explained the basics of CPUs and GPUs, you might be wondering which one you should prioritize when buying a new computer. That’s because unless you’re willing to shell out a lot of money, you usually can’t have the best of both worlds.
Here’s a general rule of thumb: If you want a fast computer for general-purpose use, such as browsing the internet, word processing, and light photo editing, then you should prioritize a CPU.
On the other hand, if you want a computer for gaming, video editing, or other graphics-intensive tasks, you should prioritize a GPU.
Of course, there are exceptions to this rule. For example, if you’re a casual gamer who also wants to do some light video editing, you might want to get a unit with both a fast CPU and a decent GPU. HUAWEI laptops, for one, do this balancing act very well.
Overall, CPUs and GPUs are both important parts of a computer. But they serve different purposes. When choosing a new computer, you should prioritize the one that’s more important to you based on how you plan to use it. Happy shopping!