10 Factors That Affect CPU Performance

When buying a computer, choosing the right CPU may be one of the hardest choices that you have to make. Because of the different models of CPUs available on the market right now, thorough research might be necessary to help you make an informed decision.

If you have insufficient knowledge about CPUs and how they work, you might end up making the wrong choice and get stuck with it for years to come.

the top of a Intel Core i7 6700K

The most common mistake when choosing a CPU is that some people only choose the one with the higher clock speed and/or the one with more cores. Just because a CPU has a higher clock speed and contains more cores, it doesn’t always mean that it is the faster CPU.

What Are The Factors That Will Affect The Speed of a CPU?

Basically, there are three main factors that affect CPU performance. These are the: 1. Clock Speed,  2. The Number of Cores and 3. Cache Size.

Aside from those that I have already mentioned, there are several other factors that affect the overall performance of a CPU. In this article, I will discuss some of these factors.

By the end of the article, you should have enough knowledge to help you make the right choices when making your next purchase.

1. Clock Speed

So let’s start with the clock speed. In almost every scenario, when choosing a CPU, this is the most important factor alongside the total number of cores.

Basically, clock speed, also known as frequency, refers to the number of cycles a CPU can perform per second, which is measured in GHz (Gigahertz). It determines how fast a CPU can process a set of instructions at any given time.

So if a CPU has a clock speed of 3.0 GHz, it means that it can execute 3.0 billion cycles per second.

In most cases, comparing a CPUs clock speed is the main factor on how to determine which is the faster CPU. For example, a Core i5 9400f has a base frequency of 2.90 GHz while the Core i5 9500f has a base frequency of 3.00 GHz.

Based on the given information that we have, it is safe to assume that the Core i5 9500f is the faster CPU since it has a higher clock speed. However, that information is only useful if we are going to compare both CPUs in the same product line.

Another example is the Ryzen 3 3200G and Ryzen 5 3600, of which both have a base frequency of 3.6 GHz. In this case, even if the two CPUs have the same frequency, the Ryzen 5 should still be able to outperform the Ryzen 3.

This is due to a number of reasons. One of the main reasons is that Ryzen 5 contains more cores and has a larger cache size.

a Ryzen 5 cpu

2. Clock Cycle

A clock cycle refers to the electrical pulse in the CPU, in which each pulse will serve as a signal to the CPU to execute a certain instruction.

A CPU will execute one or more instructions per cycle depending on the CPUs architecture.

Modern CPUs today can execute multiple instructions per cycle, unlike the older models where it can only execute one instruction per cycle.

So technically, the higher the clock cycle, the more instructions a CPU can execute, therefore, the faster it will perform.

3. Number of Cores

A CPU core is a processor found inside the CPU. This is where the CPU processes and executes the set of instructions given by the user. Since all modern CPUs today contain multiple cores, each of these cores can perform different tasks at any given time.

This means that the more cores a CPU has, the more instructions it can process, hence resulting in a more efficient system.

In the modern-day rivalry between AMD and Intel, both of who are two giant companies, are now starting to showcase their new line of CPUs, which features more cores.

This is mainly because of fierce competition. In the past, it would cost you around $300 to own a quad-core CPU with multi-threading technology, and the CPU would still be considered a high-end CPU at that time.

Nowadays, however, a multi-threaded quad-core CPU is not only considered an entry-level CPU, but it also costs a lot less, which benefits all of the consumers who purchase it. It is comparable to buying a Core i7 CPU for the cost of a Core i3.

4. Threads

A thread simply means a line of codes or set of instructions that can be executed or processed within the CPU core, using multi-threading technology.

It means that any CPU core, that has multiple threads, is able to process these instructions, enabling the CPU to do each task a lot faster.

Operating systems such as Microsoft Windows consider threads as a core, more like a logical core or virtual core, but weaker than an actual physical core.

5. Cache Size

Cache or CPU cache is a smaller, but faster, built-in cache memory inside the CPU. This is where the CPU stores or “caches” all the most frequently used information located in the main memory.

This will act as a temporary memory for the CPU. This will ensure that all of the data stored within the cache memory is readily available and can be accessed at any time, rather than going through the main memory.

6. Instruction Set

An instruction set, also called ISA or “Instruction Set Architecture,” is a set of commands which the CPU can understand. These commands are composed of 1’s and 0’s, also known as binary digits.  This tells the CPU what to do.

Since a CPU cannot understand the usual language that we use, each command, given by the user to the computer, will be converted to 1’s and 0’s using a compiler in order for this to be processed by the CPU.

Modern processors today use a 64-bit instruction set, which also has backward compatibility to x86 or 32-bit instruction sets.

7. Heat

As we continue to throw different tasks at our CPU, it will produce more heat which then may degrade your CPU in terms of performance.

Although this can be easily avoided, a CPU that is not properly cooled or not well-ventilated enough may have an effect on its performance significantly.

Prolonged overheating can also spread to other components, affecting the overall performance of the computer.

Most CPUs today have a maximum allowed temperature which is measured in celsius. For example, a Core i7 9700K can operate up to 100°C, which means it can operate normally up to this point.

However, it is not ideal to let your CPU operate at a maximum temperature as this would greatly affect the performance of a CPU. In the worst-case scenario, it would shorten the lifespan of the CPU.

Most knowledgeable computer users have an ideal temperature of lower than 80°C, or possibly, even lower than 75°C. These temperatures can be achieved with an efficient cooler and a well-ventilated chassis.

8. Bandwidth

Bandwidth, or memory bandwidth, is the ability of the processor to read and write data within the memory. It measures the rate of the CPU on how fast it can fetch and store this data. This is usually expressed in GB/s or gigabytes per second.

Most CPUs today can support up to ~40+GB/s, which means the larger the bandwidth, the faster it can read and store data.

9. Word Length

Word length refers to the number of bits being executed at a given time. The word length can be identified by the type of CPU.

Modern CPUs in the present day are designed using the 64-bit instruction set, this means that they are capable of carrying out a 64-bit word length.

In some older CPU architectures, such as the Pentium IVs, contain a 32-bit instruction set, meaning that it has a word length of 32 bits.

10. Address Bus Width

An address bus is another type of computer bus, in which it carries out information and communicates from different devices that are addressed in the computer memory.

These are in the form of binary digits such as 1s and 0s. The address bus width refers to the number of unique addressable memory locations, which allows the computer to access a certain amount of system memory.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Can You Improve CPU Speed?

Every CPU in the market today comes with a base clock frequency. This means that these CPUs are able to perform at these frequencies. However, there are ways for you to be able to improve your CPU speed.

The two most common ways in improving the CPUs speeds are overclocking and enabling turbo boost.

Overclocking

Overclocking is a method used mostly by enthusiasts and more experienced users to squeeze their CPUs to its maximum potential speed. It can be done by tweaking certain BIOS settings, enabling the CPU to perform beyond its stock speed or frequency.

Enabling Turbo Boost or Max Boost Clock

By default, a CPU with turbo or max boost clock performs using its max frequency.

However, if your CPU is operating at a base frequency, this can be changed by enabling Turbo Boost for Intel or Max Boost Clock for AMD. This can be done by enabling them in the BIOS settings.

Is 1.8 GHz clock speed fast?

In previous years, 1.8 GHz was a considerably fast CPU. In today’s world, where applications require more computing power, 1.8 GHz may not be enough.

However, there are still some processors with a base frequency of 1.8GHz but come with a built-in max turbo frequency. A good example of this is the Core i5 9400T, where T stands for low-power processor, with a base frequency of 1.8GHz but with a max turbo frequency of 3.6GHz

What is a good clock speed?

Generally, a clock speed around 3.0GHz to 3.5GHz is considered a good clock speed, especially in gaming, where it benefits more on the performance per core, rather than the total number of cores.

While a good clock speed is a tricky question, there are newer CPUs today with lower clock speeds but they can do more tasks because of newer architecture, or the type of instruction built in the CPU.

On the other hand, there are CPUs with higher clock speeds but can do fewer tasks because of older architecture.

How does the number of cores affect CPU performance?

Since all the instructions are being processed in the CPU cores, the more cores a CPU has, generally means that it can perform more tasks at any given time.

These cores are able to execute different tasks simultaneously which then enables users to multitask. In other words, the more cores a CPU has the better.

What is a good cache size?

Depending on the processor model, each has its own cache size. For example, the Coffee Lake-refresh CPU family has 2MB as the lowest cache size, which is found in Celeron CPUs. Generally, a cache size of 6MB and above is considered a good cache size.

What are the three types of memory cache?

The three types of memory cache are categorized into three levels: L1, L2, and L3 cache.

  • L1 cache, or primary cache, is the smallest but is considered the fastest among the three. It is located inside the CPU and each core has its own level 1 cache.
  • L2 cache or level 2 cache is a larger but slower version of level 1 cache and is located either inside or outside the processor, depending on the CPU model.
  • L3 cache is the slowest among the three memory caches. However, it has a significantly larger capacity and serves as a backup for both level 1 and level 2 cache.

How does the cache size affect CPU performance?

The function of the cache is to store the most frequently used data for later and faster use. Whenever certain data is stored in the CPU cache, it will be accessed directly by the CPU, rather than going through the main memory.

This data is then fetched by the CPU when needed, for it to be processed. So the larger the cache, the better the CPU can perform its job.

You may be interested in reading about these 7 awesome laptops under $1200 that contain high-performance CPUs.

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