Computer Engineering; System-Level Programming


Microprocessors are part of the hardware of a computer. They consist of electronic circuitry that stores instructions for the basic operation of the computer and processes data from applications and programs. Microprocessor technology debuted in the 1970s and has advanced rapidly into the 2010s. Most modern microprocessors use multiple processing “cores.” These cores divide processing tasks between them, which allows the computer to handle multiple tasks at a time.


Microprocessors are computer chips that contain instructions and circuitry needed to power all the basic functions of a computer. Most modern microprocessors consist of a single integrated circuit, which is a set of conducting materials (usually silicon) arranged on a plate. Microprocessors are designed to receive electronic signals and to perform processes on incoming data according to instructions programmed into the central processing unit (CPU) and contained in computer memory. They then to produce output that can direct other computing functions. In the 2010s, microprocessors are the standard for all computing, from handheld devices to supercomputers. Among the modern advancements has been development of integrated circuits with more than one “core.” A core is the circuitry responsible for calculations and moving data. As of 2016, microprocessors may have as many as eighteen cores. The technology for adding cores and for integrating data shared by cores is a key area of development in microprocessor engineering.


Microprocessors contain all the components of a CPU on a single chip; this allows new devices to have higher computing power in a smaller unit. By M.ollivander, CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0), via Wikimedia Commons.

Microprocessors contain all the components of a CPU on a single chip; this allows new devices to have higher computing power in a smaller unit.
By M.ollivander, CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0), via Wikimedia Commons.

Computer performance can be measured in million instructions per second (MIPS). The MIPS measurement has been largely replaced by measurements using floating-point operations per second (FLOPS) or millions of FLOPS (MFLOPS). Floating-point operations are specific operations, such as performing a complete basic calculation. A processor with a 1 gigaFLOP (GFLOP) performance rating can perform one billion FLOPS each second. Most modern microprocessors can perform 10 GFLOPS per second. Specialized computers can perform in the quadrillions of operations per second (petaFLOPS) scale.


The small components within modern microprocessors are often measured in microns or micrometers, a unit equaling one-millionth of a meter. Microprocessors are usually measured in line width, which measures the width of individual circuits. The earliest microprocessor, the 1971 Intel 4004, had a minimum line width of 10 microns. Modern microprocessors can have line width measurements as low as 0.022 microns.

All microprocessors are created with a basic instruction set. This defines the various instructions that can be processed within the unit. The Intel 4004 chip, which was installed in a basic calculator, provided instructions for basic addition and subtraction. Modern microprocessors can handle a wide variety of calculations.

Different brands and models of microprocessors differ in bandwidth, which measures how many bits of data a processor can handle per second. Microprocessors also differ in data width, which measures the amount of data that can be transferred between two or more components per second. A computer's bus describes the parts that link the processor to other parts and to the computer's main memory. The size of a computer's bus is known as the width. It determines how much data can be transferred each second. A computer's bus has a clock speed, measured in megahertz (MHz) or gigahertz (GHz). All other factors being equal, computers with larger data width and a faster clock speed can transfer data faster and thus run faster when completing basic processes.


—Micah L. Issitt

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