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The CPU so far
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The CPU does nothing until activated by the clock!
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For the CPU to process a command placed on the external data bus, a certain minimum voltage must be applied to the CLK wire A single charge to the CLK wire is called a clock cycle Actually, the CPU requires at least two clock cycles to act on a command, and usually more Using the manual calculator analogy, you need to pull the crank at least twice before anything happens In fact, a CPU may require hundreds of clock cycles to process some commands (Figure 310) The maximum number of clock cycles that a CPU can handle in a given period of time is referred to as its clock speed The clock speed is the fastest speed at which a CPU can operate, determined by the CPU manufacturer The Intel 8088 processor had a clock speed of 477 MHz (477 million cycles per second), extremely slow by modern standards, but still a pretty big number compared to using a pencil and paper! CPUs today run at speeds in excess of 3 GHz (3 billion cycles per second) 1 hertz (1 Hz) = 1 cycle per second 1 megahertz (1 MHz) = 1 million cycles per second 1 gigahertz (1 GHz) = 1 billion cycles per second
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CPU makers sell the exact make and model of CPU at a number of different speeds All of these CPUs come off of the same assembly lines, so why different speeds Every CPU comes with subtle differences flaws, really in the silicon that makes one CPU run faster than another The speed difference comes from testing each CPU to see what speed it can handle
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The CPU often needs more than one clock cycle to get a result
3: Understanding CPUs
Where is the clock speed
Aggressive users sometimes intentionally overclock CPUs by telling the clock chip to multiply the pulse faster than the CPU s designed speed They do this to make slower (cheaper) CPUs run faster This is a risky business that can destroy your CPU, but those willing to take that risk often do it
Some motherboards enable you to override the default or automatic settings by changing a jumper or making a change in CMOS A few enthusiasts motherboards even enable you to make software changes to alter the speed of your CPU
Understand that a CPU s clock speed is its maximum speed, not the speed at which it must run A CPU can run at any speed, as long as that speed does not exceed its clock speed Manufacturers used to print the CPU s clock speed directly onto the CPU, but for the last few years they ve used cryptic codes (Figure 311) As the chapter progresses, you ll see why they do this The system crystal determines the speed at which a CPU and the rest of the PC operate This is called the system bus speed The system crystal is usually a quartz oscillator, very similar to the one in a wristwatch, soldered to the motherboard (Figure 312) The quartz oscillator sends out an electric pulse at a certain speed, many millions of times per second This signal goes first to a clock chip that adjusts the pulse, usually increasing the pulse sent by the crystal by some large multiple (The folks who make motherboards could directly connect the crystal to the CPU s clockG wire, but then if you wanted to replace your CPU with a CPU with a different clock speed, you d need to replace the crystal too!) As long as the PC is turned on, the quartz oscillator, through the clock chip, fires a charge on the CLK wire, in essence pushing the system along Visualize the system crystal as a metronome for the CPU The quartz oscillator repeatedly fires a charge on the CLK wire, setting the beat, if you will, for the CPU s activities If the system crystal sets a beat slower than the CPU s clock speed, the CPU will work just fine, but it will operate at the slower speed of the system crystal If the system crystal forces the CPU to run faster than its clock speed, it can overheat and stop working Before you install a CPU into a system, you must make sure that the crystal and clock chip send out the correct clock pulse for that particular CPU In the not so old days, this required very careful adjustments With today s systems, the motherboard talks to the CPU (at a very slow speed), the CPU tells the motherboard the clock speed it needs, and the clock chip automatically adjusts for the CPU, making this process invisible