Laptop CPU: A Crash Course in Computer Science

Laptop CPUAlso referred to as a laptop processor, central processor, microprocessor, or the brains of a computer. A laptop CPU is the Central Processing Unit of a laptop.

Although there are other contributing factors. With each new CPU release, laptops are becoming faster, more powerful, and more efficient. Primarily, the faster the CPU. The faster the system speed.

Some functions of the laptop CPU include running the operating system. Interpreting and executing most of the commands from the system’s hardware. And running other software and applications.



What is a Laptop CPU?

Acronyms are the tech world’s attempt at making seemingly confusing technology more accessible. This effort, however, isn’t always successful.

The terms “CPU” and “processor” are often used interchangeably. While this is technically correct. A laptop is made up of many processers. But the CPU is the processing unit with one or more processors or processing cores.

Since all other hardware components and programs must pass data through it for their functions to be carried out. It makes the CPU’s job enormous in scale, owing to its nomenclature as the “Central” or “Core” Processing Unit.

But calling it the brains of a computer isn’t entirely accurate. Because without software, the CPU would have all the usefulness of an efficient Casio calculator.


What Does a Laptop CPU Look Like; Where Can I Find It?

A laptop CPU is usually the shape of a small square or rectangle. It contains hundreds of short, rounded, metallic connector pins on the backside.

The laptop CPU can be found plugged into the motherboard located in the heart of the laptop. The notched corners of the chip helps you insert the CPU (pin-side-down) into the corresponding, compatible holes in the socket on the motherboard. A small lever helps secure the CPU.

After running even for a short while, a laptop CPU gets hot. Heat sinks and cooling fans are usually attached on top it to dissipate heat so it runs smoothly.

That’s why when you buy a CPU, the cooling components usually come bundled with it. Some advanced cooling options include water cooling kits, and phase change units. Be aware that there are different types of motherboards. Each one only supports a specific range of CPU types.


Components of a Laptop CPU

A laptop CPU has three primary components:

  • the ALU (Arithmetic Logic Unit), which performs mathematical, logical, and decision operations
  • the CU (Control Unit), which directs all the processor’s operations
  • and the main memory where instructions and information are stored, which gives allows the CPU to perform many functions required by software like the operating system, without having to ask RAM.

CPU Components


The 4004 was the world’s first CPU. Developed and released by Intel in 1971. It had 2300 transistors, and performed 60,000 operations per second. For comparison’s sake, Intel’s Pentium processors-which aren’t very powerful by today’s standards-has 3,300,000 transistors. And performs around 188,000,000 instructions per second.

CPUs have undergone dramatic improvements in capabilities since the 4004 chip. Now you can find them in laptops, tablets, phones and televisions. They can handle other functions like Wi-Fi. And many laptops share a chip with graphics electronics in what’s called a chip set, which is a group of microchips located on the motherboard.

These mobile, multi-purpose chips are known as SoCs (system-on-a-chip). They’re optimized for efficiency and low power consumption so the device’s battery can last hours without charging.

AMD and Intel are the two biggest CPU manufacturers. Although both make processors of varied strengths under a lexicon of model names. Almost all laptops have an Intel CPU.

New CPUs are built on a “backward compatible” architecture. They can understand components that came prior to their release. The concept was introduced by Intel in 1978 with the 8086 processor.


How Does the CPU Work?

CPUs transfer data using electrical signals at very near the speed of light (299,792,458 m/s). How close to the speed of light depends on the type of metal in the wire a signal is going through. Most electrical signals can travel between 75 to 90% the speed of light.

On a more micro level, the function of a CPU is to fetch, decode, process action, and deliver the output of data. A laptop CPU is constantly receiving input from the user and active programs. The architectures differ between models. But each CPU has its own ALU, FPU, register, and cache.

How a CPU Works


When data, a program, or a system function is called. The laptop CPU pulls from RAM and other relevant hardware to process it. Then it reads the program code associated with the task, which is a list of instructions on how the data should be handled. And sends it back to RAM. These instructions involve calculations and data transportation.

Since not all laptop components understand each other. The CPU is taxed with interpreting instructions. Then it guides these instructions and the data through the system bus so they arrive in the correct order. A single frontside bus (FSB) is the main trail the data must travel between the CPU, RAM, chipset and AGP socket.

Input/ Output (I/O) devices also communicate by sending and receiving data to and from the laptop CPU. The backside bus is the other internal bus the CPU utilizes for communication with internal cache memory.

In sum, the CPU relies on the system clock, RAM, secondary storage, cache, register, data and address bus to control instructions and data flow to and from other parts of the laptop.


CPU Cache

It’s like a temporary holding place on the CPU for data that’s used all the time. Instead of relying on RAM for commonly used data. It’s stored on the CPU’s cache, which is faster than RAM because of its physical proximity to the CPU’s processors.

Whether the CPU has an L2 or L3 Cache is a reference to the CPU’s on-board memory. It determines how speedy this on-board memory will be during processing. The more Cache you have, the faster your CPU will perform.

The register is just a small amount of data storage that helps with some CPU operations.


The Native Tongue of the Laptop CPU

The laptop CPU handles two types of data at any given time. Data that needs to be processed. And the program code connected to it. These are written in bits-a binary sequence of ones and zeros; which is the language the CPU understands.

A processor doesn’t receive a consistent flow of data. Instead it’s received in smaller chunks, called a “word” or bits. The CPU is limited by the number of bits in a word. This determines the amount of information that can be processed at one time during one cycle of the clock. And the amount of RAM that can be accessed within the same time.

Whether your laptop can run a 32-bit or 64-bit operating system (OS) depends on the size of data units the CPU can handle. More memory can be accessed at once, and in larger pieces with a 64-bit CPU. Which is why a 64-bit OS can’t run on a system with only a 32-bit CPU.

As a result, since the OS plays a key role in communicating with hardware components. It needs to be on the same level as the CPU to handle process scheduling, memory addressing and storage accessing. That’s why you’ll often find the OS marketed as either 32 or 64-bit.


Clock Speed

Clock Speed

Before multi-core processors, Frequency (Clock Speed) was a CPU’s most important performance metric. It’s a measure of the operating speed of the processor, formerly measured in hertz (Hz). Now measured in gigahertz (GHz) due to the speed improvements given by the extra cores in a CPU; more about that in a moment.

This number provides a rough indication of how many calculations a processor can make each second. The higher the number, the more calculations it can perform.

For instance, a CPU with a Clock Speed of 3.0 GHz can process 3 billion instructions each second. Two processors working side by side means the CPU can manage twice the instructions per second, drastically improving performance.

It’s still an important specification to consider when qualifying CPUs because it’s what allows a dual-core CPU to outperform a quad-core CPU.


The Power of Multiple Cores

How quickly the laptop CPU can process data is also affected by the number of cores in the CPU. Each core is essentially a processor.

A CPU, remember, contains at least one processor or “Core,” which is the chip inside the CPU that performs calculations. In the early days, CPUs only had one core. The computer was limited to a single set of tasks, which made computing slow and time-consuming.

But modern CPUs have at least two processors called Dual-Cores; the best are from Invidia’s Core i5 family. Multi-core processors address this time constraint by including more than one processor core on a single chip. CPUs can also come in Quad-Core, Hexa-Core and Octo-Core configurations.

By increasing the number of cores, CPUs can handle multiple processes simultaneously. In general, a quad-core processor can perform tasks like video editing almost twice as fast as a dual-core chip.

Multiple cores will give your laptop a speed boost. But it really depends on if the program your running is optimized to take advantage of the extra power.

There are other components that determine how fast a laptop CPU executes tasks besides the number of cores. Add hyper threading and the CPU can perform even more tasks at once for a much faster laptop.



Hyper Threading Technology

A “thread” is a stream of data.

An individual processor can only execute one instruction at a time. As such, if you’re running multiple programs. Each thread into the processor must be scheduled and executed by the core individually. This causes the delay you notice when you’re multitasking with more than one program open.

Hyper-Threading is a technology that helps each processor core schedule and assign resources to two threads of data at once. So, a dual-core CPU can “virtualize” two more cores, making it act as if it had four processing cores.

Just in case you missed it. Virtualizing is when a CPU with only two cores works as if it has four. Under virtualization, a quad-core CPU will process data as if it had eight processors.

To dive even deeper into this explanation, let’s look at Intel’s Core i chips. From least to most powerful: there’s Core i3, i5, and i7. Core i3 processors are dual-core chips. Core i5 and i7 are quad-core chips.

Turbo Boost is a feature that distinguishes i5 and i7 chips from Core i3s. This technology enables the processor to increase Clock Speeds past its base speed whenever the need arises. Intel processors ending in a “K” can be overclocked, which means this additional Clock Speed is available all the time.

What distinguishes Intel’s Core i5 CPUs from Core i3 and i7, however. Is that they don’t support Hyper-Threading.

Notes: Some applications and software are optimized to take advantage of these technologies in what is called multithreading. Physical cores perform much better than virtual cores.


Thermal Design Power

TDP is another technical term you’re sure to come across regarding a laptop CPU. Unlike desktop CPUs, mobile CPUs need to strike a balance between performance and power consumption.

TDP measures the maximum power in Watts the CPU will consume. It ultimately determines how power efficient the laptop will be. As well as how cool your laptop will stay when in use.



When buying a new laptop, or deciding between CPUs. The applications and software using it is also part of the equation. For instance, PC games can’t take advantage of more than two cores. So, something like a quad-core i7 CPU might be a waste.

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