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How do Microprocessors Work?

Jason C. Chavis
Jason C. Chavis

Microprocessors use a number of different processes to function. Their main purpose is to process a series of numbers placed into sequences which make up a program. Each of these sequences gives some sort of instruction to the microprocessor which, in turn, relates information to other parts of the computer. This facilitates the actions necessary for the program to function. Microprocessors are types of central processing units (CPUs), essentially the central brain of a computer. A microprocessor takes the form of a computer chip that is placed in a motherboard, which operates as the relay center for all the higher functions processed from the CPU.

When a microprocessor is activated, it performs a series of actions, each one defining an exact point of communication. This communication gives instructions in the form of binary code, a series of ones and zeros. The CPU then responds to the instructions by processing the code, taking the necessary actions requested by the code, and relaying to the responsible input section that the action has successfully taken place.

A microprocessor acts through a series of instructions.
A microprocessor acts through a series of instructions.

The first step in this process is known as the fetch action. A program will elicit a series of ones and zeroes that define an exact action. Part of the sequence is responsible for informing microprocessors of the location of the necessary code within the program. This is the portion in which random access memory (RAM) is used. The RAM provides the memory for the CPU to be able to hold the instructions long enough for them to be used. When there is not enough RAM in a computer, the computer slows down.

Microprocessors work with the computer's hard drive.
Microprocessors work with the computer's hard drive.

The next step involving the workload of a microprocessor is known as the decoding action. Each set of numbers within the sequence is responsible for a certain action. In order for the CPU to order the correct components to do their jobs, each part of the sequence of numbers must be identified and given the correct operational parameters. For example, if a user is burning a DVD, the CPU needs to communicate certain numerical values to the DVD unit that burns the disk, the hard drive which supplies the information and the video card for display of the status for the user.

Execution is the next step in the function of microprocessors. Essentially, the CPU tells the computer components to do their jobs. During the execution phase, the microprocessor stays in constant contact with the components, making sure each portion of the activity is successfully completed according to the instructions gathered and sent during the previous two steps.

The final action for microprocessors involves the writeback function. This is simply the CPU making a copy of the actions and their results onto the computer's main memory, usually found in the hard drive. The writeback step is essential to determining problematic issues when something goes wrong. For example, if the DVD did not burn correctly, a user can access the writeback files and find out which step occurred without success. These files are placed in a section of the memory known as the registry, which often suffers from increased levels of corruption as redundant actions are completed regularly.

Discussion Comments


@Melonlity -- Another misunderstood thing is that you don't get a performance boost unless you are using software that can take advantage of the new, snazzy CPU. For example, a 64 bit system doesn't mean just a whole lot in terms of speed unless you are using 64 bit software. You don't get an automatic performance boost, then, unless the software supports it.

In the case of 64 bit systems, those were backward compatible with 32-bit software so it took a long time for companies to write software that would take advantage of the new architecture. In other words, the software tends to lag behind the hardware. Eventually, the software does catch up but early adopters rarely enjoy a performance boost until that new architecture becomes the industry standard (and that takes a lot of time).


One of the more compelling and least understood developments has to do with bits. The higher the bits, the more information the CPU can process at one and the more memory it can address. Back in the old 8 bit days, the amount of information that could be processed was limited by the 8 bit register and that meant that the most RAM that could be used was limited to around 640 kilobytes. Then we made the jump to 16 bit CPUs and that meant CPUs could process more information and RAM on an exponential basis.

Things jumped exponentially again to 32 bit CPUs and again to 64 bit ones. All of these increases in bit registers mean we can process things a lot faster and use more RAM, too. Without those innovations, we'd still be limited like we were in the early days of microcomputers -- not a good thing.

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    • A microprocessor acts through a series of instructions.
      By: Scanrail
      A microprocessor acts through a series of instructions.
    • Microprocessors work with the computer's hard drive.
      By: merydolla
      Microprocessors work with the computer's hard drive.