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What is L2 Cache?

By R. Kayne
Updated May 16, 2024
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Level 2 or L2 cache is part of a multi-level storage strategy for improving computer performance. The present model uses up to three levels of cache, termed L1, L2 and L3, each bridging the gap between the very fast computer processing unit (CPU) and the much slower random access memory (RAM). While the design is evolving, L1 cache is most often built into the CPU, while L2 cache has typically been built into the motherboard (along with L3 cache, when present). However, some CPUs now incorporate L2 cache as well as L1 cache, and a few even incorporate L3 cache.

The job of CPU cache is to anticipate data requests, so that when the user clicks on a frequently used program, for example, the instructions required to run that program are at the ready, stored in cache. When this happens, the CPU can process the request without delay, drastically improving computer performance. The CPU will check L1 cache first, followed by L2 and L3 cache. If it finds the needed bits of data, this is a cache hit, but if the cache doesn’t anticipate the request, the CPU gets a cache miss, and the data must be pulled from slower RAM or the hard drive which is slower still.

Since it is the job of CPU cache to hold bits of data, you might wonder why there is more than one level of cache. Why have L2 cache at all, much less L3, when you can just make L1 cache bigger?

The answer is that the larger the cache, the longer the latency. Small caches are faster than large caches. To optimize overall performance, the best result is obtained by having the smallest, fastest cache most immediate to the CPU itself, followed by a slightly larger pool of L2 cache, and an even larger pool of L3 cache. The idea is to keep the most frequently used instructions in L1, with L2 cache holding the next most likely needed bits of data, and L3 following suit. If the CPU needs to process a request that isn’t present in L1 cache, it can quickly check L2 cache, then L3.

Cache design is a key strategy in the highly competitive microprocessor market, as it is directly responsible for improved CPU and system performance. Multi-level cache is made from more expensive static RAM (SRAM) chips versus cheaper dynamic RAM (DRAM) chips. DRAM and synchronous DRAM (SDRAM) chips are what we normally refer to simply as RAM. SRAM and SDRAM chips should not be confused.

When looking at new computers check out the amounts of L1, L2 and L3 cache. All else being equal, a system with more CPU cache will perform better, and synchronous cache is faster than asynchronous.

EasyTechJunkie is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By anon1004586 — On Mar 10, 2021

Most these comments are very old. If you want to know your cache on a windows os. Open task manager (Right-Click start button on Win-10), go to the performance tab, click on CPU it should tell you what caches you have, and how big they are. i.e. I have L1 512 KB, L2 2 MB , and 16MB L3. You could also go to the about section in system settings and copy your processor and google it.

By anon969785 — On Sep 13, 2014

Well if anyone here needs massive amounts of l2 cache for your cpu, buy the amd fx8350.

By anon956769 — On Jun 16, 2014

The cache has nothing to do with frequently accessed programs! When a program accesses RAM it pulls a chunk of data from RAM to the cache so it can work with it efficiently.

By anon108613 — On Sep 03, 2010

Which Intel processors have L2 cache? How to tell the difference between Core I3 350/530 etc.? They sound like crippled versions.

By anon70979 — On Mar 16, 2010

To know what are your computer L1 L2 cache specifications, you may download cpu-z from a safe site.

By anon66001 — On Feb 17, 2010

If you set up your computer in the boot menu to run some initial tests at start up, it will briefly check your caches. Whether or not you have a L2 cache is shown there. At least that's how it's handled on Windows systems.

By succulents — On Jan 18, 2010

How do I find out what cache amounts my computer has? Better yet, since most of the sales personnel don't know more than I do, how do I determine what CPU cache is better at the store? I've never seen L1,L2, or L3 listed on any of the boxes when I've done some shopping around.

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