What is L3 Cache?

R. Kayne

Level 3 or L3 cache is specialized memory that works hand-in-hand with L1 and L2 cache to improve computer performance. L1, L2 and L3 cache are computer processing unit (CPU) caches, verses other types of caches in the system such as hard disk cache. CPU cache caters to the needs of the microprocessor by anticipating data requests so that processing instructions are provided without delay. CPU cache is faster than random access memory (RAM), and is designed to prevent bottlenecks in performance.

A central processing unit. L3 cache is a CPU cache.
A central processing unit. L3 cache is a CPU cache.

When a request is made of the system the CPU requires instructions for executing that request. The CPU works many times faster than system RAM, so to cut down on delays, L1 cache has bits of data at the ready that it anticipates will be needed. L1 cache is very small, which allows it to be very fast. If the instructions aren’t present in L1 cache, the CPU checks L2, a slightly larger pool of cache, with a little longer latency. With each cache miss it looks to the next level of cache. L3 cache can be far larger than L1 and L2, and even though it’s also slower, it’s still a lot faster than fetching from RAM.

The L3 cache has been typically integrated into the motherboard in the past, but modern CPUs models have now been incorporated with a native cache for increased performance.
The L3 cache has been typically integrated into the motherboard in the past, but modern CPUs models have now been incorporated with a native cache for increased performance.

Assuming the needed instructions are found in L3 cache (a cache hit), bits of data might be evicted from L1 cache to hold the new instructions in case they’re needed again. L3 cache can then remove that line of instructions since it now resides in another cache (referred to as exclusive cache), or it might hang on to a copy (referred to as inclusive cache), depending on the design of the CPU.

For example, in November 2008 AMD® released their quad-core Shanghai chip. Each core has its own L1 and L2 caches, but the cores share a common L3 cache. L3 keeps copies of requested items in case a different core makes a subsequent request.

The architecture for multi-level cache continues to evolve. L1 cache used to be external to the CPU, built into the motherboard, but now both L1 and L2 caches are commonly incorporated into the CPU die. L3 cache has typically been built into the motherboard, but some CPU models are already incorporating L3 cache. The advantage of having on-board cache is that it’s faster, more efficient and less expensive than placing separate cache on the motherboard.

Fetching instructions from cache is faster than calling upon system RAM, and a good cache design greatly improves system performance. Cache design and strategy will be different on various motherboards and CPUs, but all else being equal, more cache is better.

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Discussion Comments


The main problem is than windows is not using this second level data cache download cpu-z looking about your cache open regedit path hklm/system/currentcontrolset/control/sessionmanager/memorymanagement

search dword key secondleveldatacache edit if you have 512 edit 0x00000200 hexadecimal


The writer needs to explicitly happens when "bits of data are evicted from L1 cache" Where do those bits go? I assume the L3 cache since it has gone through 1 and 2L cache. The article seems to overly simplify a couple of things, but for the most part reads well


Is there a system configuration report that can show me my levels of ram on my pc (running XP)?


Is it possible that one day ram and the cpu will come in one unit?

I briefly heard about quantum entanglement the other day. Perhaps that will come into play with speeding up data retrieval and manipulation from the ram.


Please help me. I have an l3 cache on my motherboard (as internal hardware). Which model motherboard do I have?


My Phenom II x2 3.1ghz processor has 6mb of L3 cache and a TDP rating of 80w. I looked at the specs for a 3.1ghz Athlon II processor. The specs look the same, except for no L3 cache and a TDP rating of only 65w. Does this mean the L3 cache uses a power hungry 15w? Aye Caramba!


My PC Only has 512kb of L2 cache.


You know, when you define something, you're not supposed to use the word you're defining to define it.


wow this was the first hit and i learned something new. thank you.


Simply excellent


CPU is central processing unit. not computer processing unit. but otherwise, great info!


Thank you, it's what i wanted to know. Now on seeing that L3 cache cost more to get on a cpu, who would be more suited to needing L3?


lovely, short and crisp definition.helped me figure out what l3 meant. thank you. -- dhira


Nice job. I tried to find out what L3 cache was a few months ago, but couldn't find an easy explanation. This article is very easy to understand. Thanks.


nice nice, easy to understand and i finally know what L3 cache is. Thanks for the easy info!


Good article. Thank you!


Very good article. The author has used simple words to present a complex matter in layman's terms. Easy to understand even for a newbie like me. Well done.


thanks. this information is really worthy.


Thank you!


Incredibly helpful, good information to have when making decisions.


It's useful. Thank you.


great work. thanks.


I'm an ignorant in this PCs subject. Thanks because I am starting to learn!


Simple and to the point. Thank you.


Very easy. thanks.


Very helpful. Thanks.


very helpful writing indeed. thank you very much. Diganta


Very informative article. It explains the cache design very well. Little Jasmin97


Simple and straight-forward explanation. thanks to the author.


nice. it's easy to understand now.


It was excellent. I got what I need.


very good definition, thanks.


Excellent description of all levels of cache. Very clear, precise and understandable. Well done, helped me loads. Stuart

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