If you’re around computers often, or just have a lot of nerdy friends, then you probably hear the terms processor and CPU thrown around. A lot of people use these terms interchangeably, but they’re actually not exactly the same thing.
Sure, they can be used interchangeably, and a CPU is definitely a processor, but what is the real difference between them? On top of that, what’s a microprocessor, a processor core, and all of the little terms in between?
What’s The Difference Between CPU And Processor?
A processor is any component that processes commands, reads, and writes data. A CPU is a Central Processing Unit, and the main processor in a computer. Many different computer components, like hard drives, have processors but the CPU is the most important processor in a computer and controls everything.
Most of the time, if someone is talking about a computer’s processor then they’re talking about the CPU. Unless you’re talking to someone about something extremely technical, you can think of CPU and processor as interchangeable terms.
Technically speaking, though, “processor” is just a term for a component/chip that processes read/write commands. Hard drives need their own processors for executing commands, but they will still take direction from the central processing unit (CPU) of the computer.
So if you think of your computer as a hivemind, then the CPU is the brain controlling the hive, while each individual member of the hive might have its own little brain that makes its parts work.
What’s The Difference Between CPU And Microprocessor?
A CPU (Central Processing Unit) is the brain of a computer that sends the commands necessary for a computer to run. A CPU can be created with many different parts and in many sizes. A microprocessor is simply a CPU that has been created in the form of a single chip. Modern CPUs are microprocessors.
Go take a look at the first computer ever made. It’s a room full of tubes and wires. That computer actually had a CPU as well, except obviously they didn’t have the technology or sadism to make that CPU into a tiny chip with delicate little pins that make you sweat when you plug them in.
The CPU then had a pretty similar function to modern CPUs; send instructions. So a CPU is a unit that sends instructions throughout the computer to tell it what to do. CPUs can come in all shapes and sizes, which brings us to the microprocessor.
A microprocessor is a CPU that has been condensed down to a single chip. You’ve probably noticed that every CPU you’ve used has been really small. These are actually microprocessors as well. Most modern CPUs, especially commercial CPUs, are microprocessors because they are one single chip.
What Is The Difference Between Processor And Processing?
The processor, microprocessor, or CPU (Central Processing Unit) is the unit or chip that sends read/write commands throughout a computer or component. Processing is the actual act of processing in the computer, or the actions that the processor takes whenever it receives information.
When a CPU is processing information, it is reading data / input and sending out signals to other pieces of hardware in the computer. For example, the CPU may get a signal from the keyboard that the user pressed the spacebar. Processing that signal would mean reading what it says before sending that information wherever it needs to go.
The processor will also send out signals to other components, which will have their own processors that will process the information. For example, it may send a signal to the hard drive that a new file was created. The hard drive’s processor will process / read the signal and then start writing the new file.
Technically speaking, CPUs, GPUs, hard drives, etc all have processors in them that will perform processing when data / information is received. However, when most people refer to a processor, unless otherwise specified, they are talking about a CPU. Nowadays, the terms processor and CPU are interchangeable.
What Is The Difference Between CPU And Processor Core?
The CPU is the entire processor chip, while processor cores are individual “smaller” processors that do the processing work. Having multiple cores allows a CPU to process a lot of data at once, because it allows the CPU to multi-task. CPU cores are individual but they are programmed to work together as one.
CPUs are pretty much made up of processor cores. If you look at a CPU, you’re actually looking at many processor cores (the number depends on the exact processor). Each core does calculations and sends signals throughout the computer, but they do so in a very sophisticated manner.
If a CPUs didn’t have multiple cores, then our computers would run very slowly because they could only handle a few processes / calculations at a time. This would make it impossible to run even the most simple piece of software. Most modern games and programs need to do many calculations and send many signals at the same time.
The reason one core can handle multiple processes is due to a technique called threading, which pretty much juggles around different calculations and processes as necessary so that the computer doesn’t get stuck on one thing.
The “best” processor is going to depend a lot on your motherboard, and what you will use your PC for. Often, you’re going to be choosing between more cores and less threads vs less cores and more threads. For gaming, there isn’t much of a difference either way and paying more will get you a better processor.
Still, be careful not to bottleneck your PC. If you spend a few hundred on a processor, but are using a cheaper GPU, you’re not going to see much of a performance boost in most games. There are some exceptions, but it’s a good rule of thumb.
Core i5-12600K (Best Intel Processor)
This is one of the best processors on the market at the moment, as you can probably tell by the price. It has 10 cores and hyper-threading, which means it’s going to be top of the line for quite a while. If price isn’t an object, and you use an Intel motherboard, the i5 series is the way to go and the i5-12600K is fantastic.
AMD Ryzen 5 5600X (Best AMD Processor)
AMD makes fantastic processors. I’ve used an Intel and an AMD processor in the past, and honestly both have been the same amount of excellence. The AMD Ryzen 5 series is state-of-the-art, and the 5600X is a beast.
This processor has 6 cores compared to the Intel i5-12600K’s 10, but it also has 12 processing threads, which helps it keep up in terms of performance and processing power.
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Eric streams 3 days a week on Twitch and uploads weekly to Youtube under the moniker, StreamersPlaybook. He loves gaming, PCs, and anything else related to tech. He’s the founder of the website StreamersPlaybook and loves helping people answer their streaming, gaming, and PC questions.