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[ The PC Guide | Systems and Components Reference Guide | The Processor | Processor Physical Characteristics | Physical Chip Characteristics ]

Processor Speed

The speed that the processor can run at is a function of many different factors. Some of these are related to design of the processor itself, which dictates the internal timing requirements that limit the maximum speed the processor can handle. Manufacturing factors relate to the process technology used, circuit size, die size and process quality.

In general, the smaller the chip, the faster it can run. This is due in part to reduced power consumption and heat generation; heat is generated when transistors switch from a zero to a one or vice-versa, and the faster the chip runs, the more switching in a given unit of time, so the more heat that is produced. A chip that overheats locks up or causes computation errors. Designers move chips to smaller circuit sizes to keep heat down as they ratchet up CPU speed.

In addition, there are manufacturing variabilities that allow some chips to run faster than others even though they were produced with the same process and even with the same wafer. This is called speed rating and is done during testing.

Next: Processor Versions and Steppings


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