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  Pentium 4 Scaling with DDR Memory 
  Feb 04, 2002, 08:30am EST 

Processors 101

By: Dan Mepham

Before we go into detail, we will take a minute to make sure everyone’s starting from the same point.

First of all, what exactly is a CPU? Many refer to the CPU (or processor) as the ‘brains’ of the computer. In some ways, that’s an appropriate analogy, and in others, it’s quite inaccurate. For our intents and purposes, it’s much more convenient to think of the processor as doing the ‘grunt’ work. To refer to it as a ‘brain’ implies some sort of intelligence -- that it knows what it’s doing. It isn’t, and it doesn’t. The processor is merely fed data, and told what to do with it. Think of an intern in an office -- the boss hands him two stacks of paper, and says “Collate these.”. The intern doesn’t know why he’s doing what he’s doing, or what the documents are. He simply knows what he was told to do, and he does it.

A processor functions in much the same way. It doesn’t know what or why, it just does what it’s told (in that respect, the software actually behaves as the ‘brains’). Instead of being handed stacks of paper, though, the processor is fed numbers, and asked to manipulate them (add, multiply, compare, etc.). The faster it can execute those manipulations, the faster your software runs. When your old computer gets sluggish, you upgrade -- toss in a new CPU that can ‘collate’ faster, and you’re off.

Naturally that’s an oversimplified approach. The speed with which your system can process data is dependent on more than just the speed of the processor itself. There’s an expression that says a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. That same principle applies here -- a platform is only as fast as its slowest component. If something else is slowing things down, the fastest CPU in the world won’t make a difference.

1. Introduction
2. Processors 101
3. Memory Considerations
4. Test Procedure
5. Results - Linpack & Cachemem
6. Results - STREAM & 3DMark2001
7. Results - Quake 3 Arena
8. Results - MP3 Encoding
9. Results - ScienceMark
10. Results - SPECviewperf
11. Conclusion
12. Appendix A - SPECviewperf

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