Upgrading And Repairing PCs 21st Edition: Processor Features

CPU Operating Voltages And Math Coprocessors (Floating-Point Units)

One trend that is clear to anybody who has been following processor design is that the operating voltages keep getting lower. The benefits of lower voltage are threefold. The most obvious is that with lower voltage comes lower overall power consumption. By consuming less power, the system is less expensive to run, but more importantly for portable or mobile systems, it runs much longer on existing battery technology. The emphasis on battery operation has driven many of the advances in lowering processor voltage because this has a great effect on battery life.

CPU Operating Voltages

The second major benefit is that with less voltage and therefore less power consumption, less heat is produced. Processors that run cooler can be packed into systems more tightly and last longer.

The third major benefit is that a processor running cooler on less power can be made to run faster. Lowering the voltage has been one of the key factors in enabling the clock rates of processors to go higher and higher. This is because the lower the voltage, the shorter the time needed to change a signal from low to high.

Starting with the Pentium Pro, all newer processors automatically determine their voltage settings by controlling the motherboard-based voltage regulator. That’s done through built-in VID pins.

For overclocking purposes, many motherboards have override settings that allow for manual voltage adjustment if desired. Many people have found that, when attempting to overclock a processor, increasing the voltage by a tenth of a volt or so often helps. Of course, this increases the heat output of the processor and must be accounted for with adequate cooling.

Note: Although modern processors use VID pins to enable them to select the correct voltage, newer processors that use the same processor socket as older processors might use a voltage setting the motherboard does not support. Before upgrading an existing motherboard with a new processor, make sure the motherboard will support the processor’s voltage and other features. You might need to install a BIOS upgrade before upgrading the processor to ensure that the motherboard properly recognizes the processor.

Math Coprocessors (Floating-Point Units)

Older CPUs designed by Intel (and cloned by other companies) used an external math coprocessor chip to perform floating-point operations. However, when Intel introduced the 486DX, it included a built-in math coprocessor, and every processor built by Intel (and AMD and VIA/Cyrix, for that matter) since then includes a math coprocessor. Coprocessors provide hardware for floating-point math, which otherwise would create an excessive drain on the main CPU. Math chips speed your computer’s operation only when you are running software designed to take advantage of the coprocessor.

Note: Most applications that formerly used floating-point math now use MMX/SSE instructions instead. These instructions are faster and more accurate than x87 floating-point math.

  • k1114
    Keep it coming.
  • renzhe
    9412 pins; imagine that.
  • ta152h
    Ugggh, got to page two before being disgusted this time. This author is back to writing fiction.

    The Pentium (5th generation, in case the author didn't know, thus the "Pent"), DID execute x86 instructions. It was the Pentium Pro that didn't. That was the sixth generation.

    CISC and RISC are not arbitary terms, and RISC is better when you have a lot of memory, that's why Intel and AMD use it for x86. They can't execute x86 instructions effectively, so they break it down to RISC type operations, and then execute it. They pay the penalty of adding additional stages in the pipeline which slows down the processor (greater branch mispredict penalty), adds size, and uses power. If they are equal, why would anyone take this penalty?

    Being superscalar has nothing to do with being RISC or CISC. Admittedly, the terms aren't carved in stone, and the term can be misleading, as it's not necessarily the number of instructions that defines RISC. Even so, there are clear differences. RISC has fixed length instructions. CISC generally does not. RISC has much simpler memory addressing modes. The main difference is, RISC does not have microcoding to execute instructions - everything is done in hardware. Obviously, this strongly implies much simpler, easier to execute instructions, which make it superior today. However, code density is less for RISC, and that was very important in the 70s and early 80s when memory was not so large. Even now, better density means better performance, since you'll hit the faster caches more often.

    This article is also wrong about 3D Now! It was not introduced as an alternative to SSE, SSE was introduced as an alternative to 3D Now!, which predated SSE. In reality, 3D Now! was released because the largest difference between the K6 and Intel processors was floating point. Games, or other software that could use 3D Now!, rather than relying entirely on x87 instructions, could show marked performance improvement for the K6-2. It was relatively small to implement, and in the correct workloads could show dramatic improvements. But, of course, almost no one used it.

    The remarks about the dual bus are inaccurate. The reason was that motherboard bus speeds were not able to keep up with microprocessors speeds (starting with the 486DX2). Intel suffered the much slower bus speed to the L2 cache on the Pentium and Pentium MMX, but moved the L2 cache on the same processor package (but not on the same die) with the Pentium Pro. The purpose of having the separate buses was that one could access the L2 cache at a much higher speed; it wasn't limited to the 66 MHz bus speed of the motherboard. The Pentium Pro was never intended to be mainstream, and was too expensive, so Intel moved the L2 cache onto the Slot 1 cartridge, and ran it at half bus speed, which in any case was still much faster than the memory bus.

    That was the main reason they went to the two buses.

    That was as far as I bothered to read this. It's a pity people can't actually do fact checking when they write books, and make up weird stories that only have a passing resemblance to reality.

    And then act like someone winning this misinformation is lucky. Good grief, what a perverse world ...

  • Reynod
    ta152h sir you are correct.

  • spookyman
    Yes you are correct on the bus issue. VESA local bus was designed to overcome the limitations of the ISA bus.

    As for the reason Intel went with a slot design for the Pentium 2 was to prevent AMD from using it. You can patent and trademark a slot design.

    As for the Pentium Pro, it had issues from handling 16bit x86 instruction sets. The solution was to program around it. The was an inherent computational flaw with the Pentium Pro too.
  • Kraszmyl
    I don't think there is a single page that isn't piled with inaccurate or incomplete information.......this is perhaps the worst thing I've ever read on tomshardware and I don't see how you let it get published.
  • therogerwilco
    Kinda nice for generic info, was hoping for more explanation of some of the finer points of cpu architecture
  • Reynod
    Perhaps the most important thing to note from this is just how clever some of our users are ... so get into the forums and help out the n00bs with their problems guys !!

  • Sprongy
    Not to be anal but aren't all Core i3 processors, dual cores (2). Some have Hyper-Threading to make it like 4 cores. The last chart above should read Core i3 - 2 cores. Just saying...
  • ingtar33
    11830610 said:
    Not to be anal but aren't all Core i3 processors, dual cores (2). Some have Hyper-Threading to make it like 4 cores. The last chart above should read Core i3 - 2 cores. Just saying...

    not on mobile. some mobile i3s are single core, same with the mobile i5s... those are all dual core... with hyperthreading.

    there are even dual core i5s in haswell on the desktop. (they are the ones with a (t) after the number)