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1.2: CPU Performance

Exam Board:


The performance of a computer system is affected by three main factors:

Cache Memory

What is cache memory?

Cache memory is temporary storage for frequently accessed data.


How does cache memory improve performance?


Cache memory is closer to the CPU than RAM, meaning that it can provide data and instructions to the CPU at a faster rate.

A computer with more cache memory (e.g. 8GB instead of 4GB) should have a higher performance because repeatedly used instructions can be stored and accessed faster.

What is the limitation of cache memory?


Cache memory is costly, so most computers only have a small amount.

Clock Speed

What is clock speed?


Clock speed is the measure of how quickly a CPU can process instructions.

Clock speed is measured in Gigahertz (GHz). A typical desktop computer might have a clock speed of 3.5 GHz.

This means it can perform 3.5 billion cycles a second.

How does clock speed improve performance?

The faster the clock speed, the faster the computer can perform the FDE cycle resulting in better performance because more instructions can be processed each second.

How does overclocking and underclocking affect performance?

Default clock speed:

3.5 GHz



3.9 GHz

3.1 GHz

Overclocking is when the computer's clock speed is increased higher than the recommended rate.

This will make the computer perform faster, but it can lead to overheating and could damage the machine.

Underclocking is when the computer's clock speed is decreased lower than the recommended rate.

This will make the computer perform slower but will increase the lifespan of the machine.

Number of Cores

What is a core?

A core is a complete set of CPU components (control unit, ALU and registers). Each core is able to perform its own FDE cycle.

A multi-core CPU has more than one set of components within the same CPU.

How does the number of cores improve performance?

In theory, a single-core processor can execute one instruction at a time, a dual-core processor can execute two instructions, and a quad-core can execute four instructions simultaneously.

Therefore, a computer with more cores will have a higher performance because it can process more instructions at once.

What are the limitations of having more cores?

If one core is waiting for another core to finish processing, performance may not increase at all.

Some software is not written to make use of multiple cores, so it will not run any quicker on a multi-core computer.

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Questo's Questions

1.2 - CPU Performance:

Cache Size & Levels

1a. What is cache memory? [2]

1b. Describe two ways that more cache memory will mean performance is higher. [4]

1c. Explain why most computers only have a small amount of cache memory. [1]


Clock Speed
2a. What is clock speed? What is it measured in? [2]

2b. Explain how a higher clock speed improves performance. [2]

2c. Explain the terms 'overclocking' and 'underclocking' and explain the effects of both on the performance of a computer. [4]

Number of Cores

3a. What is a core? [2]

3b. Explain why a quad-core processor should have a higher performance than a dual-core processor. [3]

3c. Explain two reasons why having more cores doesn't necessarily mean the performance will be better. [2]

cores diagram.png
cores diagram.png
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