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A microprocessor is a silicon which contains the central processing unit of computers. The term microprocessor and CPU are used interchangeably quite often. It also functions as the logic controller of most of the digital devices like watches, fuel-injection systems etc using small memory locations called registers. Microprocessors are also called as the heart of a computing device. The first microprocessor was introduced in 1971 as Intel 4004 and was mostly used to perform simple mathematical calculations.
There are certain features which differentiate microprocessors:
• Instruction set: Refers to the instructions that the microprocessor can execute.
• Bandwidth: Number of bits processed per instruction.
• Clock speed: Refers to the number of instructions the processor can execute per second. It is measured in megahertz (MHz).
When a computer is switched on, the basic input/output system (BIOS) provides the microprocessor with the first set of instructions. After this the BIOS itself, or the operating system that BIOS loads into the computer, or an application program drives the microprocessor to perform the instructions. Higher is the value of bandwidth or clock speed, the more powerful is the CPU. For example, a 64-bit microprocessor that runs at 100 MHz is more powerful than a 32-bit microprocessor that runs at 50 MHz. Apart from the above classification, microprocessors are also categorized as RISC (reduced instruction set computer) or CISC (complex instruction set computer). Microprocessors operate on symbols and numbers represented in the binary numeral system. The integration of a CPU onto a single has greatly reduced the cost of processing power. The reliability has also increased as there are fewer electrical connections to fail. As the designs of the microprocessor gets faster, the cost of manufacturing a chip stays the same in most cases.
Nowadays microprocessors are used to perform highly sophisticated operations in areas like meteorology, nuclear physics, aviation and engineering, occupying minimal space and delivering superior performance.