What are microprocessors and how have they changed?

The first thing to understand is that a microprocessor by itself is useless. It can’t do anything without other components such as memory, communications, port controllers, display drivers, etc. All these are integrated circuits. There’re called integrated circuits, or ICs, because all the transistors are bundled together on a single piece of silicon that’s packaged inside a piece of plastic with connections exposed so it can connect with other ICs. The ICs are also sometimes called chips.

Computers sometimes refer to a central processing unit or CPU. Think of a microprocessor as a CPU on a single integrated circuit. It still acts as the brains of the device and it coordinates the activities of all the other ICs.

Probably the most critical component that a microprocessor relies on, other than a good supply of power anyway, is the clock. You’ve heard about computers running at some gigahertz speed or another. This is the clock speed. Computers didn’t always run this fast.

Listen to the full episode for more information about clocks and how the microprocessor can read and write information from memory.