Your CPU speed, also known as the speed of your computer processor, determines how fast everything happens on your computer. If your CPU speed is slow, there isn’t much you can do about it (although we will discuss some options later). If your CPU speed is fast, then you’ll enjoy playing the latest games and be more productive than your peers.
How To Find Your CPU Speed
Finding your CPU speed on Windows is easy:
- Go to the start menu.
- Right-click the My Computer link for Windows XP or “Computer” for Vista and Windows Seven.
- Choose Properties from the context menu that appears.
- Your computer processor’s brand name and CPU speed will be displayed.
To properly determine your CPU speed, you need a few extra pieces of information. Using the tabs above the information screen you just accessed, switched to the Hardware screen and find the listing for your CPU. Detailed information about your CPU speed will be displayed here, including how many processors you have and whether they’re 32 or 64 bit processors.
So What’s Your Real CPU Speed?
Interpreting the data you just found can be a little difficult because of a feature in some processors called hyper-threading. Hyper-threading lets one processor pretend to be two processors, which can provide a minor speed boost to some applications.
To figure out whether your processor has hyper-threading, search Google or Wikipedia for the name of your processor as displayed on the screen you just looked at. If it has hyper-threading, divide the number of processors displayed by two. (For example, my Dad’s computer shows four processors, but he has hyper-threading, so the correct number of processors is two.)
Now that you know how many processors you have, you can do a little bit more math to determine your total CPU speed. Multiply the CPU speed you saw on the first screen (usually printed in megahertz [MHz] or gigahertz [GHz]) by the number of processors you have. For example, 2 times 1.33 GHz equals 2.66 GHz.
Why Doesn’t My Computer Tell Me My Total CPU Speed?
Although knowing your total CPU speed is useful in determining how powerful your computer is, there’s a reason CPU manufactures and Microsoft don’t make it too easy to figure it out. The reason is that it’s very hard to use all of that CPU speed at the same time.
It’s difficult to use all of your CPU speed on computers with several processors because many programs aren’t written to take advantage of multiple CPUs. To use multiple CPUs, programmers need to do extra work to separate programs into different parts which can run independently. For some simple programs, this is easy; but for complicated programs that require what’s called Inter-Process Communication (IPC), this can be quite difficult.
Every program tries to use as much processor time as it needs all at once, but a one-processor-only program can only use the CPU speed of one processor, so even if you have seven other processors or processor cores in your computer, your program will still only run at the maximum speed of one processor. That’s why the total CPU speed doesn’t count for as much as it should.
How The Register Size Affects Your CPU Speed
If you’ve been buying computers for five years or longer, you’ve probably noticed that most computers today advertise being 64-bit computers. Older Windows computers ran on 32-bit processors. A bit is a single switch inside the computer that can be either on or off, which is usually written as 0 for on and 1 for off so that we can do binary math.
By combining several switches, binary math can create numbers larger than one, just as you and I can combine several digits (0–9) to create the numbers 10 and higher. For example, on a Windows computer, “10” (pronounced: one zero) represents the number 2.
In the base–10 digits we humans normally use for doing math, adding an extra digit to a number multiplies the maximum value of numbers we can count by a factor of 10. For example, we can count ten things with one digit (0–9), a hundred things with two digits (00–99), and a thousand things with three digits (000–999).
For computers, the number of things they can count only doubles for each additional digit. For example, they can count two things with one digit (0–1), four things with two digits (0–3), and eight things with three digits (0–7).
That means that an old computer with a 32-bit register can count from 0 to 4,294,967,295. What happens if the computer needs to count higher than that? It has to do a second operation, which means that the total CPU speed of your computer is effectively halved.
But a 64-bit computer can count up to 18,446,744,073,709,551,615—that’s a number over four billion times as large.So if you have a 64-bit CPU, it will run twice as fast (or faster) than an older 32-bit CPU when doing math on numbers between 4 billion and 19 thousand trillions.
How To Compare CPU Speed Between Processors
If you’re in the market to buy a new computer, you may be wondering how to find the best affordable CPU speed for your type of work. This is easy: go to a hardware performance website and search for their latest “CPU benchmarks”.
Because CPU performance varies by how many large numbers you work with, CPU benchmarks throw various problems at actual CPUs and then time how long it takes the CPU to finish. The faster the CPU finishes the problem, the higher its real-world CPU speed.