What Is a CPU? Understanding Central Processing Units

Final: What Is a CPU?

The CPU, or central processing unit, is the main component of a server that stores data, processes information, hosts web pages, and interprets commands. It’s essentially the brain of the system responsible for completing tasks and keeping your server up and running.


Key Highlights

  • The CPU handles tasks and processes instructions, such as serving web pages and running database queries
  • Intel and AMD are two major CPU manufacturers that produce different types of CPUs with varying specifications, features, and performance capabilities
  • Consider clock speed, number of cores, power consumption, and motherboard compatibility when choosing a CPU for the server


What Is a CPU?

The CPU, also called the server processor, is an important part of the server that processes instructions and handles tasks like serving web pages, running database queries, and controlling factory devices.

The processor is like the mind of the machine. It executes commands that affect the server’s response time, stability, computing capacity, and performance. It’s also designed to handle more complex workloads, such as:

  • Handling email exchange
  • Managing file sharing
  • Completing database transactions
  • Streamlining network traffic routing for devices
  • Connecting and controlling multiple devices on factory lines
  • Performing extremely compute tasks


The History of a CPU

Dedicated server CPUs have evolved over the years. In the 1980s, bare metal servers had basic desktop configurations with a 256Mhz CPU and 2GB disk space. As web hosting services grew, rack-mountable servers replaced them, offering better specifications. Blade servers emerged in the early 2000s, followed by virtualization and the rise of cloud computing.

The groundbreaking Unified Computing System (UCS) technology paved the way for faster and more efficient computing. It unifies server, storage, and network resources into a virtualized server pool, offering faster and more efficient computing with automatic hardware configuration and an application-oriented model.


How Does a Server CPU Work?

Final: What Is a CPU?

When you type on your keyboard, you see the corresponding letter on your screen without delay. This is possible thanks to the CPU that processes the instruction incredibly fast.

This seems like magic, but several complex steps are actually happening in the background for the CPU to process the instruction smoothly. These are the basic steps the CPU goes through to complete a task:

1. Fetch

The process starts with the CPU reading the address of the machine instruction. It retrieves the values from the main memory, working memory, or cache. It then interprets the instruction and directs the next operation.

2. Decode

The CPU decodes the instruction into binary code, which it can understand, and loads the corresponding circuits. Next, the instruction is translated into assembly code so that it can be executed.

3. Execute

The CPU performs technical algorithms and calculations to execute the instruction, producing output data.

4. Store

Finally, the CPU stores the output data in the memory.

The CPU goes through these phases repeatedly, like a continuous cycle: it selects and processes the next command as soon as the current one is completed. The order of the commands is decided by scheduling procedures, which help the system to work smoothly and efficiently.


What Are the Benefits of a CPU?

CPUs are the powerhouse of servers. They’re responsible for managing memory, processing data, and providing security.

If you’re looking to upgrade your server’s performance, you may want to consider investing in a CPU. Here are some of its benefits:

1. Memory Management and Optimization

CPUs are great at managing memory. This means that your server can run more programs and store more data at once without running out of memory.

2. High Performance

CPUs are designed to handle large amounts of data, so they can quickly process requests from users. This helps your website run more smoothly and efficiently.

3. Data Protection and Security

CPU cache-based side-channel attacks have become a threat to computer security and privacy. Hackers can steal sensitive information from victim programs by collecting information about their behaviors and using it to leak important data or execution logic.

The good news is that CPUs come with security features that help protect your data. They can safeguard against viruses and malware and include anti-theft measures.

Tip: To ensure your computer is secure and runs smoothly, consider learning how software works with hardware. Start by using the latest updates, following secure coding practices, and understanding how to use hardware features.

4. Versatility

CPUs work well with various servers and devices, making them easy to install and configure. No matter what type of server you have, you can likely find a compatible server processor.

Final: What Is a CPU?


What Are the Specifications of a CPU?

Choosing a CPU was easy back then because only a few options were available. However, selecting one can be more complicated now because it comes with different specs, like processor cores, cache size, clock speed, and threads.

CPUs today are still categorized as entry-level, mid-level, and enterprise-level, with each level suited for different purposes:

  • Entry-level processors are perfect for small businesses, home labs, and enthusiasts
  • Mid-level processors are better for mid-range organizations that require decent computing capabilities
  • Enterprise-level processors are the best and are suitable for the most computationally intensive applications, like AI/ML and crypto mining


What Are the Different Types of CPUs?

Final: What Is a CPU?

Whether you need database hosting or dedicated server hosting, you need to know the different types of CPUs to determine the right one for your needs. This also includes checking your server hardware and software’s technical specifications and compatibility requirements.

When it comes to CPU dominance, the competition between Intel and AMD is fierce. Both companies are leaders in research and development. Here’s how their CPUs differ:

1. Intel

Intel, or the Intel Corporation, is one of the most recognized and widely-used CPU brands. Their processors have traditionally outperformed AMD processors in terms of raw power for single-core performance. But in recent years, it’s faced increasing competition from AMD.

Intel created a line of processors called intel® xeon® for high-end desktops and servers with the cache housed in the same physical package. This lets systems use less space and power while lowering prices.

2. AMD

AMD or Advanced Micro Devices offer processors that have significantly improved in recent years. One of the key advantages of AMD processors is their multi-core performance, which has been shown to outperform Intel processors in many cases. Their processors also tend to offer better value for money compared to Intel processors.

AMD created the AMD EPYC series of CPUs for computer systems. It features one or more CPU dies bundled with memory controllers and I/O onto one or more integrated circuits in its multi-chip module design, making higher core counts possible than with a single-die design.


What Are the Factors to Consider When Choosing a CPU?

With the growing data center economy, the computer demand is expected to double in the next eight years. This could mean you’ll have to invest in a CPU for your server.

Choosing the best CPU requires evaluating processors based on the specific needs of the server and understanding its role. Consider these factors to ensure it has the processing power it needs to perform tasks efficiently and effectively:

1. Number of Cores

CPUs only had one core in the past. Now, a single CPU can house multiple cores, each capable of carrying out its own instruction cycles. This boosts the server’s performance, allowing larger workloads to be executed simultaneously through parallel computing.

The number of cores is a significant factor in a server processor’s performance. More cores mean more efficient workload splitting, which leads to a faster and more efficient system.

Note: Be sure that the system requirements match the core availability to make the most of the CPU and optimize costs. This helps ensure the server has enough processing power and capacity to handle tasks efficiently and effectively.

2. Number of Threads

Threads are like mini-tasks that a processor can work on at the same time. Most CPU cores have two threads, which means they can start on a new task before the first one is finished. This process is called multithreading or hyperthreading, and it helps the CPU work faster.

Multiple threading can boost server performance by using unused resources within the processor. This technique can even compete with the power of supercomputers in high-performance computing servers, making it an important consideration when choosing a CPU.

3. Clock Speed

A CPU’s clock speed is an important factor in determining how quickly it can process information. It’s measured in GHz (hertz), and a higher clock speed means faster processing.

A faster processor can increase productivity and reduce downtime. Time is money in the business world, so consider prioritizing speed to help you achieve faster processing times.

Note: While choosing the processor with the highest clock speed may be tempting, consider other factors. Finding the balance between speed and processing power will help you make an informed decision when choosing a CPU.

Final: What Is a CPU?

4. Cache Size

The CPU’s cache is like a temporary storage area for data that the machine needs quick access to. The larger the cache, the more files it can store for quick access. This means the processor doesn’t have to retrieve data from the system memory as often, which can improve your server’s responsiveness and overall performance.

5. Socket Compatibility

A CPU socket connects the processor to the motherboard, and the number of sockets in a server corresponds to the number of processors that can be installed. Servers can support anywhere from 1 to 32 sockets, with 2-socket servers being popular in the SMB market and 4-socket servers in the middle and high-end markets.

The motherboard and the processor must be compatible with each other, so make sure to check the socket compatibility before making a purchase. The three types of sockets are LGA, PGA, and BGA, which determine the interface between the motherboard and the processor:

  • LGA has pins on the motherboard
  • PGA has pins on the processor
  • BGA permanently attaches the processor to the motherboard during production



A CPU serves as the brain of a server, making it possible to run multiple applications and perform various tasks, such as controlling factory devices, running database queries, and serving web pages. Choosing the right one for your server is vital to ensure that it can handle multiple requests simultaneously and maintain optimal performance.

This guide has covered the benefits, history, types, specifications, and important factors to consider when selecting a CPU for a server. By understanding what a CPU is and other critical information about it, you can improve productivity, reduce downtime, and keep up with advancements in technology.


Next Steps: What Now?


Further Reading (Useful Resources)

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the differences between a Desktop CPU and a Server CPU?

Server CPUs are built for heavy multitasking, handling multiple users, and running 24/7, while desktop CPUs are optimized for everyday computing tasks and light multitasking. Essentially, server CPUs have more cores, cache memory, and power management features, whereas desktop CPUs are designed for lower power consumption and cost.

How does the CPU affect sites hosted on the server?

When the CPU receives many requests at the same time, it queues and handles them one by one quickly. However, other sites may slow down due to too many CPU requests when a server is overloaded, and one or two sites receive heavy traffic. This is called CPU oversubscription.

What happens in a CPU oversubscription?

CPU oversubscription can cause a slowdown in server performance due to the excess requests made to the CPU. Each request is queued and processed one by one, but when there are too many requests, the queue gets longer, resulting in a delay in processing. This can cause slow loading times for websites, and in severe cases, server crashes.

How do web hosts deal with CPU oversubscription?

Web hosting companies have various methods of managing high CPU requests that can cause slow website performance for all sites on the server. Some hosts use CPU throttling or segregate each website, while others adopt cloud computing to evenly distribute loads among multiple servers.

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