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The nerve centre of a PC is the processor, also called the CPU, or central processing unit. This is built into a single chip which executes program instructions and coordinates the activities that take place within the computer system. The chip itself is a small piece of silicon with a complex electrical circuit called an integrated circuit.

The processor consists of three main parts:

The control unit examines the instructions in the user's program, interprets each instruction and causes the circuits and the rest of the components - monitor, disk drives, etc. - to execute the functions specified.

The arithmetic logic unit (ALU) performs mathematical calculations (+, etc.) and logical operations (AND, OR, NOT).

The registers are high-speed units of memory used to store and control data. One of the registers (the program counter, or PC) keeps track of the next instruction to be performed in the main memory. The other (the instruction register, or IR) holds the instruction that is being executed.

The power and performance of a computer is partly determined by the speed of its processor. A system clock sends out signals at fixed intervals to measure and synchronize the flow of data. Clock speed is measured in gigahertz (GHz). For example, a CPU running at 4GHz (four thousand million hertz, or 30 cycles, per second) will enable your PC to handle the most demanding applications.

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