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Central Processing Unit (CPU)

It is a logic machine that can execute computer programs. This broad definition can easily be applied to many early computers that existed long before the term "CPU" ever came into widespread usage.

The term itself and its initialism have been in use in the computer industry at least since the early 1960s (Weik 1961).

The form, design and implementation of CPUs have changed dramatically since the earliest examples, but their fundamental operation has remained much the same.

Early CPUs were custom-designed as a part of a larger, sometimes one-of-a-kind, computer.

However, this costly method of designing custom CPUs for a particular application has largely given way to the development of mass-produced processors that are suited for one or many purposes.

This standardization trend generally began in the era of discrete transistor mainframes and minicomputers and has rapidly accelerated with the popularization of the integrated circuit (IC).

The IC has allowed increasingly complex CPUs to be designed and manufactured to tolerances on the order of nanometers.

Both the miniaturization and standardization of CPUs have increased the presence of these digital devices in modern life far beyond the limited application of dedicated computing machines.

Modern microprocessors appear in everything from automobiles to cell phones to children's toys.

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Désiré Athow
Contributor

Désiré has been musing and writing about technology during a career spanning four decades. He dabbled in website building and web hosting when DHTML and frames were en vogue and started writing about the impact of technology on society just before the start of the Y2K hysteria at the turn of the last millennium. Following an eight-year stint at ITProPortal.com where he discovered the joys of global tech-fests, Désiré now heads up TechRadar Pro. Previously he was a freelance technology journalist at Incisive Media, Breakthrough Publishing and Vnunet, and Business Magazine. He also launched and hosted the first Tech Radio Show on Radio Plus.