1. Introduction

In this tutorial, we’ll review the differences between a Central Processing Unit (CPU) and Graphics Processing Unit (GPU). Firstly, we’ll define the terms and describe them. Next, we’ll review the different applications of CPU and GPU. Then finally, we’ll highlight the differences between the two.

2. CPU

The CPU or processor is the central operation hub of any computer system. It controls the overall functioning of the computer hence why it is called the ‘brain’ of the computer. The CPU, as the core component, is responsible for interpreting and executing instructions.

These instructions pertain to the input/output system, logic, and arithmetic unit, as well as the memory system. It works with other components in the computer system, such as the arithmetic logic unit (ALU), control unit, and registers to achieve these tasks. It is safe to say that the CPU is a vital component in any computer system.

2.1. How Does It Work?

A CPU is an integrated circuit with several cores, registers, cache, memory unit, and CPU clocks. A CPU works by interpreting and executing instructions that are fetched from its memory unit. The fetched instructions are executed, with the instructions stored in memory:

CPU image


This process is known as the instruction cycle or fetch-decode-execute cycle.

2.2. Advantages and Disadvantages

The main benefit of CPUs is that they are required for the basic functioning of a computer. This means they can perform many general operations on a computer. Additionally, CPUs are known for low latency. They process data and execute tasks as fast as possible. This also means that CPUs are optimized to execute tasks with few to no delays.

The drawback here is that the CPU is a general processor, which means it is not specialized for any operations or functions.

2.3. Applications

CPUs, as general processors, are used in computing devices for interpreting and executing instructions

3. GPU

On the contrary, a GPU is a specialized processor designed to produce and enhance graphics rendition in computers, particularly 3D graphics. It is what enables us to see graphics on the display screens of devices such as desktops, laptops, and other devices.

With advancements in technology, GPUs became more programmable. In modern computing systems, GPUs are used for more than graphics rendition. The processing capabilities of GPUs have been harnessed to improve the processing capabilities of computers. For example, the mathematical capabilities required to render graphics are harnessed for scientific computing.

3.1. How Does It Work?

While a CPU may have several cores, a GPU, on the other hand, is made up of multiple cores that work together in parallel to perform tasks. A single task is divided into several smaller (even thousands) tasks that are executed in parallel on each of these cores. This makes GPUs ideal for tasks that require parallel processing:

GPU image

3.2. Advantages and Disadvantages

GPUs are advantageous in the sense that they are specialized to perform specific operations, e.g. rendering graphics. Furthermore, the use of hundreds to thousands of cores makes GPUs very efficient for parallel processing.

GPUs are also known for high throughput. This means they are capable of processing large amounts of data, however long it may take. However, due to their specialized nature, GPUs can not perform general operations like CPUs.

3.3. Applications

GPUs have mainly been used in gaming applications. They are used to render high-quality images in 2D and 3D games. Additionally, the parallel processing capabilities of GPUs make them suitable for scientific computing and artificial intelligence applications. In particular, deep learning, computer vision, and high-performance computing are areas in which GPUs are mostly used.

4. Differences

The main differences between a CPU and a GPU are outlined as follows:

  • The CPU has several cores, while the GPU has hundreds of cores.
  • The CPU is designed for low latency, whereas the GPU is designed for high throughput.
  • Lastly, the CPU is a general processor, while the GPU is a specialized processor.

5. Conclusions

In this article, we’ve discussed the difference between CPUs and GPUs. CPUs are processors responsible for the overall functioning of the computer. On the contrary, GPUs are specialized processors designed to enhance graphics and computing.

It is important to note that although CPUs and GPUs differ in their functions, they work together to execute different operations in a computer.

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