Definition of Processor Speed

By Wanda Thibodeaux

Those who work in the information technology field always are looking for the fastest computer they can get because a faster computer saves time and allows them to multitask. One of the primary factors looked at in computer speed is the speed of the processor. What is processor speed, and why is it important?


In computer language, there are what are known as cycles. Cycles are groupings of information--a cycle is "completed" when all of the instructions in the group have been processed. Processor speed is the number of cycles per second at which the central processing unit of a computer operates and is able to process information. Processor speed is measured in megahertz and is essential to the ability to run applications. Faster processor speeds are desired.

Why It Matters

The more cycles that a computer's central processing unit is able to complete per second, the faster data is able to be processed. The faster data can be processed, the faster the computer can complete a task. This means that a computer with a fast processor speed can complete more tasks in the same amount of time than a computer with a slow processor, and that more applications can be running at the same time. Some applications are processor-intensive, which means that they require a great deal of data to be processed in order to operate.

What Impacts It

Processor speed is impacted by several factors. These include circuit size, die size, cache size, efficiency of the instruction set, and manufacturing variables. Smaller chips usually result in faster processor speeds because the data has less distance to travel, but smaller chips also result in greater heat generation, which needs to be managed.

Multiple Processors

Some computers improve the speed of data processing by having multiple processors---it is similar to asking two workers to do the same workload as one worker, so both workers (processors) can handle more in the long run. Some programmers are writing code that is specifically written to be handled by such a processor setup.


Some may assume that a faster processor is always better, but this is not necessarily true. The demands that most people make through their application usage generally don't exceed a processor speed of more than 2 gigahertz. This means that, even if a user does increase the processor speed of the computer, the user probably won't notice much difference in performance because they basically aren't asking the computer to process more information than they were before the increase, assuming the same applications/tasks are run.