What Does a CPU Look Like?

A CPU is a silicon integrated circuit, sometimes called a computer chip. This is because it consists of a square piece of crystallized silicon that is very, very thin.

It has a very intricate pattern on top, which consists of the transistors and wires that have been processed into the silicon: a silicon chip contains millions of tiny transistors connected by very tiny wires. The chip is also connected to the rest of the computer with very tiny strands of wire. Here is a photograph of the Intel Pentium 4 chip:

http://www.intel.com/intel/intelis/museum/exhibits/hist_micro/hof/pent4.htmClick image for larger view.

heatsinkModern processors often have a heat sink added on top of the CPU: a heat sink is a set of metal fins that quickly dissipate the heat from the CPU into the surrounding air. The heat sink is necessary for some computer chips because they run so fast that the heat they generate can cause damage. Most heat sinks also have a small fan to improve the cooling: they are like a radiator for the CPU.

Computer motherboardThe entire package is then plugged into a socket on the motherboard, a rectangular circuit board inside the case of the computer. The motherboard has many components built right into it, but it also has a variety of types of connectors whereby external components can tie into the motherboard system and, consequently, communicate with the CPU.


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These pages were written by Steven H. VanderLeest and Jeffrey Nyhoff and edited by Nancy Zylstra
©2005 Calvin College, All Rights Reserved

If you encounter technical errors, contact rit@calvin.edu.