The CPU and GPU are integral components of a computer system and are similar to each other in some ways. Both of these components include billions of transistors and can process thousands of operations per second.
With that said, both of these units have entirely different roles in a computer system. In this article, we will discuss the key differences between CPUs and GPUs and their roles in a computing environment.
What Is a CPU?
The Central Processing Unit or CPU is a microprocessor that performs most of the basic execution of programs (collection of instructions) given by the computer software and other peripheral devices.
Most of these instructions relate to operations, such as arithmetic, logic, algorithms, control, and managing input and output commands.
Since the CPU is responsible for performing all the basic functions of a computer, it is often dubbed as the brain of the machine. CPUs can execute a variety of different computing operations and calculations.
Programmers and software developers rely on the CPU to write, process, and execute the functionality programmed in software.
Unless these programs require extremely high processing power, the CPU is sufficient to execute the majority of commands and instructions. Generally, the standard speed of a CPU is between 1 to 4 GHz.
In most cases, CPUs have more than one processing core, which functions as separate processing units. However, they can be broken down further to even smaller processing units with the help of multi-threading.
What Is a GPU?
The graphics processing unit or GPU is a unique microprocessor that specializes in executing highly complex processing tasks. As the name suggests, the device is mostly used for processing extremely high-resolution graphics, but programmers also use it to process other tasks that require high computation.
From rendering high-definition videos to performing complex mathematical operations over and over again, GPUs can perform a wide variety of tasks.
GPUs normally don’t offer the same clock speed in cores in that CPUs offer. Therefore, each individual core in a GPU is slower than a core in a CPU.
However, GPUs are able to perform tasks that need high computation by increasing the number of cores in the processing unit.
A single GPU can contain thousands of cores that break down multi-dimensional mathematical tasks needed for graphic rendering and execute them efficiently.
For instance, a single GPU such as the NVIDIA GTX 1080 or RTX model has as much as 2560 shader cores. With the help of these cores, the processing unit can execute 2560 operations simultaneously during one clock cycle.
Besides rendering graphics, a GPU is essential for executing highly complex machine learning algorithms known as Neural Nets.
These algorithms are usually slow, but GPUs have enabled programmers to train self-learning AI-models by boosting the computing ability of machines.
GPUs can also be useful in processing high computation tasks, such as cracking passwords and mining cryptocurrencies.
Key Differences between CPUs and GPUs
Although GPUs have the ability to perform high-computation tasks, they cannot support low latency. For this reason, CPUs are used for the core functioning tasks of computers, whereas the GPU is usually used for executing display functions on a computer.
The execution of CPUs is highly interactive and is necessary to support an environment consisting of two to eight cores. The powerful cores inside a CPU perform rapid execution of singular tasks, which enables them to process a series of sequenced instructions more efficiently.
On the other hand, the GPU comprises a multitude of weaker cores. Therefore, it may take more time when performing a series of sequential tasks, but is effective at computing parallel instructions without any problem.
At the same time, a GPU’s ability to perform parallel functions at once allows it to perform most operations considerably faster than a CPU. Furthermore, CPUs rely more on the memory for their processing, whereas GPUs consume less main memory during operation.
At the very core of these units, their main agenda is different as well. The main feature of the CPU is the management of the logics speculative executions that have become out of order. In contrast, a GPU supports an architectural structure more tolerant against memory latency.
Vendors of CPU and GPU Processors
The two biggest vendors of CPUs are Intel and AMD. In 2019, AMD has been more successful than Intel and sold nearly two times the number of processors than Intel.
Previously, Intel and AMD existed in two different lanes. However, both of these vendors have now started to penetrate each other’s markets, especially in middle-grade computer systems.
Intel specializes in making a processor that has higher clock speeds, whereas AMD focuses more on increasing the number of cores and providing enhanced multi-threading.
Nevertheless, Intel has the edge over AMD in making hardware for basic computing. With that said, Intel is not able to keep up with AMD when it comes to GPUs.
In contrast, AMD has to contest with NVIDIA for supremacy in the GPU market. NVIDIA has always been the market leader in producing processors that render 3D graphics.
However, in recent times, AMD has been able to capture the attention of high-end graphics users and produce GPU processors that can match the performance of NVIDIA GPUs.
CPUs and GPUs may seem alike in many ways, but both have been optimized for completely different roles. With that said, neither can perform productively without the other and an efficient computer needs both of these units to run properly.