Trends in computer architecture

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Key points

  • Since the development of computers, there has been a trend towards faster processing and more memory.
  • The clock speed of computers has increased by over 100 times since the 1980s - computers can do billions of instructions per second. This has led to new technologies to keep the processors cool (the faster processors operate, the hotter the circuit becomes)
  • The data bus size of processors has increased - newer computers use a 64 bit data bus, compared to computers in the 1980s, which used an 8 bit data bus. This means each instruction is sending eight times the data in one clock cycle.
  • Transistors have been designed to be much smaller - this means more transistors can be packed onto a chip. A processor in the 1970s consisted of around 2000 transistors, and a modern processor could have up to 2 billion. This allows for more complex circuitry and multi-core processors.
  • Adding extra memory directly to the processor (Level 1 cache) has allowed processors to access data faster.
  • Parallel computing has become more common, both with multi-processor machines (used in Big Data computing) and multi-core processors (in most devices) - at times, two instructions can be processed at once.
  • There is a trend towards designing new types of processor such as optical processors (using light signals rather than electrical signals) or quantum processors (using quantum effects to represent more than 1 or 0 for each bit).
  • Processors are being designed to be more power efficient to work with mobile devices (like the ARM processor)

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