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What is cache memory?

First off, the question that you must ask is, how do you pronounce this crazy word? The actual way you pronounce it would be the same as how you pronounce cash. The cache memory is built into the central processing unit, commonly known in short as the CPU, or it can be located on a separate chip next to the CPU.

The purpose of the cache memory is much like that of the human beings brain. As you walk down the street, your brain has to tell your body exactly how to move each leg, this is a repeated task that it does each day (hopefully). Like this, as programs are running on your computer, the software will often have repeated tasks throughout it. These tasks are then stored on your cache memory in an effort to quickly and easily use them.

The advantage of having the cache memory is that it doesn't have to go through the system bus to transfer this data. This is actually far slower than the cache memory. Therefore, unlike your brain telling your legs to move, there is a lengthier delay in the time that it requests that information and receives it because it slows to whatever speed your motherboard's capability is. When the computer is required to do this, it creates a bottleneck which slows down the response time of getting this information to do tasks. To the naked eye, when you are running your computer, you would see a slower response in how your software is running.

As you will have noticed on most computers, a lot of software will take some time to open. However, once it is open, it takes very few resources to actually work in it. It is due to the fact that the resources being used are located in the cache memory, rather than elsewhere in the computer hardware. The cache memory can be so effective, that it is very often seen that system performance benchmarks can vary dependent on how much cache memory you have. For example, a computer with a really fast CPU and very little cache could have a lower score than a computer that has a slower CPU and more cache memory.

Another factor in this is that there are three different levels of cache. These levels are dependent on where the cache is located. Some computers will have the cache memory directly built into the CPU. This is considered to be Level 1 (L1) cache. Level 2 (L2) cache memory is cache that will be placed onto a separate chip next to the CPU. There can be some CPU's that have both L1 and L2 cache memory. When a CPU does this and there is still a separate chip away from the CPU, the separate chip would be considered Level 3 cache memory.

You have to keep in mind that L1 cache is faster than L2 cache in the case where there is a separate chip. As mentioned above, when the L1 cache is directly built into the CPU, the cache will run at the speed of the CPU itself. Otherwise, L2 in this case would default to the capability of the motherboard which is almost always slower than that of the CPU.

In the case that you want to build the fastest computer possible and you are wondering how the cache is going to affect your system, you still need to keep in mind that both L1 and L2 cache memory is faster than that of standard RAM. Therefore, when searching for a CPU or motherboard for your new super computer, you are better served by finding both that have built-in cache keeping mind that the more the better.

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