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CPU Cache

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A CPU cache is a cache used by the central processing unit of a computer to reduce the average time to access memory. The cache is a smaller, faster memory which stores copies of the data from the most frequently used main memory locations. As long as most memory accesses are cached memory locations, the average latency of memory accesses will be closer to the cache latency than to the latency of main memory.

When the processor needs to read from or write to a location in main memory, it first checks whether a copy of that data is in the cache. If so, the processor immediately reads from or writes to the cache, which is much faster than reading from or writing to main memory.

The diagram on the right shows two memories. Each location in each memory has a datum (a cache line), which in different designs ranges in size from 8 to 512 bytes. The size of the cache line is usually larger than the size of the usual access requested by a CPU instruction, which ranges from 1 to 16 bytes. Each location in each memory also has an index, which is a unique number used to refer to that location. The index for a location in main memory is called an address. Each location in the cache has a tag that contains the index of the datum in main memory that has been cached. In a CPU's data cache these entries are called cache lines or cache blocks.

Most modern desktop and server CPUs have at least three independent caches: an instruction cache to speed up executable instruction fetch, a data cache to speed up data fetch and store, and a translation lookaside buffer used to speed up virtual-to-physical address translation for both executable instructions and data.