The form, design and implementation of CPUs have changed over the course of their history, but their fundamental operation remains almost unchanged. Principal components of a CPU include the arithmetic logic unit (ALU) that performs arithmetic and logic operations,processor registers that supply operands to the ALU and store the results of ALU operations, and a control unit that fetches instructions from memory and "executes" them by directing the coordinated operations of the ALU, registers and other components.
Most modern CPUs are microprocessors, meaning they are contained on a single integrated circuit (IC) chip. An IC that contains a CPU may also contain memory, peripheral interfaces, and other components of a computer; such integrated devices are variously calledmicrocontrollers or systems on a chip (SoC). Some computers employ a multi-core processor, which is a single chip containing two or more CPUs called "cores"; in that context, single chips are sometimes referred to as "sockets". Array processors or vector processorshave multiple processors that operate in parallel, with no unit considered central.