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Control Unit (CU)

Definition - What does Control Unit (CU) mean?

A control unit (CU) handles all processor control signals. It directs all input and output flow, fetches code for instructions from microprograms and directs other units and models by providing control and timing signals. A CU component is considered the processor brain because it issues orders to just about everything and ensures correct instruction execution.

Techopedia explains Control Unit (CU)

A CU takes its input from the instruction and status registers. Its rules of operation, or microprogram, are encoded in a programmable logic array (PLA), random logic or read-only memory (ROM).

CU functions are as follows:

  • Controls sequential instruction execution
  • Interprets instructions
  • Guides data flow through different computer areas
  • Regulates and controls processor timing
  • Sends and receives control signals from other computer devices
  • Handles multiple tasks, such as fetching, decoding, execution handling and storing results

CUs are designed in two ways:

  • Hardwired control: Design is based on a fixed architecture. The CU is made up of flip-flops, logic gates, digital circuits and encoder and decoder circuits that are wired in a specific and fixed way. When instruction set changes are required, wiring and circuit changes must be made. This is preferred in a reduced instruction set computing (RISC) architecture, which only has a small number of instructions.
  • Microprogram control: Microprograms are stored in a special control memory and are based on flowcharts. They are replaceable and ideal because of their simplicity.

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