Home : Technical Terms : Clock Cycle Definition

Clock Cycle

A clock cycle, or simply a "cycle," is a single electronic pulse of a CPU. During each cycle, a CPU can perform a basic operation such as fetching an instruction, accessing memory, or writing data. Since only simple commands can be performed during each cycle, most CPU processes require multiple clock cycles.

In physics, the frequency of a signal is determined by cycles per second, or "hertz." Similarly, the frequency of a processor is measured in clock cycles per second. Since modern processors can complete millions of clock cycles every second, processor speeds are often measured in megahertz or gigahertz.

The frequency of a processor is also known as the processor's clock speed. While the clock speed is important in determining the processor's overall performance, it is not the only factor. Since processors have different instruction sets, they may differ in the number of cycles needed to complete each instruction, or CPI (cycles per instruction). Therefore, some processors can perform faster than others, even at slower clock speeds.

Updated: July 24, 2010

Cite this definition:


TechTerms - The Tech Terms Computer Dictionary

This page contains a technical definition of Clock Cycle. It explains in computing terminology what Clock Cycle means and is one of many technical terms in the TechTerms dictionary.

All definitions on the TechTerms website are written to be technically accurate but also easy to understand. If you find this Clock Cycle definition to be helpful, you can reference it using the citation links above. If you think a term should be updated or added to the TechTerms dictionary, please email TechTerms!

Subscribe to the TechTerms Newsletter to get featured terms and quizzes right in your inbox. You can choose to receive either a daily or weekly email.

Sign up for the free TechTerms Newsletter

How often would you like to receive an email?

You can unsubscribe at any time.
Questions? Please contact us.