The performance of your CPU — the “brain” of your PC — has a major impact on the speed at which programs load and how smoothly they run. However, there are a few different ways to measure processor performance. Clock speed (also “clock rate” or “frequency”) is one of the most significant.

If you’re wondering how to check your clock speed, click the Start menu (or click the Windows* key) and type “System Information.” Your CPU’s model name and clock speed will be listed under “Processor”.

What Is Clock Speed?

In general, a higher clock speed means a faster CPU. However, many other factors come into play.

Your CPU processes many instructions (low-level calculations like arithmetic) from different programs every second. The clock speed measures the number of cycles your CPU executes per second, measured in GHz (gigahertz).

A “cycle” is technically a pulse synchronized by an internal oscillator, but for our purposes, they’re a basic unit that helps understand a CPU’s speed. During each cycle, billions of transistors within the processor open and close.

Sometimes, multiple instructions are completed in a single clock cycle; in other cases, one instruction might be handled over multiple clock cycles. Since different CPU designs handle instructions differently, it’s best to compare clock speeds within the same CPU brand and generation.

For example, a CPU with a higher clock speed from five years ago might be outperformed by a new CPU with a lower clock speed, as the newer architecture deals with instructions more efficiently. An X-series Intel® processor might outperform a K-series processor with a higher clock speed, because it splits tasks between more cores and features a larger CPU cache. But within the same generation of CPUs, a processor with a higher clock speed will generally outperform a processor with a lower clock speed across many applications. This is why it’s important to compare processors from the same brand and generation.

A CPU with a clock speed of 3.2 GHz executes 3.2 billion cycles per second. (Older CPUs had speeds measured in megahertz, or millions of cycles per second.)