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How does data transfer physically work?

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Feb 17, 2010
Minneapolis, MN
Hey everybody! Newbie here -.-

Well maybe not entirely, but compared to some of you, absolutely. But all and all, i do know the basics of overclocking -have read a few of your yall's OC guides - and have a successfully clocked rig (3.92 =D).

Any way.. I'll get to the point.
I'm in the process of writing a research paper that is focusing on how to overlock a computer, but more specifically, why it works. My hopes are that it will end up being a technical guide to overclocking, but hey, we'll see.

I've been having a hell of a time finding information about the process that a computer goes through to process a piece of data or a binary file.

It obviously starts out someplace, the web or a flash drive, and then travels through the appropriate bus, then to the CPU's bus, then is processed, then ends up whereever it is directed...on a hardrive or a website...

i apologize if this is in the wrong section...but it seemed that this atleast partially appropriate. Also am sorry if it is a bit wordy or long. =x

However, i'm afraid that this logical progression won't be enough for my paper, or for that matter, my curiosity =p


I once overclocked an Intel
Mar 3, 2008
Computer Engineering and Electrical Engineering are the fields you should be in :D

Here is the low down. So your Computer has power running through it, and there are thousands of buses of which data travels on, and there are a lot of different electric parts that manipulate the power on the computer. Lets take that knowledge and scale it down.

Lets first start with the motherboard, since that is where it all begins. Power comes in and turns on the BIOS. The BIOS does its start up stuff and communicates with the rest of the parts connected to the board. After a check the CPU will kick in (btw, this all takes less than a milla-second). Your CPU is setup with an array of transistors, these transistors will cycle the power to turn circuits on and off, also known as Binary. How does this happen? Transistors work in one of two ways, if electricity is passing through than the circuit can be on or off, depending on the transistor. Same thing when no electricity is passing through. You can see these signals working using an Oscilloscope. When you see electricity working, you will see it in the form of a plateau graph. Actually the graph is made of the math function sin to an extreme power. What you are seeing is the on and off states of the flow of electricity or current.

So now that your CPU is taking in these on and off states, or binary, a decoder will than translate these states to the software put on the CPU itself, also known as firmware. From there the CPU has been preprogrammed what its suppose to do with this data.

Now how does it to distinguish data from others? Well its by the number of on and offs or binary numbers. 0000 translates to 0 in Binary, 0001 translates to 1, 0010 translates to 2. But it gets a bit more complicated when you take binary and bring into hex. Hex is the machine code language, simply put level 2 of communication between the software and the physical component. Hex can also be translated into other languages like C. Actually C is one of the most common langues to use when writing software for computer parts.

Now lets bring all this knowledge back together in the form of overclocking. When a series of circuits turns on and off due to a current flowing through, this can be translated into one cycle in terms of computing power. Further more, a cycle is the speed of which a component runs at. So if you have a 1 MHz CPU, it can do 1 million cycles per a second. That means it turns off and on a single transistor a million times in one second. Lets bring this up scale. Say we have a Phenom II 940, with a single 2gig 800MHz Ram stick, on an AM2+ Motherboard. Phenom II 940 is at default settings. Your CPU runs at 3.0GHz, with HT Link of 1800 MHz, and CPU-NB of 1800 MHz. On an AMD motherboard, everything is run on a 64bit Buss (that means 64 lanes of data can be ran through this; on a side note data runs only one way on a buss, so there are input and output busses). This buss runs at 200 MHz, and each device, ie CPU-NB, HTL, and CPU, runs at this same speed. Confused eh?

Lets take a step back for a second and look at this bus. With AMD, the CPU, CPU-NB, and the devices connected to the CPU directly, all run on a single buss. Also known as the Hyper Transport. This buss can have its speed increased (the original method to overclocking). Each device on this buss has an internal multiplier. These multipliers are what actually give the device its speed.

In terms of overclocking what you are doing is increasing the cycle of a device, that is to say you are increasing the internal speed of a device.

Hope this helps.


May 7, 2006
Anywhere but there
Here's a basic layout to go with Dolks' explaination. The red arrows represent external buses on the motherboard.

In the second diagram you can see the HyperTransport and memory buses coming into the CPU.

Overclocking not only speeds up the cycles of the individual components, like the CPU and RAM, it often includes speeding up the buses themselves. This increases data flow much like changing the speed limit on a highway from 55 to 70 increases traffic flow.


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Oct 12, 2009
5280, USA
It's really a deep subject that would take a loooong time to really explain down the extreme details. I'd recommend an old A+ book for the basics if you want more details. You can usually find those pretty cheap and have a great introduction into the workings of computer hardware. :)

If you really get interested in the software side of things, it can really get fun. I'm currently in an operating systems class that is explaining in depth the workings of system calls, process and thread creation, and all sorts of I/O device processing. It's super cool stuff!


I once overclocked an Intel
Mar 3, 2008
Software classes can only go so deep. For the best in depth learning take a Computer and Electrical Engineerings course.


Jan 5, 2005
Software classes can only go so deep. For the best in depth learning take a Computer and Electrical Engineerings course.

Computer engineering is where you want to be. Electrical typically goes deeper into the transistor level design of a processor than the system level design of a computer. Computer architecture and digital design would be two subjects that cover this kind of thing, but even those classes are more strictly within a processor than the whole computer system.