I/O bound

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In computer science, I/O bound refers to a condition in which the time it takes to complete a computation is determined principally by the period spent waiting for input/output operations to be completed. This is the opposite of a task being CPU bound. This circumstance arises when the rate at which data is requested is slower than the rate it is consumed or, in other words, more time is spent requesting data than processing it.[1]

I/O bound as an inherent problem in computing[edit]

The I/O bound state has been identified as a problem in computing almost since its inception. The Von Neumann architecture, which is employed by many computing devices, is based on a logically separate central processor unit which requests data from main memory,[clarification needed] processes it and writes back the results. Since data must be moved between the CPU and memory along a bus which has a limited data transfer rate, there exists a condition that is known the Von Neumann bottleneck. Put simply, this means that the data bandwidth between the CPU and memory tends to limit the overall speed of computation. In terms of the actual technology that makes up a computer, the Von Neumann Bottleneck predicts that it is easier to make the CPU perform calculations faster than it is to supply it with data at the necessary rate for this to be possible.

In recent history, the Von Neumann bottleneck has become more apparent. The design philosophy of modern computers is based upon a physically separate CPU and main memory. It is possible to make the CPU run at a high data transfer rate because data is moved between locations inside them across tiny distances. The physical separation between CPU and main memory, however, requires a data bus to move data across comparatively long distances of centimetres or more. The problem of making this part of the system operate sufficiently fast to keep up with the CPU has been a great challenge to designers.[2]

I/O bound as a practical problem[edit]

The I/O bound state is considered undesirable because it means that the CPU must stall its operation while waiting for data to be loaded or unloaded from main memory or secondary storage. With faster computation speed being the primary goal of new computer designs and components such as the CPU and memory being expensive, there is a strong imperative to avoid I/O bound states and eliminating them can yield a more economic improvement in performance than upgrading the CPU or memory.

See also[edit]