A CPU cache is a cache used by the central processing unit of a computer to reduce the average time to access memory. The cache is a smaller, faster memory which stores copies of the data from the most frequently used main memory locations. As long as most memory accesses are to cached memory locations, the average latency of memory accesses will be closer to the cache latency than to the latency of main memory.
Multi-level caches generally operate by checking the smallest Level 1 (L1) cache first; if it hits, the processor proceeds at high speed. If the smaller cache misses, the next larger cache (L2) is checked, and so on, before external memory is checked.
As the latency difference between main memory and the fastest cache has become larger, some processors have begun to utilize as many as three levels of on-chip cache. For example, in 2003, Itanium 2 began shipping with a 6 MiB unified level 3 (L3) cache on-chip. The IBM Power 4 series has a 256 MiB L3 cache off chip, shared among several processors. The new AMD Phenom series of chips carries a 2MB on die L3 cache.