Computational Task

What Is a Computational Task?

When discussing computational workloads, a task is a general term referring to a single unit of work or individual step in a process. Tasks are often part of a larger unit of work called a job. The term task is general across computing and may be used in place of more specific terminology such as thread, query, process, or step depending on the context of the computing taking place. When addressing a larger job, a computer breaks it down into tasks and then orders them in a task queue to process the job more efficiently. Almost any computer operation constitutes a task or series of tasks including retrieving files from storage, running mathematical calculations, or loading webpages.

Types of Computational Tasks

CPU-bound tasks

CPU-bound tasks refer to tasks in which the efficiency of completion is tied to the speed and capacity of the central processing unit (CPU). In this case, the CPU is the primary computer component responsible for completing the tasks, with minimal involvement from other computer elements. CPU-bound tasks are calculation-heavy, meaning data is being processed and new data created.

I/O-bound tasks

I/O-bound tasks are tasks that are tied directly to the speed of input/output operations such as read/write speed on a hard drive. They are tasks that require little to no calculations but require the transfer or retrieval of information between computer systems. I/O-bound tasks will have minimal involvement from the CPU and high involvement from I/O components.

Examples of Computational Task

CPU-bound tasks

  • Mathematical computations - Mathematical computations use the CPU to perform the calculations. Large or difficult computations will take longer depending on the speed of the CPU.
  • Sorting algorithms - Sorting algorithms use a series of decisions to sort data from a list or array into a particular order. These algorithms are processed in the CPU.

I/O-bound tasks

  • File I/O operations - Retrieving, storing, or modifying files are all examples of I/O-bound operations.
  • Network I/O operations - Sending and receiving data between computers is an I/O-bound task and is highly dependent on the transfer speed of the systems involved. This includes browsing the web, streaming video, or downloading files and data.

Best Practices for Handling Computational Tasks

The efficiency of computational tasks can be improved by increasing the capabilities of the components to which they are bound. Parallel processing and distributing workloads across multiple cores or machines can improve the speed of CPU-bound tasks by increasing the total processing power available. Using asynchronous programming and non-blocking I/O operations is beneficial for improving I/O-bound tasks.