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What is Bit-Serial?

By Jessica Reed
Updated May 17, 2024
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Bit-serial communication is a computer process in which the computer transmits only one piece of data at a time. This is the opposite of bit-parallel in which a computer transmits multiple pieces of data at once. Bit-serial is slower and cannot move large amounts of information quickly. Bit-parallel is the most common type since it can move data quickly and simultaneously.

When a computer needs to send data, it sends it in the form of electrical signals across a wire. In bit-serial transmission, only one wire exists and thus only one signal can travel across the wire at once. The speed with which a computer can process and send data is important. A computer sends many signals to different parts to make things function. If all parts of the computer could only send one signal at a time, it could not function fast enough to run computer programs.

To remedy the slow transfer rate of bit-serial, bit-parallel was introduced. It allows multiple signals to be sent across several wires at once. This allows for faster transfer rates and keeps the signals from getting mixed up by running them across individual wires. In bit-parallel design, the signals may not arrive in the order they are sent, but a specific code tells the computer what order to read them in.

A computer's internal clock also plays a role in how fast information is transferred. In bit-serial transfer, each pulse of the clock signals the computer to send a new bit of information. Hence, six bits of information would take six counts of the clock to transmit. In bit-parallel, the computer can send as many bits at one time as there are physical wires to transmit them. If six wires existed, the computer could send all six bits at once instead of going through six clock cycles.

The computer's owner can speed up the process of data transmission by overclocking the computer. This causes the internal computer clock to tick faster, so to speak, and thus the data bits get sent out more often. Overclocking is not without its problems, however. Speeding the computer up too much can cause overheating and ultimately damage the computer system. Only a person with experience dealing in electronics should attempt to overclock a system, regardless of whether they wish to speed up bit-serial or bit-parallel transmissions.

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