Why are CPU registers fast to access?


Registers are circuits which are literally wired directly to the ALU, which contains the circuits for arithmetic. Every clock cycle, the register unit of the CPU core can feed a half-dozen or so variables into the other circuits. Actually, the units within the datapath (ALU, etc.) can feed data to each other directly, via the bypass network, which in a way forms a hierarchy level above registers — but they still use register-numbers to address each other. (The control section of a fully pipelined CPU dynamically maps datapath units to register numbers.)

The register keyword in C does nothing useful and you shouldn't use it. The compiler decides what variables should be in registers and when.

Registers are a core part of the CPU, and much of the instruction set of a CPU will be tailored for working against registers rather than memory locations. Accessing a register's value will typically require very few clock cycles (likely just 1), as soon as memory is accessed, things get more complex and cache controllers / memory buses get involved and the operation is going to take considerably more time.

Registers are essentially internal CPU memory. So accesses to registers are easier and quicker than any other kind of memory accesses.