A wait state is a delay experienced by a computer processor when accessing external memory or another device that is slow to respond.
When the processor needs to access external memory, it starts placing the address of the requested information on the address bus. It then must wait for the answer, that may come back tens if not hundreds of cycles later. Each of the cycles spent waiting is called a wait state.
Wait states are a pure waste for a processor’s performance. Modern designs try to eliminate or hide them using a variety of techniques: CPU caches, instruction pipelines, instruction prefetch, branch prediction, simultaneous multithreading and others. No single technique is 100% successful, but together they can significantly reduce the problem.