What Does CPU Socket Type Mean


CPU socket types can give you an idea about the technology behind a specific microprocessor. Knowing all the details behind a specific processor such as its power requirements, socket type, and how they are mounted, among others, can help inform...

Author: Emman Jemuel Velos
Category: Hardware
Author: Emman Jemuel Velos
Category: Hardware



As a gamer, I’ve always loved building my own rigs. In the process of building rigs, I came across different CPU (Central Processing Unit) socket types from different manufacturers. “What is a CPU socket,” you ask? Great question!

CPU sockets have two different functions: 

  • They establish a connection between the CPU and the motherboard.
  • They lock the CPU into place to prevent movement.

Not all CPUs and motherboards are compatible. CPU socket types provide details about the CPU socket attached to a motherboard to help users determine compatibility.

When purchasing system unit parts, CPU socket type is one of the most important considerations you have to make. Here are a few more details about CPU sockets, various types, and some considerations to keep in mind when choosing the right motherboard. 

What Are CPU Sockets?

A CPU socket, simply put, is a CPU slot. The microprocessor (CPU) of the computer is mounted on the CPU socket to establish a connection with the motherboard. Once mounted, it is then secured with a latch to lock it in place without the need for soldering.

What Does CPU Socket Type Mean

CPU sockets are usually square-shaped and are made from high-grade, heat-resistant plastic with metallic attachments as a contact point. They are more commonly found on desktop computers and servers. Laptop computers do away with the standard CPU socket design. Instead, CPUs are mounted directly on the board to save space.

Why Do Chip Manufacturers Use Different Socket Types?

One simple answer has to do with differences in the performance and requirements for each chip. More powerful chips require more energy for proper function. Extra pins are introduced to each new chip to draw more electricity from the motherboard and maintain proper function. This creates a change to the pin configuration for each new chip and its corresponding socket, which also explains why CPU socket types differ for new and old gen processor models.

Another reason has to do with CPU architecture. Chip manufacturers like AMD and Intel utilize different designs for their processors. As different chip architecture is used for each design, new changes to the CPU’s shape, size, pin orientation, and power requirements, among others, are introduced. For this reason, their chips will never be compatible with each other.

Different CPU Socket Types

CPU sockets used in modern computers can be categorized into two separate types: the Pin Grid Array (PGA) and the Land Grid Array (LGA). Their distinctions are determined by how and where connections between the processor and the motherboard are established.

PGA and LGA Sockets

A PGA socket involves using metallic or ceramic pins lined up in an array to connect the chip with the motherboard. These pins are found on the processor itself. Its corresponding socket can be found on the motherboard. To securely mount the chip, apply slight pressure until it is locked by the spring contact. Align the pins carefully with the holes to avoid bending or damaging them.

The LGA socket was built in direct response to the PGA configuration. LGA pins are contained inside an enclosure within the socket itself, while its corresponding holes are found on the processor. A pressure lever secures the chip into place inside the enclosure as it is mounted. Unlike PGA sockets, the pins on LGA sockets are less susceptible to damage due to misalignment.

ZIF and BGA Sockets

Two PGA variants were built in response to the fragile nature of the socket. These were the  Zero Insertion Force (ZIF) socket and the Ball Grid Array (BGA) socket. The ZIF socket, as the name implies, eliminates the need to apply pressure while mounting the processor onto the motherboard. Instead, a lever or slider on the side of the socket is used to lock the CPU into place after it is placed into the socket. This lessens or eliminates the risk of damaging the CPU pins during insertion or removal.

The BGA socket, on the other hand, does away with using pins and instead have soldered copper pads to remove any risk of damage due to incorrect insertion. 

Determining Compatibility by Chip Names

Simply knowing the socket type does not ensure compatibility between a chip and the motherboard. That is because the CPU socket types provided above only comprise half of the story. In reality, the PGA and LGA socket types are only general categories. Different builds will fall under each, depending on CPU architecture.

Under Intel, LGA sockets are given model names that contain the general category and a set of numbers equal to the number of pins used. For instance, Socket LGA 1150 pertains to an LGA socket with 1150 pins. Chips with a higher number will not be supported due to the difference in the number of pins.

Other names are also added to the model names, such as Broadwell and Haswell. These pertain to the chip’s microarchitecture. In this case, both chip variations are supported by the motherboard after a simple software upgrade. 

AMD has a different approach to naming its chips. AMD socket types are given broad names like FM2 and AM1. Some of its upgrades retain compatibility with its predecessor. This type of upgrade can be identified with a “+”. For example, AM3 and FM2 chips are still compatible with AM3+ and FM2+ motherboard sockets.

These are the basic naming conventions for both Intel and AMD. Knowing these conventions gives us a general idea about the CPU’s compatibility with certain motherboards.

Other Factors to Consider

Aside from knowing the CPU socket type, there are other things that you need to consider when choosing a motherboard for your CPU. Understanding these considerations will help you identify your options in terms of other parts and future upgrades.

Form Factor

The motherboard form factor describes its general shape, size, and physical layout. This will determine the type of case and power supply it can use to ensure optimal function. Form factors that have been introduced into the industry over the years include:

  • AT and Baby AT
  • ATX and Mini ATX
  • MicroATX
  • LPX and Mini LPX
  • NLX

Among all listed form factors, only the ATX and Mini ATX are still in use or are still being manufactured while the others are already obsolete.

PCI Slots are open ports on the motherboard that are used as expansion slots for accessories such as sound cards, video cards, and network cards. Depending on your usage, having extra high-speed PCI slots will come in handy if you plan on installing other accessories on your PC.

Random Access Memory (RAM)

The type of motherboard that you select will determine the amount of RAM (Random Access Memory) and the clock speed it can support. For modern software, it is recommended that you have plenty of RAM at high clock speeds for applications to run smoothly. 

SATA Ports enable your motherboard to connect storage devices like HDDs and SSDs and optical drives. The number of SATA ports available on the motherboard determines how much storage is available to your system. Newer systems offer the SATA 6 gigabytes standard, known as SATA 3.0.

Conclusion

CPU socket types can give you an idea about the technology behind a specific microprocessor. Knowing all the details behind a specific processor such as its power requirements, socket type, and how they are mounted, among others, can help inform your decision when buying a motherboard. However, your decision should not lie solely on the CPU socket type. The other important factors should also be considered in order to better assess your needs now and in the future.