Both Intel and AMD utilize what are known as sockets to act as a physical connection between their processor chip and the motherboard.

A number of generations in both camps have come to market, and it's important for system builders (and consumers who are looking to upgrade their CPU) to ensure they're matching up compatible processors and motherboards.

If a situation should occur where the CPU and socket aren't compatible, the best case scenario is that the component won't physically be able to connect with the socket, while the worst case may be irreparable damage to either system part. Luckily, it's really easy to figure out and check whether or not a CPU you're looking at will work with a specific motherboard.

The physical interface differs between platform. For Intel, the LGA socket consists of a number of pins that match up against the flat underbelly of an Intel processor, which is called Land Grid Array (LGA). For AMD, it's the opposite with the pins being located on the processor itself. Depending on the configuration of pins, certain sockets may support multiple processor generations. An example would be the current LGA 1151 socket for Intel, which supports both 6th and 7th-gen CPUs.

The socket cannot be swapped out and will require a full motherboard replacement should you need to take advantage of another interface. We'll look at a few socket examples for Intel and AMD to show how multiple generations of CPUs can be supported by the latest from both companies.

Intel

The latest generation of consumer desktop processors from Intel run on LGA 1151. Those with Skylake processors may be able to flash their motherboard with a new BIOS update (if available) and insert a Kaby Lake CPU. Should you be in a similar position, be sure to check the manufacturer of your motherboard to see if such an update is available for use with newer processors.

See below a chart of the more recent sockets that you'll find available online when building a new PC. The number used by Intel in its naming scheme denotes just how many connections are on the socket itself.

Socket Chipsets Processors
LGA 1151 H110, B150, Q150, H170, Q170, Z170 B250, Q250, H270, Q270, Z270 Kaby Lake
Skylake
LGA 1150 H81, B85, Q85, Q87, H87, Z87, H97, Z97 Broadwell
Haswell

AMD

A different name scheme is deployed by AMD with AM4 on the horizon for the next-generation of Zen processors. AM3+ is currently the latest socket to be used for both Bulldozer and Piledriver FX series of CPUs. AM sockets are used for mainstream and enthusiast CPU solutions, while the FM series is deployed for APUs.

Socket Chipsets Processors
AM4 A300, B300, X300, A320, B350, X370 Zen
AM3+ 970, 980G, 990X, 990FX Piledriver
Bulldozer
FM2+ A58, A68H, A78, A88X Steamroller
Excavator

Getting it right

CPU

Here are some helpful points for CPU installation and sockets:

  • Most motherboard and CPU store listings will state supported sockets.
  • Never push down on a CPU when inserting into a socket.
  • Use any markers on the CPU and socket to better orientate the component.
  • Most sockets have an accompanying arm that can be used to raise and lower the bracket to secure a CPU.
  • CPU coolers can come with multiple brackets to support more than one socket.
  • Be sure to remove and clean old heat paste before applying anew.