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 CPUs) to ensure they're matching up compatible processors and motherboards.

Sockets

A socket is the array of pins and the securing mechanism that hold a processor in place and connect the motherboard to available processing power. There are different sockets depending on what generation CPU is supported. 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 easy to figure out and check whether or not a CPU you're looking at will work with a specific motherboard. Usually, it's recommended to choose the CPU first, which provides you with what socket it requires, making buying a motherboard that little bit simpler. For example, a new Ryzen 3 1300X will require an AM4 motherboard, while an Intel Core i5-7600K will need an LGA 1151.

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 sixth- and seventh-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.

Chipsets

Intel Socket

In the most basic sense, a chipset is a group of electronic components on the motherboard that manages data between the processor, RAM, storage and other connected hardware. Multiple chipsets are available per socket, allowing you to choose between budget and performance, with the more expensive motherboards sporting more capable components.

Intel

The latest generation of consumer desktop processors from Intel run on LGA 1151. Those with "Skylake" processors may be able to flash their motherboards with a new BIOS update (if available — check with the motherboard manufacturer) and insert a "Kaby Lake" CPU, but this trick will not work with the new "Coffee Lake."

See below for a chart of the 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 Z370 Coffee Lake
LGA 1151 H110, B150, Q150, H170, Q170, Z170 B250, Q250, H270, Q270, and Z270 Kaby Lake
Skylake
LGA 1150 H81, B85, Q85, Q87, H87, Z87, H97, and Z97 Broadwell
Haswell

AMD

A different name scheme is used 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 the "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, and X370 Zen
AM3+ 970, 980G, 990X, and 990FX Piledriver
Bulldozer
FM2+ A58, A68H, A78, and A88X Steamroller
Excavator

Getting it right

CPU

Here are some helpful tips for CPU installation and sockets:

  • Most motherboard and CPU store listings 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 it anew.
  • Check how many PCIe slots a motherboard has before purchasing (for GPUs, for example).

Updated December 07, 2017: We double-checked our information in this post and added more details on sockets and chipsets.