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Everything you need to know about PC motherboards, sockets and chipsets

Motherboard
Motherboard

We've seen generations of hardware come out from Intel and AMD. This makes it important to ensure you're matching up compatible processors and motherboards with the chipset best suited to your needs. But what is a chipset and why are sockets different?

Sockets

A socket is the array of pins and the securing mechanism that hold a processor in place and connect the motherboard to the 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 the socket it requires, making buying a motherboard that little bit simpler. For example, a new Ryzen 5 3600X will require an AM4 motherboard, while an Intel Core i5-9600K will need one with LGA 1151.

Which motherboard is best for you?

ASUS ROG Strix X570 Motherboard

Source: ASUS (Image credit: Source: ASUS)

Choosing the right motherboard for your PC can be a little tricky, but if you're starting with this component as the foundation for your next build, we've rounded up a handful of our favorites that will create a high-performing platform.

Best motherboard for your PC

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 sixth-, seventh-, eighth-, and ninth-gen CPUs. The socket cannot be swapped out and will require a full motherboard replacement should you need to take advantage of another interface.

But just because the socket matches your CPU, it doesn't mean the motherboard will be compatible with it. This is where the chipset comes into play. An Intel Core i5 7600K and 9600K both support LGA 1151, but the former works with the Z170 chipset while the latter works with the Z370 chipset.

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

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.

SocketChipsetsProcessors
LGA 2066X299Kaby Lake-X
Skylake-X
Skylake-W
Cascade Lake-X
Cascade Lake-W
LGA 1151B360, Q370, H310, H370, and Z370Coffee Lake
LGA 1151H110, B150, Q150, H170, Q170, Z170 B250, Q250, H270, Q270, and Z270Kaby Lake
Skylake
LGA 1150H81, B85, Q85, Q87, H87, Z87, H97, and Z97Broadwell
Haswell

AMD

A different naming scheme is used by AMD with AM4 used for Ryzen processors. AM3+was used for "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. TR4 is solely used for Threadripper CPUs.

SocketChipsetsProcessors
sTRX4TRX40Threadripper 3
TR4X399Threadripper 1-2
AM4X570Ryzen 2-3
AM4B350, X370, B450, and X470Ryzen 1-3
AM4A300, B300, X300, A320, B350, and X370Ryzen 1-2
AM3+970, 980G, 990X, and 990FXPiledriver
Bulldozer
FM2+A58, A68H, A78, and A88XSteamroller
Excavator

Getting it right

CPU

CPU (Image credit: Rich Edmonds / Windows Central)

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 orient and align 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).
  • Never throw away the plastic CPU socket cover. You'll need this if you RMA the motherboard.
Rich Edmonds
Rich Edmonds

Rich Edmonds is Senior Editor of PC hardware at Windows Central, covering everything related to PC components and NAS. He's been involved in technology for more than a decade and knows a thing or two about the magic inside a PC chassis. You can follow him over on Twitter at @RichEdmonds.

7 Comments
  • Great article! Thank you
  • We need pictures of sockets
  • yeah socket pr0n 
  • The whole don't push down on your cpu is a huge tip. Also make sure the triangles lineup!
  • Wait, so new Intel generations require new motherboards even if the chipset is the same? That's ridiculous.
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