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When acquiring all the components necessary for a PC build, the most important action you can take before purchasing is ensuring the compatibility of all of your components.
While the majority of components are versatile and compatible with a wide range of variations, the most divisive components tend to be your CPU and motherboard.
Generally, the latest Intel CPUs require an LGA1200 socket and the latest AMD CPUs require an AM4 socket to operate.
In this guide, I’ll go over the following to aid your search for a CPU that is compatible with your motherboard:
Let’s get into it.
The most straightforward solution to figuring out which CPUs are compatible with your motherboard is to check the socket on both your CPU and motherboard. We also have an article here about how to test a motherboard without a CPU.
The socket is essentially the point of contact between your CPU and motherboard; therefore, if the sockets don’t match, the contact won’t be complete and your CPU will not function.
If you are replacing the CPU or motherboard for your current build, read this guide on how to safely remove your CPU without damaging the pins!
The key differences between sockets are the dimensions, both mechanical and physical, as well as the layout of the pins. If the sizing is off between your sockets, or the layout of the pins don’t match each other, the components are not compatible.
There are a few different types of sockets and understanding the differences between them will help you with your search.
As mentioned above, the type of sockets you are dealing with are the primary factors in determining compatibility.
There currently are only three types of sockets on the mainstream market, each with its own designated function:
This is the socket type currently used by Intel, so if your CPU has an LGA socket, you want to be sure that your motherboard does as well.
With this socket type, the CPU has flat contacts on its pin grid, whereas the motherboard will have pins sticking out of its grid. When you mount the CPU, the protruding pins make contact with the flat pins on the CPU.
This socket type is different from LGA in that the CPU has the protruding pins, and the motherboard has small holes into which the pins slide.
This socket type is primarily used by AMD, marketed as the AM4 socket. If your CPU has a PGA socket, you’ll likely need to purchase a motherboard with an AM4 socket, or at the very least a PGA socket.
If you accidentally bent your CPU socket pins, you can fix it by following this guide.
Not very common in PC builds, this socket type is used almost exclusively in laptops. The CPU socket is actually soldered into the socket on the motherboard, which means you cannot upgrade without replacing the two components entirely.
Needless to say, if you are building a laptop (or PC, if you’re crazy) with a CPU that has a BGA socket, make sure your motherboard matches, and be certain of your soldering skills.
Figuring out which sockets you’re dealing with is actually the easiest part of the process. You can do this by looking at the components’ specifications online, then comparing.
You’ll want to check both your CPU and motherboard socket types to be sure that they both have the same specifications.
For Intel, their socket types actually spell out the specifications in the model name. (I mentioned the LGA1200 earlier in this article, but there are several types of LGA sockets that Intel uses, depending on how old the CPU is).
The LGA, as you may have guessed, stands for Land Grid Array, and the succeeding number correlates to the amount of pins it contains. The same holds true for the LGA1150 and LGA2066, and any in between, the difference being what each socket was designed for (i.e. heavy workload vs. gaming rig).
Check out our analysis of the best LGA1151 CPUs on the market!
With AMD, all of their CPUs post-2017 require an AM4 socket, for now. They will eventually update their sockets, but for now you can rest assured that any AMD CPU will work only with an AM4.
While understanding the technical aspects are important, I’ll break the question of compatibility down to the basics here, so you can have a quick reference when shopping.
These are the primary types of compatibility you’ll need to worry about, so check these first to save yourself a headache.
I know we just went over this, but it really is the most important thing to keep in mind. AMD aside, processors made by the same company do not necessarily mean they are compatible with the same motherboards.
If you have an older Intel CPU, like the Core i3 which has the LGA1156, it will not work with a newer motherboard socket, like the LGA2066. Always double check the socket types; it will be the easiest way to know whether or not your CPU and motherboard are compatible.
In order to narrow your search by a wide margin, you can start by acknowledging which manufacturer produced your CPU or motherboard. By and large, if your CPU was manufactured by Intel, you’ll need an Intel motherboard or a motherboard with an LGA socket.
By that same token, if your CPU was manufactured by AMD, you’ll need an AMD-manufactured motherboard, or a motherboard with an AM4 socket.
I personally find it best to buy CPUs and motherboards from the same manufacturer, as both companies design their motherboards to optimize the performance of their CPUs. But, that’s just me. If everyone felt that way, there would be no point in writing this article.
You can also check out our buying guide for the best motherboards for each CPU.
Not all processors demand the same type of memory. For example, if you purchase a newer CPU, like the Core i9, you’ll find that your DDR3 RAM can’t keep up with the new speeds.
Along that same line, newer CPUs require newer motherboards, and your motherboard only has sockets for one type of RAM. You’ll need to make sure that your RAM can support your CPU, and that your motherboard can support your CPU and RAM.
What a fun, expensive puzzle!
Your motherboard is controlled by its chipset, which means the chipset needs to be compatible with your CPU, and vice versa.
Generally speaking, as CPUs get faster and faster, the chipset in your motherboard needs to be updated enough to handle those speeds. Otherwise, what was the point in getting a faster CPU?
This step is relatively straightforward; for the most part, you can assume that a motherboard’s chipset can support a CPU one or two generations younger or older than itself. Keep in mind, however, that the tech world is always changing, so double-check everything before purchasing.
It’s really quite simple to determine what CPUs are compatible with each motherboard when you break it down to the basics: socket type, generation, and manufacturer. By taking the above requirements into consideration, you should be able to purchase components without worrying about a lack of compatibility. If you want to know what is a good processor speed for a laptop, you might be interested in this article.
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