CPU Socket Types Explained
People don’t usually concern themselves with CPU sockets. That’s mostly due to the fact that a socket can’t improve or hinder your machine’s performance. However, it has a very important role – it determines what CPUs you can use.
Depending on its type, you’ll be limited to a certain range of Intel or AMD processors. Let’s dig in and learn more about socket types.
CPU Sockets Explained
As the name suggests, a CPU socket is a connection point for your CPU or processor to the motherboard and the rest of the system.
Nowadays, all CPUs are connected to motherboards via sockets. You insert the CPU into the socket and secure it with a latch. PGA sockets, for example, often have two security latches. However, there are other connection types as well found in older motherboards. Some older CPUs connect in the fashion of a PCI slot of today.
Intel vs. AMD
As far as personal computers are concerned, it’s either Intel or AMD. The Intel Core series of CPUs require LGA sockets while the AMD Ryzen series PGA sockets. There’s also the BGA variety, but more on that later.
The PGA – LGA division between AMD and Intel happened years ago. While Intel stuck to LGA, AMD had one foray into LGA with the popular Socket F released in 2006.
You should know that a single-socket motherboard is compatible with either AMD or Intel CPUs. There are no commercially available single-socket models that can support both brands. Furthermore, a motherboard that’s equipped with a PGA socket isn’t compatible with all AMD processors, and the same is true for LGA motherboard and Intel processors.
Types of Sockets
There are three main types of sockets – LGA, PGA, and BGA.
LGA stands for land grid array, meaning that the pins are located on the socket. Compatible CPUs have the corresponding number of gold-plated contact points laid out in a matching pattern. For the system to work, every socket pin must be connected to the corresponding pad on the processor.
Intel switched to this type in 2004 with the release of the Pentium IV CPU. The entire Intel Core range of CPUs use LGA-type sockets, though the actual sockets are different.
For example, the Nehalem generation Core i7 is compatible with the LGA-1366 socket. The socket has 1,366 pins, thus the trailing number in its name (all Intel sockets include the number of pins in their names). LGA-1366 is also known as Socket B. The Ivy Bridge and Sandy Bridge i3, i5, and i7 processors are compatible with Socket H2, also known as LGA-1155.
What’s interesting about Intel’s sockets is that there is virtually no backward compatibility. Intel also doesn’t have a habit of upgrading the sockets to extend their shelf life.
To install an LGA processor, you should lift the lever(s) (some sockets have two levers) and swing open the cover. Then, gently install the CPU into place. Make sure to align the socket pins and CPU pads. Carefully replace the cover and lower the lever(s) into place.
The main advantage of this type of sockets is that it’s much harder to damage the CPU with the pins on the socket side. This also means that LGA-compatible CPUs can last longer.
On the other hand, LGA motherboards are very sensitive. If the pins become damaged, you might as well buy a new motherboard. Finally, LGA CPUs are harder to install than PGA.
PGA and ZIF
AMD’s layout of choice, PGA stands for pin grid array. Compared to LGA, PGA sockets have pins on the processor, instead of the socket/motherboard. For a PGA processor to work, all pins must be inserted into their corresponding holes on the socket.
This has been AMD’s preference since the beginning of the century. Since the switch to PGA-style sockets, AMD has made use of only one LGA socket – Socket F in 2006. Despite the socket’s success, AMD chose to go back to PGA exclusively.
Similar to LGA sockets and processors, the PGA variety is named after the number of pins. For example, the famous Socket AM2 from 2006 is also known as PGA-940 for its 940 holes. The 941-hole socket from 2009 is commercially known as AM3, though you can easily call it PGA-941.
One thing that separates Intel and AMD is that AMD upgraded some of its popular sockets, such as the AM2 and AM3 sockets, instead of discarding them altogether. The upgraded sockets were named AM2+ and AM3+ and retained backward compatibility that allowed users to install their older CPUs onto more modern motherboards.
The AMD Ryzen series of processors are all PGA type. To be more precise, they’re ZIF (zero insertion force) processors, meaning you don’t have to press them to the socket during installation.
To install a ZIF processor, you should raise the security lever, drop the CPU into the socket, and lower the lever back into place. You shouldn’t apply pressure on the CPU, only make sure that the pins and holes are properly aligned.
The biggest advantage of the PGA-type of sockets is that it’s not the end of the world if a few pins become bent. You can straighten them and keep using the CPU as if nothing happened. Also, PGA motherboards are more resilient and sturdier. Finally, they’re easier to install than LGA CPUs.
BGA stands for ball grid array. This type of sockets and CPUs is prevalent in consoles and mobile devices where the users are not expected to tamper with the hardware. Similar to PGA and LGA models, BGA sockets and processors have to have the same number of perfectly matched contact points for them to work.
However, instead of pins, pads, and holes, BGA processors and sockets use solder balls. To connect them, you have to heat the balls until they melt and then gently press the CPU into the socket. That means that the CPU is permanently attached to the socket with no replacement or upgrade paths.
Where Are Your Pins?
Similar to AMD and Intel, many computer users have their preferred socket and CPU types. Some like the pins to be on the CPU, while others would rather have them on the socket. In contrast, the CPUs and sockets are soldered together in consoles, laptops, and cellphones.
Where does your allegiance lie? What’s your favorite type of CPU socket and why? Care to join the Intel vs AMD debate? The arena is open below.