What Is a Chip Socket?

Andy Josiah

A chip socket, also known as a central processing unit (CPU) socket or processing socket, is a device that connects the motherboard of a computer with its CPU, or processor. It is a common feature of computer chips that adhere to the microarchitecture of Intel Corporation's 8086, a 16-bit CPU that the prominent semiconductor manufacturer produced in the late 1970s. The chip socket has become one of the essential components of motherboards.

A computer motherboard.
A computer motherboard.

In the late 1980s, when personal computers (PCs) began to grow in popularity, motherboards, also known as mainboards or system boards, were created to house some of the computer's most important components. This included not only the processor, but the keyboard and mouse connectors, audio and video ports, system memory, and expansion slots for sound and graphics cards as well. Thus, the motherboard acts as the "heart" of a PC.

A central processing unit. The CPU connects to the motherboard through the chip socket.
A central processing unit. The CPU connects to the motherboard through the chip socket.

With the advent of the chip socket, which emerged around the same time as motherboards, the processor now had certain advantages. Firstly, it had a firmer support. Secondly, the chip socket ensured proper contact with the motherboard so that it could conduct data transfer. Finally, the chip socket allowed the user to remove or plug in the chip securely, without risking damage to it. This eliminated the more cumbersome task of soldering the CPU onto the motherboard.

Chip sockets can vary according to the type of force they use for the application of the processors. The zero insertion force completely eliminates any force needed to insert or remove a CPU. On the other hand, low insertion force sockets require a very small amount of force to do so.

Manufacturers typically use a pin grid array (PGA) when making chip sockets. This means that the holes that accommodates the CPU's pins, which are used for fastening to the motherboard, are arranged neatly and rather evenly on all four sides of a square-shaped structure. Several variants of PGA exist, the most popular one being plastic pin grid array (PPGA), which means that the socket is made of plastic. Other PGA variants include flip-chip pin grid array (FCPGA), which involves a design that allows the CPU to have its back exposed for cooling purposes; staggered pin grid array (SPGA), which describes the way the pins are arranged; and ceramic pin grid array (CPGA), which involves a ceramic socket. The land grid array (LGA) design is notable for having the pins on the chip socket itself, rather than on the CPU.

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