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What are Computer Sockets?

By R. Kayne
Updated May 16, 2024
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Computer sockets are the built-in interfaces on motherboards that accept various hardware components. When compatible devices are plugged into them, they communicate with the system to provide functionality. Components that use these sockets include dial-up modems, graphics cards, and sound cards.

Standardized protocols allow communication between the computer sockets and the devices that are designed to plug into them. When protocols change, the interfaces are renamed, and manufacturers keep pace by designing products that use the newer protocols. In the 1980s, they were referred to as Integrated Drive Electronics (IDE) slots, followed by Enhanced IDE (EIDE) slots.

In some areas, technology has moved beyond these sockets to faster interfaces. Traditional IDE hard drives required wide cables that used parallel technology to sent data back and forth to the drives. Modern drives use an entirely different interface based on serial communication that uses narrow cables and small pin-style interfaces. This not only allowed faster drives, but saved real estate on motherboards and improved airflow inside cases.

On average, motherboards have far fewer points of input today than in the past. Many devices are now built into the board, reducing the need to add so much hardware. Aside from integrated network ability and USB and Firewire support, some motherboards also include integrated graphics and sound functionality. Gamers and audiophiles, however, often continue to opt for high-end aftermarket video graphics cards and sound cards. These devices each require their own computer socket.

While sound cards and many other devices use standard slots, modern motherboards feature other inputs, including a dedicated graphics slot. Graphics cards handle large amounts of data, and as such, the interface is designed to process greater loads without bogging down the central processing unit. There are four main graphics standards for dedicated computer sockets: Advanced Graphics Port (AGP) 4x, AGP 8x, Peripheral Component Interconnect (PCI), and PCI Express (PCIe). The slots are proprietary, meaning an AGP card will not fit into a PCI slot, or visa versa.

Knowing what slots a motherboard has when purchasing a new system is a good idea. Users who want the latest, fastest graphics card, for instance, will be looking at PCIe cards and will require a specific connection for it. Some people may also have other cards to install, and they need to be sure that there is room to do so.

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Discussion Comments

By thumbtack — On Oct 14, 2010

@NightChef, it is true that one can figure out what computer plug goes with what socket simply by the color that has been coordinated with it but at the same time, it is critical that the correct orientation and proper force is used to make the connection.

Many types of connectors on the back of a computer have very small metal pin connectors that cause problems if they are bent even slightly. So essentially you want to be gentle and measure the connector sizes to be sure not to mess anything up. Unfortunately I have had to have a keyboard connector replaced because of a rushed installation before and it was not a cheap experience. Radio Shack and the other similar stores do not sell the proper connectors to simply splice on another, undamaged piece.

By NightChef — On Oct 14, 2010

Computer sockets are so confusing that I just call my grandson when I have a real question about what cable of what type goes into what socket. This isn't to say that it could be done by an elderly person like me but the chances of success are a lot less likely.

One time I did have a keyboard become unplugged and I was able to figure out what socket to plug it back into based on the color coding that the manufacturer put on the plug and the socket. This kind of color coordination is perfect for people like me that don't automatically associate a shape with a cable type.

By anon4609 — On Oct 25, 2007

Sockets could be referred to as the Processor Socket on motherboards. What is described above would be considered Expansion Slots. When matching a Processor with a Socket you have to make sure the Motherboard Socket type and Processor Socket type match.

This knowledge is very important when building your own computer. An AMD Socket 748 can only fit in a Motherboard made for that Socket.

Otherwise the article greatly describes expansion slots.

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