A chipset socket is where a computer’s central processing unit (CPU) chip is installed. This socket is located in the computer’s motherboard, which contains all of the circuits directly related to the central processor. Chipset sockets used to be soldered to the motherboard, but now use a more user-friendly lever-release, making it easier to swap out chips. The sockets typically are named after the number of pins they contain, for example Socket 775 has 775 pins — meaning it has 775 contact points on the CPU.
If the processing chip is analogous to the engine of a motor vehicle, the chipset is akin to its chassis. The chipset socket essentially opens the connection between the engine and the chassis, and allows all the other components in the chipset to interact with the processor. In addition, it is only through the chipset — and hence the chipset socket — where the chip can talk to other components outside of the motherboard, such as memory modules and adapter boards.
Chipset sockets as known today began with Intel’s “486” line of processors, which were designed as user-installable and replaceable components. Previously, chips were often soldered directly onto the motherboard. Although sockets had been used to mount processors before, Intel came up with a key innovation in chipset socket design called zero insertion force (ZIF). ZIF sockets allow easier installation or removal of the chip with no tools, instead relying on a lever to engage or release the chip.
Dozens of types of chipset sockets exist, and they vary in the number of pins, their layout and the voltage used in the socket connection. Different chipset socket types accept different families of processors. Chipset socket names were first composed of simple numbers or letters, but current types have numbers that reflect the number of pins; for example, Socket 940 has 940 pins. Over the years, chipset sockets have also grown bigger and more complex. For instance, Intel 486 chipset sockets had 169 to 238 pins, while sockets today can have more than a thousand.
At one time in the 90s, the main chipmakers, Intel and AMD, relied instead on a slot-based connection method for their processors due to the implementation of L2 cache, essentially a fast type of memory that helps the processor access information faster. The cache necessitated the installation of a so-called “daughterboard” on one of the motherboard’s slots. In addition, the processor’s functions were not relegated to just one chip, but to several. After a time, the additional expenses associated with this configuration prompted chip makers to return to the previous chipset socket versions.