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What is a Chipset?

Robert Grimmick
Robert Grimmick

A chipset is a collection of microchips designed to work together to perform specific functions. They can be found in computers, smartphones, wireless networking equipment, and many other types of electronic devices. A chipset is often specially designed to work with a particular component, such as a central processing unit (CPU). These microcips perform many different functions depending on the device they are used in.

While a computer CPU is designed to be capable of handling many different types of calculations, a chipset is usually designed for very specific functions. These unique collections of circuits often work behind the scenes to manage the many complex components found inside modern electronics. In a personal computer (PC), for example, a chipset controls interactions between a CPU, memory, and other parts of the computer. This close-knit relationship means that chipsets are often optimized for a particular set of hardware.

A computer motherboard.
A computer motherboard.

The number of microchips in a typical PC chipset has come down as technology has evolved. While early chipsets had as many as five chips, modern chipsets often contain only two: a northbridge that manages memory and is directly connected to the CPU, and a southbridge connected to the northbridge that handles other components. Some more recent motherboards have replaced the northbridge/southbridge set up with a single microchip, although the single chip is still referred to as a chipset.

A chipset can also provide special functionality for some devices. Inside a smartphone, it may provide Global Positioning System (GPS) capability. The wireless chipset inside a WiFi® networking device controls the radio that broadcasts data to other WiFi® devices. An audio version, whether part of a sound card or built into a PC motherboard, converts digital signals into analog sound.

The complexity and unique requirements of these chips make their design and manufacture a highly specialized field, with only a handful of companies taking on the challenge. These few companies sell their designs to many different hardware vendors. This means that competing hardware from different manufacturers might be powered by the same set of microchips. This has advantages for end users as the same chipset drivers can sometimes be utilized across different hardware.

Chipsets can be found in many other electronics as well. A printer or scanner may contain a specially designed one to control its internal hardware. Home theater equipment like Blu-ray Disc™ players contain chipsets that enable video and audio playback. Even seemingly simple products like computer cables and adapters might have chipsets inside them.

Discussion Comments


What should I look for in a chipset comparison? I am looking at a few PCs but they use different processors and graphics cards. What do the numbers mean, and how do they compare from brand to brand?


@alchemy- Those old G5s are notorious for burning out. The capacitors in the G5 chip set were low quality Taiwanese capacitors that would expand and crack. The repair requires replacing about 24 capacitors. If the unit were allowed to run for too long after the capacitors blew, you were also looking at replacing the power supply. From what I understand, about 30% of those G5 computers had bad chip sets. The company actually replaced some of the capacitors until a few years ago, but unless a consumer complained about it, they did not let consumers know.

Anyway, I would recommend just buying a new computer. The G5 is about six years old and the difference between the old and new Macs is significant. You could even go with a top end PC that is an all-in-one touch screen unit for about the same price. If you repair your G5, you will be using either refurbished or used chip sets for a hefty price.


I just found out that the motherboard chipset in my old iMac G5 is fried today. Talk about frustrating!. The company stops making the components for their products after five years. While this is great for investors because it makes repairing older machines expensive, it is horrible for consumers that buy these expensive machines. I love the computer, but I hate the proprietary nature of the computers. I also hate that the company techs will only deal with units five year or newer.

I am debating whether I should have the chipset fixed or if I should just buy a new computer. The difference between the repair and the new computer is $700 versus $1200. Does anyone have any advice? Is an old G5 worth repairing? Until the board fried the computer worked great, and it still looks 100%.

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    • A computer motherboard.
      By: VIA Gallery
      A computer motherboard.