What is Chipset?
A chipset in a computer system refers to the set of electronic and interdependent Integrated Circuits or components found on the motherboard. A chipset also indicates the set of chips that widen the interfaces between the main board and its parts.
From a technical perspective, a chipset signifies the functionality as well as the layout of the circuit board along with its circuit mechanisms.
- The two main sections of a chipset are the Northbridge and the Southbridge, both of which come with different features and functionalities.
- The main function performed by the chipset is to manage the data flow and communication between the vital components of the computer to enhance its performance level.
- The chipset also integrates the functions of different other components of the motherboard such as the clock generator, bus controller, keyboard controller, system timer, interrupt controller, DMA controller and the CMOS clock.
- The chipset comes with some unique features that can be categorized into six separate heads such as host, memory, interfaces, arbitration, power management, and Northbridge/Southbridge support.
- The chipsets have different applications such as while creating a new motherboard by the designers, control circuitry in a computing device and more.
A chipset typically includes a Northbridge chip and a Southbridge chip along with other interdependent Integrated Circuits or ICs of the motherboard that are responsible to manage the data flow between the microprocessor or CPU and the external devices.
Therefore, you can say that a chipset is the traffic controller of the CPU, GPU, storage and memory.
Apart from that, a chipset also controls a few other peripherals, memory cache and external buses.
In a computer, the chipset may not be located on the motherboard only.
It may also be found in components such as the expansion cards, audio chips and graphics cards.
Typically, a chipset is also responsible to determine:
- The compatibility between all of the components
- The expansion options and
- The overclocking ability of the computer.
The chipsets eliminates the need and confusion of having separate chips on different components of the computer.
In fact, with the advancement of technology, everything combined into two major chipsets such as the faster Northbridge that links the vital components and the slower Southbridge.
The Northbridge chip is at the top and the Southbridge is located at the bottom of the motherboard and hence the respective names.
The Northbridge connects the high speed components of the computer such as the RAM, PCI Express controller, and even the Southbridge chip.
The Southbridge chip deals with the low-speed components such as the USB ports, hard drive, mouse, and others.
A chipset cannot be upgraded since it is a permanent fixture on the motherboard.
Therefore, it is elementary for it to be compatible with the other components and features.
A chipset may have greater capabilities than the motherboard that it is paired with such as having extra USB ports.
A chipset as well as the device can only work perfectly together when the chipset drivers are compatible.
These drivers are usually installed while installing the operating system and found in the motherboard driver CD or the website of the manufacturer of the computer or motherboard to download.
In the 1980s, the pioneer of chipset manufacturing for computers was Chips and Technologies.
The computer systems manufactured at that time often shared chipsets that were used commonly even in the systems that came with different computing specialties such as the UNIX machines which included:
All these machines typically used a low-cost chipset with an SCSI or Small Computer System Interface to storage devices.
Then in the 1990s, the early models of Apple Power Macintosh computers that came with the Motorola 68030 and 68040, used chipsets from VLSI Technology in Temple, Arizona, which was one of the major designers and manufacturers of chipsets.
Some of their innovative chipsets came with features such as:
- Integrated PCI bridge logic
- Direct support for Synchronous Dynamic RAM and
- A 2D graphics accelerator.
Ideally, you will get two sections in a chipset, namely, the Northbridge and Southbridge.
Each of these has several different characteristics and features right from their location on the motherboard to their components that differentiate their performance and functionality.
The Northbridge, located at the top of the motherboard, is the main chip and connects the processor to several high-speed devices such as graphics controllers and the RAM.
Northbridge typically comes with four particular buses to connect to the CPU. These are:
- The memory bus – This is used by the memory controller of the Northbridge to allow memory access with RAM
- The Front Side Bus or FSB – This allows connecting the Northbridge to the CPU
- PCI bus – This not only connects the Northbridge and the Southbridge but also connects other additional devices such as Ethernet card and video card and
- The L2 cache bus – This is located between the CPU and the RAM but is not present in the modern chipsets because the L2 cache is now a part of the CPU.
All these buses use separate communication languages or bus protocols but overall the Northbridge chipset act as:
- The traffic routers for the buses and
- Translators to translate the encoded information.
Also known as the memory controller hub more commonly, it is the Northbridge that actually connects the Southbridge to the CPU.
It helps in faster interaction and better communication between different components of the computer such as:
- The Central Processing Unit or CPU
- The Random Access Memory or RAM
- The Read Only Memory or ROM
- The Basic Input Output System or BIOS
- The Accelerated Graphics Port or AGP and, as said earlier,
- The Southbridge chip.
Since the Northbridge links all the I/O signals to the CPU directly, the CPU uses its frequency as the baseline to determine the operating frequency.
On the other hand, the Southbridge, located at the bottom of the motherboard, connects to peripheral buses that operate at a lower speed such as the Peripheral Component Interconnect or PCI and the Industrial Set Architecture or the ISA.
However, there are a few specific modern chipsets that comes with Southbridge which has a few on-chip peripherals integrated such as:
- USB or Universal Serial Bus
- Ethernet and
- Audio devices.
Also called the Input/output controller hub, the Southbridge is not attached to the CPU directly.
The bus interface functionality of the Southbridge depends on the different controllers, buses and components that it comes with. These are:
- PCI controller – This helps in communicating with the Northbridge as well as other devices that are connected to the PCI bus
- IDE controller – Also known as the Integrated Drive Electronics bus, this is for storage devices such as DVD drive, hard disk and others
- ISA controller – Also known as the Industry Standard Architecture bus, this existed in the earlier motherboards and acted like an expansion bus
- USB controller – Also known as the Universal Serial Bus, this acts as the replacement for the interconnect buses such as PS/2, the serial port, ISA, and the parallel port
- X-bus interface – This refers to the bus that especially provides support to PS/2 keyboard and mouse with BIOS code
- DMA controller – Also known as the Direct Memory Access controller, this allows direct access by the components of the motherboard such as the hard drive to the main memory of the system without interfacing the processor
- System timer – This produces the clock pulse for the ISA bus and beeps while booting up and
- Interrupt controllers – These controllers such as APIC or Advanced Programmable Interrupt Controller, NMI or Non Maskable Interrupt, and standard IRQ or Interrupt Request help in managing diverse types of interrupts to get back CPU control.
However, over the period of time, the architecture of Northbridge and Southbridge has changed a lot to become a more modern and single-chip system.
Therefore, now many components such as the graphics and memory controllers may come with the CPU.
And, the other remaining parts of the Northbridge may now be integrated into the Southbridge chip resulting in the complete removal of the Northbridge section from the modern chipset architecture design.
Identifying Your Chipset
If you want to know what kind of chipset your computer is equipped with, you can take a look simply at the name of the motherboard.
The combination of letters and numbers that you see after the brand name actually indicates the type of chipset.
For example, if it is an AMD product, such as AMD Ryzen X300, the X300 in the name indicates the chipset it is equipped with.
However, if you cannot access the motherboard or cannot read the name, you can also find out the type of chipset your computer is equipped with by using the Device Manager of your system.
In order to find it, all you have to do is:
- Go to the Start menu
- Type ‘Device Manager’ in the search bar in the Start menu
- Click on ‘System Devices’ to expand it and
- Look for the brand name in the chipset or motherboard listing.
The listing should have any one name among the following:
- Intel or
The combination of the letter and number included in the listing will indicate the chipset, once again.
Need for a Chipset
The chipset in a computer is a vital part because it determines all of those crucial factors for computing which includes:
- Expansion ability and
Since everything depends on the given situation which may be unique in your case as it is with others, all of these may or may not be applicable to you.
However, it is good to be familiarized with all of these functions and how the particular chipset you choose will have an impact on each of these factors. Here they are:
It is not easy to figure out whether or not your computer is compatible with the processor or the graphics card you want to use.
This means that it is not easy to upgrade your system without having adequate knowledge about it, especially in terms of compatibility.
It is not wise to simply pick up a component that your friends are crazy about and are using in their systems.
The components that are compatible in their PCs may not be compatible in yours.
This is because all older models of motherboards may not support the formats of the newer lanes such as PCIe or Peripheral Component Interconnect Express 4.0.
If the motherboards do not support it, you simply cannot assume that the new component will work.
You will therefore need to check it out with the compatibility charts that most of the motherboard manufacturers have for the compatibility of the chipset and the motherboard.
When you want to expand your computer to enhance its performance in terms of better graphics, more memory or faster connectivity, you will need to ensure that the chipset it comes with supports such expansions.
Usually, there are quite a few lanes on the chipset, often numbering anywhere between 8 and 40, and all of them are two-way.
The wired connections in these lanes send the data back and forth between different components of the computer such as the chipset and the graphics card and subsequently on to the motherboard.
Each of the components in your computer can consume several lanes where a few may even use as many as 16 lanes at the same time.
If the chipset does not have the ability to connect all that you want, you cannot make any further expansions.
Therefore, it is important to make sure that the chipset as well as the motherboard of your computer allows such expansion so that it allows the new setup to work efficiently as desired.
This is a very important aspect and you will need to do some research before you start the process.
This is because overclocking may annul the warranty of your manufacturer.
Moreover, if you choose the wrong chipset, you may not achieve the speed that you want.
Some chipsets will simply not work while some others may work only when you install and use a third-party firmware.
Therefore, it is prudent to know what you are getting into before you invest your money on a CPU or a motherboard for overclocking.
These chipsets perform all of the crucial functions of a computer system, or at least help in performing them by the other components in the system.
It can even perform those specific computing functions that needed an independent chip previously to be executed.
In this way, the chipsets prevent crowding the motherboard and the need for detailed compatibility testing before using each chip by the motherboard designers.
The chipset of the computer typically manages the communication between the processor of the computer, the RAM as well as other peripherals attached to it.
Apart from that, the chipset also determines the number of USB devices as well as other high-speed components that can be supported by the motherboard.
A chipset also controls the memory cache and the external buses.
Usually, the CPU needs some assistance to handle each particular input signal, output signal, and control signal that needs to be exchanged with the memory of the computer as well as the input and output devices.
These generic signals are sent out to the motherboard.
The chipset helps in converting the generic CPU signals sent by the CPU to and from the data and instructions that is expected by each of the components of the computer.
Therefore, the chipset actually functions as a gatekeeper which typically helps the CPU to decide what exactly it needs to do with a specific set of data.
It particularly directs the CPU signals to the appropriate destinations at the correct and preferred speed as well as in a properly prioritized sequence.
In short, the chipsets integrate different functions of the components of the motherboard which include:
- The bus controllers
- The clock generator
- The system timer
- The DMA or Direct Memory Access controller
- The interrupt controller
- The CMOS or RAM clock and
- The keyboard controller.
Therefore, you can refer to a chipset, which is also known as PCI sets, to the central functionality of the motherboard.
The group of microcircuits in the chipset coordinates the data flow to and from the major components of the computer.
This, in turn, helps in maximizing the performance and capabilities of the processor of a computer.
All bits of data, instruction and control signals flowing between the processor, main system memory, and over the bus of the motherboard are controlled by the chipset.
It also offers support to the power management features as well as the expansion bus.
There are different applications or uses of the chipsets.
One of the most important uses of it involves the designers while creating a new motherboard.
The set of the ICs or Integrated circuits in a chipset is also used for special purposes such as control circuitry in a computer.
Computer chipsets are designed mostly by Intel and AMD but there are also several other third-party vendors who manufacture it such as:
- SIS and
All these different chipsets support different processors which is why you should buy a processor that will match the particular chipset.
Here are some of the most commonly used and preferred chipsets manufactured by the majors, Intel and AMD.
As for the others, you can check their respective official websites.
The List of Early Intel Chipsets Includes:
- 82091AA EISA/ISA
- 82310 MCA
- 82350 EISA
- 82311 MCA
- 82320 MCA
- 82340SX PC AT
- 82340DX PC AT
- 82350DT EISA and
The List of Intel 4xx 80486 Chipsets Includes:
- 420ZX and
The List of Intel 4xx Pentium Chipsets Includes:
- 430VX and
The List of Intel 4xx Pentium Pro/II/III Chipsets Includes:
- 440ZX-M and
The List of Intel 4xx Southbridge Chipsets Includes:
- PIIX4E and
The List of Intel 8xx Pentium II/III Chipsets Includes:
- 820E and
The List of Intel 8xx Pentium III Mobile Chipsets Includes:
- 830MP and
The List of Intel 8xx Pentium 4 Chipsets Includes:
- E7221 and
The List of Intel 8xx Pentium 4-M/Pentium M/Celeron M Mobile Chipsets Includes:
- 855GME and
The List of Intel 8xx Southbridge Chipsets Includes:
- ICH5R and
The List of Intel 9xx and 3/4 Series Pentium 4/Pentium D/Pentium EE Chipsets Includes:
- 945G and
The List of Intel 9xx Pentium M/Celeron M Mobile Chipsets Includes:
- 915GM and
The List of Intel 9xx Core/Core 2 Mobile Chipsets Includes:
- 945GT and
The List of Intel 9xx Core 2 Chipsets Includes:
- X38 and
The List of Intel 9xx Core 2 Mobile Chipsets Includes:
- GM45 and
The List of Intel Southbridge 9xx and 3/4 Series Chipsets Includes:
- ICH7-M DH
- ICH10R and
The types of chipsets can also be determined based on their series and their Land grid Array number support. Here they are:
The List of Intel 5/6/7/8/9 Series Chipsets with LGA 1156 Support Includes:
- H57 and
The List of Intel 5/6/7/8/9 Series Chipsets with LGA 1155 Support Includes:
- Q77 and
The List of Intel 5/6/7/8/9 Series Chipsets with LGA 1150 Support Includes:
- Z97 and
The List of Intel 5/6/7/8/9 Series Chipsets with LGA 1366, LGA 2011, and LGA 2011-v3 Support Respectively Includes:
- X79 and
The List of Intel 5/6/7/8/9 Series Chipsets with LGA 2066 Support Includes:
- C627 and
The List of Intel 5/6/7/8/9 Series mobile Chipsets Includes:
- HM87 and
The List of Intel 100/200/300 Series Chipsets with LGA 1151 rev 1 Support Includes:
- Q270 and
The List of Intel 100/200/300 Series Chipsets with LGA 1151 rev 2 Support Includes:
- Q370 and
The List of Intel 100/200/300 Series Xeon Chipsets Includes:
- C242 and
The List of Intel 100/200/300 Series Mobile Chipsets Includes:
- QM370 and
The List of Intel 400/500 Series Mobile Chipsets with LGA 1200 Support Includes:
- Z590 and
The List of Intel 600/700 Series Mobile Chipsets with LGA 1700 Support Includes:
- B660 and
There are also different types of chipsets available in the market that comes from the house of AMD.
The List of AMD-xxx Chipsets Includes:
- AMD-760MPX and
- AMD-8000 series.
The List of AMD A-Link Express II Chipsets Includes:
- AMD 480X
- AMD 570X/550X
- AMD 580X
- AMD 690V
- AMD 690G
- AMD M690V
- AMD M690
- AMD M690E
- AMD M690T
- AMD 740
- AMD 740G
- AMD 760G
- AMD 770
- AMD 780V
- AMD 780G
- AMD M780V
- AMD M780G
- AMD 785G
- AMD 785E
- AMD 790GX
- AMD 790X and
- AMD 790FX.
The List of AMD A-Link Express III Chipsets Includes:
- AMD 870
- AMD 880G
- AMD 880M
- AMD 890GX
- AMD 890FX
- AMD 970
- AMD 990X and
- AMD 990FX.
The List of Southbridge AMD-xxx Chipsets Includes:
- AMD 640
- AMD 750
- AMD 760
- AMD 760MPX
- Geode GX1
- Geode GXm
- Geode GXLV
- Geode GX
- Geode LX
- AMD 8111 and
The List of Southbridge AMD A-Link Express Chipsets Includes:
- AMD 480 Crossfire
- AMD 480 Crossfire 570
- AMD 480 Crossfire 580
- AMD 480 Crossfire 690
- AMD 700
- AMD 800 and
- AMD 900.
The List of AMD Chipsets with Fusion Controller Hubs or FCH for Mobile Systems Includes:
- A70M and
The List of AMD Chipsets with Fusion Controller Hubs or FCH for Desktop Systems Includes:
- A85X and
The List of AMD Chipsets with Fusion Controller Hubs or FCH for Embedded Systems Includes:
- A55E and
The List of AMD AM4-based Chipsets Includes:
- B550 and
The List of AMD TR4, sTRX4, and sWRX8 Chipsets Includes:
- TRX40 and
Features of Chipset
The chipset of a computer comes with some other unique features and characteristics that help it to perform in just the way it should be.
These features can be broken down into six specific categories as follows:
- Host – This category of feature includes the host processor. It is this processor that the chipset needs to match along with the number of processor support offered as well as the bus voltage generally GTL+ or Gunning Transceiver Logic Plus or AGTL+ or Advanced Gunning Transceiver Logic Plus.
- Memory – This category of the chipset feature describes the characteristics of the Dynamic Random Access Memory or DRAM support provided by the chipset along with the memory amount support which is usually expressed in megabits, the DRAM refresh technique support, the memory type supported, memory interleave support and Error Correcting Code or ECC support.
- Interfaces – This category describes the type of PCI interface deployed in the chipset, whether or not it is AGP compliant, offers integrated graphics support, PIPE or pipelining support, and SBA or Sideband Addressing support.
- Arbitration – This category describes the processes followed by the chipset to arbitrate between different interfaces and bus speeds such as MTT or Multi-Transaction Timer, DIA or Dynamic Intelligent Arbiter and others.
- Northbridge/Southbridge support – This category describes the two processor sets where Northbridge is the primary chip handling the CPU and memory interfaces along with other jobs and the Southbridge or the second chip deals with the USB and IDE interfaces, serial and parallel ports, and the Real Time Clock or RTC.
- Power Management – This category of the feature describes the support provided by the chipset to both the System Management Mode or SMM and Advanced Configuration and Power Interface or ACPI power management standards.
A few specific types of chipsets may also come with features such as support up to up to 10 USB ports but your motherboard may not support this feature. In fact, most of the motherboards support 4 to 8 USB ports.
This means that, if the motherboard does not support a specific feature of the chipset in the first place, it will not work on your computer.
Ideally, all chipsets contain just enough instructions to carry out the operations it is intended to at the most basic level.
It is the drivers of the device that helps the system to operate properly by responding to the elementary commands communicated between the chipset and the device.
Now, thanks to this article, you know how exactly the group of chips help the CPU and the other components of the computer in communicating with each other to perform well as well as how it controls the different devices connected to it.