Computers have used socketed processors for most of the PC’s lifespan, a few notable exceptions like Intel’s cartridge-based Pentium II and III aside. Transitions between these sockets are traditionally seamless, with the newest quickly superseding its predecessor, but that’s changed over the last few years. There are now several sockets that are still viable and can still accommodate an upgrade. Here’s a quick run-down of the sockets and the options available to each.
The skinny on sockets
Before we dive in let’s first define what a processor socket is. If you already know, you can move on; this is for the newbies in the crowd.
The socket is the physical interface a processor connects to. In the case of an LGA socket it consists of a series of pins which correspond to flat connectors on the bottom of the processor. New processors usually require a different array of pins, which means a new socket is born. However, as you’ll soon see, cross-compatibility between processor generations is sometimes possible.
Sockets are always located on a computer’s motherboard. They can’t be upgraded without changing the motherboard entirely, so upgrading to a new generation of processor can require a complete system re-build. That’s why knowing what socket is in your system, and what you can do with it, is so important.
LGA 1151 is the latest Intel socket design as of 2015, designed to accept the new Skylake class of 14-nanometer processors, the sixth-generation Core designs with product names in the 6000 series.
The design supports six different chipsets, from lowest power to highest: H110, B150, Q150, H170, Q170, and the most performance-oriented, Z170. Compared to the equivalent chipsets on the slightly older LGA 1150 line, all of them support more USB 3.0 connections, faster DDR4 RAM DIMMs (though some motherboards can also be equipped with older and cheaper DDR3 RAM), and for the low-end chipsets, more SATA 3.0 connections. VGA is not natively supported on LGA 1151, with Intel option for DVI, HDMI, or DisplayPort, but a VGA connection can be added by a manufacturer.
All LGA 1151 chipsets except for the Z170 restrict overclocking to the GPU only – if you want to overclock your CPU or RAM, you’ll have to opt for the high-end chipset. SATA RAID support is included only on the H170, Q170, and Z170 chipsets, and only the Q170 adds support for Intel Active Management, Trusted Execution, VT-d and Vpro. Support for these technologies is contingent upon a compatible sixth-generation Core processor.
At the time of writing only two sixth-generation desktop processors are available, the Core i5-6600K and Core i7-6700K, and only the Z170 chipset is available for manufacturers. In initial testing, Anandtech found that while not every benchmark recorded an improvement for the Skylake chips over Sandy Bridge, the general performance gains were worth the upgrade, especially when paired with DDR4 memory.
Intel has announced the new chips in the Skylake lineup, and they’ll start to become available throughout the holiday 2015 shopping season, along with respective chipsets.
Socket LGA 1150 is designed to accommodate the latest Haswell (4th-gen Intel Core) processors. This socket also supports the handful of 5th-generation Core desktop chips that came to market.
Like other Intel sockets, it can be found on six different chipsets; H81, B85, Q85, Q87, H87 and Z87. The first trio (H81, B85 and Q85) can be considered the entry-level line. None of them offer support for Intel’s more advanced features, like Intel Rapid Storage and Smart Response.
Intel also recently introduced two new chipsets, H97 and Z97, for LGA 1150 processors. The highlight of these is compatibility with SATA Express, and potential support for Thunderbolt, though not all H97/Z97 motherboards will offer the latter.
We’ve rounded up all the LGA 1150 processors on Newegg. The potential for upgrades is limited, at least until Broadwell is out, and we’d recommend waiting for it if you want to buy something quicker. While it’s doubtful that Broadwell will substantially outpace Haswell, a slight performance bump and lower power draw is expected.
Another upgrade option is Devil’s Canyon, which is expected to hit the market on June 20. Though it’s not a new architecture, Devil’s Canyon makes improvements to Haswell’s thermal interface and adds extra capacitors, two traits that improve the processor’s overclocking potential. Devil’s Canyon will come in two flavors (for now), the Core i5-4690K and the Core i7 4790K, both of which are quad-core processors. Early reviews suggest these processors are perfect for enthusiasts looking to overclock their desktops.
Once again, though, be sure to check your motherboard’s BIOS compatibility before buying any new processor. Devil’s Canyon, for example, won’t work with older motherboards unless you grab a compatibility update from your mobo maker.
The oldest socket we’ll cover in this guide, Intel’s LGA 1155 arrived alongside the second generation of Intel Core processors. The socket served as the “mainstream” option, so most of Intel’s Sandy Bridge line of CPUs is compatible with it. High-end processors, like Intel’s six-core models (called Sandy Bridge-E), are the exception; we’ll talk about their socket next.
LGA 1155 is a cross-generation socket. Though built for Sandy Bridge (Intel Core 2nd-gen), it also accepts Ivy Bridge (Intel Core 3rd-gen ) processors, which means that owners of an old LGA 1155 motherboard absolutely have some upgrade options available. Upgrading from an old Sandy Bridge dual-core to an Ivy Bridge quad (like the Core i5-3450, for example) can provide a major boost in performance. Check out Newegg to see a full list of compatible processors.
Twelve motherboard chipsets have this socket. The older line of chipsets includes B65, H61, Q67, H67, P67 and Z68, and all were released alongside the Sandy Bridge processors. The launch of Ivy Bridge brought the B75, Q75, Q77, H77, Z75 and Z77. All of chipsets have the same socket, but some features are disabled on the low-end chipsets.
Note, though, that old LGA 1155 motherboards often won’t work with new processors unless you upgrade the BIOS. You can usually find a compatibility list on the manufacturer’s support site. Check it before you make a purchase.
Intel’s LGA 2011 socket arrived after 1155, and serves as Intel’s extreme high-end chipset for Sandy Bridge-E/EP and Ivy Bridge-E/EP processors. The socket is designed for six-core processors, and for Intel’s full line of enterprise chips (the Xeon series). We’ve sorted a full list of compatible processors on Newegg for your viewing pleasure.
There are actually six chipsets for this socket too, but only one is relevant to consumers; X79. This is the chipset built for Sandy Bridge-E and Ivy Bridge-E processors. The other chipsets are intended for Xeon processors, which are almost always a waste of money for home users.
While upgrades are available here, as with LGA 1155, you won’t be getting as much bang for your buck. Benchmarks generally show a performance increase of 10 percent or less between Sandy Bridge-E, and its successor, Ivy Bridge E. That’s also true of Sandy Bridge and Ivy Bridge, but the difference is that Sandy Bridge-E and Ivy Bridge-E are extremely expensive, which lessens the bang you get for your buck.
Also, as with LGA 1155, you must check your motherboard’s BIOS compatibility before upgrading. LGA 2011 motherboards that were released before Ivy Bridge-E won’t support the new line of processors until the BIOS is updated.
Other sockets to note
Here are a few other Intel sockets that some readers may still have, but are probably too old to upgrade.
LGA 775: This socket is ancient. It was used for a wide variety of Intel Pentium 4, Intel Core 2 Duo, Intel Core 2 Quad and other CPUs from 2006 until the release of LGA 1366. These systems will need a serious upgrade because, in addition to the outdated socket, chipsets compatible with LGA 775 mostly used DDR2 RAM, though a few late-model motherboards were DDR3 compatible.
LGA 1156: Intel released this socket to handle the company’s new line of Intel Core processors in 2008. Though only six years old, the LGA 1156 socket lacks any viable upgrade path.
LGA 1366: Effectively the high-end version of LGA 1156, everything said of 1156 applies to 1366, as well.
Intel’s CPU socket line-up won’t become less confusing anytime soon. The current situation has been caused by a narrowing performance gap from one generation of desktop CPUs to the next. Major leaps once occurred every two or three years, but a current Haswell processor (Intel 4th-gen Core) is only marginally quicker than a similar Sandy Bridge chip (Intel’s 2nd-gen Core).
This makes upgrading the processor on an LGA 1155 system viable, even though the socket is several years old. That’s particularly true if you have a dual-core version of an LGA 1155 or LGA 1150 processor. The quads are significantly quicker in demanding software (including games), and are well worth the price of admission.