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[ The PC Guide | Systems and Components Reference Guide | The Processor | Processor Physical Characteristics | Processor Sockets and Slots ]

Standardized Sockets and Slots

The creation of these socket standards was necessitated by a change in the way people buy PCs, spurred on by a marketing program from Intel itself. For the first 10 years or so that PCs were sold, consumers just accepted that when they wanted to upgrade to a faster machine, they would need to buy a new box. Intel changed that with its OverDrive program, promising the availability of upgrade processors to improve performance on existing systems with no more than the change of the chip itself.

Since often the upgrade chip wasn't even fully designed at the time that the motherboards for the original systems were to be manufactured, this put the motherboard makers in quite a spot. Defining standardized sockets in advance allowed for support to be built into current systems for future processors that Intel could design to work with those sockets.

A fortunate bonus for consumers is that these standards also gave other chipmakers like AMD and Cyrix the opportunity to create chips that were compatible with Intel's, provided they met the socket standard (well, of course they had to be compatible internally as well!) The standardized sockets also made it much easier for users to determine what processors could be supported by their motherboard, by knowing what type of socket it used.

The situation with 486 processors and sockets is particularly confusing due to the different types of sockets (some with 168 pins and some with 169) and the various upgrade options. The presence of a math coprocessor socket on 486SX PCs makes this even worse. An important thing to remember is that the standardized numbered sockets began with the original 169-pin OverDrive socket; most older 486s came with the main chip in a 168 pin socket. This socket does not correspond to any of the numbered series, and will obviously not accept 169-pin OverDrive chips.

Note: Some sockets are no longer commonly in use because they have been replaced by later socket specifications, or because the processors they support are no longer in production.

Next: Keying and Orientation

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