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[ The PC Guide | Systems and Components Reference Guide | Motherboard and System Devices | System Chipset and Controllers | Chipset Functions and Features | Chipset Processor Support ]

Processor Class Support and Optimization

A chipset is designed to work with a specific set of processors in mind. In general, most chipsets only support one "class" or generation of processors: most chipsets are geared specifically for 486 type systems, Pentium class systems, or Pentium Pro / Pentium II systems. The reason for this is simple: the design of the control circuitry must be different for each of these processor families due to the different ways they employ cache, access memory, etc. For example, the Pentium Pro and Pentium II have level 2 cache within the CPU package itself, so obviously these need different logic than the Pentium, which has level 2 cache on the motherboard. These issues are discussed in more detail in this section on processors.

Most good motherboards that support Pentium processors also support their equivalents (or near-equivalents) from AMD (the K5 and K6) and Cyrix (the 6x86 and 6x86MX). Since they were designed specifically to be Intel alternatives, they work with Intel chipsets (in most cases), although they sometimes need a different jumper setting. Another optimization factor to consider is that these compatibles are not always identical to the Intel chip they are intended to replace, and in some cases they add additional performance features that can only be taken advantage of by the chipset.

Of course, since Intel is the largest manufacturer of Pentium and Pentium Pro chipsets, that puts AMD and Cyrix at a significant disadvantage. This disadvantage is diminishing, especially with regard to socket 7 motherboards, as non-Intel chipsets become more prevalent.

Note: The ability of the motherboard to accept dual-voltage processors such as the Pentium with MMX is dependent only on the voltage regulators, not the chipset. MMX is an instruction set extension and does not require a chipset change compared to the standard Pentium.

The introduction of AMD's K6 and Cyrix's 6x86MX processors has clouded the definitions of "processor generation" quite a bit. Functionally, these two processors are really sixth-generation, but they are designed to fit into a fifth-generation (Pentium class) motherboard.

Next: Processor Speed Support

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