What is a CPU Socket?

The central processing unit (CPU) of a computer is the chip that performs most of the computations in the computer’s operating system and applications. The CPU has a special mounting on the motherboard called the CPU socket. This mount will only fit on one CPU; no other computer chip will fit in it. In addition to holding the processor, it has a latch to keep it in place and a special design to secure the heat sink that will be on top of the processor.

A computer motherboard.

A CPU socket can be found on most standard desktops and on many server systems. Laptops and some types of server systems may use a different style of processor. The socket itself is usually a square of plastic of a single color with a hole in the middle, like a donut, and a lever on one side. This plastic is usually cream or burgundy, but the color is a manufacturer’s choice, not a specification. The plastic has hundreds of holes in lines that completely cover the surface.

A dual core CPU mounted on a motherboard.

Each CPU socket is designed for a specific group of CPUs. A socket can be assigned a specific CPU rating or group from a single manufacturer. The exact details of which sockets occupy which CPUs vary depending on the age and manufacturer of the socket and motherboard. Most sockets have a three to five digit number printed on one side of the socket. This number allows users to see the exact model and determine what types of processors the CPU should contain.

A Central Processing Unit (CPU).

A CPU socket is used in a very specific way. The user’s wrist needs to lift the lever on the side of the socket; the processor chip is then placed in the socket so that the chip’s pins fall into the holes in the socket. Most chips only fit into a socket one way, while others have an alignment feature. This ensures that users will not enter the CPU incorrectly. The lever is then pushed back to its original position. This prying action will lock the chip in place, preventing it from moving and ensuring a good electrical connection.

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After the processor is inserted, the CPU socket will still have room to contain the heat sink. Because processors generate a lot of heat, they have a specialized heat sink and fan system that sit on top of them. The heat sinks have a bracket on both sides. The heatsink is placed on top of the processor and both sides of the bracket are hooked into the CPU socket. The clamp on the side of the bracket is pushed down, usually with a specialized tool or flat-blade screwdriver, until the heat sink locks into place. At this point, most CPU sockets are completely covered by the components.

One function of a CPU socket is to protect the heat sink.

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