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Upgrading a CPU (part 2)

Intel CPU Overview, Motherboard Compatibility

  • January 13, 2010
  • By Carla Schroder

In part 1 I attempted to help navigate the tangled thickets of AMD processors, figure out if a CPU upgrade without upgrading the motherboard is worth it, and what to get. Today I'll give a quick review of Intel processors, and then dive into how to remove an old CPU and install a new one.

A reader kindly informed me that in part 1 I neglected to discuss server CPUs. It's been awhile since I had to think about server CPUs, so that will have to wait for another article. I'm going to ignore mobile processors as well, for the time being, and continue talking about desktop processors.

Intel Processors

Like AMD, Intel has several different processor lines, but it's simpler to figure out what Intel CPU goes with which motherboard.

There are three different motherboard socket types for the current generations of Intel processors: LGA 775, LGA 1366 and LGA 1156. Sockets LGA 1366 and LGA 1156 are the newest generations.

Socket LGA 775 is also known as Socket T. LGA stands for "Land Grid Array." It supports these CPUs:

  • Celeron Dual-Core
  • Pentium 4
  • Pentium Dual-Core
  • Core 2 Duo
  • Core 2 Quad

Some older motherboards may not support Pentium D or Core 2 Duo CPUs. The Intel Processors and Boards Compatibility Tool is helpful, though it only includes Intel motherboards.

LGA 1156 supports:

  • Core i3
  • Core i5
  • Core i7

These are all dual- or quad-core CPUs. Socket LGA 1366 supports only i7 processors.

Chances are you aren't thinking of upgrading an i-series CPU because they're so new, but if you are your options are simple. If you have a board older than Socket 775, you might as well go for a new board and CPU.

The price range from the Celeron dual-cores to the hotrod i7s is vast, from around $50 to over $1,000.

Prerequisites to a CPU Upgrade

You will need an anti-static mat to lay parts on, and a wrist grounding strap. Static electricity is the mortal enemy of electronics; these are cheap and easy insurance. You will also need isopropyl alcohol or special cleaning fluid made to clean off thermal paste, a plastic putty knife, and some clean microfiber cloths.

You may need to upgrade to a better CPU cooler. The stock coolers that come in the retail packaged processors are usually adequate. The better aftermarket coolers are quieter, and cool to a lower temperature. The better air coolers are big, so make sure you have enough room. Water coolers are wonderful, very quiet, small, and have the most cooling power, but they are also the most expensive.

Many aftermarket heatsinks have complicated mounting brackets that require removing the motherboard, so buyer beware.

Always read your product instructions! Your product manufacturer knows quite a bit more about the right way to do these things than your average random Internet dweeb.

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