Chipset

What is a Chipset?

A chipset is the central element on a motherboard. Although the main processor is the key element in a computer, it is the chipset that ensures that the various components can communicate and work with one another. The chipset is the link between the individual components of a computer. No matter what happens in a computer, the chipset is always involved.

The chipset is usually just a semiconductor component that combines many controllers. The controllers ensure the connection of the main processor (CPU), drives, expansion cards and other devices via interfaces.

The chipset ensures that the controllers are interlinked and connected to the main processor. Different voltage levels, clock frequencies and protocols are taken into account or converted to one another.

The chipset has a major impact on the overall performance of the computer system. It controls the interaction and the flow of data between the processor, the main memory, the bus systems, and the controllers of the internal and external interfaces. In general, the chipsets from the different manufacturers can have performance differences of up to 10%.

The chipset is configured via the settings in the BIOS. Depending on the chipset, RAM and processor, different settings can trigger further significant differences in performance.

Types of Chipsets

Back in the days of old computers, PC motherboards were made up of many discrete integrated circuits. This usually required a separate chip or multiple chips to control each system component such as the mouse, keyboard, graphics, sound, etc. To address this multi-chip issue, computer engineers needed to develop a better system and began to integrate these chips.

With the advent of the PCI bus, a new design emerged: bridges. Instead of a series of chips, motherboards came with a northbridge and a southbridge, which consisted of just two chips with very specific tasks and purposes.

Northbridge

The northbridge chip was named as such because it was in the top or the northern part of the motherboard. This chip was directly connected to the CPU and acted as a communication broker for the higher speed components of the system: RAM (memory controller), PCI Express controller and, on older motherboard designs, the AGP controller. If these components wanted to talk to the CPU, they had to go through the northbridge first.

Southbridge

The southbridge is in the lower area (southern part) of the motherboard. It is responsible for handling less powerful components such as PCI bus slots (for expansion cards), SATA and IDE connectors (for hard drives), USB connectors, onboard audio and network, etc.

For these components to communicate to the CPU, they first have to go through the southbridge, which then goes to the northbridge and from there to the CPU.

These chips are known as a “chipset” because they are literally a series of chips.