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A socket is a place that houses the computer processor. Not many would give this piece of hardware the importance it actually deserves. Well, the reason could be the less obvious functional impact of the socket.
Sockets have nothing to do with the performance of the processor, they are standardized in any given line of chipsets. You might be thinking, if it doesn't amplify the performance, why should you care? Well, the answer is that the future upgrades you have planned will depend on the socket used on your motherboard. Though the socket is not guaranteed to be functional forever, they do frame the future of the hardware, since they are an integral part of the PC ecosystem.
What is it?
Before we get into the details, we must first know what a socket is. It is basically like a light socket, but for computers. It is an apparatus that comes in handy to plug one item into a larger network of components. The socket provides power to the processor alongside transferring data from the chipset to the PC.
As with modern computers, the CPU socket is always located on the motherboard. However, there were few configurations in the past that had slot mounted processors that were inserted like a modern PCI card. Now things have changed and sockets have become something where a CPU simply drops into and is secured by a latch.
You might have seen the same kind of light sockets floating around for years. But, the processor sockets keep changing all the time. This is due to the continued changes in processor architecture.
We see new architectures every few years and they often have different needs. Also, there are two major x86 processors manufacturers, Intel and AMD. Since these two manufacturers have architectures of their own, compatibility of the sockets becomes a huge factor.
Types of sockets
Many sockets have seen the light of day, but only three remain relevant for the current gen computers. They are namely LGA, PGA, and BGA.
LGA and PGA can be considered as opposites. LGA is called the land grid array and comprises of a socket with pins where the processor is placed. PGA, in turn, places the pins on the processor, which goes inside a socket with appropriately placed holes. Intel uses LGA, while AMD uses the latter.
BGA stands for ball grid array. It is used to permanently attach a processor to its motherboard during production. But this also makes future upgrades impossible. BGA is also less expensive and requires less space compared to a socket-able processor. BGA technically shouldn't be called a socket because it's permanent.
What's the future?
The socket is one of the important parts of the design during the development of a computer. Most components, including the processor, are serviceable or upgradeable. This also allows companies and users to build the desired machine for themselves.
The dominant paradigm has now been challenged by the extensive growth of mobile devices. While this doesn't mean that the PCs will vanish, it is possible that it would change drastically. And this might result in the extinction of the sockets. They are responsible for manufacturing complexity and add bulk to products that aim to trim down the size and price.
That being said, sockets seem to be on the brink of extinction. With more advanced and efficient hardware pouring in the market at high frequency, sockets may be a thing of the past in coming few years.