One of the best things about building your own computers is that you can upgrade them when performance starts to wane. One of the most popular upgrades is putting a more powerful CPU into the computer, essentially giving it a faster, more powerful brain to process instructions with. The modular nature of modern computers is great for this, but you need to know a few important facts about your existing motherboard before you go buying a new gaming processor.
Check the socket type
Before you even start to get a shortlist of CPUs together for your upgrade, you need to find out what socket your motherboard has. That’s because the socket is the interface between the CPU and the rest of the motherboard, and what fits in one socket will not fit in any other. Consumer processors come from either AMD or Intel, and each manufacturer has specific socket requirements for its CPUs. It’s worth mentioning that if the computer you want to upgrade is a laptop, you are probably out of luck as most laptops have their CPUs soldered to the motherboard, removing any opportunity for upgrades.
For desktop PCs, this is less common, as most motherboards allow for the CPU to be removed. What you need to know is if you have an AMD or Intel motherboard and what socket it is equipped with. Intel has used the LGA1700 socket for three generations now, with compatibility with 12th, 13th, and 14th-generation Intel Core processors. AMD used the AM4 socket for the Ryzen 1000 through 5000 series and is using a new socket, AM5, on the Ryzen 7000 series. You can ignore Ryzen 6000 series, as that was for laptops only, and, consequently, soldered on. If you have an older socket than these three options, you can still upgrade your CPU, but availability might be low, and any second-hand processor will not have any manufacturer’s warranty by now.
The chipset is also important
While the socket type governs what CPU series you can upgrade to, there are a few other considerations before you upgrade. It’s important to know what chipset your motherboard supports, as it can limit the features of your new processor. Intel’s high-end Z-class chipsets are the only ones that support overclocking, for example, so if you are looking at K-class CPUs, you want to make sure your motherboard can support the unlocked modifiers otherwise, you won’t get the performance boost you’re after. For AMD, every chipset except for A-class models supports overclocking, except for X3D Ryzen processors, which aren’t overclockable due to the 3D cache.
Check the TDP the motherboard can support
You also want to check if the TDP of the new CPU will work in your motherboard. Some of the most powerful gaming CPUs won’t work well in lower-powered motherboards as they require more wattage than the motherboard can supply. This is mainly a consideration on Intel B-series chipsets and AMD A-series, where the motherboard is not designed to support peak power limits.
Are you going to do the upgrade yourself?
It’s also a good idea to think about if this is an upgrade you want to do yourself or if you want to pay someone else to swap the CPU for you. While changing a CPU isn’t terribly difficult, it does come with some risk of damaging your PC, especially if it’s the first time you’ve changed one. You’ll need to follow the instructions for removing your CPU cooler and the processor, cleaning off the existing thermal paste, and replacing it with a fresh load.
Some closing thoughts
However you accomplish the CPU upgrade, it’s a simple way to increase your computer’s performance without having to replace everything — unless, of course, your existing PC is too old for there to be a viable upgrade path. The most important thing is to check the specifications of your motherboard before you make any buying decisions, as the last thing you want is to pick up a CPU that you can’t use. Once that is squared away, you’ll also want thermal paste and to check the unmounting instructions for your CPU cooler before the new CPU arrives.