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What Is the Difference Between a Chipset and a CPU?

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  • Written By: M. McGee
  • Edited By: Lauren Fritsky
  • Last Modified Date: 06 November 2014
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A central processing unit (CPU) is the part of the computer that processes the application requests and high-level computer functions. The chipset provides a way for the CPU to interact with programs and other parts of the computer. In order for a computer to function, it requires a chipset and a CPU. They are both very important internal computer parts, but other than that, they have very little in common.

Over the years, the makeup and design of the chipset and CPU have changed. In the early days of computers, the CPU was very large and required a lot of space and power. Over the years, these room-sized machines have shrunk to a single computer chip. In fact, modern processors have several individual units on a single chip.

Chipsets have changed much less than CPUs, but they have still improved with time. One of the largest changes is simply an increase in speed. As a chip that provides access between the processor and other computer areas, speed is vital to a chipset’s functioning. In addition, modern chipsets consist of two parts — the northbridge works with basic computer functions and the southbridge works with secondary or non-vital components.

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A chipset and a CPU work together to make a computer function. These parts, along with several others, allow interaction between the individual areas of the computer, the user, and installed software. Even though they don’t have any common functions, they are both vital to the machine's operations.

In most cases, the actions and functions of these components are easier to illustrate with an example. A user might input an equation into a spreadsheet. The information, entered through the keyboard, would travel through the southbridge section of the chipset to the northbridge section and into the CPU. The CPU would figure out the answer and send it to the program via the southbridge and then to the graphics system, so it may be displayed on the screen, via the northbridge. This is a very basic example, but it serves to illustrate the separation of the two components.

In the above example, the processor calculated and the chipset was a courier. When the pieces of information needed to move around the system, the chipset facilitated the movement. When information needed processing, it was done entirely by the CPU. The functions of a chipset and a CPU are very specific with next to no overlap.

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clintflint
Post 5

I always used to get the CPU and the motherboard mixed up when I was in school, even though they are completely different things.

Luckily I had a chance to put together a whole bunch of computers for an office as a summer job and ever since then I've at least been able to get the components right.

Although I actually think the chipset usually comes with the motherboard rather than the CPU.

bythewell
Post 4

@Mor - I actually think it's a shame that more people don't try to get a better understanding of how their computers work on the inside. I also think more people should try to put their own computer together.

It's surprisingly easy once you understand the basics and I've found it to be much cheaper than buying the same kind of rig already put together, as long as you buy smart.

Mor
Post 3

Most of the time you aren't going to need to know much about the way these things function. I find that I only have a vague idea of how the different parts of a computer work, but I know which kinds can work together and which kinds can't and which kinds are better than others.

The average person doesn't even need to know which kinds work together the best, since they aren't going to be buying the parts separately.

You just need to get a basic understanding of what you need in order to get the kind of computer that will do what you want it to do.

anon170133
Post 1

thanks for this article. it's really a big help.

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