B550, X370, Z690, F150. If you’re shopping for a motherboard and you wanna make sure it has features that are a bit more substantial than the tacky heat sink and tons of RGB, you should pay close attention to these names because they tell you what chipset the motherboard has.
Which is a chip that determines which CPUs you can use?
How many ports in PCI Express slots your system supports?
And whether you can overclock?
But Intel and AMD each use their cryptic series of letters and numbers to designate what kind of chipset a board has, kind of like they do with their CPUs.
What the Numbers and Letters Mean in Intel Processors
So today, let’s decode what these chipset names mean for consumer motherboards, starting on the Intel side. Intel chipset names consist of a letter followed by three numbers. Let’s start with that letter.
Currently, Intel uses one of four letters for normal desktop chipsets: H, B, Q, and Z.
If you wanna overclock, make sure to get yourself a Z chipset. These are the only ones that allow multiplier overclocking on your CPU. Other chipsets will limit you to only adjusting the base clock, even if you buy an unlocked K-Series CPU.
Z chipsets also usually feature more connectivity than cheaper options, so you get the most PCI Express lanes that Intel platforms offer, as well as more and/or faster USB ports than you do down the product stack.
H, B, and Q chipsets are all different varieties of budget or mainstream skews. They don’t support multiplier overclocking, but mid-range options often allow you to at least overclock your RAM at the very least.
Q chipsets support remote management and have enhanced security for businesses. But if you’re just a home user looking to save some money, you’ll probably end up with an H or B chipset, which is virtually the same thing these days, which is why differentiating them requires us to explain what those numbers mean.
The first number tells you what generation the chipset is. Alder Lake CPUs use 600 series chipsets. 500 series is for Rocket Lake. And 400 series is for Comet Lake, with the lower number corresponding to older generations.
Remember, though, that a BIOS update can sometimes make a newer CPU work with an older chipset.
The third number is always a zero, but the second number is what’s going to tell you important information about the chipset’s features compared to others within that generation.
If the second number is a one you’re getting the lowest end chipset in that generation, such as the H510 or the H610. You get no RAM overclocking, only two memory slots, fewer USB and SATA ports, and no support for Optane or RAID.
Higher numbers like a six or seven mean it’s a mid-range chipset with RAM overclocking, four memory slots, extra USB and SATA ports, and Optane and RAID support.
What the Numbers and Letters Mean in AMD Processors
But what about AMD motherboards?
So AMD motherboards use a similar letter followed by three numbers, scheme. Though, the way they’re named is different.
AMD only uses three letters, A, B, and X.
If you want CPU multiplier overclocking, go for a B or an X chipset.
As the cheaper A chipsets are the only ones that don’t support it.
X chipsets also give you the most and the fastest USB and SATA ports with B giving you fewer and A the least.
If for some reason, you’re still using CrossFire or SLI, A series chipsets also don’t support CrossFire. And if you want SLI, you’ll need to specifically, buy an X chipset.
This is also a good time to mention that if you’re using the newer NVLink, you don’t need a specific chipset. Just two PCIe x16 slots, which you can find on most ATX or Micro-ATX motherboards.
Fortunately, AMD’s numbering scheme is a bit simpler than Intel’s, but it can be a little confusing in its way.
The only number that matters here is the first, as this tells you, which generation of processor is compatible with the chipset.
First-generation Zen, so your Ryzen 1000 and 2000 chips used 300 and 400 series chipsets.
Second-gen or Ryzen 3000 used 400 and 500 series chipsets.
And Zen 3 or Ryzen 5,000 used 500 series only.
Though Zen 3 can use an older chipset too with an appropriate BIOS update.
The other two numbers currently don’t mean anything.
A series chipsets always end in 20, B series in 50, and X series in 70. It’s almost like they just added these numbers in to make the names closer to Intel’s.
Why would they do that?