How to buy a new CPU for your motherboard

Vanya Jokevich /

The Central Processing Unit (CPU) is an integral part of any computer. But how do you choose the best CPU compatible with your motherboard? Do you choose AMD or Intel? Budget-friendly or energy-hungry?

What is a central processing unit?

The CPU is the heart and soul of a computer. It manages applications, performs actions, and receives instructions, including but not limited to its functions.

Over the years, CPUs have evolved into multi-core processors. Previously, single-core CPUs were only able to handle one process at a time. As of this writing in early 2022, CPUs can offer up to 64 cores, and this is expected to rise to 128 cores in 2023.

Computers can handle many programs, browsers, and even games at any given time. But it’s not as simple as buying a new CPU with a lot of threads and cores, and then installing it on the motherboard. Not only do you have to make sure that the power supply unit (PSU) can handle the CPU, and that you have enough cooling for it; You have to make sure it’s compatible with your motherboard, or, frankly, it won’t work.

AMD vs. Intel

Most desktop computers are built with an AMD or Intel CPU. Previously, Intel was the best option if you wanted to build a budget-friendly PC, and AMD was the way to go if you were looking for a powerful gaming PC.

Now, however, there is very little difference between the two manufacturers. Both offer good value for money cheap CPUs, like the Intel Core i3-9100 (4 cores/4 threads), and AMD Ryzen 3 3100 (4 cores/8 threads) which you can get for as little as $140. Similarly, you can get high-end CPUs like the Intel Core i9-12900K and Ryzen 9 5900X for around $550 to $600.

Regardless of whether you choose Intel or AMD, your CPU must be compatible with your motherboard. You can’t put an Intel CPU into an AMD motherboard and vice versa.

CPU sockets

The easiest way to find out if your CPU is compatible with your motherboard is to look at the socket on your CPU and motherboard.

For example, 10th and 11th generation Intel processors are compatible with Intel’s LGA1200 socket, and Ryzen 1000, 2000, 3000, 4000 and 5000 CPUs are compatible with AMD socket AM4 motherboards.

You can find out if the CPU is compatible with your motherboard by looking at the manufacturer’s website. For example, an Intel Core i7-10700K (10th generation) processor is compatible with motherboards with an LGA1200 socket.

Select the Intel CPU that is compatible with your Intel motherboard

This can be determined using the “Sockets Supported” specification. The situation is the same with AMD processors. By searching the manufacturer’s website, you can find out which CPU socket is compatible with your CPU, in this case, the AMD Ryzen 9 5900X.

Check which CPU socket is compatible with ryzen 9 5900x

Are the CPUs backward compatible?

CPU sockets are made up of physical pins and connectors, allowing the CPU to be mounted on them. For this reason, CPUs are not backward compatible. You cannot put an Intel CPU in an AMD CPU socket, and you cannot put an Intel 10th or 11th Gen CPU, designed for LGA 1200 sockets, in an Intel LGA 1151 socket.

However, AMD has been more generous in offering wider compatibility with its sockets than Intel. As such, you can install the Ryzen 3 1200 CPU, launched in 2017, into an AM4 socket, which also supports the AMD Ryzen 9 5950X, launched in 2020. In some cases, though, a BIOS update may be required. Required to support specific AM4 motherboards.

Intel tends to be more confusing due to the code names they use for their desktop CPUs. 12th Gen Intel (Alder Lake) processors are only compatible with LGA 1700 sockets, so you will need to purchase a new Intel motherboard if you previously used a Comet Lake or Rocket Lake CPU, and upgraded to Alder Lake.

Choosing the right CPU for your motherboard

Upgrading your desktop PC is undoubtedly exciting, but as we’ve seen so far, it can be a little overwhelming. If you want to stick with your current motherboard, you will have to find the right CPU that is compatible with it. Alternatively, if you have a CPU in mind that is not compatible with your motherboard, you will have to purchase a new motherboard that offers the appropriate CPU socket.


AMD Ryzen 3700x processor on the motherboard.
Vivitta /

There are three generations of AM4 CPUs. 1st generation (Ryzen Zen), 2nd generation (Ryzen Zen+), and 3rd generation (Ryzen Zen 2).

Third-generation AM4 motherboards are compatible with all Ryzen Zen 2 and Ryzen Zen 3 CPUs. AMD’s X570 motherboards also offer support for Ryzen Zen+ CPUs but not first-generation Ryzen CPUs.

The second generation of AM4s provides compatibility with Ryzen Zen, Ryzen Zen+ and Ryzen Zen 2 CPUs.

First-generation A320, B350, and Z370 AM4 motherboards are compatible with Ryzen Zen, Ryzen Zen+, and Ryzen Zen 2 CPUs, which are the same as second-generation AM4 motherboards. Neither of them supports Ryzen Zen 3 CPUs.

AMD Ryzen 9 5900X

AMD Ryzen 9 5900X

If you’ve got the right motherboard, this 12-core, 24-thread desktop processor is a solid choice.

Intel Corporation

The Intel Core i7-8700 CPU is attached to the motherboard.
yishii /

LGA1700 motherboards are compatible with the latest 12th generation Intel Alder Lake processors. This includes Intel Core i9 1700, Intel Core i7 socket 1700, Intel Core i5 socket 1700, and Intel Core i3 socket 1700 CPUs.

In 2020, Intel launched its LGA 1200 CPU sockets; These are compatible with LGA 1200 (Comet Lake) motherboards. The H410, B460, H470, Q470, W480, and Z490 motherboards are compatible with Comet Lake CPUs. These are known as 10th generation CPUs, including Core i9, Core i7, Core i5, Core i3, Pentium Gold, and Celeron (G5900, G5900T, G5905, G5905T, G5920, and G5925).

Intel Core i9-12900 K

Intel Core i9-12900 K

The Intel Core desktop processor is compatible with the LGA1700 600 chipset.

Compatibility is the key

You will quickly notice that there are many factors to consider when choosing a CPU for your motherboard. From the number of cores, threads, and clock speeds to integrated graphics and cooling. You can spend hours sifting through specs to find a CPU that meets your requirements.

However, the most important thing to look for in a CPU is motherboard compatibility. If your CPU is not supported by your motherboard’s CPU socket, you will not be able to enjoy your new purchase.

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