Chipset functions, types, drivers, and architecture

A chipset is a group of electronic microchip components in a computer or device that manages the data flow between the processor, memory, and other peripherals. It is a crucial component of a computer that manages data flow from the processor to the main memory and all other input-output devices. It acts as the central control hub or the nervous system of the computer that controls the data flow. The chipset contains the processor bus interface (called a front-side bus (FSB), memory controllers, bus controllers, I/O controllers, and more. All the circuits of the motherboard are contained within the chipset.

The type of chipset used on the computer determines the processor, motherboard, and main memory type. This determines the compatibility of all other components on the computer. It also determines how fast the system and the buses will run; the speed, type, and amount of memory you can use. 

Chipset Architecture

Chipsets are arranged in such a way they help simple easy communication within the system

Northbridge is connected to the main memory bus, front and back side bus, AGP, and PCI Express bus. Southbridge connects PCI and IDE/ATA devices.

Chipset Architecture showing northbridge and southbridge. It indicate all the Buses used for connection

To link both chipsets we use an internal system bus which completes the connection.

Types of the chipset on the motherboard

Most chipset configurations are set to have 2 main parts: north and south bridge chipsets.

The North Bridge 

It is also known as the memory controller hub (MCH). It connects the high-speed processor bus with the main memory. It also connects high-speed express buses such as AGP and PCI. 

Its main function is to handle RAM high-speed communication to the computer processor. Physically it is located closer to the CPU of the computer.

The South Bridge 

It is also known as the I/O controller hub. It connects and controls other slower components such as a hard disk drive, USB port, ISA bus, and all other devices.

It is an essential part of a computer’s motherboard and plays a crucial role in the overall performance and functionality of the system.

Functions of motherboard chipsets

The primary function of a chipset is to manage the data flow between the processor, memory, and peripherals in a computer or device. It acts as a sort of “traffic controller” that ensures that all of the different components are able to communicate and exchange data with each other efficiently.

Specific functions of a chipset include:

  1. The Northbridge chipset controls the transfer of data between the processor, memory, and graphics card. It deals with high-data-speed devices.
  2. Southbridge manages communication between the processor and peripherals, such as the hard drive, network card, and USB ports. It deals with slow devices.
  3. Handling low-speed I/O tasks, such as keyboard and mouse input 
  4. Managing power to the different components of the system
  5. Providing support for various hardware and software features, such as USB 3.0, Serial ATA, and PCI Express

Motherboard buses connected to the chipset

Since the chipset manages data flow within the motherboard components it means it is connected to several buses for the work. The speed of the bus means the amount of data that can move simultaneously. The speed of the buses cannot go past what the RAM and the processor can handle even if they can handle more data. The main buses connected to it include:

  1. Front side bus: this is the bus that connects the north bridge with the computer processor. It is one of the fastest buses.
  2. Back side bus: this connects the processor to the secondary cache memory. It is faster than the front-side bus since the cache operates at a higher speed than the RAM.
  3. An accelerated Graphics port (AGP) bus is a graphic bus used for high-definition video and multimedia. The bus connects the northbridge with AGP cards installed on the motherboard.
  4. Peripheral components Interconnection (PCI): the advanced type is PCIe express. It connects to the south bridge and it connects most of the peripheral devices on the computer.
  5. Memory bus: it connects the main memory with Northbridge.
  6. Integrated Drive Electronics (IDE) and Advanced Technology Attachment (ATA): these buses connect to the storage devices like hard disk, DVD drive, and floppy drive to the southbridge.

Factors to consider when choosing a chipset

The chipset comes integrated within the motherboard of your device and it is not really possible to change it directly. However for compatibility issues if you are upgrading your computer component types of the chipset matter.

Some of the components to consider their compatibility with the chipset are: 

Type and speed of the processor: each processor is created to work with a specific type of chipset.

Main memory (RAM): chipset will determine which DDR types of memory to use.

Types of peripheral devices: most other peripherals will work with chipsets but you can consider the type of the device before you purchase if you are upgrading.

Chipset drivers in Windows.

By default when you install any type of operating system it installs all the main device drivers including the chipset. However, if they are not installed by default you can download them from the company website. 

On the Windows 10 operating system, you can check the driver status by opening the device manager. Under device manager expand on system devices and look for chipset family drivers. You may find more than one depending on the device. Below is an example.

Chipset drivers in Windows 10 from device manager

To upgrade the driver you can just right-click on any of the drivers and follow the instruction for the upgrade.

List of chipset manufacturing companies

  1. Intel is the main producer.
  2. Qualcomm
  3. Micron Technology
  4. Broadcom
  5. Nvidia
  6. IBM
  7. Fujitsu
  8. Samsung 
  9. Apple
  10. Toshiba

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