Diagram of a motherboard chipset

A chipset, PC chipset, or chip set refers to a group of integrated circuits, or chips, that are designed to work together. They are usually marketed as a single product.



A chipset is usually designed to work with a specific family of microprocessors. Because it controls communications between the processor and external devices, the chipset plays a crucial role in determining system performance.

In computing, the term chipset is commonly used to refer to a set of specialized chips on a computer's motherboard or an expansion card. In personal computers, the first chipset for the IBM PC AT was the NEAT chipset by Chips and Technologies for the Intel 80286 CPU.

Diagram of Commodore Amiga's Original Chip Set
A part of an IBM T42 laptop motherboard. CPU=Central Processing Unit. NB=Northbridge. GPU=Graphical Processing Unit. SB=Southbridge.

In home computers, game consoles and arcade game hardware of the 1980s and 1990s, the term chipset was used for the custom audio and graphics chips. Examples include the Commodore Amiga's Original Chip Set or SEGA's System 16 chipset.

Based on Intel Pentium-class microprocessors, the term chipset often refers to a specific pair of chips on the motherboard: the northbridge and the southbridge. The northbridge links the CPU to very high-speed devices, especially main memory and graphics controllers, and the southbridge connects to lower-speed peripheral buses (such as PCI or ISA). In many modern chipsets, the southbridge contains some on-chip integrated peripherals, such as Ethernet, USB, and audio devices.

The manufacturer of a chipset often is independent from the manufacturer of the motherboard. Current manufacturers of chipsets for x86 motherboards include NVIDIA, AMD, VIA Technologies, SiS, Intel and Broadcom. Apple computers and Unix workstations have traditionally used custom-designed chipsets. Some server manufacturers also develop custom chipsets for their products.

In the 1980s, Chips and Technologies, founded by Gordon Campbell, pioneered the manufacturing of chipsets for PC-compatible computers. Computer systems produced since then often share commonly used chipsets, even across widely disparate computing specialties. For example, the NCR 53C9x, a low-cost chipset implementing a SCSI interface to storage devices, could be found in Unix machines such as the MIPS Magnum, embedded devices, and personal computers.

Recent Developments

Modern x86 CPUs from both Intel and AMD have fully integrated all northbridge functionality onto the CPU itself to reduce cost, power consumption and space. System on a chip designs such as the Nvidia Tegra have eliminated the need for the southbridge as well. Therefore northbridge-southbridge sets are no longer as common as they once were.

See also


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