How to Identify Chips on the Motherboard

Q: How do you identify all the chips on the motherboard? I want to be able to point to a chip and identify that chip. What's the secret to doing that?

First, you get a job with a chip manufacturer, like Intel. After a couple years making chips in the lab, you'll be able to identify them all, no sweat. You'll get to wear a funky bunny suit too.

But seriously, identifying the chips inside a PC case is tough, even for professionals. Often you can't definitively identify them, only deduce their type by size and location. Here are some clues:

Central processor, or CPU

The easiest chip to identify is the largest chip on the motherboard; that's the central processor. It should have a ceramic heat sync glued to it. If there's not a heat sync glued to it you can actually look at the chip and see what it is. Looking for numbers like 80486, Pentium, Pentium II, K6-- that kind of thing. You may or may not find numbers that give you an idea of chip's clock speed.

Chip set

The next biggest chip is the chip set. The chip set are also referred to as the bridge chips, the logic chips or the glued chips. Nowadays, on most modern motherboards, the chip set is a single chip. If the motherboard is over a couple of years old it might be two chips. Sometimes the chip set is labeled Intel, or with the name of another manufacturer. Common chip set manufacturers include VIA, SIS, and ALI. The chip set contains controllers for the memory, the PCI bus, and your peripheral cards among other things.

Cache RAM

Often, the hardest chips to find on the motherboard are the cache RAM chips. They are usually soldered into the motherboard. They're often quite small and not obviously memory. Look around for small microprocessors. There may be four or six or two-- not very many.

RAM chips

There are two ways of attaching chips to circuit boards; surface mounting which means that the chip is soldered right onto the board, and socketed, which means a chip socket is soldered into the board and a chip is inserted into the sockets.

The RAM chips are rarely attached to the motherboard directly. They're almost always in RAM sockets-- usually perpendicular to the motherboard on smaller circuit boards called sticks. SIMM sticks or DIMM sticks are small green circuit boards with chips attached.

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