The short and simple answer to this query is yes, you can upgrade the CPU on your PC without changing your motherboard.
However, the CPU that you want to upgrade to has to be compatible with your motherboard as well.
To determine the compatibility of the CPU with the motherboard, you have to check the socket details on your motherboard and the CPU.
In the following text, we will look in depth into whether you can upgrade CPU without changing the motherboard and the precautions to take note off when doing so.
What is the Motherboard’s CPU Socket?
A CPU socket, or a CPU slot, is the main placeholder for the CPU located on the motherboard.
It has the necessary pins, the dimensions as well as the harness to hold the CPU on to the motherboard.
The socket itself is very easy to spot on any given motherboard.
Socket Surface Mounting Technology
There are generally two types of socket surface mounting technologies that are found on desktop PCs: LGA and PGA.
LGA stands for Land Grid Array. With this technique, the socket on the motherboard has visible pins sticking out whereas the CPU itself as flat contacts. This technique is primarily used by Intel CPUs.
PGA stands for Pin Grid Array. With this technique the socket on the motherboard does not have any pins. Instead the CPU has the pins that plug into the individual smaller holes on the socket. AMD CPUs make use of this technique primarily.
Both surface mounting technologies have their Pros and Cons, but the crucial commonality between the two is that the CPU can be changed and upgraded if they follow either of the two techniques.
There is also a third Surface Mounting Technology called BGA. This stands for Ball Grid Array. With this technique, the CPU is soldered onto the motherboard itself and thus upgrading is not possible. This technique is found on laptops.
Also Read in Detail:
Socket Pin Count
One of the primary characteristic that distinguishes one CPU socket from the other is the amount of Pins it has. These are basically the primary contact points between the CPU and socket.
For instance, the older 9th Gen Intel Core processors support the LGA1151 socket. LGA here stands for Land Grid Array and the number “1151” relates to the total amount of contact points the CPU has.
The newer 11th gen Intel CPU use the LGA1200 socket with “1200” pins/contact points. Hence given the amount of pins, the 11th gen CPU would not be physically compatible with motherboards designed to support the 9th Gen Intel CPU i.e LGA1151 socket.
Common Sockets Being Used Today
The following is a short list of sockets and their compatible CPUs
|LGA 1151||Intel 7th, 8th and 9th Gen Desktop CPUs|
|LGA 1200||Intel 10th and 11th Gen Desktop CPUs|
|AM4||AMD 1000, 2000, 3000, 400 and 5000 series Desktop CPUs|
|LGA 2066||Intel 10th Gen Core Extreme Processors (Workstation Grade)|
|sTRX4||AMD Threadripper Processor (Workstation Grade)|
How to Check the Socket Information on Motherboard and CPU?
You can find out the socket information for both the motherboard as well as the CPU on their respective specsheet.
Checking CPU Socket
Almost all CPUs have information regarding the socket they support available online.
Reading the specsheet above for Intel Core i7-11700K CPU shows that it supports the LGA1200 socket.
Checking Motherboard Socket
Similarly, you can check the socket information regarding your motherboard on its specsheet.
For instance, a simple search for the ASUS Z590-A reveals that this motherboards offers the LGA1200 socket.
Both CPU and the motherboard sockets have to be same in order for them to be compatible with each other.
So Can You Upgrade CPU Without Changing the Motherboard?
If both the socket on the motherboard and the socket supported by the CPU are the same, then yes, you CAN upgrade the CPU without changing the motherboard.
For instance if you have a motherboard with the LGA1200 socket and if you are currently using a 10th Gen Intel Core i3 processor on it which also supports the LGA1200 socket then you can upgrade to a better processors within the 10th generation itself (i.e to 10th Gen Intel Core i5 or Intel Core 7) as well as upgrade to processors from the newer 11th Generation t00 since the 11th Gen CPUs also support the same LGA1200 socket.
If you have an older 9th gen CPU with the LGA1151 socket, you would be able to upgrade to a better CPU WITHIN the 9th generation but not to the newer 10th and 11th gen CPUs.
Also Read in Detail: What CPU is Compatible with my Motherboard
CAVEAT: Motherboard Chipset and BIOS Version Plays a Critical Role in Compatibility As Well
Socket compatibility is the first and the foremost important characteristic that determines whether you can install a newer CPU on a motherboard or not.
However, sometimes equally important is the motherboard chipset model; particularly the details regarding the release date of the chipset in relation to the CPU you want to upgrade to.
Basically, a socket can remain the same across multiple CPU and motherboard chipset generations. However, if a CPU is newer compared to the motherboard chipset, then it can give rise to BIOS Version compatibility issues.
Take the mid range B series AMD motherboards for instance. The older AMD B350 released back in 2017, AMD B450 released back in 2018 as well as the newest B550 released in 2020 all feature the AM4 socket.
However, the earliest B350 was released at the time when Ryzen 1000 series CPU had hit the market. Therefore, if you were to install the newest 5000 series CPU on a B350 motherboard, it will most likely not work despite the sockets being compatible.
Why? Simply because the stock B350 chipset uses the older BIOS version. Therefore, the simplest solution here is to update the BIOS to the latest version or to the version that specifically supports the CPU you want to upgrade to.
Can You Upgrade CPU on a Laptop?
As touched on earlier, laptops use the BGA socket. Here the CPU is soldered onto the motherboard. Therefore, upgrading in this instance is almost impossible.
Certain older laptops do make use of the LGA sockets. However, most, if not all, of the newer laptops use the BGA socket.
We have a comprehensive article on this topic: Can I Upgrade My Laptop Processor from i5 to i7?
Can You Find CPU Socket Adapters?
No, you cannot.
There once was an idea floated that would have allowed an incompatible CPU to work on a motherboard via the use of a CPU socket adapter.
However, this was abandoned as the adapter itself costed as much as a newer motherboard.
So the reiterate the points made, the most important characteristic to look at when determining if you can upgrade CPU without changing the motherboard is to check if both the CPU uses the same socket.
The next thing that you may want to check is the BIOS version particularly if the CPU is from a newer generation or if it was released sometime after motherboard’s chipset release date.