Where is the CPU Located in a Computer?

 A CPU is fairly hard to miss on any given computer. However, for the uninitiated and newcomers, even simple things can seem a bit confusing given the nature of how complex PC hardware is.

So where is the CPU located in a computer? Basically, a CPU sits on a motherboard on holder called “CPU Socket”. This CPU is often the largest chip that you can find on a motherboard.

However, the newcomers may also confuse the CPU with the motherboard chipset as sometimes they can have an almost similar size.

A motherboard is essentially the largest board that you can find on a PC. It sits in the PC/laptop chassis and holds all of the components together.

All motherboards have a CPU socket, however, they are not all the same. Meaning, specific CPU models require a specific CPU socket.

In this article I will talk in detail about how to locate a CPU on a motherboard. 

Where is the CPU Located in a Computer?

Again, the CPU is really hard to miss on any computer. It is located on a large piece of equipment called the motherboardwhich holds all of the components together.

In order to expose the motherboard and the CPU, you have to first open up your PC case / laptop chassis.

The CPU is installed on a holder called the “CPU Socket”. in order to locate the CPU in a computer, you essentially have to locate the motherboard’s CPU socket.

The exact location of the CPU socket on a motherboard may vary a bit depending upon the form factor. However, it can often be found next to the RAM slots.

On a full ATX motherboard, as shown above, and also on the micro ATX motherboard, the location of the CPU is often at top-center. 

On a mini ITX motherboard, the CPU socket is located almost at the dead center of the motherboard. 

The following image shows how a CPU socket on a motherboard looks like WITHOUT a CPU installed.

Where is the CPU Located in a Computer
This is what the motherboard socket looks like on a full ATX motherboard.

In most cases, you can plug the CPU in and out of the socket using the mechanism provided on the motherboard.

Also Read: How to Check Motherboard Socket?

You Install the CPU in the Socket:

A CPU is installed on a motherboard using the mechanism provided on the socket itself. The mechanism involves pulling a lever.

The image below shows how  the lever works:

CPU socket latch open motherboard
Opening the CPU socket lock using the lever

On an Intel motherboard as shown above, the lever is lifted up first, this opens up the CPU socket lock for CPU installation.

Once the socket opens up, the CPU is then placed carefully on the pins of the socket and then locked back again as shown below:

cpu plugged in motherboard
CPU locked into the CPU socket

Also Read: How Many Pins Does a CPU Have?

The CPU is Concealed by a Cooling Fan!

When you open up your case for the first, it may be hard to detect the CPU because they are almost always covered by a cooling fan.

If that is the case then before asking where is the CPU located in a computer, you must remove the cooling fan first.

CPU fan
CPU cooling fan is placed on top of the CPU

A cooling fan is installed on a CPU because it generates a lot of heat. If adequate cooling is not provided, then the first issue you may notice is lags in performance and frame rate drops in gaming.

Your system will keep shutting down once the CPU reaches it TJmax temperature. In worst cases, the CPU can get damaged if cooling is not provided.

Also Read: How to Tell if CPU is Bad or Dead?

Make Sure You Do Not Confuse the CPU with the Motherboard Chipset

On desktops, sometimes you can confuse the motherboard chipset with the CPU.

This is because sometimes both the CPU and the motherboard chipset can have almost the same size which can confuse newbies.

Motherboard chipset and c pu socket
Motherboard chipset and CPU socket labelled separately

There are a few ways that you can distinguish between the two.

Firstly, the motherboard chipset does not have a cooling fan installed on top. 

Secondly while the CPU socket is located on the top half of the board, the motherboard chipset is often located on the bottom half of the board – often below the RAM sockets. 

Finally, the motherboard chipsets have a heatsink installed on them.

Also Read:

Where is the CPU Located on a Laptop?

On a laptop, locating the CPU can become a bit more complex. There isn’t a general location for a CPU on a laptop. And unlike on desktops, the CPU on laptops do not always have a square shape – they can also have rectangular shape.

Intel Core i7 9750H chip
An Intel Core i7 9750H chip for laptops is not a square shaped chip.

However, often, like on desktops, the CPU chip is also covered by a cooling fan on a laptop. Finding a fan on a chip is a good indicator that it belongs to a CPU.

laptop processor location
CPU is located where the copper heatsink tube ends. It take the heat from the CPU to the cooling fan below.

On some laptops, the CPU may be covered with copper heatsink tubes originating from a cooling fan NOT directly attached to the CPU.

If you have a gaming laptop, then distinguishing between the GPU and CPU chip can get more confusing.

On a gaming laptop, the large heat sinks cover the top of both the CPU and GPU chips. If the heatsinks of the CPU and the GPU are connected, then you would have to remove the entire heatsink to expose both chips. 

Also Read: Can I Upgrade My Laptop Processor from i5 to i7?

Laptops Use BGA Sockets

It is worth pointing out here that laptops do not have replaceable CPUs. Unlike sockets, laptops do not have sockets where you can plug the CPU in and out.

Instead, CPUs use what we call Ball Grid Array or BGA sockets whereby the CPU gets soldered directly on to the socket.

BGA Socket 2
A BGA CPU. Source: Wikimedia

Also Read:

Motherboard Sockets are Specific to CPUs

Not all CPUs are compatible with all sockets.

CPUs have a specific requirement for which motherboard sockets they can get plugged into.

For instance, an Intel Core i7-7700K requires an LGA 1151 socket. An Intel Core i7-10700K requires an LGA 1200 socket. AMD Ryzen 1000, 2000, 3000, 4000 and 5000 desktop based CPU require an AM4 socket.

Therefore, before investing in a new CPU, make sure that it is compatible with your current motherboard. 

You can check out the socket requirements and specifications of the motherboard and the CPU by visiting their respective specsheets. 

Also Read:

Final Words

Here I talked in detail about where to locate CPU in a computer. The simple is answer is that a CPU goes into a large CPU socket that is very hard to miss on a given motherboard.

On a desktop a CPU is located in the top center, somewhere in between the RAM slots and the back I/O panel of the motherboard.

Also Read: Which Intel and AMD CPUs Support PCIe 4.0?

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Atif Qazi
Atif Qazi is the founder of PCGuide101 and an expert in the computer peripheral industry with over two decades of experience. He has worked as a consultant for major companies and has a deep understanding of the inner workings of computer peripherals. He has a degree in Electrical Engineering and has served as a product manager and technical consultant. He is passionate about testing and evaluating the latest products to provide readers with reliable information.

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