How Computer Chipsets Work

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How Computer Chipsets Work Written by Matthew Elton (Copyright 2006 Matthew Elton)

This is a picture of a chipset:

Chipsets are little chips that are located on the motherboard. Theyre called chipsets because there are usually two or three of them on the motherboard. Together, they make up a set of chips. However, new advanced motherboards can operate with only one chip that performs all the duties of a set of chips. Although they are very small, chipsets are very important. The different parts of a computer send electrical signals, which, basically, are made up of positive and negative (+ and -) charges of electricity that are represented by 1s and 0s in binary code. Different combinations of these electrical charges tell the computer what to do. The chipsets regulate where these charges go.

For instance, when you move the mouse, the mouse sends data (in binary positive and negative charges of electricity) through the mouse cord, into the motherboard. The data then goes to a chipset. The chipset examines the data to find out where it should go next. It recognizes it as data from the mouse and sends it to the processor to be processed. The processor then decodes the binary data and finds out what it means. It then sends data to a chipset, which directs the data to the video card. The video card sends the data up a wire to the monitor. The monitor interprets the data, which explains the colors of each pixel. The monitor then displays the image of the mouse moving across the screen. All this happens in hundredths of a second, since electricity literately travels at the speed of lightning. Pretty amazing, isnt it?

Each chip in the chipset has its own job. The picture below shows chip one of the two chips in the 440BX chipset. It is called the "Northbridge." It is the most important of the two chips, because it sends data to the processor and received processed data from the

processor. The actual computer chip is hidden underneath a green heatsink, a piece of metal which draws heat away from the chip to prevent it from overheating and melting.

The 82443BX Northbridge chip not only controls the data traffic between the processor and the rest of the motherboard, but also controls the traffic to and from the AGP card slot. Both chips in the chipset share the task of controlling the PCI and main memory data. In the diagram below you hoe the chips in the chipset regulate the flow of data to and from different parts of the computer. The paths managed by chip one are shown in red. These paths may vary slightly depending on the type of chipset. For some chipsets, the Northbridge chip may regulate data going to and from the CPU, video card, and main memory traffic, while the "Southbridge" chip may regulate any other data.

The paths through which data flows between each part of the computer are referred to as "buses." Buses are simply the paths, or wires, usually embedded in the motherboard, that connect one component to another. The chips in the chipset are referred to as bridges, because they bridge the components together and ensure that the data goes where it is supposed to. Better chipsets can handle data more efficiently. Below is a picture of both of the chipsets on a motherboard with two chipsets.