One of the most important things when building a PC with the aim on upgrading down the track is ensuring as little change as possible. One of the most dreaded hurdles on the upgrade path is the CPU socket. If socket design changes then you’ll almost certainly need a new motherboard when you do upgrade.
This is an area where AMD has historically been much better than Intel. Intel tends to change sockets with each generation of CPU - currently there are three types out there, LGA 1155 for Sandy Bridge, LGA 1156 for first generation core and LGA 1366 for the performance Core i7 processors. AMD on the other hand has always tried to keep sockets across generations.
When it releases its new ‘Bulldozer’ core desktop processors later this year AMD is having to make a socket shift from the current AM3 socket to a new one called AM3+. These newer processors will be compatible with AM3 motherboards but need AM3+ to take full advantage of their features. This has led to the somewhat unusual move of the socket being launched well ahead of the actual processors.
Not only has AMD ensured backwards compatibility with the old sockets, it has ensured that the new socket will happily support existing AM3 processors. That means motherboard manufacturers are able to update the sockets on their existing motherboard lines and ensure they will be ready for Bulldozer.
This also works because AMD’s existing 800 series chipset is pretty advanced, with the SB9850 southbridge supporting native SATA 6Gb/s. It lacks USB 3, which will likely come in the new chipsets, but there are plenty of motherboards with third party USB 3 controllers to make up for the deficiency.
Gigabyte is the first manufacturer out of the gates with AM3+ support in its motherboard lineup. It has announced that it has begun shipping 16 models of ‘Black Socket’ AM3+ motherboards that also support existing AM3 CPUs. It has deliberately chosen a new socket colour to make distinguishing the boards from each other much easier – if it uses the cream coloured socket it is AM3 only, but if the socket is black then it will support AM3+.
It is important to keep in mind that AM3+ is just for the desktop CPUs at the moment. The upcoming line of Llano desktop and performance laptop APUs will use a different socket design entirely. Called FM1 this socket will hook into one of two new chipsets. Codenamed Hudson D1 and Hudson D2, these will have features like SATA 6Gb/s, Gigabit Ethernet and even native USB 3 on the D2.
Both the Llano APUs and Bulldozer CPUs are expected to show themselves at Computex, which kicks off in Taiwan at the end of May.