What’s the difference between the Z-series, B-series and H …

  • TLDR:

    • Type in the chipset into Google
    • The differences are common knowledge to PC enthusiasts who follow the industry and read at least a couple PC enthusiast websites, their articles and reviews.

    The difference lies in chipset varieties and what features the chipset series (e.g., 170 or Z170, B170, H170) will provide for a given motherboard (the features available) on a motherboard by variations of either the northbridge or southbridge chip.

    The largest manufacturer of chipsets for PC motherboards is VIA, not Intel or AMD.

    The northbridge or southbridge chip both make up the chipset. They usually have a passive heatsink on top of the chip to help dissipate heat.

    • The northbridge chip controls the CPU/RAM or volatile memory/system timing or frequency, what is referred to as the “frontside bus.”
    • The southbridge chip controls essentially all the input/output (I/O) functions of a computer motherboard (or “everything else, the PCIexpress bus, the SATA bus, USB bus, RS-232 (“series connector port”), IEEE1394 “firewire,” HDMI, integrated audio, peripheral devices; hard disk drives (HDD) are peripherals even though they are internal to the case, but are controlled by SATA and more recently, PCI Express is used for solid state M.2 hard drives for much greater throughput.
    • Together they form …. the chipset!

    Each northbridge and southbridge chip is a microcontroller unit integrated circuit (IC) or both are MCU IC’s (microcontroller unit, integrated circuits). The Arduino is based on an Atmel controller or MCU, as opposed to VIA, seen on many PC motherboards.

    MCU = “controller” or “microcontroller” = microcontroller unit = MCU

    The chipset series of a particular motherboard product and its alphanumeric code is unique for

    • the particular socket for a given CPU (e.g. socket 1150, socket 1151 (currently for i3/i5/i7 CPUs), or AMD+ sockets, part of a tradition, AMD’s goal to minimize the number of socket changes for simplification for the sake of the consumer
    • the particular VIA controller used for (either) the southbridge or the northbridge controller chips (as real components) and the firmware used to integrate them (BIOS)
    • the features allowed for by the MCU’s chosen for integration into the motherboard design, that is, number of available USB ports, the option of display ports (HDMI, mini HDMI, VGA, etc.), possibly USB-C, number of USB 3.0 ports, VGA connected to integrated graphics on the CPU, etc.
    • because creating a universal MCU is impractical, some MCUs (and their chipsets) were meant for smaller motherboards, such as smaller form factors such as micro-ATX or ITX, where there would never be space for the number of USB communication lines or “buses” (or other I/O buses) that can fit on an ATX or E-ATX board both of which can fit in a full-size case and may be full-featured. There would never be enough chassis space for liquid cooling with a small form factor board, so why bother adding overclocking capability or accessibility to the chipset?
    • Chipsets and their specific chips and the configurations, in relation to a particular class and generation of CPU can be categorized by designation, possibly by a letter prefix.

    The socket or connector (e.g. socket 1151) used by the processor is usually not written into or inherent in the chipset name. Chipset series is related to a particular socket, but is not clearly used as part of the name of the chipset. A particular socket might be, e.g., 1150, 1151, 2011 for Intel, or AMD+.

    This means one must look up the chipset, e.g., Z170” in Google search to find that it uses a socket 1151 for the processor, and was released as a chipset meant for 6th generation Intel processors that were new at the time. (Intel is currently in their 8th generation of i5 and i7 processors.) Then one may look up the offerings from numerous motherboard manufacturers (ASUS, MSI, Gigabyte, Asrock, …) for a particular chipset, intended for a particular CPU.


    Intel® Z170 Chipset Product Specifications (pre-8th gen)

    Intel® Z390 Chipset Product Specifications (8th and 9th generation Intel CPUS)

    If one is a PC hardware enthusiast, one is usually aware of the latest Intel and AMD chipset offerings, that is, till they are obsolete and become distant memory.

    • Most enthusiasts read PC enthusiast websites and the articles and reviews to read about this stuff within a context
      • Good sites I used to frequent when more enthusiastic, were Anandtech and Tom’s Hardware, [H}ardOCP

    The Z170 chipset is on a motherboard with a socket 1151 for the CPU, for example.

    I might find that the B170 is a cheaper, economy version of Z170. I might find that H170 is meant for a micro-ATX or ITX form factor motherboard.

    So the “Z” or “B” or “H” designates specific differences among the components used for a particular motherboard and it allows for different classes of product offerings based on the features available to a particular chipset.

    “Extra features” may include the class of “feature-rich” chipset boards, as an additional ability to control voltages and frequencies with the northbridge controller, for example, for overclocking the CPU and RAM or volatile memory.

    The features may involve input/output functions (controlled by the southbridge chip) such as USB-C or digital video port.

    The system BIOS or (basic input/output system), controls the chipset through the BIOS firmware or simply, “the BIOS.” (It is a CMOS based-chip that also maintains the settings for the BIOS and the system clock, as long as the +3v coin or button battery on the motherboard is not depleted.

    edit for clarification and to add one bit:

    The 8th generation of Intel processors use the same 1151 socket as the 6th generation did. If shopping carefully, one may notice that among the latest motherboards, “this motherboard [although socket 1151,] uses the latest generation of Intel processors [only].”

    • One might think or expect that the use of the same socket was meant to simplify things with the convenient of backward-compatibility (e.g., USB 3.0 can use USB 2.0 and USB 1.1 with their limitations). Convenience may be the whole point of using the same socket, it is done for the sake of convenience.
    • The fact that the more recent chipsets(8th and 9th generation Intel CPUs) cannot use older Intel socket 1151 processors seems to indicate that the point was lost, IMHO.
      • Current Intel processors are 8th and 9th generation and use the “300’s” chipsets
      • This question refers to pre-8th generation chipsets “100’s” and “200’s” chipsets

    If one wants to upgrade or replace a motherboard for a particular [Intel] CPU that is older and still works fine, one must look specifically for the older chipset for the particular generation. -.-

    The very idea of having to match old chipsets (which are obsolete) on newly produced boards seems…far-fetched even if some sockets are better designed that others. Some obsolete boards become difficult to obtain at a reasonable price if you want to use an older CPU—at some point, this may factor into [another] upgrade.

    Thanks for reading

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