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A typical north/southbridge layout

The northbridge, also known as a memory controller hub (MCH) or an integrated memory controller (IMC) in Intel systems (AMD, VIA, SiS and others usually use 'northbridge'), is one of the two chips in the core logic chipset on a PC motherboard, the other being the southbridge.

Separating the chipset into the northbridge and southbridge is common, although there are rare instances where these two chips have been combined onto one die when design complexity and fabrication processes permit it.

Contents

Overview

The northbridge typically handles communications among the CPU, RAM, BIOS ROM, and PCI Express (or AGP) video cards, and the southbridge.[1][2] Some northbridges also contain integrated video controllers, also known as a Graphics and Memory Controller Hub (GMCH) in Intel systems. Because different processors and RAM require different signalling, a northbridge will typically work with only one or two classes of CPUs and generally only one type of RAM.

There are a few chipsets that support two types of RAM (generally these are available when there is a shift to a new standard). For example, the northbridge from the Nvidia nForce2 chipset will only work with Socket A processors combined with DDR SDRAM, the Intel i875 chipset will only work with systems using Pentium 4 processors or Celeron processors that have a clock speed greater than 1.3 GHz and utilize DDR SDRAM, and the Intel i915g chipset only works with the Intel Pentium 4 and the Celeron, but it can use DDR or DDR2 memory.

Etymology

The name is derived from drawing the architecture in the fashion of a map. The CPU would be at the top of the map comparable to due north on most general purpose geographical maps. The CPU would be connected to the chipset via a fast bridge (the northbridge) located north of other system devices as drawn. The northbridge would then be connected to the rest of the chipset via a slow bridge (the southbridge) located south of other system devices as drawn.

Intel i815EP northbridge

Recent developments

The memory controller, which handles communication between the CPU and RAM, has been moved onto the processor die by AMD in AMD64 processors and by Intel with their Nehalem processors. Advantages of having the memory controller integrated on the CPU die is no latency (excluding the time it takes for the electric current to complete in the CPU itself) from the CPU-to-Memory so the CPU can control the memory directly. All AMD processors feature an on-die memory controller and Intel's Nehalem series also do.

Another example of this kind of change is Nvidia's nForce3 chipset for AMD64 systems that is a single chip. It combines all of the features of a normal southbridge with an AGP port and connects directly to the CPU. On nForce4 boards they consider this to be an MCP (Media Communications Processor).

Northbridge and overclocking

The northbridge plays an important part in how far a computer can be overclocked, as its frequency is used as a baseline for the CPU to establish its own operating frequency. This chip's temperature typically increases as processor speed becomes faster, requiring increased cooling measures. CPUs cannot be overclocked infinitely, as digital circuits are limited by physical factors such as propagation delay which increases with (among other factors) operating temperature, therefore most overclocking applications have software limitations which limit the multiplier and external clock setting. See Overclocking

See also

References

  1. ^ InformIT: Motherboards & Core-Logic Chipsets: The Deep Stuff > What the North Bridge and South Bridge Do
  2. ^ George Jones - Maximum PC 2005 Buyer's Guide - Prentice Hall PTR - ISBN 0768663121







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