The best processors available from Intel and AMD use a 45nm manufacturing process in order to pack the most power into the smallest size. But these new processors are not always compatible with old motherboards. However, it is easy to determine if your motherboard will work with a new 45nm CPU.
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Both Intel and AMD have made significant progress towards converting their products to the 45nm manufacturing process. Intel LGA775 offers 45nm products like the Wolfdale line of Core 2 Duos (which includes the popular E8400), Yorkfield XE processors such as the QX9650, and of course the Nehalem. For AMD, the 45nm process involves new Phenom II processors. These new processors represent the best and newest products available from each company, and this means that those looking to upgrade their current systems will likely be looking at a 45nm product.
Certainly, these new products are better than older processors. They are quicker and more efficient. However, because these products are so new, there can be incompatibilities that exist between these processors and older motherboards. Avoiding these problems will save you a great deal of trouble, and the sinking feeling that will occur if you find that your PC won't boot with the new processor on board.
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It's Not About The Size
Although problems with compatibility between motherboards and processors are often associated with 45nm parts, it is worth noting that it is not the 45nm process itself which causes problems. Incompatibility occurs because the BIOS of a motherboard is not able to predict the future. While motherboard manufacturers will attempt to anticipate what kind of processors will debut, their ability to do so is limited. When a new iteration of an established architecture comes along, it is quite possible that previous motherboards won't recognize the processor because the BIOS has no way of knowing what the processor is.
You can fix this yourself by upgrading the BIOS (see next page), provided the motherboard manufacturer makes one available. Sometime, the CPU architecture changes by enough that despite having the right socket, an older motherboard just won't be able to run the new processor. A quirk of most Nvidia 680i based boards, for instance, is that you can upgrade the BIOS to make them run a Core 2 Duo, but not a Core 2 Quad.
The problem, then, is not in the processor. If you're afraid of buying a 45nm processor because you've heard of issues with them, don't fear. The incompatibly is not random, but rather is caused by a known issue. As such, it can easily be anticipated and avoided. That said, there is the possibility that your current motherboard will not be at all compatible with a new processor, in which cause an upgrade will be impossible. Through proper research, you can discover whether or not an upgrade is possible with one hundred percent certainty.
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Research Your Motherboard
The first thing you need to know is what kind of motherboard you currently have. This can be easier said than done if you did not build your PC yourself. This information is rarely listed in an obvious place, either on the physical motherboard or in the BIOS, and finding the information is complicated by how precise you must be. Many motherboards have numerous similar versions which are only separated by different numbers or letters changed in the products name. Some have identical product names, differentiated only by a Revision letter or number.
Fortunately, there are programs that can tell you exactly what is in your computer. PC Wizard is my personal favorite. Using PC Wizard, you can find out the exact model name of your motherboard. Armed with this information, you can go to your motherboard manufacturer's website and look up the product. Once you have found your motherboard on the manufacturer's website, you'll be able to find some kind of compatibility guide. The point of these guides is to provide tables showings which motherboards have been tested with which processors, guranteeing their compatibility. In addition, these tables show which BIOS version you need to support a given processor.
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What If I Need To Upgrade My BIOS?
You may find that in order to upgrade to the new processor, you need to update your BIOS. Upgrading the BIOS can carry some risk, because if the upgrade is corrupted or the system for some reason the system reboots before it is supposed to, the motherboard may no longer be usable. A UPS (Uninterruptable Power Supply) will provide some peace of mind during the upgrade, allowing your BIOS flash to finish on battery power if the hydro company fails at the worst possible time. That said, BIOS installation has become much easier than it once was. The risk of bricking a motherboard is extremely small - you are probably just as likely to fry your motherboard with an unfortunate burst of static electricity.
If you do decide to upgrade your motherboard BIOS, then the rules are simple: do exactly what the instructions tell you to do. Because messing up the installation of a new version of BIOS can brick your motherboard, you want to make sure you don't do anything wrong. Read through every step before you move forward and make sure you understand what you are supposed to do at every step. Also, make sure that you're in a stable environment. Don't upgrade your BIOS while you are trying to feed kids dinner, hanging out with your friends, or a thunderstorm is rolling into town (even if you have a UPS). Backup your data so you can at least get at that should the worst happen.
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If At First You Don't Succeed
These steps will tell you with certainty if your motherboard supports a new, 45nm processor. If you discover that your motherboard is not listed as supporting a processor you want, then do not try to install it. It simply will not work. On that note, when upgrading the CPU and a BIOS flash is needed, it obviously has to be done with the older CPU in place. If you are buying a whole system and the motherboard needs a BIOS other than the original to run your proposed chip, check with your retailer to make sure the BIOS version is recent enough. If you don't have an older, supported, chip lying around, you won't be able to boot the system to preform the BIOS update yourself.
Your only alternative if your fist chip choice isn't supported, short of a motherboard upgrade, which is almost as much work as building a whole new system, is to look at alternative processors which provide similar performance and are compatible. For example, some older P965 motherboards do not support the E8xxx series Wolfdale processors, but they do support the Core 2 Quad Q6600 and the Core 2 Duo E7xxx series. Depending on what you're using your computer for, these upgrades may be just as good. In other words, don't give up if your dream processor is not listed as compatible - instead, go back to the reviews you liked for that processor and begin looking at other processors which would make good substitutes.