A lot of gamers started out with an Intel computer. Sure it may not have been a Pentium II or a 486 but there’s no denying that it was the easier brand to buy back in the day with AMD gaining traction in the beginning of the Pentium era. Some of you reading this, in fact, may have even had a joy of running Windows 95 on an Intel processor with a Voodoo graphics card that was capable of at least playing Red Alert. A lot of the impression that blue brand made on you carried over until socket 478, where Netburst’s weaknesses started to show when compared to AMD’s brand-spanking new Athlon x64 chip which could have run rings around it.

Intel didn’t like this one bit. It realised that something had to be done to stop the madness and allow it to regain control of the market once more. It set its engineers to work on figuring out the standard that all CPUs in the future would later be compared to. Some people called its arrival the “golden age of computing” ¬†while others shot it down because it was expensive at the time. Enthusiasts who just really didn’t like change didn’t have much to say about it at all – but they bought one anyway, one way or another. This isn’t just any single piece of silicon I’m talking about; no, this is much bigger than that.

This is the legacy of socket LGA775.

Socket 775 was released to the public in an Intel Press conferece in 2004, heralding a departure from the older Netburst design and a steady move into the future. In a very old Tom’s Hardware column that a friend turned me onto, their final conslusion about LGA775 was that the new tech wasn’t as exciting as Intel made it out to be and could make things worse for AICs and OEMs in the future. The original initiative that Intel used the socket for was in new BTX boards that better equipped servers for expansion and in new ATX boards that allowed for better cooling and extra performance. An interesting sidenote was made in the last few lines of that article, which I’ve pasted for you here to see for yourself.

Patrick Schmid, calling it right years before it happened.

What followed from March 2004 was an era in which Intel’s LGA775 socket provided a home to some of the most powerful processors on the planet. Its death in 2010 was a profound one and many enthusiasts around the world still swear by Intel to this day thanks, in part, to what Intel (and the enthusiasts themselves) achieved with the socket. Throughout the six years that it thrived it housed the Pentium 4, Pentium D, Celeron D, Pentium Dual-core, Celeron, Pentium, Core 2 Duo and Core 2 Quad family of processors.

The kind of flexibility the socket achieved is a testament to how Intel, when under pressure, can produce products of such potential that not even the company engineers in 2004 thought it would last as long as it did. Like AMD’s AM2 socket, LGA775 was designed for scalability and ended up reaching its limit with 65nm processors in the Core 2 Quad family. It changed everything for Intel in one fell swoop, a move only equalled by AMD’s Athlon 64 dominance two years prior.

The later CPU heatshrouds improved thermal performance massively, even creating a new method of cooling that involved “lapping” the surface.

The new socket improved heat transfer through the use of a flat bed of pins embedded into the board and a landing grid array clamp that forced the processor neatly into a flat position on the board’s surface. One of the many reasons why Pentium 4 chips on the 478 socket overheated was due to inadequacies in the cooling surface on the chip and the heatsinks used on the old (rather crappy) fan attachment. LGA775 kept things level and allowed better contact between the chip’s surface and the copper heatsink or waterblocks. The fact that the pins themselves were removed from the processor is still a change AMD has to make – the potential to bend a few pins together could ruin an entire chip if not handled carefully. Those notches on either side of the chip board also helped newbies and even the pros to figure out quickly which way the chip had to be inserted.

What’s really interesting is that there was actually another LGA socket that you’re probably unfamiliar with – LGA771. It was meant for servers and workstations using Xeon chips and omitted just four pins from the grid. Because of the way the pins were arranged, Intel used the array to also allow the BIOS to detect which processor was inserted based on which pins fired up at boot. Its actually possible that some of the early Xeon-based boards could have housed later Core 2 Duo and Core 2 Quad chips with BIOS hacks – enthusiasts and power users didn’t necessarily have to upgrade their boards if they had waited a year or two.

Its also interesting that for all the changes Intel made to the LGA775 lineup, the grid arrangement never actually changed. If you take the move from LGA1156 to LGA1155, it was only a single pin difference but that was all Intel needed to change to make sure that enthusiasts would upgrade anyway. These days it seems that socket changes are less about what it makes possible and more what Intel wants you to upgrade to later. It was also technically possible to have bought a decent motherboard in 2005 and have a Core 2 Quad from 2009 running on it, provided that BIOS updates were issued on time and processor compatibility was addressed. As time wore on, the chips became more and more efficient, necessitating changes in the chipset and software, but never in the socket itself.

It seems that Intel later realised the power of a socket change if the performance upgrades were enough to persuade users on their own – thus, in the period 2009 to 2011 we saw through three socket changes and even had three to choose from in 2010 (775, 1156 and 1366). We even had the Pre-B3 fiasco, where certain trace layers in the SATA chipset on newly-released LGA1155 boards hadn’t gone through proper long-term load level testing. Intel was in a rush to release the new socket and CPU family to earn more money, it appeared. Its debatable if LGA1156 was even necessary – perhaps it was a stop-gap measure to what Intel was really planning?

Regardless, it points to the kind of trend AMD will surely follow in future. Socket FM1 looks more like a stop-gap than ever before and its anyone’s guess how long FM2 and AM3+ will last – most AM3 boards are even over three years of age now, with AM2+ boards from 2007 still running the last batch of Phenom II chips. AMD’s long-standing benefit was that you could buy a very well-kitted out board that will last you two or three processor upgrades while skimping on the processor itself in order to save funds in the future. LGA1155 also allows that with the Pentium and Core i3 but Piledriver may be the last of the family upgrades you’ll see before Intel moves onto something new. But lets not forget why we are that this point – we owe it all to one socket and the engineers behind its forward-thinking design.

To those of you still running your 100% overclocked Pentium E3200s, your 4.4Ghz Core 2 Duo E8500s and your 3.6Ghz Core 2 Quad Q6600 chips, let it be known that you were part of something special, a six-year ode to computing, games and overclocking that may never be repeated again in any of your lives – the game has changed significantly since 2004. To AMD Athlon II and Phenom II owners, you owe the very existence of your processors to Intel’s LGA775. Its a good idea to at least, just this one time, nod appreciatively when you see a well looked-after Core 2 Duo chip at rAge this year. They’re a dying breed, sadly.

That’s why Socket LGA775 is my Oldie but Goodie for this Friday. Raise your glasses of Creme Soda and go overclock your Intel processor!

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