What Is PCIe? A Basic Definition

What Is PCIe? A Basic Definition

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PCIe slot (Image credit: MMXeon/Shutterstock)

PCIe (peripheral component interconnect express) is an interface standard for connecting high-speed components. Every desktop PC motherboard has a number of PCIe slots you can use to add GPUs (aka video cards aka graphics cards), RAID cards, Wi-Fi cards or SSD (solid-state drive) add-on cards. The types of PCIe slots available in your PC will depend on the motherboard you buy.

PCIe slots come in different physical configurations: x1, x4, x8, x16, x32. The number after the x tells you how many lanes (how data travels to and from the PCIe card) that PCIe slot has. A PCIe x1 slot has one lane and can move data at one bit per cycle. A PCIe x2 slot has two lanes and can move data at two bits per cycle (and so on).

(Image credit: Erwin Mulialim/Wikimedia Commons)

You can insert a PCIe x1 card into a PCIe x16 slot, but that card will receive less bandwidth. Similarly, you can insert a PCIe x8 card into a PCIe x4 slot, but it’ll only work with half the bandwidth compared to if it was in a PCIe x8 slot. Most GPUs require a PCIe x16 slot to operate at their full potential.

PCIe Generations Compared

Bandwidth Gigatransfer Frequency
PCIe 1.0 8 GB/s 2.5 GT/s 2.5 GHz
PCIe 2.0 16 GB/s 5 GT/s 5 GHz
PCIe 3.0 32 GB/s 8 GT/s 8 GHz
PCIe 4.0 64 GB/s 16 GT/s 16 GHz
PCIe 5.0 128 GB/s 32 GT/s 32 GHz
PCIe 6.0 256 GB/s 64 GT/s 32 GHz

Current PCIe Generations



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