Understanding PCIe x16

Understanding PCIe x16

Understanding PCIe x16 – Beginner’s Guide

In this article, I’ll provide a comprehensive overview of PCIe x16 – what it is and why it’s significant. You can expect to learn about its comparison with other generations of PCIe as well as the devices that utilize PCIex16. So without further ado, let’s get started!

What Does PCIe x16 Stand for?

First, let’s just break down “PCIe x16”.

PCIe x16 Slot

Source: MSI

The term “PCIe” is short for “PCI Express,” and has been the prevailing PC motherboard expansion standard for approximately two decades. When referring to “x16,” it could either mean that the slot conforms to the physical length of an x16 PCIe slot form factor, or that it provides full electrical bandwidth with sixteen lanes of PCI Express connectivity – although sometimes only one applies. Now that we’ve broken down these component names, let’s take a closer look at their respective definitions.

What is PCI Express?

PCIe has been the dominant standard for PC expansion cards since its inception, surpassing previous non-Express PCI versions. The “PCI” in PCIe stands for Peripheral Component Interconnect. What sets it apart and gives it an edge is the ability to double bandwidth with each new generation making it far faster than any other slot on every motherboard where utilized. Furthermore, there are four distinct slot sizes and corresponding lane configurations that provide versatility not found elsewhere within this form factor standard itself .

  • The smallest slot is occupied by a single lane known as PCI Express x1.
  • A slot that is second in size accommodates a total of four lanes known as PCI Express x4.
  • The PCI Express x8 takes up the second-largest slot and comprises eight lanes.
  • The largest slot is occupied by PCI Express x16, which has sixteen lanes.

 

PCI Express Image Gallery | HowStuffWorks

Overview of PCI Express Slot Types – x1, x4, x8 and x16.

Our primary emphasis for today will be on PCIe x16, so let us delve further into that.

What Does PCIe x16 Mean?

The largest and longest PCI Express slot is the PCIe x16, which comprises of 16 lanes. In terms of high-bandwidth and performance as an expansion slot within a PC, it stands out above all others.

Devices Commonly Used With PCIe x16 Slots

Components that fall under the following three primary categories are usually accommodated by a PCIe x16 slot:

The most common purpose of a PCIe x16 slot is for GPUs, which are also referred to as graphics cards.

For server settings or other environments that demand strong networking abilities, High-Performance Networking Cards are ideal as they utilize PCIe’s increased bandwidth to effectively handle multiple Ethernet connections simultaneously.

Heavy-duty storage setups, such as multi-drive RAID configurations with high-capacity drives can be effectively managed in server environments using PCIe x16 slots for superior performance storage cards.

Although less common, specific cards intended for intensive networking and storage duties exist in addition to the prevalence of graphics cards on the PCIe x16 platform. It is noteworthy that such components may also be obtainable as an x8 form factor tailored toward certain applications.

How Different Versions of PCIe x16 Compare

What are the differences between PCIE 4.0 and PCIE 3.0? - Quora

PCIe x16 Gen 1

  • Speed in a Single Direction: 4 Gigabytes per second.
  • The speed in both directions is 8 Gigabytes per second.
  • The year of it srelease was 2003.

In 2003, the initial PCI Express standard unveiled a x16 slot with remarkable bandwidth which was an innovative replacement to its forerunner – original PCI. It is common to find it on motherboards in combination with traditional PCI slots.

PCIe x16 Gen 2

  • Speed in One Direction: 8 Gigabytes per Second.
  • Speed in Two Directions: 16 Gigabytes per second
  • The year of the release is 2007.

In 2007, only four years after its initial release in 2003, PCI Express Gen 2 was introduced. It delivered on the evolving standard’s promises with a complete doubling of speed compared to the original specification. Meanwhile, older peripherals were still supported by Non-Express PCI slots that remained prevalent during this period.

PCIe x16 Gen 3

  • Speed in a single direction: 16 gigabytes per second.
  • Speed in two directions: 32 Gigabytes per second.
  • Date of Release: 2010

The PCI Express Gen 3 standard is considered the initial “modern” version of PCIe and had an exceptionally long lifespan, debuting in 2010 and being replaced only in 2017. During its reign, advancements emerged regularly within PC hardware territory such as SSDs widespread adoption or removal of outdated ports like PCI. One modification brought forth by PCIe Gen 3 that persists into more recent generations was incorporating NVMe M.2 slots onto motherboards.

Conflicts when install M.2 SSD and PCI Express-Know your motherboard. - YouTube

Source: GIGABYTE

Although typically restricted to x4 bandwidth, these permit SSDs to access PCI Express speeds. Additionally, systems lacking the necessary slot may utilize x8 or x16 cards for integrating M.2 capabilities into their architecture.

PCIe x16 Gen 4

  • Speed in One Direction: 32 Gigabytes per second.
  • Speed in both directions: 64 gigabytes per second.
  • The year 2017 marks the release date.

Since 2017, PCI Express Gen 4 has been the prevailing standard in most motherboards. It represents a significant improvement over PCIe Gen 3 – the first major revision of its kind in seven years. As we move up to PCI Express Gen 4 or higher, it enables us to take advantage of NVMe storage and modern GPUs’ top-tier capabilities. Meanwhile, even previous-generation GPU models outstrip PCIe Gen’s maximum bandwidth capacity is pushing users towards anything above version four-point-zero as an alternative solution.

Here’s a breakdown of the required PCIe generation and lane count for minimal performance loss (less than 1% and less than 5%) for various GPUs:

GPU Required PCIe Gen. & Lane Count for < 1% performance loss Required PCIe Gen. & Lane Count for < 5% performance loss
GTX 1660 Super PCIe 3.0 x4 PCIe 3.0 x4
RTX 2060 Super PCIe 3.0 x8 PCIe 3.0 x4
RTX 2080 Ti PCIe 3.0 x16 PCIe 3.0 x8
RTX 3060 Ti PCIe 4.0 x8 PCIe 4.0 x4
RTX 3080 PCIe 4.0 x8 PCIe 4.0 x4
RTX 3090 PCIe 4.0 x16 PCIe 4.0 x8

PCIe x16 Gen 5 specifications:

  • Single Direction Speed: 64 Gigabytes per second
  • Dual Direction Speed: 128 Gigabytes per second
  • Release Date: 2019

In 2019, PCI Express Gen 5 was introduced as a speedy upgrade for high-end users with previous-generation Gen 4 boards. As of late-2022, this is presently the quickest version of PCIe that exists since although an upcoming sixth generation has been disclosed it hasn’t yet appeared in market-ready motherboards. At present, even the most powerful GPUs available such as RTX4090 cannot use up all bandwidth provided by PCI Express at x16 configuration; therefore we have little reason to consider requiring more than PCIe Gen five any time soon when using GPUs without bottlenecking becoming mandatory.

Are All PCIe x16 Slots The Same?

Aside from the generational variances mentioned earlier, it is crucial to note that several motherboards have limitations wherein PCIe x16 lanes are restricted to only an x8 bandwidth. Another possibility includes having just one solitary x16 slot as opposed to an extra option for another x16 on a reduced bandwidth ofx8. These reductions in capacity are typically implemented by manufacturers with budget boards aimed at reducing production costs; hence why these compromises frequently appear in more affordable motherboard models.

Although the slot’s mechanical size is x16, its pins only extend to a length of x8.

Typically, motherboards with multiple full-speed PCIe x16 slots are found only in the higher-end category. Such high-grade boards come equipped with superior chipsets and more powerful CPUs that enable them to efficiently utilize all of the raw bandwidth required by these slots.

FAQ

Here are some frequently asked questions about PCIe lanes and slots:

Q. How Do PCIe Lanes Work In a Motherboard?

Users utilizing a single x16 card typically don’t need to worry about higher-end boards or CPUs for increased lane support.

The visual difference between a True PCIe x16 Slot and an x8 PCIe x16 Slot is apparent once identified.

Higher-end boards are preferable for multiple PCI Express expansion cards, NVMe drives, higher RAM speeds, and CPU overclocking headroom.

Q. Can PCIe x16 Cards Be Used In PCIe x8 Slots or Vice Versa?

Yes, both ways! PCIe x8 cards in PCIe x16 slots pose no downside as larger slots support smaller cards seamlessly. However, using PCIe x16 cards in smaller PCIe x8 slots may result in performance degradation due to limited bandwidth.

Q.  Are There PCIe x16 SSDs?

No, PCIe and NVMe SSDs typically do not utilize x16 bandwidth. NVMe SSDs typically rely on PCIe x4 bandwidth via dedicated M.2 NVMe slots. PCIe SSD cards have largely been replaced by NVMe drives, even specialized ones like Intel’s Optane SSDs, which use PCIe x4 instead of x16.

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