PCI Express slots are one of the essential technologies that exist on a motherboard. PCIe slots are utilized by various performance accelerators and peripheral cards due to their high power and connection speed, allowing data-intensive processors like GPU cards to connect smoothly with the CPU. There are various sizes of PCIe slots from x1 to x16, and often we come across questions on what are the top uses of PCIe x1 slots. Therefore, in this blog, we will discuss PCIe expansion slots and the top use case for PCIe x1 slots.
What Are the Different Types of PCIe Slots?PCIe or Peripheral Component Interconnect Express is the standard that was developed to provide motherboards with high-speed serial expansion slots for data-intensive devices to the CPU. Compared to the older PCI standard, PCIe has various improvements from higher maximum throughput, fewer I/O pins, and a smaller form factor. PCIe slots have multiple sizes, including PCIe x16 slots, PCIe x8 slots, PCIe x4 slots, and the smallest PCIe x1 slots. When getting peripheral cards, you want to make sure to get the same size as the PCIe slots. Fortunately, if you have smaller PCIe cards, they can fit into bigger PCIe slots. For example, a PCIe x1 WiFi card can fit into PCIe x4 slots without a problem. However, you want to optimize your PCIe lanes inside the slots by fitting PCI x1 cards to PCIe x1 slots without wasting three or more PCIe lanes.
What are PCIe Lanes?
When deciding on the combination of expansion cards for your motherboard, you want to understand what PCIe lanes are. PCIe lanes or PCIe data lanes are the conductor pins inside the PCIe slots. Typically, the size of the PCIe slots also represents the number of PCIe lanes. For instance, PCIe x16 slots have x16 PCIe lanes, and PCIe x1 slots have x1 PCIe lanes. Standard motherboards usually have around 20 to 24 PCIe lanes distributed among different PCIe slots built on them. However, some PCIe slots also have more data lanes than their size. Therefore, some PCIe x16 slots might only have x8 PCIe lanes. Usually, this wouldn’t be problematic, even if you want to attach a GPU card to it. Newer PCIe generations have a higher bandwidth speed per lane compared to their predecessors. Therefore, PCIe x1 slots have enough bandwidth speed for various peripherals cards such as port expansion cards, network cards, and sound cards.
PCIe Generations and Speed
There have been six generations of PCI Express, from PCIe Gen 1 to PCIe Gen 6. The PCI Express interface doubles its connection speed for every new generation. The current most popular PCIe slots are the PCIe Gen 3 with 1 Gbps of speed per lane. For example, PCIe Gen 3 x1 slots have a bandwidth speed of 1 Gbps, and PCIe Gen 3 x16 has 16 Gbps of connection speed. However, current processors, computers, and motherboards are starting to adopt PCIe Gen 4 architecture with newer applications requiring PCIe Gen 4 performance speeds.
The latest PCIe architecture innovation is much faster than current processors sold on the market, which creates a delay in the commercialization of hardware products with faster PCIe generation speeds. This technology adoption model and its progression for mass deployment are normal because of the real-world application demands. PCIe gen 4 hardware products are becoming more prevalent at the time of this blog article, especially in high-performance computing in data centers. Compared to 3rd Gen PCIe x1 slots with 1 Gbps, now 4th Gen PCIe x1 slots have 2 Gbps of connection speed.
Learn More About PCIe 4.0 Technology
What is PCIe x1 Slot?
PCIe x1 slots have only one PCIe lane. Despite having only one PCIe lane, PCIe x1 slots are useful for various lower-power PCIe peripheral cards. PCIe x1 slots are the smallest PCI Express slots with the lowest throughput compared to bigger PCIe slots like the PCIe x16 slots. However, PCIe x1 cards can fit into all PCIe expansion slots, including x4, x8, and x16 PCIe slots. Often it is underestimated what they can do with the PCIe x1 slots. Therefore, we will show you what peripheral expansion cards you can attach to a PCIe x1 slot.
What are the top uses of PCIe x1 Slots?
Despite PCIe x1 slots having one PCIe lane, they are still useful, and in some cases, you want to use the PCIe x1 slots instead of bigger slots like the PCIe x16 to stay optimized. Here are some of the expansion cards you can fit into PCIe x1 slots.
- Modems and Network Cards (Wired and Wireless)
- Sound card
- SATA expansion card
- USB port expansion
- TV Tuner Cards
- Video Capture Cards
- PCIe Riser Cards
1. Modems and Network Cards
Adding either wired or wireless expansion cards to the motherboard can be accomplished with PCIe x1 slots. You can attach a PCIe x1 WiFi card or 1G PCIe Ethernet card to your PCIe x1 slot. Motherboards often already have an ethernet built in. However, a PCIe x1 Wi-Fi card is one of the ways to add Wi-Fi connectivity to your computer. PCIe x1 slot can support all types of wireless cards, including the latest Wi-Fi 6 protocol. However, a PCIe x1 slot can only support 1 Gigabit Ethernet network or RJ45 Ethernet LAN (Local Area Network) cards; for 10GbE expansion, you will require a PCIe x4 slot.
2. Sound Cards
Commonly sound cards are not necessary since most motherboards have a built-in audio chipset. However, some audiophiles or people who take audio quality more seriously can install a sound card to the PCIe x1 slot to get a higher audio quality with more accurate sound. With a sound card installed in your PCIe x1 slot, your computer can have a better-quality sound, more ports, and better shielding against electromagnetic interference.
3. SATA Expansion Cards
You can get a PCIe x1 SATA expansion card to add more SATA ports when you want to add more SATA hard drives to your computer. The 3rd Gen PCIe x1 slots have 1Gbps of data transfer speed and can handle multiple SATA expansion with SATA SSD (Solid State Drives) or SATA HDD storage. Since SATA SSDs have around 550 Mbps and SATA HDDs have around 150 Mbps of data transfer speed, PCIe x1 SATA card would not have a problem handling multiple SATA storage drives great for NAS (Network Attached Storage) systems.
Learn More About SSD vs HDD Storage Drives
4. USB Port Expansion Cards
PCIe x1 can also support USB port expansion. Therefore, if you need more USB ports on your computer, you can use the USB PCIe x1 cards to add more USB 3.0 type A or even USB type C ports to your computer. Other I/Os can also be added through PCIe x1 slots, by simply finding the I/O expansion card with the PCIe x1 form factor.
Learn More About Different Types Of USB Generations
5. TV Tuner Cards
Another use of PCIe x1 slots is a TV tuner card. With a PCIe x1 TV card, you can let your device receive television signals directly on your computer,transforming your computer into a television. Some cards even allow your computer to record the live TV shows right off the cable to watch them later.
6. Video Capture Cards
Video capture cards enable your computer to receive any video source from a camera or other external devices like the gaming console, TV, or DVD player and convert these video signals into digital data that can be stored on your computer. These converted data can be streamed live or saved for post-editing. Typically, FHD video capturing uses a PCIe x1 expansion card, while more high definition 4K capture cards require at least PCIe x4 expansion slot to handle the bandwidth requirement.
7. PCIe Rise Cards
If you need more PCIe slots on your motherboard, you can utilize PCIe riser cards, also known as splitters. It is important to note that PCIe riser cards only increase the number of slots, and the bandwidth of the PCIe will stay the same, distributed evenly among the PCIe slots on the riser cards. Therefore, a riser card with four PCIe x1 slots attached to a PCIe x1 slot will have a quarter of the PCIe x1 bandwidth on each slot.
What’s Next? PCIe, mPCIe, M.2
The current PCIe Gen 3 slots have started to be replaced with PCIe Gen 4, resulting in double the transfer and bandwidth speed, which means you can install more powerful hardware on a smaller PCIe slot. Furthermore, other expansion slots run under a PCI Express interface with smaller form factors, such as mPCIe and M.2 slots. There is one PCIe lane on a mPCIe slot, while there are two to four PCIe lanes on M.2 slots, which makes the M.2 expansion slot the future of small and powerful expansion slots.
Learn More About M.2 Expansion Slots