What Can Be Plugged Into PCIe Slots?

Mehak Sohail | Last Updated On November 22nd, 2021

If you’re interested in building or upgrading your PC, you may be wondering how you can take advantage of all the extra PCIe slots you have.

In today’s in-depth guide, I’ll go over everything with what can be plugged into PCIe slots and how to make the most out of your computer.

PCIe slots are located on your computer’s motherboard and bring an entirely new world of functionality. Graphics cards, network cards, and sound cards are some of the most common devices users plug into their PCIe slots. You can also plug SSD expansion cards, video capture cards, and WiFi/bluetooth cards into your PCIe slots. 

These versatile inputs allow you to fully customize your PC to best suit your needs. However, you might not even need to use your additional PCIe slots depending on what you use your computer for.

Either way, I’ll explain everything you need to know in today’s guide.

Let’s jump in.

What Are PCIe Slots

PCIe (know the difference between PCIe 2.0 and 3.0 here) stands for peripheral component interconnect express. It’s a term that’s used to describe a particular type of connection between a computer’s motherboard and peripheral expansion cards.

For example, you would plug a graphics card directly into a PCIe slot in order for it to work.

PCIe slots are also commonly referred to as PCI Express and PCI-E. Furthermore, PCIe has replaced AGP and PCI and most motherboards today are only manufactured with PCIe slots.

When a PC is first turned on, PCIe slots determine which devices are plugged into the motherboard.

To know how many PCI-e cables you need, read this article.

Are There Different Sized PCIe Slots

In terms of size, there are six different types of PCIe slots and cards.

These are:

  • PCIe x1 – 500 MB/s
  • PCIe x2 – 1,000 MB/s
  • PCIe x4 – 2,000 MB/s
  • PCIe x8 – 4,000 MB/s
  • PCIe x16 – 8,000 MB/s
  • PCIe x32 – 16,0000 MB/s

The number stands for how many direct lanes of connection each specific PCIe slot provides. Furthermore, PCIe x16 is the largest size that’s commonly used.

A PCIe slot that’s x1 only has one lane and a x4 PCIe slot has four lanes. Typically, more lanes means that your hardware can perform better. High-end devices like graphics cards usually rely on PCIe x16, which makes them especially useful for gamers and visual designers.

It’s important to note that PCIe x1 expansion cards can be used in any PCIe slot. So, if your motherboard only has bigger PCIe slots available you can still take advantage of x16 slots with x1, x2, x4, and x8 devices.

Since each expansion card has its own dedicated connection, devices no longer share bandwidth as they do on conventional busses.

Are There Different PCIe Generations

Over the past two decades, PCIe has been continually upgrading in performance. We are currently at PCIe 5.0 with PCIe 6.0 on the way soon.

Each enhanced generation of PCIe provides faster transfer rates across all lanes and sizes.

As an example, let’s say your device is PCI Express 4.0 x16. This means that your PCIe connection is from the fourth generation and is equipped with 16 lanes.

What To Do With Extra PCIe Slots

The number of upgrades you can add depends on your PC’s motherboard. However, most consumer desktop motherboard devices come with extra PCIe slots. This presents a variety of different ways you can upgrade your existing computer.

Let’s take a look at the most popular options.

1) Add or Upgrade Your Graphics Card

The most common device users plug into an extra PCIe slot is a dedicated graphics card. If your PC uses integrated graphics, adding a dedicated GPU will exponentially boost your PC’s visual input.

Integrated graphics is when the GPU is built into your computer’s processor (CPU). Most integrated graphics cards get the job done for average users, but fail in performance for more intensive tasks.

Gamers, designers, and high resolution monitor users can benefit greatly from adding a dedicated graphics card into a PCIe slot.

In terms of which GPU to buy, it depends on your specific needs. Hardcore gamers should consider Nvidia 3000 series graphics cards. Moderate gamers can settle with a GTX 1080 paired with a good CPU and be completely satisfied with their purchase.

In fact, I’d also highly recommend any PC enthusiast to invest the most amount of their PC budget into the graphics card.

If you’re considering purchasing a new GPU, make sure your motherboard has an additional PCIe x16 slot. Graphics card’s are typically designed to utilize all 16 PCIe connections and require a x16 slot to function best.

2) Add or Upgrade Your Sound Card

Another great way to make use of extra PCIe slots is to upgrade your sound card. All motherboards come equipped with a built-in sound processing chip. However, these are typically low quality and degrade over time.

Plugging in a new sound card adds better audio ports and sound quality to your PC. This can be extremely valuable for gamers, creators, music enthusiasts, or anybody who prefers higher quality sound.

Furthermore, a new sound card will eliminate any distortion or interference your current sound card has.

In terms of which PCIe slot a sound card needs, they typically use PCIe x1 so make sure you have one available on your motherboard.

If you’re an audiophile and love bumping tunes while you’re at your computer, getting a new sound card can exponentially enhance your experience.

3) Faster Internet with Ethernet Network Cards

Another common use of additional PCIe x1 slots is to expand your network capabilities.

If your current integrated ethernet adapter is slow or underperforming, you can add a PCIe network expansion card.

There are plenty of great ethernet cards that are under $40. However, high-performance ethernet cards can run up to $150.

4) More Versatility with WiFi & Bluetooth Cards

PCI Wi-Fi Network Card

Although some motherboards come with pre-built wifi, most motherboards don’t have this function equipped.

This can be troublesome when your router is located in another room and you can’t connect an ethernet port.

For this reason, I recommend adding a WiFi card to your additional PCIe x1 slot. Many WiFi cards come equipped with WiFi and bluetooth so you can get the best of both worlds.

Furthermore, a mid-level WiFi + Bluetooth card is relatively inexpensive for the value it brings. You can find one for around $50, but they can range up to $150 if you’re looking for the best WiFi card available.

5) TV Tuner Cards

TV tuner card and remote control on a white background

TV tuner cards require a PCIe x1 slot and allow your PC to work like a TV. They allow your PC to directly receive TV signals so that you can watch any channel from your computer.

In the current world of online streaming, these are used less often. However, they are relatively inexpensive and can be great for sports fans.

6) SATA/USB/Firewire/ESATA/Thunderbolt Expansion Cards

If you find yourself needing extra ports to plug your devices into, you can easily add an expansion card into a PCIe x1 or PCIe x4 slot.

Whether you need more USB 3.0, USB Type-C, or Thunderbolt ports, adding a port expansion card is highly recommended.

However, you’ll need to make sure that your motherboard has the same header as the port expansion card you’re adding. For example, your motherboard will need a USB Type-C header if you’re plugging in a USB Type-C expansion card.

Furthermore, you can upgrade the memory on your computer with an additional SATA HDD. Although SSDs provide quicker transfer rates, more memory even in the form of a hard drive is always a good thing.

If you want to know how many SATA cables you’ll need and how to add SATA ports, check this two articles.

7) Upgrade Your Storage with SSD Cards

Another common way to optimize your PC is by adding additional storage. M.2 NVMe SSD cards are the fastest hard drives in the world.

NVMe stands for non-volatile memory express and is an interface protocol specifically constructed for solid-state drives.

These lightning quick cards can reach speeds of 7000/5000 (read/write) MB/s and are exponentially faster than the average hard drive. By reading files quickly, your computer will operate at a faster and more seamless pace.

In terms of PCIe slots, each NVMe card requires a PCIe x4 slot.

8) Video Capture Cards

Entertainers, streamers, and gamers can rejoice because PCIe slots offer the ability to add video capture cards.

Video capture cards can be used to record or stream high-quality content. In essence, video capture cards aid in encoding raw footage into data that your computer can understand. This data can then be streamed or edited.

In terms of which PCIe slot video capture cards use:

  • A FHD video capture card requires a PCIe x1 slot
  • A 4K video capture card requires a PCIe x4 slot

Summary

Well, there you have it.

The best 8 expansion cards you can plug into your extra PCIe slots.

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