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what slots are available on current pc motherboards?

Posted on 2015-01-18
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Last Modified: 2015-01-28
Hello and Good Evening Everyone

         Several years ago, I remember replacing motherboards which had PCI slots and an AGP slot.  Current or new motherboards are likely to be much different in terms of their architecture which brings me to the point of my question.  How much different are modern motherboards as compared to the older motherboards with respect to slots for specific cards like video, audio/sound, etc. ?  Graphical illustrations to help capture these differences would likely facilitate my understanding.

         Thank you

         George
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Question by:GMartin
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bigeven2002 earned 300 total points
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Hello,
Current motherboards have since retired the AGP slot in favor of PCI Express.  Most motherboards still carry a legacy PCI slot, but other than that, the other slots will be PCI Express x1 thru x16 which is the number of lanes, or bandwidth so to speak.

Most motherboards now carry audio and video integrated on board so for casual use, no separate cards are needed.  Gamers and power users will still get the add-on cards for greater performance.  Sound cards will usually come in legacy PCI or PCI Express x1 formats.  Video cards will be in PCI Express x1 or x16 format typically.

Attached are two motherboard screenshots with the interfaces identified.  The classic shows AGP and the newer shows PCI Express.
motherboard.png
motherboard-classic.png
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by:GMartin
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Hello and Good Evening,

            Thank you so much for your shared insights and graphical illustrations.  After reviewing the information submitted, I do have a follow up question.  Could you give me an example scenario of the advanced performance upgrade of a PCI Express x16 slot over a PCI Express x1 with respect to an inserted card?  For instance, will a video card inserted into a PCI Express x16 load pictures much faster onto the monitor screen because of having greater data bandwidth as compared to a video card inserted into a PCI Express x1 slot?  
             
             Thanks

             George
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by:bigeven2002
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Short answer, yes.  x16 and x1 represent the number of bandwidth lanes as far as processing graphical data.  The lanes aren't the only spec to focus on though.  Video cards have dedicated memory and their own processors, or GPUs if you will.  Each contribute to the speed and capability of the card.  As for performance, you may see 10-15% more performance out of x16 vs. x1.  Both formats will use the same bandwidth speed, it is just a matter of how much data is processed at once.

A benchmarking test was done on this site so you can see for your self the difference.

Loading pictures isn't much of a challenge for a video card, but playing high definition video or playing games in high resolution and detail can be.

Probably the best way I can do the comparison, X1 would be ideal for workstation setup that doesn't use 3D graphics or high resolution gaming, rather for Internet browsing, email, stocks, etc.  X16 is more for along the lines of gamers and 3D architectural design workstation power users.
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by:VB ITS
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A video card plugged into a PCI-Express x16 slot will performance noticeably better when it comes to 3D graphics, such as in games, etc.

The PCI-Express x1 slots are generally used for video cards, network adapter cards and so on.

In general a PCI-Express x16 card (which has 16 lanes) should theoretically be 16 times faster than PCI-Express x1 card (which has one lane).

Note that the PCI-Express standard has also been upgraded over the years:
- PCI-Express 1.0 and 1.1 could transmit up to 2.5 Gigatransfers (or GT/s for short) per second in each lane in both directions simultaneously.
- PCI Express 2.0 increased the theoretical limit to 5 GT/s for each lane.
- PCI-Express 3.0 (the most recent standard) allows for up to 8 GT/s per lane. Therefore a PCI Express 3.0 X16 with 16 lanes has a theoretical transfer limit of 128 GT/s
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by:garycase
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Hi George,

As noted, AGP slots are long-since obsolete, as are the ancient ISA slots of the early to mid 90's.   Even PCI slots are becoming fairly rare -- none of the systems I built in the past year or so have had any of them.

As mentioned above, virtually all modern systems use the PCIe bus, which can have slots with 1, 4, 8, or 16 "lanes".     Most consumer oriented systems will only have PCIe x1 and PCIe x16 slots ... although it's not uncommon on system with more than one x16 slot for some of those slots to actually be x4 or x8 slots that simply use the physical x16 connector.

In most cases, your question about which slot to plug in a video card is moot => you generally can only plug a video card into a slot with a physical x16 connector UNLESS the slot with fewer "lanes" that you want to use (e.g. an x1 or x4 or x8 slot) has an "open ended" connector, where the rear of the slot isn't closed.

You can plug any PCIe card into any slot with the number of lanes the card requires OR MORE ... i.e. you can plug a PCIe x1 card into a PCIe x1 slot, a PCIe x2 slot, a PCIe x4 slot, a PCIe x8 slot, or a PCIe x16 slot.    The opposite is electrically true, but may not be physically possible because the connector won't fit in the slot UNLESS the end of the slot is (as I noted above) "open ended" -- which will allow the unconnected pins (for the additional "lanes") to simply stick out of the slot.    On motherboards with open-ended connectors, you can indeed plug any PCIe card into the open-ended slots, regardless of the number of lanes [i.e. you could plug a PCIe x16 video card into a PCIe x1 slot).    But it's best to ensure every card is in a slot that provides as many lanes as the card is designed to use.

Server motherboards are much more likely to have x4 and x8 connectors, as these are often used for RAID controllers, additional SATA port controllers, etc. that desktop systems generally don't use.

As noted, the PCIe standard has evolved through (currently) 4 generations of the specifications.    The original PCIe bus could support a bandwidth of 250MB/s in each direction per "lane" (x1 = 1 lane, x2 = 2 lanes, x4 = 4 lanes, etc.);   Gen 2 doubled that to 500MB/s in each direction;  Gen 3 bumped it up to 985MB/s; and Gen 4 slots can do up to 1969MB/s in each direction.
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by:GMartin
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Hello and Good Evening Everybody,

            With respect to any need for 3D gaming, what would be a recommended video card?  Also, I remember several years ago additional software  such as DirectX or OpenGL was needed for the higher end video cards.  Would this hold true for today's modern systems?  

             George
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by:garycase
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DirectX and OpenGL are still valid standards.    Most consumer cards are optimized for their Direct-X performance, while the professional cards used for CAD, scientific visualization, 3D rendering, etc. are more focused on their OpenGL implementation.    The underlying hardware is often the same ... with the firmware in the card focused on the specific use.    [e.g. many NVidia consumer cards can be "re-flashed" to essentially turn them in to Quaddro's].

For 3D gaming, a high-end consumer card is what you'd want to use.
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by:VB ITS
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For video card recommendations, you'll need to tell us what games you intend to play along with your other system specifications (processor, motherboard, hard drive/SSD, memory, etc.) as a high-end video card by itself will not guarantee you smooth game play.
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by:GMartin
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Hello and Good Afternoon Everybody

           Thanks so much for the feedback given and especially the pictorial illustrations comparing the older motherboard with the newer or modern one.  The breakdown explanations given comparing the x1 and x16 slots certainly did make sense especially when used in the lane example.  I suppose it could be further broken down by comparing it to lanes of a highway.  For instance, a 4 lane highway is going to allow for twice as much traffic as compared to a 2 lane highway.  I believe this example would parallel with the comparisons made between the data bandwidth potential variations discussed above.  Speaking theoretically, it does make sense that x16 PCI express slots would allow 16 times more data to travel down its bus slot as compared to the x1.

               Many thanks once again everybody for your fruitful insights shared in response to my question.  I certainly did learn much from this experience.

              George
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by:garycase
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Hi George,

You're absolutely correct r.e. the highway example -- a 2 lane highway can handle twice the traffic of a 1-lane highway;  4 lanes can double that again, etc.

You could extend that to note that as the PCIe standard evolved from PCIe v1 to PCIe v2 the width of the lanes was increased, so the "highway" could handle more traffic per lane.
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by:GMartin
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Hello Gary

            Thank you for adding to my example here.  I have always found that a visual day by day comparison often facilitates my understanding and retention of various technical points and views.  Throughout the years of being on EE, you have certainly aided in breaking down rather complicated topics to simpler terms.  Many thanks once again for always doing that in past and continued post.  

          Have a great rest of the day : - )

         George
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