PCIe is the latest interfacing standard for pushing the capabilities of your PC to new heights. It stands for Peripheral Component Interconnect Express and is the successor to the now obsolete PCI standard. It is much faster than its parent, the PCI, which used to be good enough for most tasks like connecting USBs or soundcards.
However, things started changing as graphics cards became more and more powerful, so much so that the PCI standard started becoming a bottleneck in the realization of the maximum potential of these modern graphics cards. Thus, the PCIe interface was born.
With that short overview of the PCIe standard out of the way, let’s zoom in on the PCIe interface itself and demystify what is meant by the different terms that one comes across when discussing this standard. There are two major subcategories in the PCIe standard.
One categorization is based on the slot size while the other is based on the version number. In both of these, bigger numbers are associated with faster data transfer rates. Slot size, in general, is proportional to the bandwidth while version number is associated with the speed of data transfer through a particular slot.
Difference between PCIe X1 and X16 Slots
PCIe X1 and X16 basically give an idea of the slot size. The X1 slot has the lowest bandwidth while X16 has the highest (an X32 slot exists too, but that is relatively uncommon because it is considered overkill for the needs of most consumers).
Bandwidth indicates how much data can pass through the slot at a time. Think of it like the number of lanes on a highway. The more lanes there are, the more vehicles can simultaneously move through the highway. The word “lane” is used here in the PCIe lingo too. X16 means the slot has 16 lanes while X1 means that the slot has only 1 lane.
To prevent any confusion, one thing you should keep in mind is that the physical size of a slot does not always correspond to the number of lanes it has. A slot might look like an X16 one but actually has only 8 lanes. This wouldn’t cause compatibility problems with an X16 card. However, it would considerably reduce a card’s performance especially if it is a powerful one, mainly because there are fewer pathways for data to travel through.
The reasons for this are manifold but one of the major ones is that it considerably enhances the inter-compatibility of differently-sized PCIe components. For instance, if you wanted to build a multi-GPU setup and had only one x16 and one x8 slot, you would want them to be of the same size. If the x8 slot were physically smaller too, you wouldn’t have been able to install the second graphics card.
Let’s also briefly discuss what PCIe versions mean. The version number indicates how fast data can travel through the PCIe slot. You can think of version numbers as the speed limit on a particular highway. The higher the version number, the faster the vehicles are allowed to travel on it. Thus, for an identical number of lanes, data transfer would be much faster on a PCIe version 4 slot than a version 3 slot, almost twice as fast.
Lanes and version numbers are equally important. For example, a PCIe x8 Version 3 slot allows a theoretical maximum data transfer rate of 7.88GB/s while PCIe x16 Version 2 provides a maximum of 8GB/s data transfer rate. The difference is almost within the margin of error. So, be sure to check both the slot size and version number when you are reading motherboard specifications to reduce any instances of preventable performance bottlenecking.
We sincerely believe that with this brief guide on PCIe slots, you are now armed with a much better understanding of the PCIe standard, in general, and the differences between x1 and x16, in particular.