The PCIe slots on your motherboard are designed to support a lot of different PCIe accessories. All those different PCIe accessories can do a lot of different things. Some PCIe cards improve the input and output audio of your microphone and speakers, like a soundcard. Others are simply used to get 10 Gigabit Ethernet ports so that you can have a faster LAN network.
If you are building a new system and wondering how you could put all those different PCIe slots to good use, don’t worry. By reading this article you will learn what to do with the different PCIe slots and what sort of PCIe accessories you can get for them. There are so many PCIe accessories out there, so let’s take a look at what they are all about!
Port Expansion Cards
A very popular PCIe accessory is the port expansion card. They are great for people who want to increase the number of ports on the back of their computers. The most popular port expansion cards are those with USB ports. They are awesome if you have many USB accessories and the ports on the I/O of the motherboard are not enough.
You can get USB 3.0 and even USB 3.1 ports through the use of PCIe cards. Also, if you need USB Type-C, you will be glad to hear that some expansion cards have one or more USB C ports.
So, if you have a slightly older motherboard that does not support all those newer USB standards that have significantly higher bandwidth which you need, a PCIe card is an excellent idea. It is the cheapest and most effective way to add new ports to your computer.
In addition to USB port expansion cards, you can also get a card with SATA ports. This way, you can connect more HDDs or SSDs than your motherboard could support otherwise. If your motherboard only came with four SATA ports but you have multiple SSDs and HDDs and now want to add a Blu-ray player as well, a SATA port expansion card is just perfect.
Just keep in mind that the number of drives in your system is not just limited by the number of SATA ports that you have. You also need to have enough cables from the power supply to connect all those different drives. You can get a second power supply or even adapters to power them.
And if you need an unusual or legacy port like Firewire, you can get a PCIe expansion card for that as well. This is great if you have an older device that you want to use with your computer like an old camera that still takes good photos.
NVMe Drive Slots
NVMe SSDs are very fast and they are the future of fast storage solutions. They are even faster than SATA SSDs because they connect to the M.2 slot on your motherboard. But what should you do if your motherboard does not have an M.2 slot?
Luckily, you can get a PCIe expansion card with one or multiple M.2 slots on it to add your new NVMe SSD. There are NVMe expansion cards with only one slot or multiple slots. Also, many of those cards have a special heatsink designed to keep your SSD cool and some even have active cooling. In other words, they use a tiny fan to cool the NVMe.
NVMe SSDs can have speeds that easily hit 2000-3000 MB/s. If you compare that to an average HDD that only reads at around 120 MB/s, you will see that the difference is significant. It is a good idea to put your operating system onto the NVMe as well as commonly used programs to improve productivity.
You may also see a difference in video games and how they run on an NVMe compared to HDD. There is less stutter and you may even see an improvement in FPS. But don’t throw away your old HDD because you can use it to store programs, video games, and media that you do not open that often such as photos.
While pretty much all modern motherboards do a good job at powering your speakers and microphone, sound cards are still useful. If you want to connect multiple audio devices to your computer and your motherboard does not have enough jacks, getting a sound card is a good idea. Sound cards are one of the most common PCIe accessories out there.
With a dedicated sound card, you can expect to get cleaner and better sound. Audiophiles claim that sound cards are better because they separate the sound chipset from the rest of the motherboard, resulting in less static and electromagnetic interference.
Also, you might need a sound card to create a stereo setup because your motherboard does not support it. There are also some technologies such as Dolby, DSP features, DTS sound, and so on that can improve your experience.
All in all, if you are someone who appreciates rich, crystal clear sound, a sound card is a pretty cheap way to get it. Sure, an external DAC may be better, but sound cards are often more convenient as they do not take up additional space and they are usually a bit cheaper.
RAID Controller Cards
RAID is a useful technology that allows you to control and maintain storage devices. You can say that they are a type of port expansion card because they usually add new SATA ports that you can then use to connect storage devices.
The difference is that with RAID, you can significantly improve the performance of your HDDs or SSDs by running them in different configurations. You can have them write the same data at the same time or use one as a backup in case the main drive fails.
Add Wi-Fi, Ethernet, or Fax Functionality
So you bought a motherboard and everything is just perfect. It has all the features you could possibly need and you saved some money too because you did not buy the most expensive board in the lineup. But then you realize that you need Wi-Fi, which the motherboard does not support. So, what can you do?
Naturally, you will look for a Wi-Fi card. Wi-Fi cards are PCIe extension cards that have a self-explanatory function. You just put the card into your motherboard and you are done. But what about Ethernet?
Pretty much all motherboards have Ethernet nowadays because it is the primary way of connecting your computer to the Internet. But if you for whatever reason do not have an Ethernet port or your integrated one is underperforming, you can get a card that goes into your PCIe slot and you will have Ethernet.
And lat but not least, if you want to connect a fax machine to your computer, you will need a PCIe card with an RJ-11 connector. Since RJ-11 is used for home and office telephones, it is easy to see why a motherboard does not come with a built-in one. Thankfully, you can get a PCIe card that has an RJ-11 port which you can use with your fax machine.
If you are into watching live TV, a TV tuner card is a perfect solution for you. If you have not heard about TV Tuner cards, they allow your computer to receive different TV signals.
This is especially cool if you have a secondary display that you can use to watch TV while doing something else on your computer at the same time. TV tuner cards may not be the most useful thing ever, but if you need one, it is an amazing solution.
Video Capture Card
One of the most popular PCIe devices is the capture card. Capture cards allow you to record content from your screen and they then encode it and play it back. You can use a capture card to either record a high-quality video file or stream directly to a platform like Twitch or YouTube.
If you ever came across a video on YouTube recorded using a capture card, you will immediately notice the difference. For example, gameplay in certain multiplayer games looks incredibly smooth even if it is running at 30 FPS.
You can use capture cards with your computer, console, and different cameras. Another possible usage scenario is to convert VHS tapes into digital files using a capture card.
There are tons of different capture cards out there, so get one that has all the features you need. You do not have to spend a ton of money to get a good capture card that will get the job done, but more expensive cards come with additional features and ports.
A video card is similar to a standard graphics card, but it is used for a different purpose. It can be used to edit multimedia files and it does not have its own VRAM. Instead, it uses your system RAM to do its job.
Video cards are very cheap and they are great if you want to connect another display, especially if that display uses an older port like VGA or DVI, which your graphics card does not support. Remember that getting a video card to work together with your graphics card can sometimes be tricky, so you may need to tweak your BIOS a bit to get it to work.
Network cards are great PCIe accessories because you can get higher maximum bandwidth through them. For example, motherboards that support 10 Gigabit Ethernet are usually significantly more expensive. If you have a motherboard that does not support 10 Gigabit Ethernet, buying a PCIe network card is cheaper and more practical than buying a whole new motherboard.
You can use the network card to connect to the router directly and get better download and upload speeds. You can also use it to connect to a server or NAS to access your files. Since 10 Gigabit Ethernet is very fast, sending and downloading files only takes seconds or minutes, depending on the file size. The only downside to 10 Gigabit Ethernet network cards is the high price.
Drive bays are a unique PCIe accessory because they do not actually do anything through the PCIe slot. Instead, they are simply plastic or metal brackets that you install into the PCIe slot to hold an SSD or HDD.
Most people won’t really need a drive bay because their cases have enough space. But if you want to organize your storage inside your computer and do not have any drive bays left in the case, a drive bay that fits into the PCIe slot is a good and simple solution. It only costs a few bucks, so it won’t break the bank.
Last but not least, let’s talk about exhaust cooling fans. These little PCIe accessories go into the PCIe slot. Sometimes they connect directly to the PSU and do not have a PCIe connector, other times they use the connector itself.
They are great because they improve the airflow inside the case and can make your graphics card run cooler. You can get exhaust fans that push the hot air inside the case out.
There are many cool and useful PCIe accessories out there that do everything from adding an Ethernet port to improving your input and output sound. Most PCIe accessories have a very specific usage scenario, which is great if you want to add a particular feature to your computer.
Thanks to PCIe extension cards, you can use less common connectors like the RJ-11 to connect a fax machine to your computer. Or you can add 10 Gigabit Ethernet functionality to make your Internet connection or the connection to your NAS or server significantly faster. And if you need more SATA ports or perhaps an M.2 slot for an NVMe SSD, a PCIe extension card is the easiest solution.