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I'm comparing different Micro-ATX motherboards for a home server build and I was wondering what I would use PCI and PCI Express slots for?

Are these used for hard-drives, GPUs, RAID controllers, RAM et cetera?

What kind of PCI slot should I aim for and how many are usually needed?

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Thanks for the answers ultrasawblade and journeyman. I realise this question may seem a 'stupid' question for someone building a server but this is my first ever build and I've never had to worry about what PCI and the variants are until now. There are plenty of articles that talk about each specification of PCI but none that I could find gave a good overview of the technology and what they can be used for. – Dean Aug 1 '12 at 21:52
up vote 8 down vote accepted

PCI/PCI-Express (aka PCI-E) slots let you install expansion cards.

Expansion cards give your computer additional capabilities. Some very common expansion cards were sound cards, 56k modems, and Ethernet adapters. You don't have to populate your PCI/PCI-E slots, but it is an option if you need to extend your hardware.

Since the introduction of the PC in the early 1980's, more and more capability has been included on the motherboard. Most motherboards today include sound capability and (sometimes multiple) Ethernet ports.

The card must match the slot, e.g. if you have PCI-E slots, you need to buy a PCI-E card. Newer slots support faster hardware. PCI-E is the newest and fastest. PCI is still very common and included in motherboards. Older slot types include EISA (black) and AGP (brown - for graphics cards only).

No one makes RAM for PCI/PCI-E slots, RAM has had its own dedicated slim slot type on motherboards for about 20 years now (in the ISA days you could buy memory boards that plugged into the ISA slots). Hard drive "cards" were a short experiment in the early 80's and no longer are made. Hard drive controller cards are common though - these are just cards that sport additional IDE or SATA ports and let you attach more drives - but you need separate power lines for the drives off your power supply and you're responsible for having a case that lets you put them somewhere.

Both PCI and PCI-E have "mini" versions for laptop use.

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Hard drive "cards" were a short experiment in the early 80's and no longer are made. O RLY? -> ( – HaydnWVN Aug 1 '12 at 11:09
@HaydnWVN - Why the need for the O RLY? Not everyone knows everything, especially about such an obscure product. – Joe Taylor Aug 1 '12 at 11:31
Was talking about these: Forgot about SSD cards. Further goes to show there's a lot of things available on expansion cards. – LawrenceC Aug 1 '12 at 12:54
I knew the ones you where on about @ultrasawblade they were painful to configure! And Joe... I included the 'O RLY' for the comedy element. The majority of users who know about SSD's will know about the PCI-E variants, as they're where the technology is heading as SATA just won't go fast enough. – HaydnWVN Aug 1 '12 at 12:57
@HaydnWVN: The technology is already there, it's just still a little expensive. The ioDrive Octal has a read bandwidth of 6700 MB/s (11 times SATA III) for random 64 kB blocks. If it wasn't for the USD 125,000.-, I'd already have one... – Dennis Aug 1 '12 at 23:55

If you need to ask...

Well practically on a modern system especially as a server of some sort, you can get by without any at all - You can go with onboard video (avoiding the use of a PCI-E slot for video card), ethernet (so you don't need a expansion slot for it either) and so on. Most modern boards are practically self contained.

As far as a home server system goes, I can see PCI-E slots used for a card that supports additional sata ports (assuming you had space and sufficient power in your case). I'd note that many MATX cases might not support the full 6 drives that the board could handle - most i've seen handle 2+2 or 3+2.

If cost was no object you can throw in a SSD or even ram on a PCI-E port. Both these act as expensive but INSANELY FAST storage options. Considering you're using a matx board, i'm assuming throwing a grand into very fast storage is not an option you're looking at, so lets ignore these.

If your server also does some form of routing which is common, you could also throw an additional network card (PCI-E for gig-e, PCI for 10/100). I often use ethernet as a simple fast way to transfer files directly from system to system as well. Having wireless is another possibility in that role.

With an MATX board you can't expect too many cards - you'd have one x16 (for a video card) and up to 3 other slots as per the specifications. On the other hand, in this role, nearly everything you need is built in, as i stated - I'd look at other specifications in deciding.

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