PCIe 4.0 is the latest iteration of PCIe to get a commercial release. It offers double the bandwidth that its predecessor, PCIe 3.0, does.
However, it only hit the market relatively recently and it offers virtually no benefits when it comes to actual in-game performance right now.
There is never a shortage of confusing acronyms and abbreviations in the world of PC building, especially not now that older technologies are being replaced by new, improved versions that offer better performance and, potentially, some additional new features on top of that.
One such technology that is currently being replaced in some motherboards is PCIe 3.0, as its successor – PCIe 4.0 – is rolling out.
In this article, we’ll briefly explain what PCIe is, what its latest iteration is all about, how PCIe 3.0 and PCIe 4.0 compare, and ultimately, we’ll see whether it is worth getting for gaming in 2021.
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What Is PCIe?
PCIe (sometimes also abbreviated as PCI-e or referred to as PCI Express) stands for Peripheral Component Interconnect Express and it is a ubiquitous expansion bus via which various expansion cards can interface with the motherboard. This includes graphics cards, SSDs, Wi-Fi adapters, modems, capture cards, sound cards, and more.
The very first version of PCIe goes all the way back to 2003 and the first generation of PCI Express – PCIe 1.0. Over the years, four additional versions have been released, culminating in PCIe 5.0 which was introduced in 2019, all the while PCIe 6.0 is planned to be introduced in 2021.
That said, PCIe 4.0 isn’t exactly the “latest” version of PCIe to be introduced but it is the latest one to actually hit the market. So far, AMD is the only company that is offering PCIe 4.0-compatible chipsets and it will be some time yet before we see PCIe 5.0, let alone PCIe 6.0, implemented in mainstream consumer motherboards.
Furthermore, PCIe slots can also be described according to the number of lanes that they feature. The most common variants are PCIe x1, PCIe x4, PCIe x8, and PCIe x16 that feature one, four, eight, and sixteen lanes respectively.
Naturally, a higher number of lanes allows for faster data transfer rates and greater overall bandwidth, and different expansion cards are designed with a different number of lanes in mind depending on what kind of performance they require.
PCIe 3.0 vs PCIe 4.0
With PCIe 3.0 having been released all the way back in 2010, it seems like it’s high time for an upgrade. So, how much of a performance boost does PCIe 4.0 offer?
Over the years, each generation of PCIe offered roughly double the transfer speeds and bandwidth compared to the generation that preceded it, and this one is no exception. When comparing the numbers between PCIe 3.0 and PCIe 4.0, the situation looks something like this:
|PCIe 3.0||8 GT/s||32 GB/s|
|PCIe 4.0||16 GT/s||64 GB/s|
Apart from doubling the speeds, PCIe 4.0 doesn’t unlock any major new features. And, as mentioned above, the only chipsets (and, by extension, the only CPUs) that support PCIe 4.0 come from AMD.
So, PCIe 4.0 is obviously far superior on paper, but as is often the case with gaming hardware, big numbers on spec sheets don’t necessarily indicate better in-game performance. That said, how does PCIe 4.0 fare in practice, and is it worth getting?
Is PCIe 4.0 Worth It In 2021?
And now, let’s get the main question out of the way – does PCIe 4.0 improve gaming performance?
In short: no, it doesn’t, at least not to any noticeable degree.
The video above shows what kind of performance you can expect from an RX 5700 XT when it’s installed in a PCIe 3.0 x16 slot and how it compares to when that same GPU is installed in a PCIe 4.0 x16 one. And, as you can tell, there is hardly any discernible difference to speak of.
With that in mind, there’s obviously no need to go out of your way to get a PCIe 4.0-compatible graphics card, CPU, and motherboard if you want better in-game performance, as modern graphics currently have no use for the kind of bandwidth that PCIe 4.0 offers.
Now, when it comes to SSDs, it’s pretty much the same story – PCIe 4.0 does offer an advantage when it comes to gaming as it improves load times, but the difference is so small that you’d never really notice it. The same goes for everyday computer use.
However, PCIe 4.0 can actually offer a palpable boost if we’re talking about high-performance NVMe SSDs, as the extra bandwidth would obviously allow the SSD to read and write large volumes of data in a shorter period of time. But of course, this isn’t something you need to concern yourself with if you’re building a gaming PC rather than a workstation.
We should also note that PCIe is both forward and backward-compatible, so you don’t need to worry about any compatibility issues on that front.
With all that said, PCIe 4.0 is currently very easy to overlook in a gaming PC, as it neither offers any notable new features nor do its enhanced bandwidth and data transfer rates mean anything when it comes to actual in-game performance.
So, at the end of the day, there is little use in getting a PCIe 4.0-equipped motherboard for a gaming PC, as it currently doesn’t offer any real benefits for GPUs and SSDs as far as gaming is concerned, and it will be years yet before it does.
Hopefully, you’ve found this article helpful and, as usual, if you feel that we’ve made any errors or overlooked something important, let us know in the comments and we’ll do our best to update the article as soon as possible!