PCI Express

PCI Express

CI Express (Peripheral Component Interconnect Express), officially abbreviated as PCIe, is a high-speed serial computer expansion bus standard, designed to replace the older PCI, PCI-X, and AGP bus standards. PCIe has numerous improvements over the older standards, including higher maximum system bus throughput, lower I/O pin count and smaller physical footprint, better performance scaling for bus devices, a more detailed error detection and reporting mechanism (Advanced Error Reporting, AER), and native hot-plug functionality. More recent revisions of the PCIe standard provide hardware support for I/O virtualization.

The PCI Express electrical interface is also used in a variety of other standards, most notably in ExpressCard as a laptop expansion card interface, and in SATA Express as a computer storage interface.

Format specifications are maintained and developed by the PCI-SIG (PCI Special Interest Group), a group of more than 900 companies that also maintain the conventional PCI specifications. PCIe 3.0 is the latest standard for expansion cards that are in production and available on mainstream personal computers.

Conceptually, the PCI Express bus is a high-speed serial replacement of the older PCI/PCI-X bus. One of the key differences between the PCI Express bus and the older PCI is the bus topology; PCI uses a shared parallel bus architecture, in which the PCI host and all devices share a common set of address, data and control lines. In contrast, PCI Express is based on point-to-point topology, with separate serial links connecting every device to the root complex (host). Due to its shared bus topology, access to the older PCI bus is arbitrated (in the case of multiple masters), and limited to one master at a time, in a single direction. Furthermore, the older PCI clocking scheme limits the bus clock to the slowest peripheral on the bus (regardless of the devices involved in the bus transaction). In contrast, a PCI Express bus link supports full-duplex communication between any two endpoints, with no inherent limitation on concurrent access across multiple endpoints.

In terms of bus protocol, PCI Express communication is encapsulated in packets. The work of packetizing and de-packetizing data and status-message traffic is handled by the transaction layer of the PCI Express port (described later). Radical differences in electrical signaling and bus protocol require the use of a different mechanical form factor and expansion connectors (and thus, new motherboards and new adapter boards); PCI slots and PCI Express slots are not interchangeable. At the software level, PCI Express preserves backward compatibility with PCI; legacy PCI system software can detect and configure newer PCI Express devices without explicit support for the PCI Express standard, though new PCI Express features are inaccessible.

The PCI Express link between two devices can consist of anywhere from one to 32 lanes. In a multi-lane link, the packet data is striped across lanes, and peak data throughput scales with the overall link width. The lane count is automatically negotiated during device initialization, and can be restricted by either endpoint. For example, a single-lane PCI Express (×1) card can be inserted into a multi-lane slot (×4, ×8, etc.), and the initialization cycle auto-negotiates the highest mutually supported lane count. The link can dynamically down-configure itself to use fewer lanes, providing a failure tolerance in case bad or unreliable lanes are present. The PCI Express standard defines slots and connectors for multiple widths: ×1, ×4, ×8, ×12, ×16 and ×32.:4,5 This allows the PCI Express bus to serve both cost-sensitive applications where high throughput is not needed, as well as performance-critical applications such as 3D graphics, networking (10 Gigabit Ethernet or multiport Gigabit Ethernet), and enterprise storage (SAS or Fibre Channel).

As a point of reference, a PCI-X (133 MHz 64-bit) device and a PCI Express 1.0 device using four lanes (×4) have roughly the same peak single-direction transfer rate of 1064 MB/s. The PCI Express bus has the potential to perform better than the PCI-X bus in cases where multiple devices are transferring data simultaneously, or if communication with the PCI Express peripheral is bidirectional.