Tip: Remember to follow anti-static precautions and at the very least, grounding yourself on a radiator or piece of earthed equipment before handling any components. Handle components carefully by holding only the sides of the PCB and not the contacts or components.
Step One: Identifying the expansion slots on your motherboard
Motherboards as a rule always have the ability to accommodate expansion in one form or another. However the types of expansion slots supported can vary from board to board. In this guide I will hopefully help you identify what options are available to you when it comes to add-in cards and upgrading in future.
As a rule we used to be able to identify expansion slots based on their colour, PCI slots used to be white and AGP slots (Not pictured) used to be brown. However as manufacturers struggled to improve their brand recognition, we started to see the colours change to suit their branding rather than being orientated to ease identification of the slots.
As you can see from the image above, there are lots of different configurations and options available depending on what motherboard you opt for.
Hopefully towards the end of this guide you’ll be able to identify ports ‘at a glance’, but you can always double check what ports are available by either looking at the specifications for the product on our website or consulting the manual for your motherboard.
As we can see in the above image (Fig.A) there are three common types of expansion slots that we will see on modern motherboards labelled A, B and C. Although the slot labelled D is not entirely uncommon it’s not featured on many motherboards.
At a glance we can see that the socket labelled A is a PCI-Express x 1 (aka PCI-E x 1) slot, this connection is commonly used for expansion cards such as WiFi cards, TV tuner cards, sound cards and a small handful of controller cards such as USB 3 host cards.
We then move along to slot B in the image which is now the most common expansion slot featured on most boards which is a PCI-Express x 16 (aka PCI-E x 16) slot, most commonly used for graphics cards and some higher specification controller cards such as RAID cards.
Working our way further down the board now we come to what was the dominating form of expansion on motherboards from yesteryear the PCI (aka PCI) slot, formerly used for graphics card, networking adaptors, TV tuner cards and almost every other add-in card you can think of. Although the market does still have lots of options available that use the PCI interface we’re starting to see less and less cards for this interface. The most common currently being networking adaptors and lower end controller cards such as USB and SATA I & II host cards.
The final expansion slot we have is a PCI-Express x 4 (aka PCI-E x 4) slot, which is most commonly used for host cards such as RAID controllers and higher performance networking adaptors that need higher bandwidth than a PCI-E x 1 can offer but not necessarily as much as a PCI-E x 16 has.
Step Two (Part One): Fitting an add-in card (graphics)
Once you have identified the slot which you are going to fit your graphics card into (Fig.B), you’re going to need to remove the I/O cover if there is one. Then I recommend lining the card up to ensure that the interfaces are the same and the notches in the card are the same as the ones found in the slot (Fig.C). Once you’ve fitted the card into the correct slot remember to always secure it tightly using the provided screws (Fig.D).
If your desired graphics card is a dual slot design then you’re going to need to ensure that you have two free I/O slots on your case and that any existing interface cards aren’t going to fowl the graphics card.
Graphics cards of the larger verity can often obstruct multiple expansion slots (Fig.G). This is usually the reason behind PCI-E x 16 slots being spaced out on the motherboard, preventing graphics cards from obstructing any other PCI-E- x 16 slots which enables you to fit multiple graphics cards.
If you’re planning on fitting a mid to high end graphics card you may need to ensure that none of your existing expansion cards will be an issue when fitting the card.
Step Two (Part Two): Connecting additional PCI-Express power (if required)
Some higher power graphics cards require additional power (Fig.H), this power can require different configurations such as; 1 x 6 pin connector, 2 x 6 pin connector, 1 x 8 pin connector, 2 x 8 pin connector and finally 1x6 pin and 1 x 8 pin connectors.
The card we’re using in this example just requires a single 6 pin power connector, these power connections on your power supply will usually be labelled PCI-E (Fig.I) to avoid any confusion with the possible 8 pin ATX+2 CPU power connector.
Once you have identified the correct power cable simply connect it to the graphics card (Fig.J) and you’re good to go.
The above method used for fitting a graphics card applies to any and all expansion cards. Some may require additional power or additional connections.
For an example of something else you may encounter; if you’re fitting a sound card, you may need to connect your front panel audio connectors to the card. But any additional requirements of add-in cards will be specified in the installation instructions.