Some of you may have heard that PCIe 3.0 is now being phased out and PCIe version 4.0 is going to be the new standard for the PCIe bus on Motherboards and other related PCIe lanes. There are others that might not even be familiar with what PCIe stands for in regard to computer equipment.   PCIe is an acronym for peripheral component interconnect express, which is an interface standard for connecting high-speed components. Every desktop PC motherboard has a set number of PCIe slots.  In specific, these PCIe slots are generally reserved for GPUs (video cards/graphics cards), RAID cards, Wi-Fi cards, SSDs, etc.

PCIe is characteristically faster than most of the “buses” on motherboards.  A bus is a subsystem that is used to connect computer components and transfer data. The PCIe interface is used to connect devices, which yields incredibly fast speeds.  PCIe slots come in different physical configurations: x1, x4, x8, x16, x32 (See Diagram Below). The number after the x tells you how many lanes (how data travels to and from) in that PCIe slot. A PCIe x1 slot has one lane and can move data at one bit per cycle. A PCIe x2 slot has two lanes and can move data at two bits per cycle (and so on).

PCIe Technology

The PCIe bus is controlled by the “Northbridge” on a motherboard. The Northbridge is now referred to as the Memory Controller Hub (MCH).  Other components like USB, IDE, and legacy equipment used to be controlled by the “Southbridge”.  However, the Southbridge has been mostly been phased out and renamed the Platform Controller Hub (PCH).  Without getting our heads too “wrapped around the axle”, just understand that the Northbridge is an extremely fast “bus” or lane for components like the CPU, RAM, and Graphics Cards.

All of that being said, PCIe 3.0 was the standard method of communication for quite some time.  With the introduction of PCIe 4.0 you would expect that there is some level of improvement with the speeds and/or communication.  In fact, you are correct in that assumption.  The PCIe 4.0 bus is double the bandwidth of PCIe 3.0.  PCIe 3.0 in an x16 slot will run at 32 GB/s, (Gigabits per second), while PCIe 4.0 runs at 64 GB/s. Typically the bandwidth on the PCIe slot will double with the implementation of the next revision to the PCIe bus.

So, what does this improvement mean for computer enthusiasts, forensic examiners, and anyone else who uses a computer?  It means that your theoretical speeds with items like graphics cards and PCIe SSDs will run much faster than the previous rendition of PCIe.  Enthusiasts are already running tests on the 4.0 transfer speeds and they are getting much faster transfer rates as expected.  This is critical when running applications or attempting to get through forensic examinations quicker.

PCIe 4.0 and Processing Engines

Using the PCIe 4.0 transfer rates on some of our Processing Engines means that they are going to run that much faster than their predecessor.  That’s correct we have already implemented motherboards with the 4.0 transfer rate because, let’s face it, processing the data in a computer forensic examination is all about speeds.  Sure, examiners are precise in their review of the data, but getting that data processed on the front end is critical to keeping up with the massive flow of volume sizes and potential backlogs with cases.

Now that you are more familiar with the PCIe bus and PCIe 4.0, just know that PCIe 5.0 has already been introduced and runs at double the speed of 4.0.  So, PCIe 5.0 doubles the bandwidth on a x16 slot again.  It runs at 64 GB/s. To top that off, PCIe 6.0 has already been formulated and runs at 128 GB/s.

Conclusion

All in all, you might be asking yourself what does all of this mean in the grand scheme of things?  It means that you should be mindful when purchasing a system for processing your data.  If the system is not running at 4.0 speeds, then theoretically you are behind the curve.  3.0 is being phased out for a much faster bus, not to mention that 5.0 is right around the corner.  Further, PCIe 6.0 is already in the works.  All of these PCIe improvements translate into faster processing of your data.