When researching the different types of computer hardware, you may come across expansion cards. Nearly all modern desktop computers support expansion cards. You can use them to “expand” your computer with new hardware. What are expansion cards exactly, and what are the benefits of using them?

Overview of Expansion Cards

An expansion card is a piece of hardware that plugs into an expansion slot on a motherboard. The motherboard, of course, is the main printed circuit board. It supports hardware components like a central processing unit (CPU), storage drive, memory, sound card and more.

Most desktop motherboards also have open slots. Known as expansion slots, they are designed for use with expansion cards. You can plug expansion cards into these expansion slots. Alternatively, some desktop computers come with pre-filled expansion slots, meaning there are already expansion cards in these motherboard slots.

Types of Expansion Cards

There are many different types of expansion cards. Video cards, for instance, are available as expansion cards. Also known as graphics cards, they are designed to process and render graphics so the computer monitor can display images.

In addition to video cards, sound cards are available as expansion cards. Sound cards live up to their namesake by providing sound output. Some of them support additional features like surround sound. Other common types of expansion cards include network interface cards (NICs), storage drive controllers and redundant array of independent disk (RAID) cards.

It’s important to note that there are different types of expansion slots. Some of the most common slot types include PCI, PCIe and AGP. Expansion cards are designed for a specific slot type — and they typically aren’t interchangeable with other slot types. Therefore, you’ll need to choose expansion cards that are compatible with your computer’s slot type. If your computer has PCIe slots, you should choose PCIe expansion cards.

Benefits of Using Expansion Cards

With expansion cards, you can easily upgrade your computer. You won’t have to replace your computer, nor will you have to change the motherboard. Rather, you can buy one or more expansion cards and then plug them into your computer’s existing motherboard.

Expansion cards allow you to customize your computer. You don’t have to use your computer with its out-of-the-box hardware. Thanks to expansion cards, you can customize it. Each expansion card will introduce new hardware to your computer, allowing for a deeper level of customization that otherwise wouldn’t be possible.