PCI Express 2.0 vs 3.0 GPU Gaming Performance Review

Author:Brent Justice

Editor:Kyle Bennett

Date: Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Wondering about upgrading to the new Ivy Bridge CPU and PCI Express 3.0 platform? Curious to know if you'll be gaining or losing performance? We compare single, dual-GPU, triple-GPU, single, and multiple display configurations on Ivy Bridge PCIe 3.0 and Sandy Bridge on PCIe 2.0 platforms.


The latest and greatest desktop system you can buy is an Intel Ivy Bridge platform motherboard and CPU. This new Z77 chipset will provide you with the brand new PCI Express 3.0 specification. All the current generation GeForce GTX 600 series and Radeon HD 7000 series video card support PCI Express 3.0. Up until recently, we haven't had a platform to test PCIe 3.0 performance. The Sandy Bridge platforms we have been testing with supported the PCIe 2.0 specification. We now have both platforms in-house, and are able to make a direct gaming performance comparison between PCIe 2.0 and PCIe 3.0 and show you what the real world gaming differences are between the two subsystems.

Making the Comparison

In order to make this comparison happen we needed to make sure the specifications between both systems were as close as we could get those. For our Sandy Bridge platform we used an ASUS P8P67 WS Revolution motherboard. This motherboard supports 3-way SLI and CrossFireX at PCIe 2.0 specifications. We used an Intel Core i7 2600K clocked at 4.8GHz. For the Ivy Bridge platform we used an ASUS P8Z77 WS motherboard. This motherboard also supports 3-way SLI and CrossFireX but at the new PCIe 3.0 specification. We used an Intel Core i7 3770K at 4.8GHz. Both RAM footprints are 8GB clocked at 1600MHz with 9-9-9-24-1T timings.

Something to keep in mind throughout the evaluation, though both CPUs are at the same frequency (4.8GHz) there is a technical Instruction Per Second (IPC) delta when comparing Ivy Bridge and Sandy Bridge processors. According to our Intel Ivy Bridge Processor IPC and Overclocking evaluation: "If you are running at more realistic every day overclocks in the mid-4GHz range, Ivy Bride will afford you 4% to 7% better IPC than Sandy Bridge." So while we are testing clock-to-clock, that small percentage of raw CPU IPC is something to keep in mind and our thoughts expressed here will certainly take that into consideration.

System Specifications and Configurations

For the drivers we matched up each set of game data with the same driver installed. No driver was used less of Catalyst 12.4 and the latest CAP. For NVIDIA we used Forceware 301.42.

How We Tested

On the following pages we will start with the "highest playable settings" as is determined by actually playing the game. This means we will play each game on each system and find how high we can set the in-game quality settings in the game. This will flesh out which platform allows a better gameplay experience. Following that will be specific apples-to-apples testing at resolutions not covered in the highest playable testing. We will summarize with some tables and a conclusion as to the performance nature of PCIe 3.0 compared to PCIe 2.0.