STM32 driving a PCIe video card

[Gpuhackr] chose his username to explain exactly how he spends his time. For instance, here he’s using an STM32 Discovery board to drive an AMD Radeon HD 2400 graphics card. The ARM microcontroller isn’t actually using the PCIe interface on the card. Instead, [Gpuhackr] has patched into the debugging interface built into the card itself. This isn’t quite as straight forward as it sounds, but if you do the wiring carefully it’s a pretty intersting way to connect an ARM to an LCD monitor.

This project would be almost impossible if it weren’t for the open source code which AMD has released. This lets him implement the card’s 3D rendering features. The demo directly programs the UVD Xtensa CPU which is on the video card. It draws a cube with color gradients on each side. The cube spins while the debug information is overlaid on the screen. In this case the ARM chip/board is really being used as a programmer to upload some custom firmware. But we think a real code-ninja could implement a communications protocol to open up a simple way to drive the card in real-time.

[Thanks uMinded]

Rebuilding a Mac SE as a server again

Around this time last year, [Sprite_TM] took a 1980’s-era Macintosh SE and rebuilt it as a home file server. He used a Seagate Dockstar as the new motherboard, but over the past year he’s been annoyed with the fact that the Dockstar doesn’t have real SATA ports. Using USB to SATA converters on a server is a slow way of doing things, so [Sprite_TM] rebuilt his SE using an HP thin client. To do this, he had to break out the onboard SATA and PCIE; not an easy task, but that’s why [Sprite_TM] is around.

The first order of business was installing a pair of SATA ports. The stock thin client had two NAND-flash chips serving as the drive, both connected to a SATA controller. All [Sprite_tm] had to do was desolder the flash chips and wire up the new SATA connections. Easy enough.

Because the HP thin client only had 100Mbps Ethernet, [Sprite_tm] wasn’t looking forward to the order of magnitude difference between his expected rsync speeds and what he would get with a 1Gbps connection. The only problem is the thin client didn’t have a spare PCIE connection for an Ethernet card. That’s really no problem for [Sprite_tm], though: just desolder the GPU and run a few wires.

Just like last year’s work on his SE, [Sprite_tm] ended up with a functional and very cool home server. The old-school System 7 is still there, and of course he can still play Beyond Dark Castle. Awesome work, in our humble opinion.

Beefing up your laptop’s gaming chops with an external GPU

external_laptop_gpu

If you’re not willing to shell out for a reasonably powerful laptop it seems that there’s not a ton that can be done to boost your gaming performance. That is, unless you have an empty Express card slot and the right chipset.

[Phatboy69] recently put together an external video card for his notebook, with fantastic results. His Vaio Z128GG had an Nvidia GT330M graphics card onboard, which is decent but nothing to write home about. Using an Express card to PCIe adapter, he added an external Nvidia GTX580 to his system, and he couldn’t be more pleased with the results. While the card does take a performance hit when connected to his laptop in this way, he claims that his graphics performance has increased ten-fold, which isn’t too shabby.

There are many variables on which this process is heavily dependent, but with the right amount of tweaking, some great laptop gaming performance can be had. That said, it really does take the portability factor of your notebook down to about zero.

If this is something you might be interested in, be sure to check out this thread over at the Notebook Review Forums – it’s where [Phatboy69] found all the information he needed to get his system up and running properly.

[Thanks, Henry]

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