Trying (And Failing) To Use GPUs With The Compute Module 4

The Raspberry Pi platform grows more capable and powerful with each iteration. With that said, they’re still not the go-to for high powered computing, and their external interfaces are limited for reasons of cost and scope. Despite this, people like [Jeff Geerling] strive to push the platform to its limits on a regular basis. Unfortunately, [Jeff’s] recent experiments with GPUs hit a hard stop that he’s as yet unable to overcome.

With the release of the new Compute Module 4, the Raspberry Pi ecosystem now has a device that has a PCI-Express 2.0 1x interface as stock. This lead to many questioning whether or not GPUs could be used with the hardware. [Jeff] was determined to find out, buying a pair of older ATI and NVIDIA GPUs to play with.

Immediate results were underwhelming, with no output whatsoever after plugging the modules in. Of course, [Jeff] didn’t expect things to be plug and play, so dug into the kernel messages to find out where the problems lay. The first problem was the Pi’s limited Base Address Space; GPUs need a significant chunk of memory allocated in the BAR to work. With the CM4’s BAR expanded from 64MB to 1GB, the cards appeared to be properly recognised and ARM drivers were able to be installed.

Alas, the story ends for now without success. Both NVIDIA and ATI drivers failed to properly initialise the cards. The latter driver throws an error due to the Raspberry Pi failing to account for the I/O BAR space, a legacy x86 feature, however others suggest the problem may lay elsewhere. While [Jeff] may not have pulled off the feat yet, he got close, and we suspect with a little more work the community will find a solution. Given ARM drivers exist for these GPUs, we’re sure it’s just a matter of time.

For more of a breakdown on the Compute Module 4, check out our comprehensive article. Video after the break.

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Retrotechtacular: Shake Hands With Danger

OK, you’re going to have to engage your safety squints and sit back to enjoy this one: a classic bit of safety propaganda from US heavy-equipment manufacturer Caterpillar from 1980 entitled “Shake Hands with Danger.”

Actually, you’ll probably need to engage your schlock filters for this 23-minute film too, as both the writing and the theme song are pretty hard to take. The film is one of those “Scared Straight” attempts to show just how horrifically wrong things can go both in the field and in the shop when working on anything made of stuff stronger than human flesh and bone. And in that regard, the film is highly effective — we found ourselves getting a bit queasy at a few points, with the poor dude who got his hand sucked into a bench grinder being both terrifying and relatable. [Three-Finger Joe] indeed.

Now, you might take exception with the acting, but as you watch all these vignettes, keep in mind that these are all old-school stunts — that’s actually a gigantic D9 bulldozer they crashed, and that brake chamber explosion really blew out that truck’s windows. They did a great job making the potential consequences of a moment’s thoughtlessness sickeningly vivid. Especially that arm-in-the-linkages scene. Ugh.

Whatever way you practice the hacking arts, stay safe out there. And don’t “Shake Hands with Danger.”

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Xbox Series S Teardown Shows A Glimpse At The Future

Console launch season is upon us. A time for billion dollar corporations ingratiate themselves with “Johnny Consumer” by promising the future of entertainment is finally available to one-and-all. The focus of this new generation of consoles has been the battle for 4K supremacy between Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5. Interestingly, Microsoft also created another iteration of their Xbox Series for those satisfied with games in 1080p, and thanks to [Dimitris] we have been able to see the internals of the Xbox Series S (XSS).

Xbox Series S Teardown SSD Photo
The Xbox Series S features standard m.2 slot that could be used for future storage expansion.

Microsoft’s choice to produce an all-digital console has greatly affected the internal design of the XSS. With the lack of a disc-drive there is only a single cable, the fan cable, tying the components together. The heat sink covering the 197mm² AMD APU takes up nearly 60% of the motherboard surface area. Though the XSS may be diminutive by modern console standards, its cooling fan is huge, somewhere in the 140 mm range. What little space is left by the heat sink and fan assembly is taken up by the internal power supply. As a fun nod, the PSU sports a Master Chief insignia to denote the location of the two-pronged connector beneath.

On the underside of the motherboard lies the biggest surprise of the “little brother” console. The system storage SSD is socketed rather than directly soldered to the board itself. The primary design goal of the XSS was to provide a cheaper alternative for players, but this standard m.2 slot reveals that Microsoft has plans for future expansion. This SSD, while not user-accessible in a traditional sense, will likely provide an alternative method to expanding storage outside of Microsoft’s proprietary external offerings. For a look at the teardown in process, [Dimitris’] video from his Modern Vintage Gamer YouTube channel is below.

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Help, I’m Buried Alive By Tablets!

It’s fair to say that many Hackaday readers will have a propensity for hoarding electronic or tech junk. Who hasn’t hung on to something because “It might be useful someday”? Spare a thought for [Mike Drew], who in his own words is “buried alive by tablets”. In this case the tablets are Intel-based ones that look as though they ran one of those cut-down Windows versions, and they appear to be rejects from a repair shop processing customer returns that he saved from the dumpster. They are missing their backs, and not all of their screens work, but they amount to a tidy pile of Stuff That’s Too Good To Throw Away.

The exact spec is a 1.4 GHz quad-core Atom with 4 GB of RAM and 32 GB of Flash, and appear from the photos to have HDMI and USB 3 interfaces. Happily they run Linux Mint 20 so they have plenty of potential, but there is only so much that one person can do with them before running out of ideas. He tells us he’s made a Folding@Home cluster, but beyond that he’s open to suggestions. Depending on the age of the commenter no doubt he’ll be exhorted to run Beowulf or mine Bitcoin, but we’d suggest more sensible ideas.

So, what would you do with them? They lack the handy GPIO port of a Raspberry Pi, but with suitable USB peripherals could you use them in any lowish-power distributed node project where the popular SBC would be the usual choice? Perhaps something like WeeWX, or OpenEnergyMonitor. Or how about distributed mesh network nodes, after all there’s an x86 port of LibreMesh. It’s obvious that there’s plenty of potential to be found, so help [Mike] with his problematic bounty in the comments.

Illuminating The Inner Workings Of A Venus Flytrap

As a carnivorous plant, Venus flytraps have always been a fascinating subject of study. One of their many mysteries is how they differentiate an insect visit from less nutritious stimulants such as a windblown pebble. Now scientists are one step closer to deciphering the underlying mechanism, assisted by a new ability to visualize calcium changes in real time.

Calcium has long been suspected to play an important part in a Venus flytrap’s close/no-close decision process, but scientists couldn’t verify their hypothesis before. Standard chemical tests for calcium would require cutting the plant apart, which would only result in a static snapshot. The software analogy would be killing the process for a memory dump but unable to debug the process at runtime. There were tantalizing hints of a biological calcium-based analog computer at work, but mother nature had no reason to evolve JTAG test points on it.

Lacking in-circuit debug headers, scientists turned to the next best thing: add diagnostic indicator lights. But instead of blinking LEDs, genes were added to produce a protein that glows in the presence of calcium. Once successful, they could work with the engineered plants and get visual feedback. Immediately see calcium levels change and propagate in response to various stimuli over different time periods. Confirming that the trap snaps shut only in response to patterns of stimuli that push calcium levels beyond a threshold.

With these glowing proteins in place, researchers found that calcium explained some of the behavior but was not the whole picture. There’s something else, suspected to be a fast electrical network, that senses prey movement and trigger calcium release. That’ll be something to dig into, but at least we have more experience working with electrical impulses and not just for plants, either.

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Linux Fu: Send In The (Cloud) Clones

Storing data “in the cloud” — even if it is your own server — is all the rage. But many cloud solutions require you to access your files in a clumsy way using a web browser. One day, operating systems will incorporate generic cloud storage just like any other file system. But by using two tools, rclone and sshfs, you can nearly accomplish this today with a little one-time setup. There are a few limitations, but, generally, it works quite well.

It is a story as old as computing. There’s something new. Using it is exotic and requires special techniques. Then it becomes just another part of the operating system. If you go back far enough, programmers had to pull specific records from mass storage like tapes, drums, or disks and deblock data. Now you just open a file or a database. Cameras, printers, audio, and even networking once were special devices that are now commonplace. If you use Windows, for example, OneDrive is well-supported. But if you use another service, you may or may not have an easy option to just access your files as a first-class file system.

The rclone program is the Swiss Army knife of cloud storage services. Despite its name, it doesn’t have to synchronize a local file store to a remote service, although it can do that. The program works with a dizzying array of cloud storage providers and it can do simple operations like listing and copying files. It can also synchronize, as you’d expect. However, it also has an experimental FUSE filesystem that lets you mount a remote service — with varying degrees of success.

What’s Supported?

If you don’t like using someone like Google or Amazon, you can host your own cloud. In that case, you can probably use sshfs to mount a file using ssh, although rclone can also do that. There are also cloud services you can self-host like OwnCloud and NextCloud. A Raspberry Pi running Docker can easily stand up one of these in a few minutes and rclone can handle these, too.

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New Contest: Say Goodbye To 2020

Every year you find yourself wanting to build an awesome hack to show off on New Year’s Eve, but like all hackers, you procrastinate and it’s a rush job, if it happens at all. But considering the hot mess of a year 2020 has been, let’s all plan ahead and give 2020 the boot by building the things that make us happy.

The Goodbye 2020! contest kicked off this morning: build something that ushers in the new year in a fun and creative way. Maybe it’s a robot that tears off the pages of a daily desk calendar of 2020, shredding one for each of the last 365 minutes of the year. Build a video countdown device that works with any HDMI screen, or a dedicated LED display — perhaps in hat, glasses, or sweater form factor? There’s unlimited room for creativity here, so don’t forget to show us video of it to get the full effect.

Top three finishers will win a $500, $250, or $100 shopping spree from Digi-Key electronics who are sponsoring the Goodbye 2020! contest. Start your project page on Hackaday.io right now and use the “Submit project to…” drop-down box on the left sidebar to enter it into the contest. We’ll be keeping an eye out for awesome entries from now until the end of December.