Tiny Ethernet Routers Now Available In Gigabit Speeds

If you need to move a lot of data, and fast, Gigabit Ethernet is a great way to do it. However, most network hardware outside of datacenters is fairly space inefficient, a headache if you’re building a robot or drone. Enter the Gigablox, a super-compact Gigabit router for just these applications.

The Gigablox takes its mission seriously, with its compact size the ultimate design goal. The entire switch fits on a tiny 45 mm x 45 mm PCB. To this end, it eschews the common RJ45 connector, which is bulkier than necessary. Instead, thin Molex PicoBlade connectors are used for the five ports on board. Cables are included to convert between the two connectors, and obviously crimping ones own is easy to do, too. For those who need to connect more devices, several Gigablox can be hooked up in the same way as any other Ethernet switch. The Gigablox is a non-blocking switch, too – meaning all five ports can run at full speed simultaneously.

The design is the sequel to the SwitchBlox, and the later SwitchBlox Nano, both designed by [Josh Elijah] earlier this year. The pace of development is impressive, and it’s great to see [Josh] bring Gigabit speeds to the compact form factor. We can imagine a few good uses for these boards; share your best ideas in the comments below! Video after the break.

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Ethernet At 40: From A Napkin Sketch To Multi-Gigabit Links

September 30th, 1980 is the day when Ethernet was first commercially introduced, making it exactly forty years ago this year. It was first defined in a patent filed by Xerox as a 10 Mb/s networking protocol in 1975, introduced to the market in 1980 and subsequently standardized in 1983 by the IEEE as IEEE 802.3. Over the next thirty-seven years, this standard would see numerous updates and revisions.

Included in the present Ethernet standard are not just the different speed grades from the original 10 Mbit/s to today’s maximum 400 Gb/s speeds, but also the countless changes to the core protocol to enable these ever higher data rates, not to mention new applications of Ethernet such as power delivery and backplane routing. The reliability and cost-effectiveness of Ethernet would result in the 1990 10BASE-T Ethernet standard (802.3i-1990) that gradually found itself implemented on desktop PCs.

With Ethernet these days being as present as the presumed luminiferous aether that it was named after, this seems like a good point to look at what made Ethernet so different from other solutions, and what changes it had to undergo to keep up with the demands of an ever-more interconnected world. Continue reading “Ethernet At 40: From A Napkin Sketch To Multi-Gigabit Links”

Faster Desktop Ethernet With Server Network Adapters

As far as consumer network hardware goes, we’re all expected to be pretty happy with 802.11n WiFi and Gigabit Ethernet over Cat 6 cables. For most home users, that’s plenty of bandwidth for streaming movies and posting K-pop fancams to Twitter on a daily basis. If you want a fatter pipe, things can get expensive, fast. However, [TobleMiner] found a way to use surplus server-grade cards in a regular PC – providing huge bandwidth on a budget.

The adapter is designed to allow a FlexibleLOM card to fit into a regular ATX PCI-E card slot. A small additional bracket should be used to fix the card in place with the typical bracket retention screw.

HPE’s FlexibleLOM standard consists of a special edge connector on HPE servers that lets the end-user fit a variety of network adapters in a form factor designed specifically for blade and rack mount servers. At the electrical level, it’s simply PCI-Express 8x. FlexibleLOM network cards are built for high-speed data center use, often featuring SFP+ and QSFP+ interfaces capable of 10 gigabit and 40 gigabit speeds, respectively.

These cards can be had for under $20 on eBay, but won’t fit in a standard PCI-Express slot. Enter [ToberMiner]’s adapter, which hooks up the relevant PCI-Express lines to where they need to go, and mechanically adapts the FlexibleLOM hardware to fit in a regular ATX PC case.

It’s a great way to get server-grade network adapters in your home rig, without breaking the bank. We’ve featured other attempts at high-speed home networking before, too. If you’ve got the low down on a great way to get multi-gigabit speeds out of cheap surplus hardware, you know who to call.

[Thanks to Marco for the tip!]

Reverse Engineering Teaches An Old Scope New Tricks

[PMercier] clearly loves his old Tektronix TDS3014 scope, which did however lack essentially modern connectivity such as an Ethernet port for control and a USB port for a convenient way to capture screenshots. So he decided to do some in-depth reverse engineering and design his own expansion card for it. The scope already has an expansion port and an expansion card, but given this model was first released in 1998, purchasing an OEM part was not going to be an option.

They don’t make ’em like they used to. Test equipment is today is built to last a decade — but usually lives on much longer. This is certainly true for the previous generations of kit. It’s no surprise that for most of us, hand-me-downs from universities, shrewd eBay purchasing, and even fruitful dumpster dives are a very viable way to attain useful and relevant test equipment. Now, while these acquisitions are more than adequate for the needs of a hobbyist lab, they are admittedly outdated and more to the point, inaccessible from a connectivity and communication standpoint. A modern lab has a very high degree of automated data acquisition and control over ethernet. Capturing screen dumps on a USB is a standard feature. These modern luxuries don’t exist on aging equipment conceived in the age of floppy disks and GPIB.

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New Teensy 4.1 Arrives With 100 Mbps Ethernet, High-Speed USB, 8 MB Flash

It was only last August that PJRC released Teensy 4.0. At that time, the 4.0 became the fastest microcontroller development board on the planet, a title it still holds as of this writing — or, well, not exactly. Today the Teensy 4.1 has been released, and using the same 600 MHz ARM Cortex M7 under the hood, is now also the fastest microcontroller board. What the 4.1 brings to the table is more peripherals, memory, and GPIOs. While Teensy 4.0 used the same small form factor as the 3.2, Teensy 4.1 uses the larger board size of the 3.5/3.6 to expose the extra goodies.

The now slightly older Teensy 4.0 — released on August 7th of last year — is priced at $19.95, with the new 4.1 version offered at $26.85. It seems that the 4.1 isn’t intended as a replacement for the 4.0, as they serve different segments of the market. If you’re looking for an ultra-fast affordable microcontroller board that lives up to its Teensy name, the 4.0 fits the bill. On the other hand, if you need the additional peripherals broken out and can afford the space of the larger board, the not-as-teensy-sized 4.1 is for you. How big is it? The sample board I measured was 61 x 18 mm (2.4 x 0. 7″), not counting the small protrusion of the micro-usb jack on one end.

Let’s have a look at all the fun stuff PJRC was able to pack into this space. Continue reading “New Teensy 4.1 Arrives With 100 Mbps Ethernet, High-Speed USB, 8 MB Flash”

New Part Day: An Open Source Ethernet Switch In The Palm Of Your Hand

When you can get a WiFi-enabled microcontroller for $3, it’s little surprise that many of the projects we see these days have ditched Ethernet. But the days of wired networking are far from over, and there’s still plenty of hardware out there that can benefit from being plugged in. But putting an Ethernet network into your project requires a switch, and that means yet another piece of hardware that needs to get crammed into the build.

Seeing the need for a small and lightweight Ethernet switch, BotBlox has developed the SwitchBlox. This 45 mm square board has everything you need to build a five device wired network, and nothing you don’t. Gone are the bulky RJ45 jacks and rows of blinkenlights, they won’t do you any good on the inside of a robot’s chassis. But that’s not to say it’s a bare bones experience, either. The diminutive switch features automatic crossover, support for input voltages from 7 V all the way up to 40 V, and management functions accessible over SPI.

If you want to get up and running as quickly as possible, a fully assembled SwitchBlox is available to purchase directly from BotBlox for £149.00. But if you’re not in any particular rush and interested in saving on cost, you can spin up your own version of the Creative Commons licensed board. The C++ management firmware and Python management GUI isn’t ready for prime time just yet, but you’ll be able to build a “dumb” version of the switch with the provided KiCad design files.

The published schematic in their repo uses a Microchip KSZ8895MQXCA as the Ethernet controller, with a Pulse HX1344NL supplying the magnetics for all the ports in a single surface mount package. Interestingly, the two images that BotBlox shows on their product page include different part numbers like H1102FNL and PT61017PEL for the magnetics, and the Pulse H1164NL for the Ethernet controller.

Make Networks Wired Again

There’s no question that WiFi has dramatically changed the way we connect devices. In fact, there’s an excellent chance you’re currently reading these words from a device that doesn’t even have the capability to connect to a wired network. If you’re looking to connect a device to the Internet quickly, it’s tough to beat.

But WiFi certainly isn’t perfect. For one, you have to contend with issues that are inherent to wireless communications such as high latency and susceptibility to interference. There’s also the logistical issues involved in making that initial connection since you need to specify an Access Point and (hopefully) an encryption key. In comparison, Ethernet will give you consistent performance in more or less any environment, and configuration is usually as simple as plugging in the cable and letting DHCP sort the rest out.

Unfortunately, that whole “plugging in” part can get tricky. Given their size, putting an Ethernet switch into your project to act as an internal bus only works if you’ve got space to burn and weight is of little concern. So as appealing as it might be to build a network into your robot to connect the Raspberry Pi, motor controllers, cameras, etc, it’s rarely been practical.

This little switch could change that, and the fact it’s released under an open source license means hackers and makers will be free to integrate it into their designs. With the addition of an open source management firmware, this device has some truly fascinating potential. When combined with a single board computer or suitably powerful microcontroller, you have the makings of a fully open source home router; something that the privacy and security minded among us have been dreaming of for years.

The Options For Low Cost ROV Tethers

Wireless connections are cool and all, but sometimes you just need a bit of copper. This interesting article on SV Seeker discusses the various ways of making a tether for a remotely operated vehicle (ROV). They experimented with a number of different cables, including gel-filled Cat 5 designed for burial and wrapping the cable in polypropylene rope to keep it protected and buoyant. They also looked at using a single core solid coax cable with an Ethernet to coax converter on either end wrapped in stretch webbing. The upside of using coax would be the length: it can handle over a mile of cable, which should be more than enough for this project. The downside is that they found that the coax stretches under strain, messing with the signal.

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