Doing 10 Gigabit Networking At Home, The Cheap Way

For the vast majority of us, Gigabit Ethernet is more than enough for daily tasks. The occasional big network file transfer might drag a little, but it’s rare to fall short of bandwidth when you’re hooked up over Cat 6. [Brian] has a thirst for saturating network links, however, and decided only 10 Gigabit Ethernet would do.

Already being the owner of a Gigabit Ethernet network at home, [Brian] found that he was now regularly able to saturate the links with his existing hardware. With a desire to run intensive virtual machines on his existing NAS without causing bandwidth issues, it was time for an upgrade. Unfortunately, the cost of rewiring the existing home network to Cat 6 and procuring hardware that could run 10 Gigabit Ethernet over copper twisted pair was prohibitively expensive.

It’s a little ungainly, but it does the job.

Instead, [Brian] decided to reduce the scope to connecting just 3 machines. Switches were prohibitively expensive, so each computer was fitted with twin 10 Gigabit interfaces, such that it could talk to the two other computers. Rather than rely on twisted pair, the interfaces chosen use the SFP+ standard, in which the network cable accepts electrical signals from the interface, and contains a fiber optic transciever.

[Brian] was able to get the 3 computers networked for just $120, with parts sourced from eBay. It’s an approach that doesn’t scale well; larger setups would be much better served by using a switch and a less zany network topology. But for [Brian], it works just fine, and allows his NAS to outperform a 15,000 RPM server hard disk as far as read rates go.

If you’re curious about improving your own network performance, it might pay to look at your cables first – things are not always as they seem.

How Do You Get PCI-E On The Atomic Pi? Very Carefully.

At this point, you’ve almost certainly heard about the Atomic Pi. The diminutive board that once served as the guts of a failed robot now lives on as a powerful x86 SBC available at a fire sale price. How long you’ll be able to buy them and what happens when the initial stock runs out is another story entirely, but there’s no denying that folks are already out there doing interesting things with them.

One of them is [Jason Gin], who recently completed an epic quest to add a PCI Express (PCI-E) slot to his Atomic Pi. Things didn’t exactly go according to plan and the story arguably has more lows than highs, but in the end he emerged victorious. He doesn’t necessarily recommend you try the same modification on your own Atomic Pi, but he does think this sets the stage for the development of a more refined upgrade down the line.

[Jason] explains that the board’s Ethernet controller was already communicating with the Intel Atom x5-Z8350 SoC over PCI-E, so there was never a question about whether or not the modification was possible. In theory, all you needed to do was disable the Ethernet controller and tack on an external PCI-E socket so you could plug in whatever you want. The trick is pulling off the extremely fine-pitch soldering such a modification required, especially considering how picky the PCI Express standard is.

In practice, it took several attempts with different types of wire before [Jason] was able to get the Atomic Pi to actually recognize something plugged into it. Along the way, he managed to destroy the Ethernet controller somehow, but that wasn’t such a great loss as he planned on disabling it anyway. The final winning combination was 40 gauge magnet wire going between the PCB and a thin SATA cable that is mechanically secured to the board with a piece of metal to keep anything from flexing.

At this point, [Jason] has tested enough external devices connected to his hacked-on port to know the modification has promise. But the way he’s gone about it is obviously a bit temperamental, and far too difficult for most people to accomplish on their own anyway. He’s thinking the way forward might be with a custom PCB that could be aligned over the Ethernet controller and soldered into place, though admits such a project is currently above his comfort level. Any readers interested in a collaboration?

Like most of you, we had high hopes for the Atomic Pi when we first heard about it. But since it became clear the board is the product of another company’s liquidation, there’s been some understandable trepidation in the community. Nobody knows for sure what the future looks like for the Atomic Pi, but that’s clearly not stopping hackers from diving in.

Giving An Old Mac Spotify

The Macintosh SE/30 is the greatest computer ever made, and I’m not saying that just because I’m sitting on a cache of them, slowly selling them to computer collectors around the world. No, the SE/30 is so great because of how powerful it is, and how much it can be expanded. A case in point: here’s an SE/30 that’s a Spotify player. Oh, it does it over WiFi, too.

You might be asking yourself how a computer from 1989 (it’s late enough in the year that we can safely say this computer is thirty years old) can possibly play music over the Internet. While the SE/30 supported an astonishing 128 Megabytes of RAM, it’s still just a bit too slow to play MP3s or any modern audio codec. The 68030 CPU just wasn’t fast enough to play audio, to say nothing of streaming it over a network connection. The trick is that this SE/30 is simply a remote for Spotify Connect. You could theoretically get the Mac to speak, “Alexa, play Despacito” and get the same functionality, but that’s not fun, is it? You need to do it wirelessly.

This is a continuation of one of [ants] earlier hacks that basically put a WiFi to Ethernet bridge inside an SE/30. Tie that together with a Finder extension and you have System 7, with WiFi. That’s a connection to the Internet, but [ants] actual wrote an app to connect to a Spotify playlist, browse tracks, and display album art in beautiful 1-bit color. Writing the app involved dealing with OAuth, which means the MacPlayer isn’t entirely standalone; some of it must be done on a ‘modern’ device. This, along with porting a conversion utility that translates UTF-8 text encoding into something the Mac can understand ties everything together.

With all those pieces, the SE/30 becomes a handsome, functional piece of art. Apple is never going to release a computer like this again, and you’re not going to find a touchbar MacBook being used like this in thirty years time.

Want To Learn Ethernet? Write Your Own Darn AVR Bootloader!

There’s a school of thought that says that to fully understand something, you need to build it yourself. OK, we’re not sure it’s really a school of thought, but that describes a heck of a lot of projects around these parts.

[Tim] aka [mitxela] wrote kiloboot partly because he wanted an Ethernet-capable Trivial File Transfer Protocol (TFTP) bootloader for an ATMega-powered project, and partly because he wanted to understand the Internet. See, if you’re writing a bootloader, you’ve got a limited amount of space and no device drivers or libraries of any kind to fall back on, so you’re going to learn your topic of choice the hard way.

[Tim]’s writeup of the odyssey of cramming so much into 1,000 bytes of code is fantastic. While explaining the Internet takes significantly more space than the Ethernet-capable bootloader itself, we’d wager that you’ll enjoy the compressed overview of UDP, IP, TFTP, and AVR bootloader wizardry as much as we did. And yes, at the end of the day, you’ve also got an Internet-flashable Arduino, which is just what the doctor ordered if you’re building a simple wired IoT device and you get tired of running down to the basement to upload new firmware.

Oh, and in case you hadn’t noticed, cramming an Ethernet bootloader into 1 kB is amazing.

Speaking of bootloaders, if you’re building an I2C slave device out of an ATtiny85¸ you’ll want to check out this bootloader that runs on the tiny chip.

Wiring The ESP-32 To Ethernet

Since its introduction years ago, the ESP-8266 has taken over the world. It’s the chip inside thousands of different projects, and the basis for dozens of different IoT thingamadoos. The follow-up to the 8266, the ESP-32, is even more capable. It has a ton of peripherals inside, including an Ethernet MAC. What’s that? Yes, it’s possible to put Ethernet on an ESP-32, and give an IoT board PoE. That’s what [Patrick] is doing for his Hackaday Prize project, and it’s an awesome idea.

This build began as you would expect, with an ESP-32 module attached to one side of a board with some breakouts for the GPIOs and a USB to Serial chip. The tricky part here is the PoE part of the Ethernet, which requires MagJack Ethernet connectors, a flyback transformer, and a PoE-PD controller. These were expensive parts, and the design of such a board requires some thinking — you need isolation across the transformer, and proper ground planes for this mess.

There’s something slightly brilliant about using an ESP-32 in a wired configuration. Far too often, we see these modules used as wireless nodes in a sensor net. The battery consumption is significant, and all those makers are adding USB power input to their fancy WiFi sensor nets. If you’re running wires for power anyway, why not add Ethernet and do away with all that mucking around with WiFi setup. It’s a great project, and one of the better entries in this year’s Hackaday Prize.

Raspberry Pi’s Power Over Ethernet Hardware Sparks False Spying Hubbub

Have you ever torn open an Ethernet jack? We’d bet the vast majority of readers — even the ones elbow-deep into the hardware world — will answer no. So we applaud the effort in this one, but the conclusion landed way off the mark.

In the last few days, a Tweet showing a Raspberry Pi with its Ethernet socket broken open suggested the little PCB inside it is a hidden bug. With more going on inside than one might expect, the conclusion of the person doing the teardown was that the Raspberry Pi foundation are spying upon us through our Ethernet traffic. That’s just not the case. But we’re still excited about what was found.

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RetroModem For The Commodore 64

Retrocomputers are fun, but ultimately limited in capability compared to modern hardware. One popular pursuit to rectify this is the connection of early home computers to the Internet. To that end, [que] built the Retromodem for the Commodore 64.

The build starts with a case from an Intel 14.4 modem. A little fast for the Commodore 64 era, but anachronism is charming when done tastefully. Inside is an Arduino with an ethernet module to handle the heavy lifting of carrying packets to the outside world.  [que] took the time to wire up status LEDs for the proper vintage look, which really adds something to the project. They switch on and off to indicate the various settings on the modem – it’s great to see in the video below the break the “HS” LED light up when the baud rate is changed to a higher speed.

The project implements most of the Hayes command set, so you can interface with it over a serial terminal just like it’s 1983. [que] doesn’t go into too many details of how it’s all put together, but for the experienced code warrior it’s a project that could be whipped up in a weekend or two. For a more modern take, perhaps you’d like to hook your C64 up over Wifi instead?

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