Picture of the setup described in the article, with PCI-E cards strewn around the desk, all interconnected, and a powered-up laptop, a large TV screen behind the laptop

This Laptop Gets All The PCIe Devices

Did you ever feel like your laptop’s GPU was sub-optimal, or perhaps that your laptop could use a SAS controller? [Rob Rogers] felt like that too, so now he has the only Dell Latitude business-class laptop that’s paired with an AMD RX580 GPU – and more. Made possible because of a PCIe link he hijacked from the WiFi card, he managed to get a SAS controller, a USB 3.0 expansion card, the aforementioned GPU and a dual-port server network adapter, all in a single, desk-top setup, as the video demonstrates.

First off, we see a PCIe packet switch board based on a PLX-made chip, wrapped in blue tape, splitting a single PCIe x1 link into eight. The traditional USB 3.0 cables carry the downstream x1 links to the four PCIe cards connected, all laid out on [Rob]’s desk. [Rob] demonstrates that all of the cards indeed function correctly – the SAS controller connected to a server backplane with whole 22 TB of storage in it, a few devices plugged into a USB 3.0 card, an Ethernet cable with an active link in the network card, and wrapping up the video showing 3DMark results of the RX580 clearly paired with the laptop’s mobile CPU. There’s four more spots on the PCIe switch card, so if you wanted to connect a few NVMe SSDs without the costly USB enclosures that usually entails, you absolutely could!

The setup on the desk, laptop-less, still interconnected and with the mini pci-e adapter visibleNow, there’s a reason why we don’t see more of such hacks. This seems to be a Latitude E5440 and the card is plugged into a mini-PCIe slot, which means the entire contraption is bound by a single PCI-E Gen2 x1 link, heavily offsetting the gains you’d get from an external GPU when, say, gaming. However, when it comes to the types and amount of peripherals, this is unbeatable – if you want to add an external GPU, high-speed networking and a SAS controller to the same computer that you usually lug around, there isn’t really a dock station you can buy for that!

Our collection of cool PCIe hacks has been growing, with hackers adding external GPUs through ExpressCard and mini PCIe alike, fitting PCIe slots where the factory refused to provide one, and extending the onboard M.2 slots for full-size PCIe cards. Nowadays, with these packet switches, it’s easy as ever to outfit any PCIe capable device with a whole slew of features – as this Raspberry Pi Computer Module motherboard with eleven PCIe slots demonstrates. Wonder how PCIe works, and why all of that is possible? We’ve written an entire article on that!

Continue reading “This Laptop Gets All The PCIe Devices”

Use A Mini PCI-e 3G Card With USB Instead

Back the late 2000s, when netbooks were the latest craze, some models would come with an inbuilt 3G modem for Internet access. At the time, proper mobile Internet was a hip cool thing too — miles ahead of the false prophet known as WAP. These modems would often slot into a Mini PCI-e slot in the netbook motherboard. [delokaver] figured out how to use these 3G cards over USB instead.

It’s actually a fairly straightforward hack. The Mini PCI-e standard has a couple of pins dedicated to USB data lines, which the modem in question uses for communicating with the host computer. Unfortunately it’s not quite as simple as just soldering on a four-wire USB cable. The modem relies on the 3.3V power from the Mini PCI-e slot instead of the 5V from USB. No problem, just get a low-dropout 3.3V regulator and run that off the USB port. Then, it’s a simple enough matter of figuring out which pins are used to talk to the SIM card, and soldering them up to a SIM adapter, or directly to the card itself if you’re so inclined. The guide covers a single model of 3G modem but it’s likely the vast majority of these use a very similar setup, so don’t be afraid to have a go yourself.

Overall Mini PCI-e is a fairly unloved interface, but we’ve seen the reverse of this hack before, a Mini PCI-e to USB adapter used to add a 12-axis sensor to a laptop.

[Thanks to Itay for the tip!]

12-axis Sensor Adds Auto Screen Orientation To This Older Tablet PC

[Mal’oo] has one of those laptop computers whose screen swivels to turn it into a tablet. But the thing is a few years old and didn’t come with an orientation sensor that changes the screen between landscape and desktop, but also knows which side is up. His solution was to add a 12-axis sensor via the mini PCI express header.

The hardware comes in two pieces. The first is a mini-PCIe card to USB interface. This is handy if you want to add a Bluetooth dongle permanently to your computer. But he’s got other things in mind for it. After hacking the BIOS (which for some reason limits what you can plug into this slot) he moved onto the second part which is a USB 12-axis sensor. This picture shows the wires before they were soldered to the USB card. [Mal’oo] couldn’t just plug it in because the sensor wouldn’t have been oriented correctly in relation to the computer. The final product is quite response, as shown in the clip after the jump. Continue reading “12-axis Sensor Adds Auto Screen Orientation To This Older Tablet PC”

Aspire One 3G Hack

[tnkgrl] is back with part three of her Acer Aspire One hacking. This time she’s adding in 3G. You may look at the picture the above and think, “Cake. She just plugged the card in”. No, the Acer doesn’t ship with the mini-PCIe slot or the SIM card holder. First you have to solder a right angle mini-PCIe connector to the board pads and bridge two others to provide power. The SIM holder was another problem. She wasn’t able to find a pin compatible one. The one she installed is mounted to a riser so she could change the wiring order (let her know if you can find the correct part). This mod definitely requires some good soldering skills and she warns that even she managed to destroy a SIM in the process.

The Dell Mini 9 is another netbook that doesn’t have the appropriate connectors soldered on board, but JKK has a work-around. You need a 3G modem that has the SIM card on board. You plug it into the WiFi slot after taping over a few pins and then use a USB WiFi card instead.