The release of the Raspberry Pi 4 brought us a new SoC, up to 4 Gigs of memory, and most importantly, got away from that janky USB to USB and Ethernet solution. The Raspberry Pi 4 has a PCI Express interface buried under some chips, and if you’re very good at soldering you can add a PCIe x1 device to the new best single board computer.
[Thomasz] took a look at the Raspberry Pi 4 and realized the new USB 3.0 chip is attached to the PCI Express interface on the SoC. That is, if you remove this chip and you have some very fine wires, you can patch in a real PCI Express slot. Removing the chip is easy enough with a hot air gun, although a few caps did get messed up. Throw that in an ultrasonic cleaner, and you have a blank canvas to work PCI magic.
This hack requires six wires, or three differential pairs, there’s a reference clock, a lane 0 transmit, and a lane zero receive. Working backwards from a PCI Express riser, [Thomasz] traced out these connections and soldered a few wires in. On the Pi side, a few capacitors were required to be compliant with the PCI Express spec, but the soldering isn’t too bad. You can do a lot with a small tip on an iron and a microscope.
The Pi was successfully wired up to a PCI Express riser card, along with the lines for ground, 5V, link reactivation, and a power good signal. The only thing left to do was to plug in a PCI card and test. This didn’t go as well as expected, because the PCI Express adapter didn’t like being enumerated by the Raspberry Pi kernel. In subsequent experiments, an Adaptec SAS controller worked. Does this mean external graphics cards for the Pi? No, not quite; this is only one lane of PCIe, where modern graphics cards require an x16 slot for the best performance. Still, if you’ve ever wanted a SCSI card for a Pi, this is the best option yet.
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.
If you are trying to learn about FPGAs, there is only so far you can go with the usual blinking lights and VGA outputs. Eventually, you want to do something more. Although not terribly cheap, you can get FPGA boards in a PCIe form-factor and use them directly with PC software. Is it easy? Well, it isn’t flashing an LED, but there are tools to help. [Angelos Kyriakos] did a Master’s thesis on the very subject and used a project known as RIFFA to help with the task.
RIFFA (Reusable Integration Framework for FPGA Accelerators) is a simple framework for communicating data from a host CPU to an FPGA via a PCI Express bus. The framework requires a PCIe enabled workstation and an FPGA on a board with a PCIe connector. RIFFA supports Windows and Linux, Altera and Xilinx, with bindings for C/C++, Python, MATLAB, and Java. With proper design, RIFFA can transfer quite a bit of data in a short period of time between your computer and your FPGA.
Continue reading “Catching The (PCIe) Bus”
It is almost impossible these days to find a PC with old ISA card slots. Full size PCI card slots are in danger of going the same way. Many PCs today feature PCI Express connectors. PCI Express offers a lot of advantages including a small size, lower pin count, and a point-to-point serial bus topology that allows multiple simultaneous transfers between different pairs of end points. You’ll find PC Express connectors in things other than PCs too, including a lot of larger embedded systems.
If you ever wanted to prototype something on PCI Express, you’d usually turn to an FPGA. However, [moonpunchorg] posted a workable design for an Arduino on a mini PCI Express board. (As [imroy264] points out in the comments, the board is using the USB port present on the PCI-E connector.) The design files use KiCAD so it should be fairly easy to replicate or change. Naturally, there are pins on the edges to access I/O ports and power. You do need to use ISP to program the Arduino bootloader on the chip.
The board appears to a host computer as a SparkFun as a Pro Micro 3.3V board, and from there you could easily add function to a computer with a PCI Express slot using nothing more than the Arduino IDE. The board is known to work with the VIA VAB-600 Springboard and VIA VAB-820 boards, although it is likely to work with other PCI Express hosts, too.
Cheap GPS modules
If you’re making a GPS-enabled project, you may have noticed the commonly available GPS modules are pretty expensive – usually around $50. Here’s one for $8. It’s a U-blox PCI-5S GPS receiver on a PCI Express card. There are test points for serial and USB data, though, so fitting this in your project is a breeze.
Grandfather clock makes a giraffe’s scarf
Here’s a clock project from [Siren Elise Wilhelmsen]. Over the course of 365 days, the clock knits a giant, 2-meter tube of yarn that should be the perfect start for a half-dozen pairs of socks. No video for this, but if you find one, post a comment.
A huge hackerspace for Hotlanta
Atlanta is getting a new hackerspace. It’s called My Inventor Club and they’re starting to move into their space. Judging from [Scott]’s pictures of the new space it’s huge. We can’t wait for the video tour once they’re done moving in.
Ardino and Windows 8
Windows 8 is… weird… and you can’t install unsigned drivers without a lot of rigamarole. This means installing the Arduino IDE is a pain but [Dany] has a solution. Reboot into “test mode” and you can install unsigned drivers without your computer throwing a hissy fit.
Tweet for welts and bruises
[Zach]’s boss told him to come up with a Twitter-controlled paintball gun. Why he was asked to build this is beyond us, but the build is still cool. It’s powered by an Arduino and was built in just 12 hours. If only there was a video stream…
Hey guys, need some help here.
Alright, I’ve got a little problem with component sourcing. I’m making a ‘shield’ for the Raspberry Pi. Does anyone know where I can get really long female headers for the GPIO pins so the board will fit over the USB and Ethernet jacks? Here’s the project if you’re curious. I think the female part of the header needs to be 14mm high at least to fit over the USB port.
EDIT: Samtec ESQ-113-33-L-D. Here’s their site. This site is amazing. You can actually… find things. Completely unique experience here. Thank you, [Richard].
[Leslie] likes his little Samsung N150 Plus netbook. While it packs enough punch for almost everything, it lacks in High Definition video power. That is where a Broadcom Crystal HD mini PCI express card comes in, as these little video decoders are made just for netbooks needing some HD love, but the problem is, his netbook only has one PCI express slot in it, and its occupied by the 802.11N card.
Not being bummed out by this, and not wanting to use a USB dongle device he just ripped open his netbook and added a second pci express connector to the pads on the motherboard. Sourcing the header from mouser, the install seems quick n easy, especially since Samsung was nice enough to have the pad’s tinned already, so just a little flux and a steady hand you’re good to go.
Unfortunately, there are some hidden gotcha’s as the newly installed slot is not “full featured” that both the Broadcom card and the stock wireless N card require, but he had a wireless G card that ran just fine in the newly added slot, so now its time to rock some full screen HD Hulu.
DIY driving controller
It looks like this steering wheel, shifter, and foot pedal were all made from string and garbage. That being said, you can see it works quite well. The setup just pushed keys on the keyboard, which reminds us of the junky plastic add-ons for the Wii remote. [Thanks Toumal]
Taping PCI express
[Pseudolobster’s] company was putting together point-of-sale machines for a retailer. They had surplus computers which really brought the price down but ran into a snag when adding the second monitor. The boxes wouldn’t play nicely with PCIe 16x. His solution was to scotch tape pins 19-82 on the cards, effectively turning them into PCIe 1x… and it worked! No link here but we wanted to share the trick anyway.
USB character display
[Simon Inns] shows how to add a character display to a PC case. We’ve seen him work with these PIC 18F2550 controllers several times before but we like how nicely this piggy-backs the display board seen in green.