The assembled PCB on red foam, with both a USB-C connector and the ASM2464PD chip visible

Finally Taming Thunderbolt With Third-Party Chips

Thunderbolt has always been a functionally proprietary technology, held secret by Intel until “opening” the standard in a way that evidently wasn’t enough for anyone to meaningfully join in. At least, until last year, when we saw announcements about ASMedia developing two chips for Thunderbolt use. Now, we are starting to see glimmers of open source, letting us tinker with PCIe at prices lower than $100 per endpoint.

In particular, this board from [Picomicro] uses the ASM2464PD — a chipset that supports TB3/4/USB4, and gives you a 4x PCIe link. Harnessing the 40 Gbps power to wire up an NVMe SSD, this board shows us it’s very much possible to design a fully functional ASM2464PD board without the blessing of Intel. With minimal footprint that barely extends beyond the 2230 SSD it’s designed for, curved trace layout, and a CNC-milled case, this board sets a high standard for a DIY Thunderbolt implementation.

The main problem is that this project is not open-source – all we get is pretty pictures and a bit of technical info. Thankfully, we’ve also seen [WifiCable] take up the mantle of making this chip actually hobbyist-available – she’s created a symbol, fit a footprint, and made an example board in KiCad retracing [Picomicro]’s steps in a friendly fashion. The board is currently incomplete because it needs someone to buy an ASM2464PD enclosure on Aliexpress and reverse-engineer the missing circuitry, but if open-source Thunderbolt devices are on your wish list, this is as close as you get today – maybe you’ll be able to make an eGPU adapter, even. In the meantime, if you don’t want to develop hardware but want to take advantage of Thunderbolt, you can build 10 Gbps point-to-point networks.

$50 10Gbps Mesh Network Uses USB4

You want to build a cluster of computers, but you need a high-speed network fabric that can connect anything to anything. Big bucks, right? [Fang-Pen] developed a 10 Gbps full-mesh network using USB4 that cost him under $50. The first part of the post is about selecting a low-power mini PC, but if you skip down to the “Networking” section, you’ll find the details on the cluster.

The machines selected have two USB4 ports. In theory, you can transfer 40 Gbps on these ports. In reality, the cluster only hit 11 Gbps, but that’s still well above common Ethernet speeds. [Fang-Pen] has yet to determine why he isn’t getting even faster speeds.

Since Linux is Linux, there is a module for networking over Thunderbolt, so the rest is basically set up. There are, of course, some limitations. First, it is only fully connected because the cluster has three computers. More computers would need more USB4 ports or more hardware.

In addition, the standard says you can only count on full speed with cables 0.8 meters or shorter. However, that’s the 40 Gbps number. We wondered if a 2 m cable, rated at 20 Gbps, would have still managed 11 Gbps in this setup. A 10GBASE-T network, on the other hand, should allow 100-meter cables. But for a cluster of computers, do you really care?

We’d be interested to see this idea extended to more nodes. High-speed fabric can be useful in networked disk servers, parallel computing, and probably some other scenarios. We’ve seen 10G Ethernet on the Pi, although the PCI bus limited it to about 3.6 Gbps. For reference, we saw another three computer networks with 10GBASE-T done for about $130 with similar limitations.

DIY USB Charging The Right Way

Since the widespread adoption of USB 1.1 in the 90s, USB has become the de facto standard for connecting most peripherals to our everyday computers. The latest revision of the technology has been USB 4, which pushes the data rate capabilities to 40 Gbit/s. This amount of throughput is mindblowing compared to the USB 1.x speeds which were three to four orders of magnitude slower in comparison. But data speeds haven’t been the only thing changing with the USB specifications. The amount of power handling they can do has increased by orders of magnitude as well, as this DIY USB charger demonstrates by delivering around 200 W to multiple devices at once.

The build comes to us from [tobychui] who not only needed USB rapid charging for his devices while on-the-go but also wanted to build the rapid charger himself and for the charger to come in a small form factor while still using silicon components instead of more modern gallium nitride solutions. The solution he came up with was to use a 24 V DC power supply coupled with two regulator modules meant for solar panel installations to deliver a staggering amount of power to several devices at once. The charger is still relatively small, and cost around $30 US dollars to make.

Part of what makes builds like this possible is the USB Power Delivery (PD) standard, which has enabled all kinds of electronics to switch to USB for their power needs rather than getting their power from dedicated, proprietary, and/or low-quality power bricks or wall warts. In fact, you can even use this technology to do things like charge lithium batteries.

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