Upgrading to a Pi 4 with SSD

Mike has decided to upgrade his InfluxDb and Grafana server from the Pi 3B+ to a new Pi 4 with 4Gb of RAM. To speed things up even further, he purchased an M2 NVMe SSD card to boot the OS from and make the speedy Pi 4 even faster.

WD Blue SN500 M2 SSD

The SSD is a WD Blue SN500 M2 NVMe SSD which has a 250Gb capacity. The drive is contained inside a USB 3 enclosure. The Pi 4 was flashed with a brand new copy of Raspbian Buster and then the latest versions of InfluxDb and Grafana were installed

Mike used the instructions from on the ‘Toms Hardware’ website which can be found HERE.

The SSD inside the USB 3.0 enclosure

The Pi 4 with the SSD is now considerably faster than the old Pi 3. Grafana dashboards load faster and in particular, choosing data ranges in Grafana displays the data noticeably quicker than previously. The extra 3Gb’s of Ram should also ensure that the Pi does not start grinding to a halt as the database gets larger.

To keep the Pi 4 cool it is being moved soon to a new Pimoroni PiBo case with the fan shim. This will then be stuck to the back of a monitor in portrait format to display the Grafana dashboards.

4Gb Pi 4 with 250Gb SSD in a USB 3.0 enclosure

If you want a much faster Pi with plenty of storage space, an external M2 SSD is recommended with a Pi 4.

Beautiful Custom Wooden Knife Handle Build

Beautiful custom wooden knife handle by Tom Sparrow

In a departure from our usual electronics based builds, Tom Sparrow has been experimenting with making some beautiful wooden handles for gardening knives. Tom says…..


I started by drawing some designs on paper first, then making a model of the knife out of wood as I wanted to make sure it was comfortable for me before starting the real thing. A bit of filing was needed here and there before feeling nice in my hand.

Knife designs on paper

I have been away from soldering and back to primitive making by making a knife for gardening and odd jobs.

Making a jig for the handle

I bought a large knife blank, then drew the shape of my design onto the steel. I then cut it slightly oversized with an angle grinder and finished the shape with a course file.

Transfer the design to the steel blank

Onto the handle! There are some really pretty materials for knife handles, as this was the first attempt I opted for olive wood, which was easy to use and has a nice distinctive grain.

Shaping and sanding

It was just a case of putting it all together now and making it look tidier, so I cut 2 pieces of the wood for the handle and glued them on with 2 part epoxy.

Beautiful custom knife build by Tom Sparrow

After 30 hours drying time the excess wood just had to be sanded to the shape of the knife tang, then the long process of sanding the wood and blade with finer and finer sandpaper and finally finishing the wood off with linseed oil.

A work of art

In the future, I would like to try to make a knife from scratch and heat treat it myself, and maybe try something a bit more interesting for the handle.

A custom holder to go with the knife

RetroPie Arcade cabinet build

For years i’ve been wanting to own my very own arcade game cabinet, like Space Invaders, Pacman and so on. However, these things cost a small fortune and not only they take up a lot of room. Nice to have if you own a large house with plenty of spare room. Then, not so long ago I heard about the RetroPie project. The RetroPie enables you to turn a Raspberry Pi into a retro gaming machine. You can then attach a joystick or game controller and play any retro games you are able to obtain the roms for. Others take their retropie to even greater heights by building a custom built arcade cabinet for it, complete with arcade joysticks and buttons, to make it look like a genuine arcade gaming machine. 

When I heard about this I immediately decided I was going to build one. Due to size constraints I did not want to build a full sized cabinet so instead opted for a tabletop cabinet only, in other words only the top section of a standard arcade cabinet. I also wanted the controls to be for two players. At first I was going to design my own cabinet but came across this instructable for a two player bar-top cabinet so decided to use this as a base for my cabinet design. I wasn’t going to follow it rigidly but it was a good starting point. 

First I had to decide on a display, I decided to purchase a raw display module rather than use a PC monitor. This is the cheapest way to buy a brand new display without the additional hardware that goes with it. The display I chose was 17″ which was a good size for most games and close to the screen size of a genuine arcade cabinet game. This kind of display requires a VGA adapter board to enable you to interface it with the Raspberry Pi.

Next I had to decide on buttons. I chose 6 buttons per player, plus an additional two buttons per player for 1/2 player select and start. I purchased a two player set of illuminated buttons, plus a
Xin Mo 2 Player USB Interface from Ultracabs. These come with pre-crimped wires and the USB cable.

For sound I chose a cheap Chinese stereo amp with speakers from eBay. The advert claimed it was 100W but I knew this was total nonsense. They were cheap so what the heck. Most of the games I would be playing were only 8 bit retro sound anyway so there was no need to go for a high quality sound system. 

Finally I needed some power supplies with enough current to power the Pi, display, illuminated buttons and sound system.

The cabinet was going to be made from MDF and the build started at a Medway Maker session on the 30th June. We set up the tools out in the garden, as it was a nice hot sunny day, and set about cutting and sanding the MDF. Tom Sparrow kindly loaned me a bunch of clamps and his very nice router to do some parts. It took me until 23rd July to completely finish the cabinet and start painting it. It was primed and painted black. The plan is to eventually cover it in graphics and acrylic sheeting to give it a real arcade look (plus to protect it) so the aesthetics are not that important at this stage.

The wiring spaghetti explosion underneath BEFORE the additional wires for the button lights were added.

Next came the task of fitting and wiring up all of the buttons. This didn’t take too long despite the fact it looks like an explosion in a wire factory underneath. These were hooked up to the Xi Mo interface which in turn was connected to the Pi. The display was fitted into the cabinet along with the  associated VGA interface and power supply. Finally the sound system was fitted. The Raspberry Pi 3B+ was installed along with the RetroPie image on SD Card I had previously installed. Once everything was in place the cabinet was fired up and worked perfectly first time. 

The RetroPie interface is a little clunky to use with just a joystick and buttons (its a lot easier with a keyboard) but you get used to it after a while. There are no games on the RetroPie image, you need to find these yourself. There are plenty of websites dedicatated to preserving old retro game roms and you can get them from there. I was mainly interested in the very old 80’s retro style game classics like Pacman, Galaxians, Defender, Space Invaders and so on so these were the first to be installed. 

mde

I did have a lot of trouble with the Xin Mo controller interface getting it to work with the RetroPie as a two player controller. I spent many hours on this and eventually gave up. Apparently they don’t work well on Raspberry Pi 3’s but will work OK on older hardware. The technical info for the unit says it should work, but I just could not get it to work easily. In the end I simply bought a second interface. With the two Xin Mo’s plugged into the Pi they are recognised as two separate controllers and two player games work perfectly.

mde

Overall I am very happy with the build. However, in hindsight if I had to do it again I would have designed my own cabinet. Using someone else’s design is fine if you stick to that design rigidly. But if you want to do something slightly different with it then you start to realise the shortcomings in the design. Maybe i’ll build another one day.

mde

So, the arcade cabinet is up and running and works perfectly. But, the project is not complete. The cabinet itself will be covered in retro gaming graphics and acrylic to protect those. I will also add some black acrylic on various sections to make it look more professional. Finally, I need to make the illuminated marquee to go at the top of the cabinet. I have a neat idea for this so watch this space.

If you want to see the cabinet in person or have a play of some old school retro games on it then pop along to any Medway Makers meetup. The RetroPie will always be set up ready to play when you get there. 

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