TinyPilot Voyager KVM Hardware Overview
We are simply going to say this: the hardware is what we received in the fall of 2020. There was a hardware revision before this one, but we waited for the newer revision at the time. Still, this is certainly an area where we think that this solution could use more maturity. For example, there could be clips for cable management, better stacking, better mounting, and etc. The point is, this solution has been evolving so we assume that in the future there will be some updates. Please take this as a point-in-time overview.
The TinyPilot Voyager KVM solution comes in a nice 3D printed case. One can get other kits from TinyPilot, but this solution integrates the HDMI input and a fan which helps reduce cable clutter slightly.
The system itself is built around a 2GB Raspberry Pi 4 so many of the ports and connectors are going to look familiar. What is different is the HDMI input powered by a Toshiba T358743 chip. Adding this extra port above the USB ports is a key driver for the custom 3D printed case.
While the Lantronix SecureLinx Spider is really catered more towards traditional servers with VGA input, a key differentiator for the TinyPilot solution is being able to service other types of gear. Specifically workstation gear and development kits that often have HDMI/ DisplayPort outputs.
During normal operation, these USB ports are free to service other functions. We have used them, for example, with a FTDI cable to provide serial console control when setting up a Xilinx Kria Edge AI Developer Kit (more on this soon.) We could then transition to the HDMI port as well. This also worked with a NVIDIA Jetson using the HDMI port. Since the Lantronix Spider product has this functionality, we wish that it had a clean option/ interface in TinyPilot, but it is trivial to search how to do this on a Raspberry Pi 4. A major source of strength in the solution is that it has the Raspberry Pi 4 base feature set and documentation.
Still, the vast majority of servers still have VGA outputs, and that is why the Lantronix solution is still widely used today. Here is a view of the Supermicro AS-1024US-TRT we recently reviewed where one can see the blue VGA port:
To address this, the TinyPilot Voyager can add a $15 VGA to HDMI converter. This converter requires USB power. We mention that the solution has a lot of wires, and using VGA adds a converter and another wire.
Networking is provided by that 1GbE port for wired networking. Since this is a Raspberry Pi 4, we also get onboard 802.11ac WiFi.
The other side of the unit has the MicroSD card slot. This has the OS image onboard.
When we did the conversion of the unit to the newest version released a few days ago, we used a different MicroSD card and it worked as expected. Still, for those that perhaps may want more storage for images, having a 16GB card may not be enough these days. It would be nice if the Voyager came with a larger 32GB card just to give more capacity for image storage.
The other side of this chassis is the USB port side, specifically there is one USB Type-C port that is used heavily in this solution.
This USB Type-C port provides power input via an included USB power adapter as well as a connection to a power and data box.
A key challenge with the Lantronix Spider is that while it can be powered via the connected machine’s USB ports, often when a server or workstation is power cycled, power to the Spider is lost and it can take longer for the Spider to boot than the time window lasts to enter BIOS, PXE boot menus, or RAID controller menus. To address this, external power, independent of the attached node is required. That is why the TinyPilot Power Connector exists. It can feed power to the TinyPilot while leaving a separate path for data.
Here is the setup to an Apple Mac Mini M1 using the TinyPilot Voyager and this box.
Overall the hardware works well, and the fact that there is a Raspberry Pi 4 inside is a huge benefit for the platform since it makes adding features like serial connections trivial.
Still, when we prefaced this section by stating that the solution could be destined for hardware upgrades in the future, the picture above that we call the “Cable Nest” (hear a bit more about this near the end of the video), and for good reason. The sheer number of cables and external boxes and adapters required to make this solution work is significant, especially given the HDMI input is brought inside the Voyager’s custom case.
The fact is though, we continue to use this unit all the time with Project TinyMiniMicro and is what we used to setup the Lenovo ThinkCentre M90q Tiny, as an example recently. Having a HDMI input and something that works well with a DisplayPort to HDMI cable as well is extremely useful.
We are aware of the Pi-KVM project, we are still awaiting that project to have a pre-built solution so we can do a similar review.
Still, the hardware is only part of the solution. Software is a big deal. We are going to look at that next.