Atomic Pi Adventures, Episode 1: Adding external PCI Express expansion by removing onboard Ethernet

As seen on Hackaday!

TL;DR: The Atomic Pi single-board computer CAN be expanded through PCIe. It’s just a massive pain to do so, even if you have steady hands. Let’s just say it’s a long story…

DISCLAIMER: The modification performed in this blog post can, and has, caused permanent hardware damage to my Atomic Pi, albeit repairable with much skill and effort. Reenacting what I’ve done requires significant experience with SMT (surface-mount technology) components, some barely larger than a grain of sand (I consider 0402-size components to be “oversize” in this instance). I accept no responsibility for damages arising from attempting this modification.


Single-board computers (SBCs) are all the rage nowadays, with the Raspberry Pi being the most well-known in this category. SBCs are compact computers, carrying their own CPU and memory, and usually some on-board storage and various I/O connections (e.g. USB, HDMI, Ethernet). Most of these computers use the ARM architecture, found on almost all mobile devices today. However, some use the x86 architecture, which is used in higher-end tablets, laptops and desktop computers.

Recently, the Atomic Pi made waves in the electronics hobbyist space, boasting an Intel Atom Z8350 quad-core CPU with 2 GB of RAM, 16GB of eMMC storage, Gigabit Ethernet, Wi-Fi, USB 3.0, built-in speaker amplifiers, and lots of general-purpose I/O (GPIO) pins – all for less than $40 USD!

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Pick a Card, Any Card: Fast and easy Windows logon using any NFC smart card

UPDATE (September 27, 2018): Fixed a broken link to the article on bypassing MSI installer checks.

After finally reinstalling Windows on my main PC (the smart card components in the old install were trashed), I dusted off the old smart card reader and started looking into smart card-based logon options again.

Windows logon screen using a smart card

Windows logon screen using a smart card

After finding a way to force convince the installer for EIDAuthenticate, a program that lets you use smart cards to log on a Windows computer without the use of domains and Active Directory, to run on Windows 7 Professional (Microsoft DreamSpark only lets me obtain the Professional editions of Windows), I found a program called NFC Connector Light that lets you use any NFC-compatible smart card as a means of authentication.

Virtual smart card with certificate installed

Virtual smart card with certificate installed

NFC Connector Light links the unique identifier in an NFC-based smart card to create a virtual smart card on the local computer (no data is stored in the card itself), and that virtual card can be used like a real smart card within Windows. When paired with EIDAuthenticate, logging on is as simple as placing the smart card on the NFC reader and entering a PIN. This is especially useful when you set the Windows smart card policy to lock the computer when the card is removed (and it feels kind of cool to be able to lock your computer simply by taking your card off the reader).

Mini-Ramble: I’m such an icon artist!

After working so much with these battery chips, I thought I should spice up the Windows file icon for the .gg files that clutter my documents folder.

I’m not a person for glossy icons, but I’m also not a fan of the super-flat colour scheme that the Windows Metro UI uses. I prefer the good old style of Windows 9x-esque icons (hey, it’s what I grew up on! 🙂 ), albeit with a more… contemporary colour scheme. Keep it simple!

Windows .ico file download:

You can use Nirsoft’s FileTypesMan to add an icon in Windows. Personally, I configured it so that .gg files open up in Notepad++ for manual editing.

Update: How to install Windows x64 drivers for the Schlumberger Reflex USB smart card reader

Update (December 11, 2017): For those on Windows 10, click HERE for the SCR300 driver package – digitally signed to ensure compatibility. Extract the files, right-click the appropriate x86/x64 .INF file and select “Install”. Proceed with the installation as shown below.

A viewer requested help on installing the drivers for the Schlumberger Reflex USB smart card reader, so I’ve created a step-by-step instruction guide on doing so.

1. Plug in the smart card reader into an available USB port. Windows should attempt to install a driver but won’t succeed.


2. Open Device Manager, and select the “SLB ReflexUSB SmartCard Reader” in the list.


3. Follow the wizard and opt to install the drivers manually.


4. Enjoy your now-functional smart card reader.


Making use of a Schlumberger Reflex USB Smart Card Reader in Windows 7 x64

2013-05-08 01.31.41 2013-05-08 01.34.57For a tutorial on how to install the drivers, click here.

A while back a friend of mine gave me an old smart card reader that was of no use to him; he had no need to use smart cards at home and the reader he gave me, a Schlumberger Reflex USB reader, had no support in 64-bit Windows 7, or so it seemed.

I cracked open the reader (didn’t take any effort, there are no screws nor snap-clips holding the case together) and found the internal part number: an SCM Microsystems SCR301 reader. Forcing Windows to use the SCM Microsystems SCR300 driver was successful in getting the reader to show up in Windows, meaning that I had a free, usable smart card reader to tinker around with. Awesome.

scr300 reflex usbUpdate on June 20, 2013: Added a screenshot of the reader in Device Manager.