PCIe 1x NVMe on Raspberry Pi?! Compute Module 4 Guide

CableCC Vertical Adapter in Compute Module 4 IO Board
NVMe PCIe 1x Vertical Adapter in CM4 IO Board

I recently covered all the pieces you need for a complete setup to work with the Raspberry Pi Compute Module 4. Today I want to cover the whole reason I wanted to investigate the Compute Module 4: The PCI express capabilities!

In this guide I’ll cover a couple of 1x PCIe to NVMe adapters I picked up to try doing this with as well as full configuration and setup instructions. Let us begin!

Prerequisites

Raspberry Pi Compute Module 4 - Base Board
Raspberry Pi Compute Module 4 – Base Board

The Compute Module 4 by the Raspberry Pi Foundation is a single-board computer (SBC) that is meant to be used in embedded devices. It has many new capabilities that have not been seen on other Pis before such as a built in eMMC module (optional) and has PCI express capabilities when used with the IO board.

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Make sure you’ve imaged your NVMe drive with an operating system of your choice such as Raspberry Pi OS, Ubuntu or your preferred distro. You may have to actually put the drive into a PC temporarily (you can use the 1x adapter in one) or if you have a USB to NVMe adapter (lots of Pi users should have one of these already) you’re good to go.

This guide will assume you’ve done this and the drive is prepped. The official Raspberry Pi Imager tool is a great choice to take care of imaging needs for you and is available for Windows / Mac OS X / Linux. Here’s a suggested drive if you don’t have one yet:

Samsung 970 EVO NVMe SSD
Samsung 970 EVO Plus NVMe SSD

The Samsung 970 EVO Plus is a fantastic drive and has fallen in price substantially. It’s widely available around the world. The smaller capacities (such as the 250GB version) of this drive are perfect for the Pi! This is the top performance option without going into the “Pro” series of the lineup which are much more expensive.

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You will also need a IO board that has a PCI express slot:

Raspberry Pi Compute Module 4 mounted in IO Board
Raspberry Pi Compute Module 4 – IO Board

This is essentially the “motherboard” of the compute module. This IO breakout board lets us work with the compute module and get the ports we need to interface with it. This includes a SD card slot for models that don’t have eMMC, a PCI express slot (very exciting), 2 USB ports and more.

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Power requirements are also an issue. If you are using a powerful (or power hungry) NVMe drive you will for sure need something like this:

12V DC 4A Power Adapter Supply
12V DC 4A Power Adapter Supply

Delivers a full 12V DC to the IO board so that there’s enough power to run very powerful NVMe drives / accessories

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If your NVMe drive is performing extremely slowly / booting into emergency mode / things like that it’s very likely that it’s not receiving enough power!

PCIe to NVMe 1x Adapters

I picked up two different style adapters from Amazon to test. The first one is a very simple vertical standing adapter. My full benchmark for this adapter is available here: Pi Benchmarks – #48606

Cablecc NGFF M-Key NVME SSD to PCI-E 3.0 1x Vertical Adapter
Cablecc NGFF M-Key NVME SSD to PCI-E 3.0 1x Vertical Adapter

The Cablecc 1x PCIe M.2 NVMe adapter sticks straight up out of the board. It doesn’t take up a lot of space and ends up being pretty compact (as long as you have vertical space!)

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Next up we have an adapter that sits horizontally and comes with some optional mounting brackets. This adapter scored about 400 points higher (may be a slightly better chipset) and has a green LED indicator light (the cablecc has no light of any kind). Benchmark available here: Pi Benchmarks – #48607

Xiwai PCI-E 3.0 x1 M.2 NGFF M-Key SSD NVMe PCI Express Adapter Card
Xiwai PCI-E 3.0 x1 M.2 NGFF M-Key SSD NVMe Adapter Card

The Xiwai PCI-E 3.0 x1 Lane to M.2 NGFF M-Key SSD NVMe AHCI adapter card sits horizontally and comes with a couple of different size shrouds meant for mounting (not required). This takes up less vertical space but more horizontal space.

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Changing Boot Order

While the PCIe to NVMe adapters are pretty much plug and play in this setup switching the boot order of the Compute Module 4 is a little bit more in depth. It requires using the rpiboot tool on a different computer / Pi with the CM4’s “disable eMMC boot” jumper (j2) bridged with the pin directly below it so the Pi is able to boot into USB mass storage mode and be flashed with bootloader/firmware updates.

To do this we need to get a copy of the rpiboot/usbboot utility’s source tree. If you followed my CM4 setup guide you will already have the ‘usbboot’ folder and can skip cloning. If you are using Windows you will need to do this on your Pi and we will copy the final resulting folder over to Windows (for now just do the instructions on your Pi).

git clone --depth=1 https://github.com/raspberrypi/usbboot
cd usbboot
make

Now we’re going to enter the ‘recovery’ subdirectory and edit the bootloader configuration like this to change the boot priority:

cd recovery
sed -i -e '/^BOOT_ORDER=/ s/=.*$/=0xf25416/' boot.conf
./update-pieeprom.sh

You can also change boot.conf manually using nano followed by running ./update-pieeprom.sh. The boot type for PCI express is 6, so that should be your first type (which means it should be the number at the end of the string like I have in the above example) if you want to boot from PCI express.

(Optional) Choose / Update Firmware Version

The CM4 will have the exact firmware that is in your git source tree as the file “pieeprom.original.bin” inside the “recovery” folder at the end of this process.

We need to use the rpiboot utility to update the firmware. I will use the latest firmware at time of writing but check for the latest firmware at: the official rpi-eeprom Raspberry Pi GitHub Repository (if there is a newer one replace the pieeprom-2022-07-26.bin in the curl command below with the newer version file name).

Use these commands (from inside the usbboot/recovery directory):

rm -f pieeprom.original.bin
curl -L -o pieeprom.original.bin https://github.com/raspberrypi/rpi-eeprom/raw/master/firmware/stable/pieeprom-2022-07-26.bin
./update-pieeprom.sh

Mine looked like this when updating from my Pi 400:

pi@pi400:~/usbboot/recovery $ ./update-pieeprom.sh
+ /home/pi/usbboot/tools/rpi-eeprom-config --config boot.conf --out pieeprom.bin pieeprom.original.bin
+ set +x
new-image: pieeprom.bin
source-image: pieeprom.original.bin
config: boot.conf
pi@pi400:~/usbboot/recovery $

(Optional) Further Bootloader Configuration Changes

If there are any other bootloader parameters you would like to change you can do so using the file boot.conf like this (from inside the usbboot/recovery directory):

nano boot.conf
Make changes and press Ctrl+X then type 'y' to save
./update-pieeprom.sh

Flashing New Boot Order / Firmware / Configuration

We are now ready to run the rpiboot utility and use it to flash the new bootloader configuration and firmware to our Pi. You should still be in the “recovery” directory from the previous steps. Go to the base of the “usbboot” directory with:

$ cd ..
$ ls
bin2c    debian      imager   main.c    msd   Readme.md  rpiboot
bin2c.c  fmemopen.c  LICENSE  Makefile  recovery   win32

You should see the “rpiboot” utility like the above example if you’re in the base of the usbboot directory. If your host PC you will be plugging the USB cable into for flashing runs Linux use the command:

sudo ./rpiboot -d recovery

Make sure your Compute Module 4 IO board’s “disable MMC boot” jumper J2 is bridged with the lower pin to disable eMMC boot. Now connect the power:

api@pi:~/usbboot $ sudo ./rpiboot -d recovery
Loading: recovery/bootcode4.bin
Waiting for BCM2835/6/7/2711...
Loading: recovery/bootcode4.bin
Sending bootcode.bin
Successful read 4 bytes
Waiting for BCM2835/6/7/2711...
Loading: recovery/bootcode4.bin
Second stage boot server
Loading: recovery/config.txt
File read: config.txt
Loading: recovery/pieeprom.bin
Loading: recovery/pieeprom.bin
Loading: recovery/pieeprom.sig
File read: pieeprom.sig
Loading: recovery/pieeprom.bin
File read: pieeprom.bin
Second stage boot server done
pi@pi:~/usbboot $

(Optional) Windows Specific Instructions

If you are using Windows transfer the “recovery” folder you generated using the Pi over to Windows and run it in “Command Prompt” like this (make sure you’ve installed the rpiboot utility for Windows first, see my CM4 setup guide for links/instructions):

"C:\Program Files (x86)\Raspberry Pi\rpiboot.exe" -d recovery

or you can fully qualify your paths with:

"C:\Program Files (x86)\Raspberry Pi\rpiboot.exe" -d "C:\YourPathTo\recovery"

and connect the IO board (with the disable eMMC boot jumper set). You will see the same output as the Linux example above and the CM4 will be updated!

Preconfigure NVMe Device for CM4

If you attempt to boot now you will not have working USB ports, ssh, or any wireless configuration. We can preconfigure your NVMe device by plugging the device into a computer / Pi. You should see the “boot” volume where we can preconfigure our CM4 to be working right from the start.

Enable USB Ports

When mounted in the IO board the USB ports will not function without making a change to config.txt and adding an overlay.

Add the following line to config.txt:

dtoverlay=dwc2,dr_mode=host

After adding this line the two USB ports (as well as the “External USB” header) will function the next time the CM4 boots.

Enable SSH

It’s very useful to have SSH enabled when working with the Compute Module 4. It is enabled simply by creating an empty file named:

ssh

in the root folder of the “boot” volume (the top-most folder of the drive where start4x.elf, fixup.dat and those files are located)

Now when the Pi starts up SSH will automatically be enabled!

Preconfigure WiFi / Wireless

You can also preconfigure the Compute Module 4 (and any Pi) by creating wpa-supplicant.conf at the base of the “boot” volume like we did with “ssh” file.

Create a new file named wpa-supplicant.conf that contains the following:

ctrl_interface=DIR=/var/run/wpa_supplicant GROUP=netdev
country=US
update_config=1

network={
 ssid="YourNetwork"
 psk="YourPassword"
}

When this file is created in the base of the “boot” volume it will automatically be applied to the Pi upon the next startup. Make sure to adjust your country=US line to your own country as this can impact what channels and functionality are available from your WiFi card!

First Boot

You are now ready to boot your Compute Module 4. Go ahead and remove the jumper now from J2 and the pin below it and connect your prepped NVMe drive. If you’re using a monitor connect it to the IO board first before turning on the power.

Now connect power to the IO board and the PCIe/NVMe boot process will start. Your OS should boot with your preconfigured settings! My first boot was a little sluggish (most likely first boot operations on your drive) so give it a little bit of extra time here before assuming it failed.

You should verify your boot device by running:

sudo mount | grep "/dev/"

Make sure that the first line (usually your root) is something like /dev/nvme0n1p2 (the NVMe drive) and not /dev/mmcblk0p2 (that would be the eMMC or a SD card)!

Benchmarking / Testing Storage

Once you’ve booted up you can verify your drive’s performance using my storage benchmark with:

sudo curl https://raw.githubusercontent.com/TheRemote/PiBenchmarks/master/Storage.sh | sudo bash

If you search for the model of your drive / eMMC / etc. on Pi Benchmarks you can compare your score with others and make sure the drive is performing correctly!

Verify Bootloader / Firmware

You can verify your firmware version once you boot the Compute Module 4 by running rpi-eeprom-update which should look like this:

sudo CM4_ENABLE_RPI_EEPROM_UPDATE=1 rpi-eeprom-update

BOOTLOADER: up to date
   CURRENT: Tue 06 Jul 2021 10:44:53 AM UTC (1625568293)
    LATEST: Tue 06 Jul 2021 10:44:53 AM UTC (1625568293)
   RELEASE: stable (/lib/firmware/raspberrypi/bootloader/stable)
            Use raspi-config to change the release.

  VL805_FW: Using bootloader EEPROM
     VL805: up to date
   CURRENT:
    LATEST:

The firmware version for “CURRENT” should match the exact version you used for pieeprom.original.bin in our curl command we used when we were preparing the “nvme” folder earlier regardless of what is available in the repository.

Conclusion

These are by far the highest benchmarking scores I’ve ever got and at a score of nearly 20,000 it put me on the top scores page and was definitely well worth the setup and configuration!

I’m excited to experiment more with the PCI express capabilities and see what more the Compute Module 4 is capable of. I also have ordered a 8 GB CM4 that has eMMC as well as the built in WiFi (missing on my current model and it’s only a 2GB) which should let me experiment with some of the other smaller IO boards available and some of the other compute module specific capabilities that look really exciting as well.

I have 1x PCI risers that I use for cryptocurrency mining with GPUs that would theoretically allow me to connect some interesting things like a GPU, a Intel Optane 900p PCI express drive, and a few other wild ideas! This is just scratching the surface of what the PCIe capabilities could enable on the Pi.

Other Resources

Definitely don’t miss my Shapes, Sizes and Features of Compute Module 4 IO Boards guide to see which IO boards may work best for your project

For an explanation of the Pico W (a microcontroller) check out my Pico W Explained article or if you want to jump right into the action and see what it’s like to work with a Pico check out my Pico W Getting Started guide

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John Hagensieker
John Hagensieker
8 months ago

How’d you get the Xawai adapter to even work. This is what lspci nets me. (CM4 on Pi IO board)

pi@CM4PI:~ $ dmesg | grep pci
[ 1.213069] brcm-pcie fd500000.pcie: host bridge /scb/pcie@7d500000 ranges:
[ 1.213107] brcm-pcie fd500000.pcie: No bus range found for /scb/pcie@7d500000, using [bus 00-ff]
[ 1.213191] brcm-pcie fd500000.pcie: MEM 0x0600000000..0x063fffffff -> 0x00c0000000
[ 1.213272] brcm-pcie fd500000.pcie: IB MEM 0x0000000000..0x007fffffff -> 0x0400000000
[ 1.531038] brcm-pcie fd500000.pcie: link down
pi@CM4PI:~ $