Category: Electronics

  • Microsecond Accurate Time Synchronization on LAN with PTP

    Last time, I built a stratum 1 NTP server with a PPS signal from a GPS receiver, synchronizing my server’s clock to within 10 microseconds of UTC. However, NTP was designed to synchronize clocks within a few tens of milliseconds over the Internet, and I’d be lucky to achieve millisecond accuracy on a LAN. I mentioned that PTP was the alternative that could achieve accuracy in the sub-microsecond range. Well, this time I’ll be setting up PTP between my server and my PC with the hardware timestamping on the ConnectX-3s.

    If you are following along at home, don’t despair if your hardware can’t do timestamping or PTP. I will also attempt to set up PTP with software timestamping later for my other devices.

    Naturally, I first turned to the gpsd documentation, since that was a decent reference for setting up NTP with the PPS signal. Well, this is what it says for PTP with hardware timestamping:

    Sadly, theory and practice diverge here. I have never succeeded in making hardware timestamping work. I have successfully trashed my host system clock. Tread carefully. If you make progress please pass on some clue.

    That didn’t sound encouraging at all. “Oh well, I guess I am on my own here,” I thought to myself. “How bad could digging through a few man pages and random online documentation be? Worst case, there is the source code, right?”

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  • DIY a Stratum 1 NTP Server with a Serial Port

    These days, it seems like everyone is posting about turning Raspberry Pis into a stratum 1 NTP server by hooking up a cheap GPS module, most often the GT-U7 u-blox 7 clone with a PPS (pulse-per-second) signal output, whose rising edge indicates exactly the start of a second.

    While this seems like a cool idea, it suffers from one flaw—while the Raspberry Pi itself almost certainly has very accurate time, getting accurate time to the rest of the network would be problematic. This is because the Ethernet adapter on Raspberry Pis before the Pi 4 was hooked up via USB, and the polling nature of USB introduces jitter, preventing the accurate signal from reaching the rest of the network. Unfortunately, I only have a Raspberry Pi 3 model B in my possession, which suffers from the problem.

    Now, I could have gotten a Raspberry Pi 4, but those aren’t priced sanely at the moment and it would be just an exercise in copying. Instead, I looked at the various alternatives. The traditional way of doing this kind of thing involves hooking up a GPS receiver into a serial port, which generates an interrupt. If the PPS signal is delivered to the DCD (data carrier detect) signal (as described in RFC 2783), then the in-tree Linux driver pps_ldisc is able to do the timestamping in kernel mode for the highest possible accuracy.

    I found out that my server’s X570 motherboard came with a serial port header (labelled COM). This meant that I could buy some fancy GPS receiver with a serial port and hook it up. Unfortunately, those aren’t priced sanely either, so I decided to build my own with the GT-U7 module and a driver module for RS-232 (the common serial port standard).

    This was late last year. I ordered the components on AliExpress and they all arrived in January, so I finally started this project.

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