HomeRaspberry PiArgon Eon: Home NAS just shy of perfection

Argon Eon: Home NAS just shy of perfection

The case that has it all?

I have waited for aeons for this case! Discouraged by the apathy of Argon40’s PR team (and weeks of waiting for confirmation) I took to my local “all things Pi” retailer ThePiHut and Argon Eon (Amazon) arrived the very next day. Just in time for my one-to-one testing against Synology’s DiskStation DS418! That article will be out later, as for now, I will focus on the case at hand for your favourite SBC: Raspberry Pi 4.

Why Argon Eon?

Argon Eon is a dedicated NAS enclosure. After the success of ArgonOne (review) and ArgonOne M.2 (review) edition, they went all in and committed to NAS use. Inside the case there is enough space to accommodate up to 4 drives in the following configurations:

  • 4 x 2.5″ SSD/HDD
  • 2 x 2.5″ SSD/HDD + 2 x 3.5″ HDD

The SATA3-enabled add-on board connects to the Raspberry Pi 4 via a USB 3.0 port and offers support for up to 40TB. That’s serious storage for most of the home use cases. I know in the whole NAS networking industry 40TB isn’t much, but as far as Raspberry Pi storage is concerned that’s more than enough to keep your data safe.

When you look at the NAS-enabled enclosure like this, it’s hard not to pick the most powerful Raspberry Pi in the rooster: Raspberry Pi 4 8GB RAM. That will be the board of choice for this build, even if my use cases won’t require as much RAM. To be clear, you could absolutely use a 2GB version instead, I just happened to have a couple of boards available to pick from.

Not “pro” enough?

I realise that sooner or later someone will flex their NAS muscle saying that, they can buy a 2nd hand rack storage for only twice that much with support for 10 times more storage, but until I see the bill for all these slots populated with SSD (for home use, not an enterprise invoice), I wouldn’t bat an eye on what they are saying. Another consideration would be the power draw. Argon Eon will draw more than a typical Raspberry Pi board, but considerably less than any NAS made from old PC parts. These costs add up quickly for something working 24/7. As Raspberry Pi 4 removed the primary bottleneck by introducing 1Gbit Ethernet it’s officially “enough” for home use (and enterprise if you are into clusters).

Not quite 40TB but…

I got a mere 16TB to fill all four bays and managed to get my wallet painfully thinner in the process. £519.62 thinner to be precise! I ended up with 2 Crucial BX500 SSD 2TB each and 2 WD 6TB a piece. It’s a far cry from the Argon Eon max capacity, but it’s all I can afford right now. As a content creator, I hoard every video I make which isn’t particularly helping, but even for me, 16TB is a lot of space.

Building your Argon Eon

I don’t think the pictures justify how well-made the case is. The pieces are made from machined alloy and join beautifully together. There is a significant heft to the enclosure and feels just like something that should hold a chunk of your digitised life. It genuinely feels like something that would cost £150 to make.

The black, opaque acrylic panels are mounted thanks to embedded magnets and are probably the weakest link of this design. I wish they were slightly thicker, had small cut-ins to help with removal and were made of something that isn’t a dust magnet.

To fit your Raspberry Pi 4 board you will need to disassemble a fair bit. The board is sandwiched between the main PCB and the board keeping all the drives connected. To my surprise, there is one additional USB 3.0 port hidden inside the enclosure. I haven’t tested it, but something tells me you could have a USB boot from that port and drop the need for the microSD card entirely.

All drives (3.5″ and 2.5″) are attached to the back of the chassis via screws – installation is relatively simple, but if you are going to use big drives, remember you can use only 2 of them and both must be fitted to the ports on the inside.

In use

It’s a very handsome-looking case. Something that you would probably present to your friends than hiding in the cupboard. Despite the NAS-oriented features, Argon Ean doesn’t forget about the fact that a Raspberry Pi board sleeps inside. The case exposes the entire IO – including USB ports, and a micro SD card slot, and transforms the micro HDMI ports present on the Raspberry Pi 4 boards into regular HDMI ports. Anyone keen on trying to use GPIO pins for something cool, also have access to the 40-pin header at the back of the case. The only port that isn’t exposed is the camera ribbon slot.

What’s fantastic about the case is the power button that doubles as an OLED display that you can customise yourself. argon-config utility exposes the most useful metrics from the system to be displayed on the screen (and changes the info periodically), but nothing stops you from coding the display yourself.

OVM

If you want to run your own NAS, you will either end up creating SMB shares yourself or installing OpenMediaVault. This is where the “nice & easy” comes to end as setting everything up requires some Googling and a bit of “know-how”. Experts in the field will have no problem getting it done, but troubleshooting NAS issues can be a pain, especially if you are doing things for the first time.

OVM will offer you a full NAS package and an easy way to manage your storage, and permissions and install plugins and extras. Just remember you’ll need to put extra hours into this to make it happen. It’s a price to pay if you want to have a DIY NAS.

Plex

The last time I added Plex to my OVM, I had to install the beta package and I was off to the races. Things are slightly different now, and to use Plex with your Argon Eon, you have to install docker from the Extra options in the OVM menu. This with the (optional) installation of Portainter will allow you to drop the Plex container and set it up.

It’s the least pleasant part of the setup – as it’s yet another skill to master. Chances are your first try will be marred with how to add and expose volumes to containers, how to set internal ports for containers and more. Again – be ready to put extra hours in.

Thermal benchmark

Before we do the benchmark, let’s talk about the fan. This thing sounds like an absolute jet engine and you really need to moderate its usage. Argon script to configure the display and fan profile lets you link the fan to the CPU temperature and drive temperature. Set it up as quickly as possible.

Previous Argon40 cases are great when it comes to removing the heat from the CPU. This time around the case is more complicated as the board is deep inside the case with heat-generating drives mounted on top of the board. Drives are connected to a massive heat spreader which doubles up as the back of the case and it’s pretty good at removing the heat. I had my worries about the board inside.

Tests were done at the ambient temperature of 18.9℃. At idle, Argon Eon kept the CPU temperature at a very respectable 40℃. I decided to set a custom fan profile which wouldn’t spin over 50% until the temperature is hitting 70℃ in an attempt to keep the Argon Eon case as quiet as possible in normal operation. After 20 min of stress testing the temperature had risen to 52℃ and my profile turned out to be sufficient in keeping the board reasonably cool during the benchmark.

To give you a reference a naked Raspberry Pi 4 board runs at about 52℃ idle and goes all the way to 82℃ where it throttles the speed of the CPU.

NAS performance

The overall performance will depend on what are your typical use cases like. Can a family of 5 stream videos from Argon Eon at the same time? Unlikely, but if that’s your goal, you will need a bigger budget and a more complex solution.

If you however want to watch a movie via Plex while someone in your household (like myself) is editing videos from the project entirely stored on the network drive – the box is ideal. I tried that scenario where a 1080P stream would be sent to my computer from Argon Eon while I was trying to edit a multi-file project in 1080p/60fps – and I barely felt a difference between working on my local drive and NAS.

Sure the project load time was a bit longer, and skipping the video to the next timeline stamp takes one second longer than usual, but this NAS is more than usable.

All that is thanks to the 1Gbps Ethernet which simply does what says on the box. Delivers the file transfers in excess of 100MBps. This rings true when sending files to and from NAS using both SSD and HDDs as 100MBps is simply not enough to saturate the read/write speeds of my disks. Just note that the transfer speed will change depending on the size and the number of files too.

Biggest limitation

As Raspberry Pi 4 has removed the biggest limitation of the board for NAS use, Argon Eon offers access at 1Gbps via Ethernet. With rare exceptions, that’s what most households have in terms of supporting infrastructure. There is one bottleneck that is still present, and hitting it will depend on your use scenarios.

All four drives are connected via a single USB 3.0 port. In theory, this allows for bandwidth up to 5 Gbps which is more than our Ethernet can handle, and definitely faster than whatever drives you’ll have inside.

However…

In practice, these numbers don’t look as impressive. Argon Eon uses a single USB 3.0 port to connect to all 4 drives and the transfer speed will be limited to what the CPU can handle too. Interfacing with the NAS drive will be almost always subject to the Ethernet speed, but any local operations (cloning for redundancy etc) would be impacted by how quickly Raspberry Pi can handle reads and writes from drive to drive.

In my tests, local transfers from SSD to SSD peaked at 90Mbps and performance dropped to about half that much when HDD was involved. I picked files over 12GB to make sure the system can’t just drop them into RAM. Any local operations will be limited to these transfer speeds.

Just shy of perfection and here is why

There are issues, however, that are hard to overlook and anyone getting Argon Eon should be aware of these. Consider noise levels. The built-in fan that cools down drives and the top of the PCB sound like a jet engine. It’s unreasonably loud and having it on all the time will quickly turn your office peace into annoyance. At £150-ish, I would expect better. For now, I’m keeping my fan off as much as I can (I set the fan to trigger at 70℃). Down the line, I will look into getting a Noctua fan to deal with it permanently. I rather have a silent fan running at 30-50% all the time, than this jet turbine when things get toasty.

Unintended “Back to the Future”

Having RTC is nice, especially if your NAS is completely isolated from the internet after deployment. Do yourself a favour and get the RTC battery (CR1220) as soon as you can as running Argon Eon without it, will cause a lot of NTP-related issues. Unaware of that (as my Argon Eon was constantly connected to the network) I run into some troubles caused by my NAS’ time being constantly reset to 2020! If you have HTTP errors, the certificate expired or simply something is not connecting when it should, check your date set by Argon Eon.

Final thoughts

Argon Eon is a really interesting case. It offers a perfectly reasonable home NAS while not limiting itself to network storage use cases only. Tinkering with a device that keeps your data safe, isn’t the best approach, but the GPIO header offers physical interactions (on already tested projects) and Raspberry Pi 4 inside provides enough headroom to handle storage and additional services you may need in your home. Unlike other NAS enclosures, it’s not an eye sore and doesn’t have to be hidden away. If you have any questions, use this Reddit thread.

🆓📈 💳- See the transparency note for details.

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