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Compact and cool – Argon NEO

Handsome looks, on pair performance?

After getting seriously impressed with Argon One (review) case for Raspberry Pi 4, I reached out to Argon40 asking them to hook me up with Argon NEO – a more compact take on a premium enclosure for the most popular single-board computer out there. We can all agree it looks as handsome and Keanu Reeves’s character that bears the same name. Is it equally capable? Let’s test Argon NEO and find out.

Argon NEO smashes first impressions

I’m actually surprised how small Argon NEO is. The case is only slightly bigger than the Raspberry Pi 4 itself. The marketing content doesn’t showcase this very well. Made primarily out of metal, the 3 tier design takes just the space needed to enclose and protect the board.

The bottom plate is made of plastic to aid the wireless signal, the middle shield provides the protection for the board and acts as a heat sink, while the top cover snaps to the case thanks to 2 magnets and keeps Argon NEO looking sharp.

The case comes with labels for the headers and ports which makes it easier to navigate all 40 GPIO pins used in projects. Unfortunately, the pins, camera, display, and PoE connectors won’t be accessible with the top cover. I’m spoiled by Argon ONE comb design which routes the wires through.

While on the subject of GPIO, considering that the top of the Argon NEO is made of metal, I would love to see a male-female GPIO adapter included. I have a suspicion that there is a risk of shorting the GPIO pins on Raspberry Pi 4 if you get sloppy while using the top cover.

A nice addition to the case is a camera slot. You can mount the Raspberry Pi Camera module which will point at the direction of the USB and the Ethernet ports. The slot is fixed in place, so there is no control over the angle the camera is pointing at. You can slot the ribbon cable through the gap in the outer shell, but the outer shell as no options to mount the camera.

Thermal performance

Each time I run a thermal dissipation test, the weather in the UK changes from wet and miserable to hot and sunny. This time is no different and I’m running this at 26℃ of indoor temperature. Argon NEO uses a single piece of machined aluminium to dissipate the heat. It uses 2 thermal pads to transfer the heat from the CPU and the memory chip. The plate itself run warm, but the outer shell of the case has the room temperature thanks to the air trapped between 2 levels. There are no vents to aid the airflow. The air is essentially trapped inside.

The ambient temperature for Argon NEO used with Raspberry Pi 4 (4GB RAM) is 48℃ while the same board would run at 55℃ without any cooling solution. It’s a reasonable temperature and in “normal” weather you should see the temperature being about 5-6℃ lower bringing it closer to the temperature you could achieve with active coolers like ICE Tower (review) or the Power Board (review).

Argon NEO Stress test

I used cpuburn-a53 test to raise the CPU clock and stress the Raspberry Pi 4 board for a couple of minutes. Argon NEO remained warm to hand thanks to the outer shell and the reported stress temperature settled at 65℃. It’s pretty impressive considering that the “naked” board would thermal throttle at this weather with 80℃ on CPU.

I removed the top cover to see what impact it would have on the thermal performance, but it had a negligible impact on the temperature. The free flow of the air was offset by not having that extra chunk of metal aiding the process.

WiFi performance

Shrouding Raspberry Pi in metal will affect the wireless connectivity. There are 2 layers of aluminum and a plastic bottom to mitigate the issue. I decided to test the pi and see if the network was affected. I run an iperf3 test along some WiFi signal strength to figure out if the case hinders wireless signals in any way.

There were 2 scenarios in which Argon NEO was tested. In ideal conditions, the case was about 1.5m from the router and in typical, the Raspberry Pi was taken to another room to simulate a typical use case scenario with walls and furniture as obstacles.

idealtypicalSignal idealSignal typical
Argon NEO 5GHz87Mbits64MbitsLink Quality=58/70 Signal level=-52 dBmLink Quality=46/70 Signal level=-64 dBm
Argon NEO 2.4GHz41Mbits38MbitsLink Quality=70/70 Signal level=-35 dBmLink Quality=55/70 Signal level=-55 dBm
“naked” Raspberry Pi 4 5GHz87Mbits75MbitsLink Quality=65/70 Signal level=-45 dBmLink Quality=38/70 Signal level=-72 dBm
“naked” Raspberry Pi 4 2.4GHz41Mbits50MbitsLink Quality=70/70 Signal level=-39 dBmLink Quality=55/70 Signal level=-55 dBm

Despite running the iperf3 for a minute at the time, I could see a lot of noise in the results in both Argon NEO and benchmark scenarios. WiFi signal seems just a tiny bit weaker, but I don’t consider it to be impactful.

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Final Thoughts

It’s a really nice case. At $15, the case isn’t costly, considering the quality of the enclosure and how good it looks. There is no doubt that Argon NEO will look presentable on your desktop without taking much space. The next step will be modding the case to support the X857 mSATA extension board just like I have done with Argon 18 mod. But if you can’t wait, Argon40 released a M.2 compatible ArgonONE case. Read this review if you are interested. Keep in touch if you want to see the result. What do you think about Argon NEO? Let me know in this Reddit thread.


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