HomeRaspberry PiDeskPi Lite: hot stuff!

DeskPi Lite: hot stuff!

It's hot, just not the way you'd expect

Raspberry Pi 4 owners can’t complain about the choice of cases for their beloved boards. The choice spans from desktop-alike enclosures with active cooling, IR and M.2 support like DeskPi Pro and ArgonONE M.2 to simpler pickings like Argon NEO. There is one more case you should check out, especially if you like the desktop look and extra USB ports: DeskPi Lite (AmazonUK, AmazonUS, DeskPi Store).

DeskPi Lite: less than PRO but…

DeskPi Lite
DeskPi Lite

If the DeskPi name feels familiar, it’s because I covered it a couple of weeks ago on my page. A fully-featured PC alike case with great thermal and SSD + M.2 support. As the name suggests, DeskPi offers cases that will turn your Raspberry Pi 4 boards into movie boxes, stationary computing stations etc. All this comes at a price. What if you are on a budget but still want to treat yourself to a similar performance? DeskPi Lite offers that!

Starting from £29.99, DeskPi Lite won’t break your bank, will look great on your desk or near any TV. Even if your plans are more secretive, mounting holes let the case hang on a wall or underneath a desk.

What that £29.99 gets you is a beefy cooler, a pair of full-sized HDMI ports and 2 extra USB-A (USB 2.0) ports to connect your peripherals, a dedicated power button and access to a 40-pin GPIO header. DeskPi Lite has a small slot at the back of the case for another camera ribbon, so if you are going to use a Raspberry Pi Camera, you can still route the cable out without modifications.

The 40-pin header could use some attention, as the standard ribbon cable comes with tabs that make it hard to push it in. If you have a ribbon cable without plastic orientation tabs, then you will be fine (as long as you remember to observe the orientation of your connector).

Assembly

It’s been a while since I had a RaspberryPi case that I could assemble without glancing over the instructions. DeskPi Lite is easy to put together and you can do that in about 5 min. Everything fits nicely together and the only thing to remember is to apply thermal paste to 3 cooling points and fit a piece of clear plastic to cover up the LED slot.

heatsink on the DeskPi Lite
An interesting take on a heatsink on the DeskPi Lite

Extra USB ports

The extra USB ports have to be enabled in the Raspbian OS before you can use it. Don’t forget it, otherwise, they will only work in power delivery mode. To enable USB-A 2.0 ports open: sudo nano /boot/config.txt and add the following:

dtoverlay=dwc2,dr_mode=host

Power Button

Just like with other DeskPi cases, you can control the power-on behaviour. The PCB has a small switch that you can set to D/E positions. E (enable) enables always-on mode, and your Raspberry Pi will power up automatically on power loss. D (disable) will require the button press to turn the Raspberry Pi board on if shut down by a power cut.

Fan control

The fan can be controlled via the RaspberryPi OS fan profile in sudo raspi-config settings. Navigate to `4 Performance Options` → `P4 Fan` → `YES`→ `14` and OK → `60` and OK→ `Finish` and then reboot Raspberry Pi.

Thermal performance

I like the heatsink the DeskPi Lite comes with. It’s a great mix of the big, passive heatsink with an embedded fan. It also acts as an extender for the GPIO header and uses the pins to fit securely in place.

The heatsink has 4 contact points on the surface (3 are visible and one for the CPU). I made the mistake of adding the thermal pads to the visible spots only, completely forgetting that none of these actually touch the CPU. If you get inconsistent thermal performance, that’s probably the case. It’s time to put it through my updated thermal benchmark test and see how efficient is that cooling system.

Idle temps… DeskPi Lite is running about 5C hotter

The benchmark results are surprising. I run all of my benchmarks at 18℃. At Idle, the fan is off, as fan control allows the fan to be turned on at 60℃ as the min temperature. I had to check the results twice as the DeskPi Lite was running hotter than the naked board by 5℃.

Passive cooling – Raspberry Pi 4 without a case still running colder

The only explanation I have for this behaviour is that the heatsink inside the DeskPi Lite is shared between CPU, RAM, Ethernet and USB controllers. As such the temperature from all these components accumulates in the heatsink and causes the worst performance at idle due to poor dissipation.

Active cooling performance of DeskPi Lite is much better

Running my CPU stress benchmark fanless didn’t improve things, in fact, DeskPi Lite clocked higher temperatures going as high as 82℃ during 20min test. That shared heatsink design may work in cases like ArgonONE, due to the mass of the metal used in the enclosure which acts as a heatsink, but without the fan, DeskPi Lite can’t dissipate that heat quickly enough.

Switching on the fan at 60℃ in my next benchmark improved the curve, but not as much as I would think it would. The CPU kept a temperature of 68℃ throughout the test. In the case’s defence, the fan isn’t loud so if you are going to use this case, turn it on at 60℃ to keep the processor cool.

WiFi performance

DeskPi Lite

DeskPi Lite is made of high-quality sturdy plastic. It will protect the Raspberry Pi 4 well, but as the board isn’t enclosed in a metal cage, I expect decent speeds over 2.4GHz and 5GHz WiFI. To test it, I run iperf3 tests on both DeskPi Lite and naked boards to confirm that.

Board2.4GHz2.4GHz (as host)5GHz5GHz (as host)
DeskPi Lite44.9 Mbits/sec39.7 Mbits/sec91.7 Mbits/sec83.2 Mbits/sec
Raspberry Pi 445.4 Mbits/sec40.4 Mbits/sec93.4 Mbits/sec81.3 Mbits/sec

As you can see both scenarios produce very similar results in a typical usage scenario (router placed in another room, signal across a wall). The case isn’t impeding the WiFi in any significant way.

Final thoughts

If you don’t care for an integrated SSD boot (you can still set it up with an external device), then the case is reasonably priced. Anyone looking got a case to host a TV box or just plain RaspberryPi OS in a desktop mode – will welcome extra USB ports in front and sub £30.00 (AmazonUK, AmazonUS, DeskPi Store) price. If you have any questions feel free to leave them in this Reddit thread.

🆓📈 – See the transparency note for details.

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