I thought that ArgonONE M.2 (review) was the pinnacle of cases for Raspberry Pi 4 boards. Turns out that DeskPi Pro just did one better and offered what seems to be almost PC building experience for Raspberry Pi fans! If you think the DeskPi Pro looks impressive from outside, wait until I give you a tour on the inside!
NUC? DeskPi Pro feels more than that
While DeskPi Pro may look like a NUC, these usually come without the need for assembly. DeskPi offers almost PC building experience. OK, I may exaggerate here a little, but the process of putting it all together was not only fun, and cathartic. It brought the memories of assembling my 1st desktop PC. If this sounds daunting, don’t worry, the included manual is accurate, in English and with IKEA-stile pictures.
DeskPi Pro for Raspberry Pi 4 is… calling it a case, is selling it a little short. It’s an enclosure with storage (SSD & M.2), cooling, IR and power delivery module. It feels great in hands thanks to uniform aluminium body finished with acrylic pieces from both sides. It’s heavy, sturdy and it feels more like a desktop computer than a Raspberry Pi housing.
A very thoughtful design reinforces that feeling thanks to rich I/O. A power button, two USB-A ports and MicroSD card slot dominate the front, while the back houses 2 full HDMI ports, 3.5 mm stereo jack, Ethernet, 2 x USB 3.0 and 2 x USB 2.0 ports. If that wasn’t enough, the back also allows access to full 40-pin GPIO header and USB-C port for power delivery.
At this point, I started to wonder, how did they make it? The case is much larger than the Raspberry Pi 4 is designed for and we have more ports accessible from each side than the board allows. To see what’s going on, we have to look inside.
On the inside
It actually takes some time and nimble hands to assemble the case, but the process is exciting. I wanted to see the ready DeskPi Pro the moment I laid my eyes on it. Let’s talk more about the design as it’s worth mentioning.
DeskPi Pro uses a simple concept of extensions to expose the 40-pin header, microSD card reader and extra USB ports. Connected to the mainboard in the same style as ArgonONE (review) case, DeskPi Pro not only offers SSD storage but introduces another PCB sandwiched in the middle.
It’s an adapter to convert the USB-connected SATA port for 2.5 HDD drives (both mechanical and solid-state) to M.2 SSD drives. As the board uses SATA interface, you have to get SATA compatible M.2 – MVMe drives are not supported. The storage interface is connected to the Raspberry Pi board through a very familiar USB bridge featured on Geekworm X857 (review) and ArgonONE M.2 (review) products.
Raspberry Pi 4 is cooled by a mini (and a horizontal) version of ICE Tower (review) – it’s a beefy cooler that will definitely keep the board from thermal throttling. The inclusion of the PWM signal to control the speed of the fan is a nice touch.
If you ever wanted to try Raspberry Pi desktop experience, this case was made with this in mind. Both the power button and IR diode come with jumper switches to modify the behaviour of the elements. You can select the power button behaviour and what happens when the device loses power.
Thermals and WiFi properties
That chunk of cold aluminium and the included mini version of the ICE Cooling tower (review) will definitely make a positive impact on the thermal performance of the case. But it also puts WiFi benchmarks to question, as the case doesn’t have external antennas. I’ve added these before to C2531 Zigbee stick, I might take on the challenge and try to mod DeskPi Pro further.
Temperatures (measured at 19℃)
Running my standard CPU burn test to put all cores in overdrives reveals a rather predictable result. DeskPi Pro has no problem keeping the board from thermal throttling even without an active fan. At idle, the temperature stays at 37℃ while running stress benchmarks raises it to about 55℃ without the fan in operation.
The fan is PWM controlled so you can create cooling profiles. At 100% it’s noticeable but not loud. When in use, benchmarked Raspberry Pi 4 settled at 46℃ which is a very respectable result. The enclosure was barely warm to the touch.
This block of metal can in theory impacts wireless performance. Working on DeskPi Pro in the same room as a router shows no impact. Iperf3 were at 82Mbps which is consistent with the stats measured on Raspberry Pi 4 without the enclosure. With distance, there was a little more pronounced drop in speeds on 5GHz band where speeds were about 8-10Mbps lower inside the case than in my tests without the case.
It’s not surprising, but something tells me, anyone opting out for DeskPi Pro will probably take the advantage of the 1Gbps Ethernet instead.
DeskPi Pro offers access to SATA drives in both SSD and M.2 flavours. A quick installation of samba confirms that speeds were consistent with the Raspberry Pi 4 network bottleneck. In my 1GB read/write operations the speed ranged between 90-100Mbps which is what you’d expect from this setup.
M.2 doesn’t offer extra advantages here. A decent SSD will be equally fast and will saturate the SBC capabilities. Don’t feel pressed into getting a dedicated M.2 SSD – as both types will work just fine. As the SATA slot and the space included can accommodate any 2.5″ drive you can also use a mechanical drive, as long as you are aware that it’s not as fast as SSD equivalents.
Issues with USB boot (edit 03/01/21)
Some readers reported to me, that there is an issue with the boot from UBS. DeskPi Pro team acknowledged the issues and advised that replacement boards will be issued to everyone affected. Due to manufacturing and fixes, this would happen probably in March 2021.
Here is a statement :
Everyone, we do apologize for not bringing a good user experience at the first batch of DeskPi Pro. For the quicker
shipment of the pre-sale orders, we ignored your needs on the DeskPi function.
To completely solve the problem, we will re-send the re-modified PCB board for all the customers who received the
DeskPi Pro product. Our sales staff will contact you according to the order time. For some not shipped orders, we will
contact you and adopt your ideas.
Considering R&D and mass production, the holiday on the Chinese Spring Festival, the new version PCB board will
be shipped to you at the middle of March 2021.
And we will strengthen management in design and mass production to avoid such problems. Thanks again for your
trust, especially the first batch of customers, you are very important to us!
In the later R&D, we are looking forward to your suggestion and supervision, and continue to create higher quality
Raspberry Pi product and provide better customer services!YouTube Comment
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DeskPi Pro is is a great case. Comes with excellent thermals, well thought hard-drive extension and I/O that keeps on giving. It’s a perfect media centre, desktop solution and a base for interesting mods thanks to the fully accessible GPIO header. As a bonus, the build process is fun and it does feel like building your own PC.
If not for the disappointing issue surrounding the boot from USB, I would recommend this case to anyone looking to make a streaming server or a small Raspberry Pi 4 NAS. I’m glad to see that the company takes ownership of the issue. I will keep you posted.
Anyone looking to turn their regular Raspberry Pi 4 into very presentable desktop machine DeskPi Pro is the way to go! Got questions? Leave me a comment in this Reddit thread.