“I have seen this before!” – I’m not going to blame you for having a deja-vu. Turning Raspberry Pi 4 into a mini desktop PC isn’t new anymore and I also covered 52pi’s take on this in my review. SunFounder spent some time refining it and I for one appreciate the fact they did. Pironman (AmazonUS)is a beautiful Raspberry Pi 4 case that brings the enhancements I wanted!
Mini PC – what’s new
There are two most striking features of the Pironman – it’s made out of metal pieces (except the acrylic see-through side panels) and it hides cables and the entire I/O at the back. The last feature alone is the biggest aesthetic improvement. It’s also not the only one. Let’s take a closer look at SunFounder Pironman.
This case comes with a couple of cool and flashy features to make your Raspberry Pi 4 stand out. The interior is dominated by a familiar oversized heatsink that provides unparallel cooling performance. A dedicated PCB handles the power delivery (still via USB-C) extends the micro SD port and 40-pin GPIO header and provides M.2 slot for SATA3 SSD drives (22mm x 30mm, 42mm, 60mm, and 80mm) If you are looking for some compatible drives, I used these in my builds: Kingston A400 M.2 SATA 240GB
A dual-function power button, RGB strip and a couple of RGB LEDs scattered here and there on the extension PCB top up the list of features. Oh, a display is mounted in the front of the case – a tiny 1.96″ OLED to display all sorts of data from your system and an IR receiver in case you want to add a remote control.
Even a slot for the Pi Camera’s ribbon found its place at the back of the Pironman case with the only thing missing: an HDMI port to complete the deal. Original ports on Raspberry Pi 4 are accessible, but as all the cables are at the back, it would hurt my eyes to plug any cables in.
You’ll need a bit of patience and about 40 min to assemble Pironman. The board in theory is compatible with older Raspberry Pi boards, but only Raspberry Pi 4 can take advantage of all the features. I rushed my assembly, and I had to backtrack my steps twice. Take my advice and study the orientation of the board and the orientation of all ribbon cables. The instruction could use a few clearer images of the ribbon up close.
The main part of the case is the PCB board that handles power delivery, controlling external modules (fan, LED, OLED display) and providing data access via USB to M.2 SATA drive so you can boot your Raspberry Pi4 from USB.
By default, some of the Raspberry Pi’s GPIO pins are reserved for the Pironman controls, but if you need these available at the 40-pin GPIO header, you can use jumpers to disable features and unbind pins.
Pironman has the ability to monitor the state of the Raspberry Pi board and on power failure, it will recover the last saved state.
Speaking of ribbons, here comes the biggest complaint. Included 40-pin extender connects the single-board computer and Pironman PCB with a ribbon. I had problems seating the ribbon in the dedicated connector. It felt too thick to secure the connector with the tab. It’s not a step you can skip either (even if you don’t use the GPIO header) as this is how your computer gets its power. After a couple of tries, I managed to lock the ribbon and complete this step. This took more effort than it was supposed to, and I wish SunFounder would include a thinner ribbon cable.
Some of the modules (RGB strip, button) are connected using dupont wires. It’s an odd choice in a case that shows otherwise a great level of polish. I’d love to see a dedicated connector for these things.
Lastly, Raspberry Pi 4 works with USB-C PD standard, but Pironman doesn’t and connecting the board to my charger via USB-C PC results in button flickering and no boot. You’ll need a different power source (USB-A to USB-C cables are fine).
To take the advantage of baked-in features, you have to install extra software to control the fan, LEDs, OLED display and the functions of the button. The process is relatively painless and well-covered in the documentation. One of the things that caught my attention (it’s a silly little detail), is that terminal commands (reboot, power off) and button activations display selected actions on that screen. I’ll never have to second-guess myself again.
- 2-sec hold – power off
- press – OLED wake up
- 10-sec hold – power off PCB
Pironman configuration tool uses CLI to set up the behaviour of the screen, fan and RGB LEDs. It’s a simple interface that you can configure programmatically (pironman utility takes parameters) or configure via text file. You can access the config file via:
sudo nano ~/.config/pironman/config.txt
temp_unit = C fan_temp = 20 screen_always_on = False screen_off_time = 60 rgb_switch = True rgb_style = breath rgb_color = #0a1aff rgb_blink_speed = 50
RGB LEDs are WS2812 and you can use HEX colour codes to change the colours or pick one from several animations available in the pironman utility tool. If that’s not enough, just like the OLED screen, you can simply write your own code and make cool animations yourself.
The IR receiver in the front of the case works with standard remotes. If you use Plex or Kodi, you could use it to control the media player without using a mouse or keyboard. SunFounder also provides instructions on how to interface with it, in case you have something more custom in mind.
Pironman looks like a PC case, so it’s only fair I run a couple of benchmarks to class its performance. I do that to each case to see how toasty it gets inside. I even made a special NodeRED flow to carry out the benchmarks for me!
Thanks to the impressive heatsink, the case has no problem with moving excessive heat from the most important SBC components. The fan isn’t mounted directly on the heatsink like on ICE Cooling Tower and it doesn’t have any addressible LEDs (just random colours by default – see this mod if you want to add a addressible LEDs to your fan too) but is equally capable of keeping your Pironman cool. It’s a case that can easily house an overclocked CPU and it’s silent at idle as in normal circumstances fan isn’t required to dissipate all that heat.
What also works in Pironman’s favour is the fact that the surrounding panels are made of metal. Instead of slowly cooking the dissipated air inside and relay on the fan to move the air around, the case will passively dissipate the stored heat.
This explains why while running my thermal benchmark, the case keeps below 50℃ (at 17.5℃ ambient) with fan engaging for about 5 seconds at the time to keep the temperature from spiking. You’d have to overclock the CPU to actially stress properly. With the fan turned on, the cooling benchmarks looks even better:
The idle lowers from 42℃ to 32℃ and CPU stress stays significantly cooler at 40℃. It’s a perfect overclocking case.
The speed of your SSD drive will depend on the actual drive inserted into M.2 slot. It’s further impeded by the USB bus (which drives uses to connect to the Raspberry Pi) and can be further limited by network access speeds (1Gbps max). In reality, even inexpensive SSDs will easily outmatch Raspberry Pi 4 boards and Pironman PCB and drive controller isn’t a bottleneck either.
My Kingston A400 offers 450-500MB/s read and write speeds so I connected the Pironman PCB to my computer to remove other bottlenecks and run a quick benchmark:
It’s what to be expeced from the USB drive test so I’m confident to say that Pironman isn’t causing any slowdowns.
I wish the case was available in black. It’s not a deal breaker as a can of acrylic paint will sort it out. At $63.99, it’s a good deal considering all the functions the case has to offer. The biggest win in my books is I/O at the back. It really changes the way you can present your Raspberry Pi on the shelf. With a case like that, who wouldn’t like to show off? If you have any questions about the Pironman (AmazonUS) case by SunFounder, as always, you can leave them in this Reddit thread.
🆓📈💵 – See the transparency note for details.