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Pi 4 + Argon One M.2 = Awesome


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I'm pretty open about my Raspberry Pi hobby and how much I love the platform, especially for retro emulation. However, a while back I decided to see if I could use a Pi 4 as a "budget" mini-portable PC, I wanted to see if it could act as alternative to my desktop when I am not at home. So, I got the 8GB Pi 4 B and started messing around with it. One thing I knew out of the gate was I didn't want to run an SD card as my primary drive, they are simply too slow and that would be a non-starter for me, especially when I am used to the snappiness of my vastly more powerful desktop PC, and I also didn't want a flash drive sticking out of the Pi to use instead of the SD card. So, I went looking to see what was out there...

That's when I ran across the Argon ONE M.2, basically a Pi 4 case that lets you use a SATA M.2 SSD on your Pi 4 via one of the USB 3 ports, but all contained in a small and very convenient case. I piked up a cheap Silicon Power 128GB M.2 SATA SSD (originally tried a 64GB drive but got the 128GB cheaper on sale), popped it in the case, and dropped the Pi OS on there and ... wow ... I really did not appreciate how fast the Pi 4 actually is, or how much the SD cards were "bottlenecking" it. 

After a couple months of using this setup for a multitude of daily tasks, from retro emulation, web browsing, HD video playback, Arduino, PCB design, image editing, and even using Steam Link to connect to my desktop and stream games. I can say that this Argon M.2 case is amazing! At least it is for someone like me. The nice thing is you can still use the SD card slot as a "slow" storage drive to expand your storage capacity. All in a very small form factor that you can easily take with you anywhere.

The overall speed of the Pi 4 is actually quite impressive when running on that M.2 SSD over USB3, while it's obviously still a bottleneck for the SSD, it's a massive speed boost over SD or USB flash drives. So much so that it actually works very well as a daily driver.

So yeah, I just wanted to share in case anyone was ever in the market for such a thing, and wanted to cram as much performance out of a Pi 4 as the possibly could.

On a side note, I overclocked the Pi 4 to just a smidge over 2.0GHz, and it's stable in this case, and stays much cooler than I anticipated. Overall, I am very impressed. 🤩

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B08MJ3CSW7/

 

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Edited by Strider
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I've got one of those, too. I love it. 

I'm also considering getting the DAC case to build a music player. These things are super convenient, and this form factor is much more pleasant to use than the standard Pi cases, since all the important bits come out the back, rather than 2 different sides. 

 

 

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On 10/16/2021 at 2:14 PM, TomXP411 said:

I've got one of those, too. I love it. 

I'm also considering getting the DAC case to build a music player. These things are super convenient, and this form factor is much more pleasant to use than the standard Pi cases, since all the important bits come out the back, rather than 2 different sides.

Having all the I/O in the rear is a huge plus for me as well, as is the dual full size HDMI outs instead of the micros. I also like the fact the GPIO is accessible under the magnetic plate. It's probably one of the best, if not the best, case for Pi 4 in a lot of aspects in my humble opinion.

Edited by Strider
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Heh, I considered getting a Pi4 and both the Retroflag NESPi case and the Argon One M.2 case at different points. Functionally, I it's probably a toss up between which one is better, but Argon One might win with its access to the GPIO pins. However, I think I would buy the NESPi, because it's just so adorable and nostalgic for me. That said, I only have a Pi Zero W, because I just haven't really found a reason to use a Pi rather than my laptop or desktop (and my Arduino UNO). I thought about the whole low electrical use desktop, but then I was like... wait a minute, when my laptop is operating on battery for several hours, that uh... yeah...is probably plenty efficient, no? Darn that practicality for getting the better of me, because I sure do like that NESPi case! 🙂

When you say "daily driver", what kind of desktop stuff do with it? Is it decent for 1080p Youtube playback? What about scrolling a C, Lua, JavaScript, or Python file in Geany with syntax highlighting enabled? Any screen tearing or lag? I get a some tearing in Windows version of Geany on my laptop, never the Linux version though.

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On 10/18/2021 at 5:13 PM, Tatwi said:

Heh, I considered getting a Pi4 and both the Retroflag NESPi case and the Argon One M.2 case at different points. Functionally, I it's probably a toss up between which one is better, but Argon One might win with its access to the GPIO pins. However, I think I would buy the NESPi, because it's just so adorable and nostalgic for me. That said, I only have a Pi Zero W, because I just haven't really found a reason to use a Pi rather than my laptop or desktop (and my Arduino UNO). I thought about the whole low electrical use desktop, but then I was like... wait a minute, when my laptop is operating on battery for several hours, that uh... yeah...is probably plenty efficient, no? Darn that practicality for getting the better of me, because I sure do like that NESPi case! 🙂

When you say "daily driver", what kind of desktop stuff do with it? Is it decent for 1080p Youtube playback? What about scrolling a C, Lua, JavaScript, or Python file in Geany with syntax highlighting enabled? Any screen tearing or lag? I get a some tearing in Windows version of Geany on my laptop, never the Linux version though.

I have the older NESPi Case + with a 3B+ in it and I love it!

Works great for 1080 video playback, no issues. I don't use Geany (though it's installed), so I can't speak to that. The only scripting I currently do on it is in the Arduino IDE at the moment. I see no screen tearing however.

This is a screenshot of my Pi's desktop, so you can see what I use the most. For the most part, it performs significantly better than I expected. It's not going to compare to a modern PC by any means, but it's still impressively fast. The 8GB model is also good for multi-tasking.

2021-10-19-162654_1920x1080_scrot.thumb.jpg.a717dc4876b59d8e98a6b33c5742be88.jpg

Edited by Strider
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I've got one of the non-M.2 ones and on my RPi4/8GB and the fan that came with mine is very noisy. It's not *quite* as noisy as a NUC7i7BNH I've got laying around here with a mini leaf blower fan that sounds like the little jet engine that couldn't at 3am if you keep it on automatic fan control, but it's still noticeably noisy.

The rest of this doesn't really apply mostly unless you're doing IoT things perhaps but I was also trying to make it work as a USB-C OTG HID keyboard/mouse through ConfigFS and it wouldn't work because the USB-C is actually going through the 5V pins and so I found that you have to take it out of the case whenever you need to do OTG, also I can't get to the display/camera ribbon cable ports on mine. So, because of the OTG issue I leave my case unscrewed and that's not good for the microSD because the plastic goes above and under the card and wants to try to bend the microSD card and break it if you're not careful. I do like the metal of the case though and the label sticker for the GPIO pins.

I was thinking of possibly trying out one of those RGB cooler towers but I've got it in my bedroom here hooked to the TV so I don't need lights keeping me up all night.

I was also thinking about designing up a case at some point, roomy with a quiet fan hopefully.

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On 10/25/2021 at 12:59 AM, john_e79 said:

I was thinking of possibly trying out one of those RGB cooler towers but I've got it in my bedroom here hooked to the TV so I don't need lights keeping me up all night.

I was also thinking about designing up a case at some point, roomy with a quiet fan hopefully.

I think I got lucky, my fan is nice and quiet.

If you're looking at a tower cooler, they do work great, and quietly. Before it was in the Argon, this is how I was testing and OC'ing the Pi 4.

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Link: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07ZV1LLWK/

It comes with both LED and a black fan. I used the black one, same basic reason. 😜

I got the horizontal version for supplemental air flow over the board.

Edited by Strider
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I have to ask what are the downsides on that one that prompted you to get an Argon case, or was it just that you wanted M.2? It would be really nice to be able to have the cooler tower with copper heat sinks and the M.2 at the same time with a case enclosure around that has good airflow.

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For me the nice package with the M.2 solution was the reason to go with it. There's also an integrated fan, just in case passive cooling isn't enough.

The solution with the UASP USB adapter also allows to connect the M.2 SSD to your PC/Mac in case you want to perform a backup etc. just by flipping it over:

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This is very convenient.

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On 10/25/2021 at 2:21 AM, john_e79 said:

I have to ask what are the downsides on that one that prompted you to get an Argon case, or was it just that you wanted M.2? It would be really nice to be able to have the cooler tower with copper heat sinks and the M.2 at the same time with a case enclosure around that has good airflow.

I had no problems with it at all, it works perfectly, and it's a huge overkill for the Pi. Meaning I can push it and not worry about it. I mainly use it now for testing/overclocking Pi's outside of a case, just for fun.

I just wanted the Argon. To use a Pi 4 as a PC, SD access is simply far too slow for me, I knew I was going to use an SSD, and I liked the Argon case design the most. Compact and convenient.

I had also looked at the Retroflag NESPi 4 SSD and Geekworm X-825 cases, but it was the Argon that won for it's compact design, full size HDMI, and all rear I/O. I also already had a NESPi Case with a 3B+ in it, and this Pi 4 was not going to be a RetroPie box, and didn't want another one.

🙂

 

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On 10/25/2021 at 8:42 AM, Strider said:

I had no problems with it at all, it works perfectly, and it's a huge overkill for the Pi. Meaning I can push it and not worry about it. I mainly use it now for testing/overclocking Pi's outside of a case, just for fun.

I just wanted the Argon. To use a Pi 4 as a PC, SD access is simply far too slow for me, I knew I was going to use an SSD, and I liked the Argon case design the most. Compact and convenient.

I had also looked at the Retroflag NESPi 4 SSD and Geekworm X-825 cases, but it was the Argon that won for it's compact design, full size HDMI, and all rear I/O. I also already had a NESPi Case with a 3B+ in it, and this Pi 4 was not going to be a RetroPie box, and didn't want another one.

🙂

Personally, I feel like the more robust SSD (compared to a micro-SD card) and the PC-like soft power down were the best reason to get the Argon One... although right now, I don't have a Pi in my ArgonOne case.

I picked up a 10" LCD panel, and I put my 8GB Pi in the back of that. I also picked up a RasPad for a specific project (camera controller for a video production suite), and I'm looking forward to rolling some Python code for that. 

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On 10/25/2021 at 12:21 AM, john_e79 said:

I have to ask what are the downsides on that one that prompted you to get an Argon case, or was it just that you wanted M.2? It would be really nice to be able to have the cooler tower with copper heat sinks and the M.2 at the same time with a case enclosure around that has good airflow.

Personally, I wanted a "desktop" style case for my Pi. I strongly dislike the fact that cables come out two different sides of the Pi, and most cases make it difficult to put the Pi somewhere accessible and route the cables back, out of the way. The Pi 4 complicates this with the addition of the micro-HDMI ports, so...

  • Better cable management
  • Active Cooling (PWM controlled, so it keeps the fan fairly quiet)
  • Built-in HDMI adapter board, routes video, audio, and power-in to the back
  • Soft-off. Shutting down Linux will also physically power off the system.
  • The integrated SSD gives you access to more storage. I currently have a 256GB drive installed.

It's also worth noting that the Pi 4 can boot off of USB (although you may need to update the firmware), so you don't need a micro-SD card for day to day use in the ArgonOne case.

There are other devices that give most of these features:

  • The GeeekPi Acrylic Raspberry Pi Set-top Box Kit 
    • HDMI adapter board 
    • Active cooling
    • Adds a front-facing USB port (uses the Pi's USB C port.)
    • No SSD - but you could mount a 2.5" drive on top with a USB/SATA bridge
  • The Pi 400 has
    • soft-power
    • all rear-facing ports
    • built-in keyboard

Argon also has a DAC case, which adds a stereo RCA output, for hi-fi systems. This is useful enough that someone is even marketing a professional MIDI sound module, using the Pi and the ArgonOne case. 

https://dynasample.com/downloads/DynaSample_XO-mini_Presale.pdf

So this hardware is a good base for small network devices, media players, and emulation machines. I'd much rather have something sleek like this sitting near my TV than the typical Raspberry Pi case, with stuff sticking out of every side.

 

Edited by TomXP411
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On 10/26/2021 at 11:01 AM, TomXP411 said:

There are other devices that give most of these features:

I ended up getting the Acrylic Set-top Box Kit for RPi4 tonight over at Microcenter, and it seems like the best option for me. It comes in at about the size of my Intel NUCs.

I haven't tested the OTG yet but it looks like it does split out into a USB-C power and gives another USB female connector, it's not tapping into the 5V pins like the Argon did, which took away OTG capability for me. I'll try it out soon and see if I can still use it to emulate a keyboard/mouse to another device from the enclosure.

Also I got a separate USB-C M.2 enclosure that does M.2 SATA and NVMe as I have two older SATA M.2s I haven't been able to read with my NVMe enclosure. Am I right in what I've seen from pictures that the Argon M.2 is basically a USB to USB bridge that will bottleneck to USB 3.1 speeds?

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On 10/29/2021 at 9:41 PM, john_e79 said:

Am I right in what I've seen from pictures that the Argon M.2 is basically a USB to USB bridge that will bottleneck to USB 3.1 speeds?

Yes, it’s USB. There is no PCI Express connector on the Pi, so storage is going to be limited to the USB port’s speed. Not that this is a huge problem: while programs do load faster on the ArgonOne SSD than on my Pis that run on SD cards, I suspect the CPU still isn't fast enough to saturate faster storage interfaces. I suspect even USB 3 is faster than the Pi’s CPU can really take advantage of. 

Edited by TomXP411
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On 10/29/2021 at 11:41 PM, john_e79 said:

Am I right in what I've seen from pictures that the Argon M.2 is basically a USB to USB bridge that will bottleneck to USB 3.1 speeds?

Yep, pretty much what Tom said.

Also, using an SSD over USB 3 is still considerably faster than using any SD card or flash drive, especially when it comes to writes. So while the bottleneck is there, it's still the fastest option open to the Pi 4. At least the bottleneck is with the bus the data is going over and not the media being used.

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Good point on microSD/flash speeds. I’ve got a 3B+ that I put a Bind DNS and Dhcpd server on. I put a 4TB USB 3.0 backup on the 4B for a NAS. I’m copying over my 860 Evo 1TB to it right now so I can reformat the Evo and then put it on my Intel NUC i5 since it has PCIe. I’ll probably use the NUC for the X16 emu on that TV since it wasn’t quite 60fps on the 4B. Have an extra 3B that I wanted to use for a NAS but it’s only USB 2.0 I think. The X16 emu was really the deciding factor b/c I want to develop on the laptop and send to the TV seamlessly.

Having big video issues with the 4B though on that 65” 4K it wants to display with a font that you have to squint to read with glasses on. I set hdmi_group and mode in config.txt to boot 720p and it boots fine but then goes to 2160p after a few seconds during boot before it goes to emulationstation.

I was also thinking I could maybe set up the 4B maybe for a telnet/SSH BBS with Tradewars 2002 and other door games. I’ve got Dosbox set up on it and could put oBV/2 or PCBoard on it. I had DOS as a teenager I was an Ansi artist way back when and just now getting into Commodore and X16 don’t know what was good for BBS software on the C64.

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On 10/31/2021 at 1:31 AM, Scott Robison said:

I worked there! Use PCBoard. 🙂

Hah, believe it or not I've modded setups for Renegade, oBV/2, Impulse, Iniquity, and Mystic BBS, but never got a chance to set up a PCBoard setup, although I did help someone with some testing on a board that ran PCB. So, PCB it is this go round. 👍

My RPi4B is back to being a paperweight for right now, it took 2 days to copy what should be about 350GB from a M.2 Sata SSD to a backup USB 3.0 4TB, but exFat I guess was set up by the manufacturer with big cluster sizes because it wants to report half of the disk space is gone. Plus the case fan was way noisy compared to my i5 NUC and also bright so I'll have to fix those things. Originally my RPi4B was going to be an emulation machine, but it does good only up through about PSP level, doesn't do quite 60fps for X16 unless maybe you overclock it, which, I don't hate my machines, so I try to take care of them... then it was going to be an OTG HID keyboard/mouse, but ConfigFS doesn't work quite so well on some hardware devices I use... then it was going to be a NAS, but, that didn't turn out so well. Maybe it could just be a BBS I don't know, but it seems like it wants to be more, I just don't know what exactly. 🧱

I've got Ubuntu running on the Intel NUC i5 and it's working as good as Linux works anyway, given all the configurations I have to do, but I've got RetroPie set up on it, although it isn't showing Dosbox in EmulationStation. It runs Matt Heffernan's tile demo fine, but it's having sound issues on the YM2151 music, it's some kind of pulseaudio/alsa configurtion muckery that you have to mess with on Linux systems I guess. 🙄 Probably would have made more sense to put Windows on it, but I want something more lightweight for it than Windows 10.

It would be neat for there to be a version of DOS with PEEK/POKE like the C64 that is also 64-bit with ARM support, has NTFS, has TCP and utilities, has some of the things of Linux like multiple ttys, but is a lot more like DOS. I checked out FreeDOS but it doesn't do all the things. 😕

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On 11/1/2021 at 9:38 PM, Scott Robison said:

I would like to create a native Commodore like environment for the RPi as an alternative.

That could be interesting. RISC OS includes BBC BASIC, but it's still a GUI. 

At this point, I don't think I'd want to go to the hassle of coding a bare metal OS, but it could be interesting to build a BASIC command shell that uses SDL for graphics without needing X-Window. I've spent some time playing around with that in c#, and while I got something that was mostly working, I got frustrated and ended up purging most of it in a re-write. 

I'd have to start over from scratch if I was to implement it in c++, to make it work on Linux. 

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On 11/1/2021 at 11:38 PM, Scott Robison said:

I would like to create a native Commodore like environment for the RPi as an alternative.

My biggest project for PCBoard was the scripting language PPL. It had peek and poke! 🙂

I've been thinking along the same kind of lines. I went through some tutorials and learned a bit of Arm ASM.

I've got RPis and NUCs here that I don't really want current versions of Windows or Linux on, those are way too big. Even "lite" versions of current OSes I've looked at are very big, they have lots of configurations, lots of places to have to hunt down files, you don't know how well it will go with your hardware, and with new devices we are putting new OSes on new hardware a lot. DOS is just so much simpler. If you had something like a x86/x64/arm compatible DOS that had some niceties like NTFS support, TCP support, multiple TTYs, virtual memory addresses to access hardware so say all video starts at 0xA000 like DOS on PCs and audio on 0x220/0x388 and so on that's just an example from DOS PCs but with PEEK/POKE support it would be way nicer.

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On 11/2/2021 at 8:15 AM, x16tial said:

The difference in my mind is that it wouldn't be an emulator. It would have a kernal written in ARM instead of 6502, and a BASIC in ARM instead of 6502, and would land at a full screen BASIC editor. Direct access to the system with peek and poke, ability to load and run BASIC and ML programs, ability to access the hardware directly.

I'm not suggesting it would be easy, that I've started it, or that it will be available soon. Just a fun idea for Qommodore. 🙂

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On 11/2/2021 at 10:33 AM, Scott Robison said:

The difference in my mind is that it wouldn't be an emulator. It would have a kernal written in ARM instead of 6502, and a BASIC in ARM instead of 6502, and would land at a full screen BASIC editor. Direct access to the system with peek and poke, ability to load and run BASIC and ML programs, ability to access the hardware directly.

I'm not suggesting it would be easy, that I've started it, or that it will be available soon. Just a fun idea for Qommodore. 🙂

If it takes a Tramgineering view on build cost, it would be based on the RPi Pico.

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