Are you in the market for a metal case to enclose your Pi? The following article is a comparison of two metal cases from two different manufactures. The review is not designed to make a recommendation but rather to share anecdotal information obtained after the purchase and assembly of the cases.
A members post on Element14 (can’t find the link to give credit) regarding Raspberry Pi full metal cases that double as heat sinks piqued my interest. I proceeded to Amazon to do a search and purchase two different cases for a Pi3B+. I pretty sure the units I have were not the cases the article mentioned. I went for a lower price point than the cases mentioned in the article. One case I will refer to as a Passive Armour case (PAC) and as an Active Armour case (AAC). What makes them passive and active is the active case has two fans, the passive has no fans.
On average the cases purchased were around $15 Canadian. The PAC slightly less by a few bucks, the AAC slightly more by a few bucks. Hey fans cost money I guess.
The PAC unit is manufactured/distributed by Geekworm. The AAC unit is manufacture/distributed by iUniker. Both units were purchased from Amazon and shipped to a postal drop in the US to avoid additional charges to receive them in Canada.
I have provided a slide for each unit, post shipping package opening. A few differences to note. The PAC unit uses hex screws and the AAC unit uses philips screws. The PAC unit provides an Allen key to install the screws. Both units provide what appears to be thermal pads to bridge the air gap between the case metal and the Pi chips. The PAC unit provided one additional pad. The AAC unit provided one additional screw.
Installation of a Pi in each case was basically the same. Apply the self sticking thermal pads to the raised metal on both sides of the case. There are three points of contact between the case and the Pi chips. Two on the top and one on the bottom. Position the Pi over the bottom half, align the top half over the Pi and insert the retaining screws and tighten. The two metal sides are pulled together with the Pi board sandwiched in between. A quick look between the sandwich with a light doesn’t show any air gap (i.e. light passing between) between the case and the Pi chips.
I completed the assembly without RTFM. The PAC had an instruction paper with links to more detailed instructions. I didn’t following the link. The AAC had an instruction card and very detailed pictorials on the box the case was shipped in. The PAC unit was shipped in a small bubble pack sleeve while the AAC had multiple foam layers in custom cutout sections.
Now for the meat of the review. The PAC case provides access to the four pins for the POE header and the AAC has them buried with no access. I can only assume you can still fit jumpers under the case but I haven’t tried.
As for other connectors they are all accessible. I suspect you would need to weave the small ribbon cable for a camera through the slot in the metal case before assembling the case sandwich. Both units don’t provide sufficient space to close these connectors once assembled. GPIO pins 4 & 6 are assigned by the manufacture to power the fans on the AAC unit.
All connectors on the sides of the Pi are exposed and are well clear of the case. Pictures are provided to give the reader a all round view.
The fans on the AAC case start up as soon as power is applied. They are very quiet even when sitting on a case is sitting on a solid surface to act as an amplifier.
I’m not going to try and define what unit is better. The only major difference, other than passive and active is ease of access to the GPIO pins. The PAC unit provides and extender the AAC does not. If you are not using a ribbon cable to access GPIO pins then that pose a problem. If you are going to require a ribbon cable, you will need to find a cable that can fit in the narrow gap between the case and GPIO pins.