Raspberry Pi Cooling – Finally Passive Good Enough

Folks will remember that I’d said why I was NOT buying a Pi Model 4 was due to the cooling being entirely inadequate for that chip set. Also that the mini-HDMI was “an issue” for me as I don’t have any connectors for it, don’t need 2 monitors, and with frequent plug / unplug events would likely break it. That point still remains.


Over time folks tend to fix things that are obviously an issue. The Raspberry Pi Foundation has made a firmware update that reduces the heating (by about 12 C more or less) and some other vendors have come out with aluminium cases that are heat sinks (or heat sinks big enough to act like a case) so now there ARE effective passive cooling solutions.

Temperatures down around 53 C at full load are quite acceptable. Heat throttling tends to kick in at over 80 C and heat damage to silicon is up about 100 C. So half that is quite fine.

Will I be buying one? Well, not any time soon. I’m still “over supplied” with computes via the Odroid N2, XU4, C2, Rock64 and RockPro64. Yes, I’m working on some “software issues” in finding a release I like for all of them, but even there I’ve got quite enough. IF Devuan makes a Pi M4 port I might get one. But it’s a very low priority thing for me due to what all kit I’ve got already.

Essentially, it is now down to the mini-HDMI connector and “need” for one. I could find a use where I didn’t do a lot of plugging / unplugging monitors (or maybe just hook up a mini-HDMI to regular adapter on it and leave it alone…) and find a use case for it. But….

Notice that these heat-sink / cases are about $16+ AND I get to buy a mini-HDMI / HDMI adapter. So at least $20 and likely up to $30 to make it acceptable. That turns a $35 SBC into a $65 proposition. Why again? Oh, because they ship a product that “has issues” as shipped….

So really, when I can get another Odroid for less than that, with higher performance, and heat sink included, and no funky adapters…. Um, why do it? Only for the larger community and readily available Devuan (IFF it comes out for the Pi M4) Well, OK, I can see that advantage WHEN it shows up… Maybe…

The other thing I wonder about is just what the “Firmware Update” did to drop temperatures. Did it reduce actual performance? The Pi Foundation has done this in the past. Shipping a clock set low so the CPU would not overheat, for example. So you must change the clock from 900 MHz to 1.2 GHz to actually get the 1.2 GHz speed of the chip.

Look, I get it, they are selling the cheapest real system out there for folks to learn on. A noble goal. BUT: When I have to undo their cheaping things to get it to work at full speed, and someone else sells a real full speed, um…

So the bottom line is that this is a really good step forward. They have realized they have a heat problem. It would have been much better to recognize that up front and design for it at the start (as Odroid tends to do), but better late than never. At this point, with firmware update and with a good (if expensive) passive cooling case, it’s in the “acceptable” category.

But I don’t need one right now and don’t have any reason to buy it. So I’m not.

BUT: Were I making a cluster of SBCs to do some serious computes, this is now back in the running. At that price point it’s acceptable, a cluster doesn’t need an HDMI adapter, and the larger community does matter. So “whenever” I get things done to the point where I need a big pile of computes, this is a fair competitor against the Odroid options and the RockPro64. Just not, I think, today…

Here “Explaining Computers” does his 3rd (yes, three of them… about cooling… so what’s the issues with the Pi M4? Maybe cooling?…) video on cooling the Raspberry Pi Model 4. Look at the size of that heat sink. That’s what it really needs to run:

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About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
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3 Responses to Raspberry Pi Cooling – Finally Passive Good Enough

  1. gallopingcamel says:

    I liked Toshiba laptops until I got one with that kind of problem and it baffles me that it persisted for years. One of the chips used to “De-solder” itself. That should not be hard for designers to fix!

  2. Pingback: Links 25/11/2019: Linux 5.4, Lots of Openwashing This Past Week | Techrights

  3. I’m pretty happy with the C4Labs.com Zebra 4 case w/fan. I’ve configured the fan for always-5V-on and it runs nice and cool all the time. It’s about $20 so that’s to be considered but I don’t want it throttling so it’s probably worth it. I think I’d like it better if the top-most sheet were more open to the GPIO pins. I may “fix” this with a Dremel tool at some point.

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