Argon ONE M.2 SSD Case – WiFi Issues Resolved

My initial review of the Argon ONE M.2 Case for Raspberry Pi 4 was fairly positive, with the exception of issues I experienced with WiFi connectivity. In conclusion, I recommended that potential users of the case only use it if they plan to use it with a wired Ethernet connection. Following on from this I received feedback from a reader indicating that Argon40 had acknowledged the issue and an updated version might be available by contacting the Argon40 customer support team ([email protected]).

I first received some new M.2 cases from Argon40 at the end of April, these contained M.2 board versioned 1.6, my original was 1.3. However, after spending around 3 days testing various board version (the M.2. board, the small video board and the top Fan board) I determined that these boards were, if anything, slightly worse in terms of their WiFi reliability/performance than the boards I’d started off with, in my original M.2 case. Contacting Argon40 once again, they confirmed that the changes to the M.2 board to address WiFi issues required a board version 2.1 or later.

I now have the correct updated M.2 board, time to see how do things look.

What’s Changed

The board I received is labelled 04012021V2.2, so version 2.2 was created on 1st April 2021. The matt black PCB solder mask makes it difficult to examine the PCB in great detail, but you can see that the top right section which was previously a large ground plane stitched with vias is now clear of copper. On the reverse of the board, the area is also clear, with the exception of a couple of traces that go up to near the top edge, connect through to a couple of pads for an unpopulated resistor and LED. Not sure why these weren’t removed completely.

The creation of a “keep out” area on both sides of this presumably double-sided PCB is what fixes the WiFi problem. With earlier versions, you had the Raspberry Pi 4 sandwiched between the top fan controller board and metal case and beneath the M.2 board with all unused areas left as copper ground planes. Surrounding the Raspberry Pi 4 with all this metal created a sort of Faraday cage blocking the RF signals used by WiFi.

The WiFi antenna on the Raspberry Pi 4 is etched into the PCB next to the Micro-SD slot, so creating the area ideally above and below the antenna on the Pi will provide the best WiFi signal. Certainly blocking it with copper ground pours is probably the worst thing you can do. I can only imagine the reason 5GHz WiFi worked a bit better is that the shorter wavelength somehow managed to find a path through all the metal.

Updated USB to SATA Controller

Whilst examining the M.2 board I noticed that the USB to SATA controller has changed on the latest V2.2 M.2 board. The original featured an ASM1153E and the latest one an ASM235CM. That’s a change from a USB 3.2 Gen 1 to a USB 3.2 Gen 2×1 controller, though the Raspberry Pi can’t take advantage of the maximum performance of either controller, so why the change. I asked Argon40 and the answer was simple, “a lack of supply of the older chip in the market. It is more expensive but we have no choice ” – Joseph Zapanta, COO, Argon40 Technologies.

Beyond the M.2 Board

The Argon team haven’t just removed the copper fill on the M.2 board. I’ve now got 3 versions of the upper Fan controller board. The original 200827V2.0 (not sure on the decoding the date code, maybe 27 Aug 2020), a later 02102021V2.8 (10 Feb 2021) and the most recent 04212021V3.2 (21 Apr 2021). Both the V2.8 and V3.2 fan boards have removed the copper fill from the small section of PCB between the GPIO header and the IR LED. In my testing, the changes to the top fan board alone didn’t help the WiFi signal at all.

Testing

WiFi Testing in a home environment is subject to many uncontrollable factors, with the Argon ONE M.2 I attempted to test with all the different PCB versions of each of the 3 board, the M.2 PCB, the Fan PCB and the Video PCB. I also tested with 2 types of M.2 SSD drive. The test was a simple test, measuring the time to download a 100MB file ten times, with the device under test just 3.7m away from the access point. I also tested different WiFi channels, 1, 11 and 100 (5GHz).

Changing the Video and Fan boards didn’t make a significant difference, so for simplicity I’ve excluded those variables from the graph.

As noted in my original review of the Argon ONE M.2 case, 5GHZ WiFi performance is good, with the faster SSD storage allowing it to outperform a bare Pi 4 with an SD card.

Using the 2.4GHz channel 1 the new V2.2 M.2 board completed the test with an average time a couple of seconds behind the bare Pi 4. Version 1.6 of the M.2 board wasn’t able to obtain or maintain a connection, the earlier V1.3 M.2 board managed to complete the test but it took nearly double the time of the unenclosed Pi 4.

Channel 11 provided better results for the new V2.2 M.2 board getting a slightly faster average download time than the bare Pi 4, but probably within the margin of error of the test. The older V1.6 and V1.3 board couldn’t obtain a signal whilst using channel 11.

Conclusion

Firstly, I must give credit to Argon40 for the way they handled the problems with WiFi performance. Ok, they haven’t issued an immediate recall of all stock from the channel, as not all customers will have issues (those using wired connections, in particular, will be fine). The lack of a recall of stock does mean if you purchase a case new today, you may get one that will suffer from these problems. This decision may also be in part due to the current and ongoing silicon shortage, which may mean the revised M.2 boards are lower than they’d like, so selling what they have makes some sense, if they accept the cost of needing to handle the replacement process, and perhaps some slightly disgruntled customers.

Argon40 have at least accepted their mistake, fixed it in a revised design and customers contacting customer support will get you a replacement. No debate about if it’s a problem or not, just owning it and doing the right thing. It’s what I’d want to see from any company.

Finally, I’m pleased to say the revised Argon ONE M.2 Case I tested addressed the biggest issue I had with the case, and I’m now happy to recommend it without reservation. (OK, I’d have preferred that the M.2 case supported NVMe drives, just to save on my limited testing budget.)

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15 thoughts on “Argon ONE M.2 SSD Case – WiFi Issues Resolved

  • 20th June 2021 at 6:59 pm
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    Minor typo:

    “ongoing silicone shortage” ->
    “ongoing silicon shortage”

    A “silicone shortage” would have an entirely different effect on the world.

    Reply
    • 20th June 2021 at 7:11 pm
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      Thanks. fixed.

      Reply
  • 22nd June 2021 at 4:34 am
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    I’m actually having to go through the replacement process for my HDMI board, I got a defective one–some bad solder joint, apparently? But I can’t see it; they all look clean to me… and my chisel tips are too wide to properly reflow them anyway.

    I believe the LED is there either for diagnostics/QA or government requirements. It’d be the same reasoning behind continuing to put drive access pins and LED’s on PC’s.

    I hope the board revisions aren’t too costly. I really like my ArgonONE.

    Reply
  • 23rd June 2021 at 3:43 pm
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    Excellent post. Very informative, especially the detailed version comparisons.

    I have four of these Argon One M.2 cases. They really are the best Pi4 cases you can get for overclocking. I run my Pi 4 units at 2.35GHz CPU and 950 MHz GPU. No thermal throttling or over heating issues with these cases.

    Are you able to run the TRIM command (e.g. “sudo fstrim -v /”) with the new ASMedia ASM235CM bridge controller? My ASM1153E controller wasn’t able to do fstrim out of the box. I had to flash the firmware first.

    Reply
    • 23rd June 2021 at 4:15 pm
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      Hi thanks for the feedback. I’ve checked and sudo fstrim -v / doesn’t work, it returns: fstrim: /: the discard operation is not supported

      However, following Jeff’s guide for enabling trim mode worked.

      Reply
  • 23rd June 2021 at 9:09 pm
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    Thank you so much for this information. I just sent an email to Argon40 customer support asking about replacing my case. I just confirmed my case is using the V1.3 board. This finally explains why my WiFi cuts out all the time. All this time I figured I had a bad WiFi chip and downloaded the lastest firmware for that particular broadcom contorller. But if I get an updated case I won’t need to update the firmware.

    Reply
  • 1st July 2021 at 9:44 am
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    Free reading this and having inky just bought a case that has a v1.6 board I reached out to Argon. They’ve said that it shouldn’t stop the wifi to the point of being unusable. They’ve asked me to confirm and then they want me to return the board for testing to HK and only if the see an issue with this specific board will they replace it. I think this is pretty awful given your article seems to say that they are aware of a design flaw. Had you actually received a replacement from them or am I reading too much into your early paragraphs?

    Reply
    • 1st July 2021 at 9:58 am
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      Steve,
      The Argon40 team are sort of correct, it doesn’t stop WiFi working completely, though it did for me on 2.4GHz even when within just a couple of metres of the access point. Using 5GHz WiFi the WiFi appeared to be fine on the v1.6 boards. So if you have 5GHz WiFi this case may be fine. Though sometimes the Pi needs some encouragement to use 5GHz by setting the bssid in the wpa_suplicant.conf file. The bssid represents a specific address on the access point for a given SSID and Radio channel:

      network={
        bssid=01:23:45:67:89:ab
        psk="MYPASSWORD"
      }

      The Argon40 team are definitely aware of the issue and confirmed to me that customers should contact the customer service address if they have issues, maybe you need to point them to my blog, if that doesn’t work let me know and I’ll see what I can do to help.
      I do have the updated board, as pictured and tested in this post. It was provided to me by Argon40 after I raised issues in my previous review of the M.2 case I purchased.

      Reply
      • 3rd July 2021 at 10:43 am
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        That’s kind but the store I bought it from were a lot more understanding and swapped it for a known v2.2 board. However there are clearly earlier boards still in stock and I wouldn’t want anyone else to have the same issue I had so if you do have the ability to raise this with Argon maybe that will help my aim to help others.

        For reference here is the email reply I received from Argon.

        “I’m sorry to hear that you’re experiencing WiFi issues when using the Argon ONE M.2 case.

        Being an aluminum enclosure, the WiFi signal will indeed be affected but not to the point that it will be unusable so we kindly ask that you check both 2.4g and 5g connections and do let us know if it’s the same result.

        If you’ve already tried both frequency, our team will be happy to check the M.2 Board that you have for further testing.

        Should you proceed, we’ll be assigning you to case number AR1M2-070121-007.

        You may ship the Argon ONE M.2 Expansion board to the Address below:

        Joseph Li
        A1, Unit 5, 3/F,
        Hang Fung Industrial Building Phase I,
        2G Hok Yuen Street,
        Hung Hom, Kowloon, Hong Kong

        Also, please include a piece paper inside the package containing the case number as well as the issue encountered so that our team will have immediate reference.

        Once shipped, kindly let us know the tracking number as well.

        Our team will then evaluate the unit and base on their findings, we’ll either resend the original M.2 Board if they confirm that there aren’t any issues or send a newer version if the issue is confirmed.

        If you have any other questions or clarifications, please don’t hesitate to ask.

        Best,
        Francis”

        Reply
        • 3rd July 2021 at 12:12 pm
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          Glad you were able to get a v2.2 board. There are going to be older versions out in the channel, as I noted it didn’t appear that these had been recalled, instead, Argon40 look to be trying to deal with it on a case by case basis. I hope this blog and your experience with your supplier will also help others if they have the same issues.

          Reply
  • 24th September 2021 at 2:26 pm
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    Very interesting article. Thank you. I just bought the expansion board from Amazon and I suddenly ran in the issue described here. I then found this post but when checked the version of my board I saw that, surprisingly, it is the v2.2. I have no clue then at this point. In my case, it is clear enough that WiFi stops working the very moment I push in the USB bridge. I setup the raspi to boot from SD. As long as the board where I mounted a Kingston A400 120GB SSD is disconnected, WiFi is working like a charm. The very moment I plug the USB bridge, WiFi disconnects and re-connects again the moment I un-plug the bridge. That’s really weird.

    Reply
    • 24th September 2021 at 2:44 pm
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      If you can’t use a 5GHz WiFi Channel, you may want to try switching 2.4GHz channels and see if that makes any difference.

      Reply
      • 30th September 2021 at 4:16 pm
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        Thank you for your comment. I can not use 5GHz WiFi channel and I can not actually switch to another 2.4.GHz channel. Anyway I have an update. I accidentally touched the USB bridge and WiFi was able to connect! I could not believe it. I could swear that USB was well plugged and indeed I just touched it just to check if it was ok. So apparently this was related to some issue with USB connector, not exactly clear what anyway, but as a matter of fact it is now all working fine.

        Reply
  • 11th November 2021 at 11:01 am
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    Thanks for the info Martin.
    I’ve just purhcased a new case with the updated board. WiFi is fine, but I am having a problem getting the Pi 4 to recognise the SSD. I wondered if you had any ideas.
    If the SSD (WD Green M.2 2280) is connected using the external dual-USB connector when the Pi is switched on I see loads of dmesg errors of the form
    [ 15.094538] usb usb2-port2: Cannot enable. Maybe the USB cable is bad?
    [ 19.434494] usb usb2-port2: Cannot enable. Maybe the USB cable is bad?
    [ 19.434691] usb usb2-port2: unable to enumerate USB device
    [ 23.754572] usb usb2-port2: Cannot enable. Maybe the USB cable is bad?
    [ 28.304621] usb usb2-port2: Cannot enable. Maybe the USB cable is bad?
    [ 32.664547] usb usb2-port2: Cannot enable. Maybe the USB cable is bad?
    [ 32.664909] usb usb2-port2: attempt power cycle

    If I unplug and re-insert the connector, the SSD appears as sdb

    [ 134.706489] usb 2-2: new SuperSpeed Gen 1 USB device number 26 using xhci_hcd
    [ 134.737403] usb 2-2: New USB device found, idVendor=174c, idProduct=55aa, bcdDevice= 1.00
    [ 134.737425] usb 2-2: New USB device strings: Mfr=2, Product=3, SerialNumber=1
    [ 134.737443] usb 2-2: Product: Forty
    [ 134.737461] usb 2-2: Manufacturer: Argon
    [ 134.737478] usb 2-2: SerialNumber: 0000000000E3
    [ 134.859465] scsi host1: uas
    [ 134.860292] scsi 1:0:0:0: Direct-Access Argon Forty 0 PQ: 0 ANSI: 6
    [ 134.861321] sd 1:0:0:0: Attached scsi generic sg1 type 0
    [ 134.866817] sd 1:0:0:0: [sdb] 468862128 512-byte logical blocks: (240 GB/224 GiB)
    [ 134.866984] sd 1:0:0:0: [sdb] Write Protect is off
    [ 134.866992] sd 1:0:0:0: [sdb] Mode Sense: 43 00 00 00
    [ 134.867214] sd 1:0:0:0: [sdb] Write cache: enabled, read cache: enabled, doesn’t support DPO or FUA
    [ 134.867727] sd 1:0:0:0: [sdb] Optimal transfer size 33553920 bytes
    [ 134.928455] sdb: sdb1 sdb2
    [ 134.930228] sd 1:0:0:0: [sdb] Attached SCSI disk

    However, the Pi won’t boot from SSD.

    I’ve emailed Argon and am awaiting a response.
    Any clues?
    Gareth

    Reply
    • 11th November 2021 at 11:53 am
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      Hi Gareth, I can’t provide a definitive answer. Things to check:

      • Is the OS and bootloader up to date? Running sudo apt update && sudo apt upgrade
      • Check the bootloader version: vcgencmd bootloader_version – Should be dated Sep 3 2020
      • Not sure how you’ve installed the OS onto the SSD. If you followed my guide, and left new partition GUIDs unchecked, then the SD card and SSD have the same GUID, and you definitely need to remove the SD card before booting.
      • Also check your boot order. Run sudo raspi-config Select Advanced Options and select option B2 to boot from USB if available, then fallback to SD-Card

      I hope this helps.

      Reply

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