I bought a case for my Pi very early on. It seemed sensible: I don’t keep the Pi permanently plugged in, so it’ll always get plenty of handling – not something you want to subject on a naked board to. I got a cheap one – the SB Components case, covered below – but have since begun to wonder whether I needed something better: a case that’s most suited to regular opening and closing while I slip on and off various GPIO add-ons.
This drew me to the bolt-together Pibow. But while it’s undoubtedly a stylish case – possibly the most stylish; it was created by the designer of the Pi logo – but I’m not convinced it’s the most practical of its kind.
I picked the clear version, called the Crystal, but the principle behind all incarnations of the Pibow is the same: bolt together nine slices of laser-cut perspex. Each slice is numbered so you won’t get them out of order, and they’re cut to leave space for the Pi’s components yet still provide an internal structure. This is no mere box.
Four nylon bolts at the corners hold it all together. I was drawn to the Pibow for that reason: it struck me that it would be easier to open it up than clip-together cases are, which would be handy when taking off the lid to fit a Pi-Face add-on card or a set of GPIO cables.
In fact, doing and undoing the bolts isn’t as convenient as you think. The nuts are small and require a tool to tighten and loosen them again.
I also found that my board didn’t fit as well as it should, so it’s ever so slightly curved up at the SD end. That said, all the Pi’s ports match up perfectly with the gaps left for them. However, the Pi’s two mounting holes aren’t nicely aligned with the spaces left for them in the base of the case.
Each slice comes with one side covered in protective film. This is easy to remove, but the other side of the top and bottom slices – the base and the lid, essentially – had scuff marks which made the case less attractive. This would be less obvious, I suspect, with one of the opaque Pibows.
With hindsight, I should have chosen one of the coloured ones – clear looks a little cheap and home-made. Pibow maker Pimoroni offers a range of coloured Micro USB and HDMI cables to match.
The Pibow a very nice-looking Pi case, but one to consider if you expect to keep your Pi clad full time and unconnected at the GPIO end to anything more than a ribbon extension cable. It’s not as convenient for constant opening and closing as you might think.
So it’s back to my original Pi cover, a SB Components’ protective case. It’s made of thinner plastic than the Pibow and so smaller overall.
Like the Pibow, the SB case is marked with port function indicators, but they’re not printed and, on darker cases, so hard to see as to be effectively invisible. Of course, any self-respecting Pi fan should know what all the bits are already.
Aesthetically, the SB case is a little challenged. Cut to the size of the Pi’s board, it has to extend to cope with the USB ports, which jut out somewhat. It has a set of clear plastic tubes to feed light up from the Pi’s LEDs, but the ones on my case are bent slightly so this doesn’t work as well as it should.
The board is held down with a set on interior bulges which make getting it in and out tricky, but holds the Pi securely. Four simple catches hold the lid on tight. All the Pi’s ports align well with the holes made in the case for them, and there’s a fair bit of space around the GPIO pins to allow you to feed in a ribbon cable or individual female connectors using your fingers – but not add-on boards, at least not without a separate pin extender.
You can unclip the lid to add larger devices to the GPIO pins. While this is easy to do, I’m not sure how long the tiny clips that hold down the lid will last before they wear down.
SB has provided vent slots on the base of the case, and to cross-shaped holes for attaching the case to another device like the back of a monitor.
Another advantage over the Pibow: the SB case is only just over a fiver, compared to £13 for the fancier offering. For me, the flexibility of the SB case wins over the aesthetics and the Pibow. But, hey, who says I have to keep my Pi in the same case from now on?