CoolerMaster Pi Case 40

CoolerMaster Pi Case 40 - A case of buyer beware.

CoolerMaster Pi Case 40

CoolerMaster, a company known and loved by many computer users worldwide has come up with a brand new product called the Pi Case 40. They enthusiastically released this on Kickstarter first, which seems to be more and more common for large companies these days. When I first saw it, I was extremely excited to pick one up. In fact, I was backer number 437 on the project. At first, everything looked amazing. Then reality hit.

The campaign started on July 15th 2020 and promised a shipping time of "September 2020". I can tell you now, it's currently December 11th, and I have yet to recieve any product but more on that later. The updates from the CM started quickly, and were coming out frequently. They were quite positive in the beginning, givng updates to the status of the project, as well as a few stretch goals.

Campaign Shipping

The updates were extremely positive in the beginning. The replies to the updates were also extremely positive. People were extremely excited about the case. A well known company making a case for the Raspberry Pi? Awesome! What's not to like? Well it turns out a lot.

The campaign ended on August 20, 2020. CoolerMaster had smashed their goals, and raised  €314,082 from 5,468 backers. This was a smashing success for CM. They were extremely excited by what they were able to accomplish and immediately sent an update saying they just needed the surveys and would start shipping. Things were on track! Or so we were told.

The first post campaign update

CoolerMaster QC

The first update post campaign came out on August 27th 2020 and showed CoolerMaster doing QC checks on the cases prior to shipping them out, a video review by a third party, updates on the custom software they are making for the case and of course, a reminder to make sure you paid. They have to get their money before they ship after all. They also provided a new updated shipping schedule.

September 15h would be the shipping date (give or take) but that's certainly within the timeframe they had given for shipping. Things at this point still looked extremely good with the entire campaign. The case looked awesome, got a great third party review and things were moving as they should.

On Septermber 9th, they provided another update. This one stating things are on track for the previous update and time frames, as well as them putting up a shiny new pre-order button. They also stated their engineers were working on the promised 3d printable add-on bases:

Our main engineer for the project is now working on the CAD drawings of the following alternative bottom panels/add-on designs.

  • M.2 (m) NVMe drives support over USB3.0
  • 2.5" drives support over USB3.0
  • DIN mounting, 1.4" tripod mounting and velcro straps on bottom panel

The process officially started on the 1st of September, we scheduled 3 weeks to:

  • find the correct vendor to work with for the M.2-USB3 and SATA-USB3 electronics
  • finalize ID
  • finalize mechanical design (including correct measurement for the electronics, when needed)

Finally they stated at that time the surveys would be sent out on Monday, September 7th.

Yay a shiny purple button to give them more money!

First signs of trouble

The promised date of September 7th came and went and most people hadn't received their surveys. I wasn't too worried at that time, as these things happen. There are delays in any project and it's just the surveys. On September 10th, Matteo provided an update stating they were changing some items on the surveys to make things more consistent with users that had purchased extras.

Here is a breakdown of the changes we are applying to the survey:

  • improved shipping and billing information collection
  • improved navigation of the survey for backers with product variant in the reward
  • additional guidelines for the correct survey completion (avoid overloading of CM support team)
  • additional info on how optional add-ons affect the total amount
  • improved add-ons selection section
  • reworked shipping costs calculation
  • reworked SKUs definition for easier fulfillment management with external warehouses

It was at this point there was some talk in the comments from backers that were becoming nervous of the timelines. They stated the product would be shipping on the 14th, yet the surveys wouldn't be out until the 12th. That certainly isn't enough time to check all of the surveys and ship the product in time. That said, this is a Kickstarter project, and delays happen.

Let the lies begin

The next update was provided on September 12th 2020, and boy was this a doozy.

They started with instructions on how to add items through backerkit, just in case you wanted to send them more money that you had initially. The next part was an explanation about them having issues with the complexities of having multiple power supplies in backerkit (completely backerkits fault according to CM of course).

The next part of the update was a bit of a shock to me. They explained that shipping costs were suddenly higher than expected. They stated the free shipping option was only for certain backers, and that people could not switch their pledge as it was too late

This of course upset quite a few backers. Being told initially the shipping was included, or at a certain price and was now changed, is not the way to do things. You would think CM would know better. Then they dropped this bombshell:

Can I get a refund?

It is BackerKit's policy not to allow refunds to Kickstarter pledges after the campaign has ended, or preorders after they have been charged and Kickstarter itself does not issue refunds.

Any uncharged preorders or failed payment pledges on BackerKit, we will cancel at the backer's request, no questions asked.

Let's just look and see if I can verify that claim. Here is what BackerKit says:

If a backer asks for a refund, you can refund only additional purchases made through BackerKit. If the backer wants a refund for their campaign pledge, you must process the refund through your crowdfunding site.

Okay so it would have to go through Kickstarter instead. I guess that's why they can't provide a refund. Let's see what Kickstarter says:

To provide one of your backers with a refund, please follow these steps:

  • Head to your Backer Report from the Creator Tools menu
  • Search and click on the individual backer's name
  • Select "Issue a refund"
  • Fill out your personal credit card information (i.e. the card you’re issuing the refund from)
  • Enter the amount for a full or partial refund

If you issue a refund within 14 days of your funding deadline, all fees will be refunded.

So that was a lie. Kickstarter and Backerkit can both provide refunds. In fact both give easy instructions for doing so. This was just the start of their lies.

Another update was posted on September 16, 2020 stating they were still on time for delivery schedule. They even provided a nice new image for proof.

Good thing they are still on time!

On September 18th 2020 they provided an update stating they were "shipping now" and already sent to the fulfillment centers:

Should be here soon!

Needless to say, by this point people were getting restless. There had been many delays up to this point.

The next update was provided on September 30th 2020. They stated that pledges could not be refunded (this is the second time they claimed this even though they were proven wrong previously), they then went on to talk about the production itself in an apparent attempt to justify the delays.

All the material related to the production of Pi Case 40 has been stocked on September 3rd. The production line went live on September 7th and the order placed included both the units sold during the campaign and a forecasted buffer (allowing to have Pi Case 40 as an add-on in BackerKit. In total 6799 Pi Case 40 were ordered during the campaign and post-campaign activities. So far around 4200pcs out of 6799 have been produced with a steady output of around 250units per day.

Corona measures in China have affected the daily output of the factory, but there is no impact on the fulfillment schedule. Also, the Chinese Golden week will not impact fulfillment as production is scheduled to end concurrently to the arrival of goods from other 3rd party vendors

Not sure how any of this has any justification as they stated previously everything was already at the fulfillment centers, but it is what it is. There was also the usual fluff we've come to expect from this campaign. Updates on the github repo set up for the overclocking software. It was in the comments that things got interesting.

Pi Case 40's show up in stores?

One of the backers in the comments noticed the Pi Case 40 was already showing as available in HongKong. They posted in the comments asking about it.

I decided at that point to complain on their facebook page publicly, since all the updates and comments are private on Kickstarter. I found that someone else had already complained about sellers in HK getting the cases prior to backers (which is against Kickstarter's terms of service). This was their shocking reply:

Hello, this event is a group purchase and it is also an agent of Ramboxs to provide additional discounts. So the quantity is limited 🙏🏻

To be honest, the nature is different from kickstarter 🙏🏻🙏🏻

🙏🏻🙏🏻 Can only say that Hong Kong users are blessed this time

Yes, that was their actual reply on Facebook to their backers that made this possible. Can only say that Hong Kong users are blessed at this time. That's the most condescending line I had seen from a company in a long time. Little did I know, it was just going to get worse from here.

The lies get worse and the blame game begins

A full month went by between that update and the next one. People were becoming livid. Especially since more and more of these cases started popping up in more and more stores for sale, with delivery dates well before anyone had received theirs from Kickstarter.

On October 22, a full month past the promised shipment date, CoolerMaster once again graced us with an update on the campaign and boy was this one a doozy. I'll provide snippets below, however the full update can be seen in a screenshot hosted here (this is a 1mb image  so it's not posted directly on the blog): https://static.taubin.cc/2020-12-11/Screenshot_2020-12-11_update17_14.jpg

I'll break down some if it here. First they blame a second Covid lockdown for shipping delays. Those same shipments they had previously stated were completed

This, as it happened immediately after the conclusion of the Golden Week celebrations in China, which stopped production and exports from our factory from the 3rd to the 13th of October, did not allow us to resume fulfillment as efficiently as initially planned.

They then stated they will update twice a week from here on out. Obviously a month with no communication after previously promising bi-weekly updates, was not okay. But they had promised it again so it's all good right?

From now on we will strive to release at least two updates per week, following a tighter schedule, and keep you all updated on all major and sub-events concerning fulfillment, cargo restrictions, and our plans to keep the schedule intact despite the reduced logistics resources.

They then change the shipment date again:

The current target date for starting shipping out the individual rewards (from the regional fulfillment centers to our backers) is around the 15th of November. We are committed to promptly communicate to all our backers whether working restrictions in the various regions imposed for COVID19slow the process down further.

There was then this update about the cases showing up in various places for sale, with prices that were cheaper and delivery dates that were sooner.

Pi Case 40 available in the Chinese/HongKong retail market?

First of all, we want to thank every backer who contacted us directly to inform us of the alleged presence of Pi Case 40 units on the Chinese and Hong Kong market, your promptness has allowed us to investigate the situation directly with the sales team in China.

Please be noted:

We have several requests from our partner distributors to bring Pi Case 40 to various regions that do not have access to Kickstarter, including the China region, and we are working to meet these requests, but only after all units are shipped out to our backers.

There are no existing Pi Case 40 other than those produced (and still in production) for the Kickstarter backers and media. The first units to go out of production ARE ONLY FOR OUR BACKERS.

Our backers and media partners are the only ones with access to Pi Case 40s.

We cannot stop shops and/or distributors from riding the hype for Pi Case 40 by claiming to offer prices below the official MSRP (24,99$, 24,99€, 199HKD, etc..) or not inclusive of trade and export taxes or have stock available to them to sell.

Hence,we strongly encourage any backer to consider only official information from the global and local Cooler Master offices regarding the pricing and availabilityof any of our products.

Uh right, so there's.... something? A lot of words to not say a lot here.

Who needs GPIO pins anyways?

It was also about this time that Tom's Hardware released a review of the Pi Case 40. In that review, they reveal that the GPIO pinout is not standard.

The flap which covers the GPIO port gets in the way and makes reading the GPIO pinout labels quite difficult and this leads on to another issue. The GPIO breakout on the Pi Case 40 has been switched around.

This means the multitude of Raspberry Pi addons that are available will not work with the case. As you can imagine this is an extreme issue for those of us that purchased the Pi Case 40 to use with, well literally anything that uses those ports. This certainly had to be a mistake right? After all they provided access to the pins, and there is a standard layout for a reason.

The next update was provided on the 28th of August 2020. This had more of the same fluff that the previous updates had in relation to shipments. They stated they were selecting packaging now for shipments.

We are now selecting the boxes and envelopes our fulfillment partner is going to use for dispatching all the goods (51 different packaging types in total) and we are training their workers for the pick&pack process.

That's right. All the previous updates that claimed the shipments were happening or ready, were lies. They hadn't even picked packaging for them yet. Nearly every comment at this time, was asking for an update on the GPIO issue. This goes to show how serious this issue is for people that purchased the case.

Next update came November 1st 2020. This entire update was about orders being locked and things starting to be shipped to the fulfillment centers (you can't make this up).

Once the process is finished and the goods are in the fulfillment centers you will receive a mail from our logistics service of choice, EasyShip. The mail will contain the packing slip and the tracking number for your goods, including an overview of the import duties paid in case you need to unlock your goods at customs.

Comments are again filled with people asking for clarification on the GPIO pins. CoolerMaster still has not replied to any of them either in comments or in an update. People are getting more upset.

Next update is November 6th 2020. This is entirely about shipment updates again. The entire update is below:

Hello Backers!

Slowly but steadily the schedule is moving forward, as planned ;)

Today we are happy to announce that all Raspberry Pi boards and MS110 peripheral sets have been successfully imported at the US, UK, and HK borders and are on their way to the fulfillment centers.

The cargo dates for Pi Case 40 and the Power supplies, coming from our factory in China, are still intact (see update #14) and, although shipping costs have been increasing due to the current air-freight restrictions, we confirm that there won't be any additional shipping charges for our backers despite the current situation.

Cooler Master still keeps intact its promise of shipping out everything with DDP and cover any additional shipping costs for our backers.

(Here is an overview of the countries currently facing air-freight restrictions)

The target date for starting shipping out the individual rewards (from the regional fulfillment centers to our backers) remains around the 15th of November. We are committed to promptly communicate to all our backers whether working restrictions in the various regions, imposed for COVID19, affect fulfillment.

That's the entire update. Nothing about GPIO pins yet again. And yet another shipping date. In the comments they were called out on their "moving forward as planned" update. This was their response:

Fulfillment started in September, as planned.

The fulfillment of the campaign includes FINALIZING THE ORDERS, PRODUCING THE ACTUAL GOODS, creating an ad-hoc logistic structure and so on....

How can we ship to you a product that still needs to be produced?

Please, be patient, it is a long process and it was not easy for either our small team and our workers in China, especially considering that the entire project was run right in the middle of COVID19.

We are almost at the finish line, thank you for understanding.

That's their emphasis not mine. That's right they are blaming the backers for not understanding how things work, when it was them that had provided conflicting updates and not sticking to their own schedule.

A GPIO Update... Finally...

On November 12, 2020 CoolerMaster finally gave us an update on the GPIO in an update. Sadly it was not what anyone was hoping for.

About GPIO layout on PI Case 40:

Pi Case 40 is designed for the On-The-Go Raspberry Pi users searching for a reliable, durable, and compact solution that suits their nomad lifestyle.

The focus is on Thermal Performance, Durability, and Portability while keeping full access to the board's connectors.

Please note that Pi Case 40 is not meant to be used together with HATS and other accessories that require connection to (or part of) the standard GPIO of the Raspberry Pi 4.

This, together with our plans on developing a new top panel with full hats compatibility, has been shared and communicated multiple times.

Although Pi Case 40 maintains all the standard Raspberry Pi 4 GPIO pins, the layout is not the same as on a Raspberry Pi 4.

That's right, it's suddenly meant to be nomadic and not compatible with hats. Or cables. Or really anything else. This was never communicated on Kickstarter or their website, or anywhere else for that matter. It wasn't until a review unit was sent out and the reviewers found the non-standard layout that people even knew about it. When questioned, CoolerMaster stayed completely silent about it until it was seemingly too late.

In the comments on this update however, someone pointed out that buried in another comment, CoolerMaster had replied about the GPIO pinout. A user had asked

Is it just me, or is the GPIO diagram wrong in the picture of it? Looks like the two rows are switched. Pin 1 should be on the top row and pin 2 on the bottom one right?

This was the official reply from CoolerMaster at that time:

it is :D the final version of the product will have the correct labeling

So they had lied again. This for many was the final straw. The comments are now starting to be filled with comments about doing a charge-back for this project. Something they are well within their rights to do at this point. Between the delays, the lies and changing the product after it was purchased but before it was shipped (the GPIO pinout) it is justified.

When all else fails, blame the backers

CoolerMaster once again graced us with their presence on November 26th 2020. This time they provided more updates on the status of things. First they decided to tell us it's our fault these cases are available to non-kickstarters first.

Regarding the current miscommunication of retail availability, this is a direct result of an error in estimation between our Kickstarter team (Cooler Master’s experimental arm) and our corporate sales channels.

Our original goal was to raise $9,000—we’ve obliterated that number and have obliterated our projected logistics along with that. Cooler Master is a company that encourages innovation inside and out; so, if a small 7-person team provides concrete plans to run a project like this, we do so with only the immediate resources we have. Our plans were solid for the original goal and an estimate to send out develop a niche project with a low number of units, focusing on creating a base for a potential future product line. However, since overwhelmingly surpassing that, we’ve struggled with fulfilling as quickly as originally planned the sheer quantity we are responsible for. We sincerely apologize for the delays and are working tirelessly to provide a solution.

The presence of units currently in the market are available because those channels are long-standing relations that run more efficiently than our small team of Pi enthusiasts—we kicked off this project as separate entities, not yet sure if this was going to be mass-produced. With the validation of this campaign, cogs in our sales channels activated and the process of launching a bona fide product kicked in like clockwork.

The timing of our established sales channels proved to be much faster than our Kickstarter team anticipated. Our conventional funnel to get products to market is separate from our process of getting this product to our backers. Though the logistics of this project has been severely disrupted, our immediate concern is this community. We are doing everything we can to get the Pi Case to you as quickly as possible. The good news is that the success of Kickstarter has now given our team much-needed resources to get your product, to you. We’re working alongside our channel to clear up communications and streamline the logistics process.

So they backpedaled on saying it wasn't available outside of Kickstarter before products had shipped to us. We'll chalk that up as another lie told by CoolerMaster here. They then gave us an "update" on the GPIO issue.

Product Design: Kickstarter & Retail

The Kickstarter Pi Case has always been targeted to a nomad audience. The original design is intended for portability and durability, hence support for add-on boards is not the focus of this version; however, we fully intend to evolve this project alongside the community in future iterations. As for each milestone of this campaign we are eager for constructive feedback.

They are literally blaming the buyers for "not understanding" that this was meant to be a "nomadic" product. Even though all of their marketing showed it as being used attached to walls, on the backs of monitors, etc. Never once before this, did they mention the word nomad or state this was meant to be a movable product with no actual connections to the GPIO pins. People were furious to say the least. The talk of doing charge-backs started to get louder and louder. It's obvious at this point that CoolerMaster has failed on multiple levels. Multiple people also commented they haven't recieved any updates to their shipping.

The next update came through on December 4th 2020. Let's break it down.

Dear Backers,

All confirmed orders have been shipped. Backers who have not received a tracking number, please be sure to check your spam folder thoroughly. For those that used multiple accounts for multiple orders, you will receive a single tracking number through email for orders sharing one address. To track your orders, there may be couriers requiring the use of an app. If the app is not accessible to your region, refer to the tracking email from EasyShip; you may also directly contact the courier for further information through EasyShip.

With various regions experiencing a surge in COVID cases, note that some orders may be labeled as “waiting for courier” as there is an immense shortage of workers delivering to private residences. Thank you for your understanding.

The claim is now that all orders have been shipped. This should be great news!

They then go on to talk about Covid related delays (again). That would be possibly viable if anyone had actually received any form of tracking or updates on when things had actually shipped.

The update concludes:

Microsite Update:

The microsite will go live around the end of January. Though our team is working diligently to reach this target date for the microsite, please understand that our main priority is to overcome the current logistics issues. We strongly invite all backers to reach out to the support team before requesting refunds of orders that are still being processed. Those that have forgotten to fill in their shipping information in the post-campaign survey will be able to reschedule a custom delivery via the microsite. Backers will also be able to cancel an unused pledge, and obtain a full refund for unconfirmed orders (not including Kickstarter and Payment Gateway's fees, ~8% of order cost). Credit card cancellations are not recommended as the payment gateway is connected to fulfillment platforms and order processing procedures; cancellations may incur complications for various parties.

The Kickstarter team has been relentlessly working toward solutions regarding all of the above stated. We would like to thank you, once again, for your understanding. Being a part of the Kickstarter experience has been humbling; from our backers, to our partners, and the entire community of other innovators, we greatly appreciate this opportunity.

It's extremely obvious at this point that multiple people are requesting refunds either through CoolerMaster, Kickstarter or their banks. This particular update came with a flurry of comments (248 as of the time of writing this). Most of them extremely upset about the lies and talking about doing charge-backs. In fact, at this point CoolerMaster replied in the comments:

I'm sorry what? Automatically flagged as fraudulent? That's not how any of this works. Numerous people commented in reply to that to state they are wrong and should not be threatening backers. This obviously struck a nerve though as we'll see.

Just run all over consumer rights and lie about them

That brings us to the latest update, posted just today. Full image of the update is here, but I'll break this one down too, because it's extremely juicy.

We sincerely apologize for communication errors.

As many of you have noted in the comments, there are issues and inconsistencies with tracking numbers.

It appears that some backers actually received their Pi Case 40 without ever being sent a tracking number. Others are now receiving their tracking numbers, which should have been sent by EasyShip at the end of November.

As soon as the comments started coming in, we contacted EasyShip immediately as we were concerned that some deliveries could be made without a person present at the time of acceptance, and the potential need for couriers to contact the recipient when additional information was needed to finalize the delivery or import.

We have been made aware of a technical difficulty where tracking numbers were not automatically generated and sent when the shipping labels were created. This may have been due to an overload of requests in the system.

EasyShip immediately instructed their team to individually resend the tracking numbers for all orders while they worked on implementing a solution.

We encourage anyone who has not yet received their tracking number to check for it in the mail folder of the email used to finalize the order and contact us if the tracking has not yet arrived. On the delivery label details our backers can have the confirmation of all the dates regarding the creation of the delivery, label, packaging preparation, pick up, processing and so on.

They have once again put the blame on everyone but themselves for the delays in shipping. They also blame their shipment company for not providing shipment updates. Here's the thing though, EasyShip is literally just software, they don't handle the packages at all. It's just a way to print labels and ship things out yourself. So this blame actually lays with CoolerMaster again.

They then provide regional updates on shipping which I'll skip as it's completely irrelevant at this point.

Here comes the first juicy bit:

GPIO / HATS Discussion

As stated in previous updates, HATS compatibility was not the intent of this product; the intent is to provide a rugged, portable Pi enclosure that features enhanced thermal performance for the Raspberry Pi. The Pi Case 40 literally "kickstarts" a project that will evolve over time, with the input of backers and community, to fuel a tooling investment in a modular design. Although the Pi Case 40, in particular, is not HATS-compatible, we have the feedback needed to explore the investing in future iterations where HATs compatibility can be a focus in future alternative versions (Pi Case 41, Pi Case 42, etc...). If the Pi Case 40 project prioritized HATS compatibility, we would not have the thermal/thermal features we have today; it would be a completely different project. However, the comments are overwhelmingly in favor of a different version of the Pi Case, something we will explore as this project comes to a close. It is also important to emphasize that warranty guidelines do not cover issues arising from the use of HATs perpendicularly to the board via adapters, by neither Cooler Master nor Raspberry Pi nor the manufacturer of the HAT(s). Thank you for the valuable feedback we have received so far and for the time you have invested in voicing your thoughts.

The thing is, not only did they never mention any of this on their kickstarter or website, they even stated it would be fixed prior to shipping. They are once again blaming the customer for "not understanding". It even says this on the website

Easy-access Ports

All ports are quickly accessible thanks to a no-interference design. The GPIO ports are rotated 90 degrees and accessible via the side flap in the TPU bumper. A slit in the TPU bumper allows both Display and Camera cables to be routed outside the enclosure

Have a look yourself: https://web.archive.org/web/20201210071340/https%3A%2F%2Fwww.coolermaster.com%2Fcatalog%2Fcases%2Fraspberry-pi%2Fpi-case-40%2F

It even lists this under access to IO:

Access to I/OSide I/O, GPIO, Display, SD Card, Camera

Now to trample on consumer rights some more

Now here comes the real kicker. This is the final part to their update:

REFUNDS:

We have been notified by Stripe of some automatically declined chargeback attempts. Again, we would like to remind you that the processing, shipping, and delivery status of each order is available to the payment processing service in order to offer automation of the acceptance/rejection of chargeback requests. Cooler Master invites all backers to follow the guidelines for a proper support/chargeback request in a legal way by using the dedicated platform, currently under development, on our website coolermaster.com and which will be shared via Kickstarter update as soon as it is finalized. We also urge you to be very cautious about committing actions that may be branded as potentially fraudulent.

We remind everyone that the fulfillment of the campaign (started August/September), is inclusive of:

  • acquisition of materials
  • creation of contracts with production and logistics partners
  • preparation of the assembly line and start of goods production with DFM finalization
  • CE DoC / CE SDoC certification for the product
  • finalization of packaging materials and logistics simulations
  • goods transfer and import in the 3 focus regions
  • setup of guidelines for order management in third party warehouses
  • finalization of courier list and supervision for correct distribution

Having done chargebacks for products not received/not being what they claimed to be in the past, this is an outright lie. There is no "automatic decline" of charge-backs. They are investigated by your bank and determined to be valid or not. It's not up to the company to decide and they don't get to just claim something is fraud. It's investigated and they are given a chance to prove it's fraud, however in this case the chances are that happening are pretty much nil.

Needless to say this entire thing has turned me off to CoolerMaster. I will never purchase another product from them again, and recommend no one else does either. The trampling on peoples rights, threats and lies are all inexcusable. Now if you'll excuse me, I'll be contacting my bank to do a charge-back.