Lian Li PC-A58 Case

hardnrg - 2007-08-06 17:28:34 in Cases
Category: Cases
Reviewed by: hardnrg   
Reviewed on: September 6, 2007
Lian Li
Lian Li
Price: (TBA)

Introduction:

Lian Li almost needs no introduction, familiar to the computer enthusiasts and lovers of high quality engineering. The company is best known for its aluminum cases and has been around since 1983, producing desktop and server cases, along with case accessories, such as removable hard-drive caddies. More recently, Lian Li has even extended its product range to include aluminum desks!

Well, back to the cases, of which the minimal styling often sparks debate over whether the aesthetic qualities are simplistic perfection or a lack of imagination. Whatever your opinion, it is very hard to dispute the quality of machining and construction of Lian Li's cases.

The casual user may not be familiar with the name, maybe due to the fact that the majority of people go for a cheap case for budget reasons, or maybe because many people do not realize the benefits of good case design and construction.

Lian Li is looking to target the "normal user" with the PC-A58 case, with the enticing promises of "low range cost" and "high value" for the budget-conscious, while maintaining the "exquisite design" that one expects from such a long-standing case manufacturer. The last case I remember Lian Li announcing was the controversial Anniversary Edition PC-777, so I was eager to see what it had to offer in the PC-A58.

 

Closer Look:

An almost plain brown box, devoid of any glossy or garish retail packaging arrived at my door and I smiled at its understated design. Lian Li doesn't have to blow its own trumpet as its cases sell themselves.

 

Opening up the box reveals the usual top and bottom polystyrene end caps over a blue translucent plastic sheet wrapped around the case. A couple of sheets of paper can be seen inside this sheeting.

 

 

One of the sheets of paper is Lian Li promoting its aluminum desk range and other products. The other sheet of paper is the installation guide. As you can see, it is well illustrated and explains the main features and methods of removing panels and installing hard drives.

 

 

The front of the case is instantly recognizable as Lian Li, with the distinct brushed aluminum of the entire front bezel and drive bay blanking covers. Most case manufacturers opt for a plastic or steel bezel with plastic blanks. With this case, only the power and reset buttons are plastic.

 

Moving round to the back of the case and straight away you see something very strange. The PSU is situated over the motherboard I/O plate rather than at the top of the case. Is this a Micro-ATX case then? No! It's a small ATX case! The PSU has a removable mounting plate with knurled thumb-screws for easier PSU installation and removal.

 

The side panels also have the same knurled thumb-screws. The left panel is perforated towards the rear, with one section towards the top for PSU intake, and one section towards the bottom for ventilation for graphics cards and other expansion cards. The right panel is totally plain.

 

 

The top of the case has two features I didn't expect to see on a Lian Li case. A USB/audio/Firewire access panel, and slits to allow ventilation by way of the top-mounted fan.

 

So that's about it for the outside, time to take a look inside!

Closer Look:

To take the side panel off, you undo the two thumb-screws by hand, slide the panel towards the rear about an inch, then pull it out at the top slightly, and lift it up and out. A slightly different way to most cases, but works very well.

At the bottom of the case, a plain white box containing case hardware is taped to the chassis.

 

 

Let's have a quick scan around the inside of the case to see the features provided. You can see a hard drive cage supporting 3 hard drives, and a full complement of PCI blanking plates.

 

 

At the top of the case, you can see a top-mounted fan, and cables for the USB/audio/Firewire. It struck me as very strange that a top-mounted fan is oriented to draw air inwards, and downwards, contrary to the normal rules of thermodynamics and air-cooling. The fan itself is held in place with two-part plastic split pins, and a metal mesh is screwed onto the exhaust side of the fan. What is going on here? There is no point to this mesh with the fan in this orientation, the mesh only serves the purpose of trapping fluff and hair inside the fan. Very strange. I wonder if this is an intentional design or a mistake. It certainly seems wrong to me.

This 80mm fan is rated at 0.1A @ 12V. Quite feeble then. I really started to have doubts about the case's thermal design at this point.

 

 

Rather than being situated at the front of the case, the USB/audio/Firewire access panel is mounted on the top of the case. The panel cover is aluminum, while the "hinges" are plastic.

 

The other side of the case doesn't reveal any further features, but it's nice to see that access to the hard-drive cage and optical drive cage is not hindered in any way.

 

The case accessory box contains the type of screws you'd expect to see: motherboard stand-offs, optical drive screws, and PCI card screws. Also you see some slightly odd screws at the lower-right of the first picture that are only partially threaded. The bag at the top left contains even less common items: a screwdriver for the motherboard stand-offs, an adjustable self adhesive cable clamp, a plug-in PC speaker, and several black rubber vibration-isolating washers.

 

 

Time to strip the case down. How does that work? Well, the PSU mounting plate is secured by four thumb-screws, so simply undo them by hand.

 

The front bezel can just be pulled off by hand, as it is held in place by plastic "pincers" that can spring open enough to release the panel.

 

The top panel is secured by four M3 threaded screws (two at the front, two at the back). So you need a Philips head screwdriver to take this off.

 

What else can you take apart? Well you can sort of take the hard drive cage apart. It is secured by four countersunk screws on the base of the chassis.

 

 

Removing the screws and hard drive cage lets you orientate it so that the hard drives are facing the way that is most convenient for you. Most often, having the hard drives facing the side panels is more convenient as you can install and remove them without having to remove graphics cards or other expansion cards. However, you would get slightly better airflow with the hard drives facing the rear of the case, due to the sides of the hard drive cage being moved out of the path of incoming air from the front-mounted fan.

 

 

Taking a closer look at the fan, we can see it is a fairly modest fan in terms of power (0.27A @ 12V) and being a 120mm fan, 25mm thick, it is unlikely that it will produce much noise.

The fan has a square of black mesh screwed onto the front of the chassis to prevent large pieces of fluff and hair entering the case. It looks like a good compromise between filtering and maintaining airflow.

 

 

The optical and floppy bay blanking plates are not secured by screws and just have nubs at each side that mate to holes on each side of the drive cage. You can just gently squeeze the blanking plates on each side by hand and pull them forwards to release them.

 

Now, back to the fact that the PSU mounts over the motherboard, well that bothered me somewhat as I was worried about the clearance between the PSU and the CPU heatsink/fan.

 

A quick test fit showed that there was just 88mm of clearance between the motherboard stand-off and the PSU. So with the motherboard, CPU socket, and CPU itself, that gap would be even smaller.

 

 

To illustrate the problem, here is the PSU viewed from a different angle, and also with a DFI NF4 SLI-D motherboard in place.

 

 

The PSU overhangs the CPU socket for this 939 motherboard. The situation is the same for Socket-A and 775. It really limits you on the options for CPU cooling. So much, in fact, that I could not use this motherboard for the review as I did not have a suitable 939 heatsink/fan that was low-profile enough to fit in the gap.

Installation:

Action time! Time to load up this case and see how it performs.

First you take the handy screwdriver provided to install the motherboard stand-offs. The stand-offs themselves are M3 threaded and tapped. Stand-offs are usually cut with 6-32 threads on the shaft, and the inner thread can be M3, but 6-32 is again much more common. Metric threads seem to be more common in Asia and Imperial threads in America. The M3/M3 stand-off will almost certainly be a pain in the arse to replace if you lose one. Lian Li supply 12 stand-offs with the case so you should have a few spare for most motherboards.

Determine which locations need a stand-off and use the provided screwdriver to secure them in place.

 

 

Pop out the case's I/O backplate, and replace it with the I/O backplate supplied with your motherboard.

 

 

Now you can install the motherboard, secure it with the M3 screws provided, and then install the CPU.

 

 

With the CPU installed, you can now see that the CPU-to-PSU gap is a mere 80mm. So your heatsink and fan have to be less than this in total height to allow some clearance for air movement through the CPU fan. A common recommendation is a minimum of an inch (25.4mm) of clearance from CPU fans, so that leaves you with about 55mm of heatsink/fan. Not very much at all!

 

So, I had to use a semi low-profile heatsink for this case review. I chose the Akasa AK-955 as I expected it to be slightly better than the stock Intel heatsink, and about the best I could do given the space limitations.

 

 

 

With the heatsink/fan and RAM installed, it was time to move onto the installation of the other components of the system.

Installation:

Installing the graphics card and sound card is just a case of removing a blanking plate and securing the cards in place with a screw.

After using several cases incorporating screwless retention systems of the expansion cards, I prefer the standard screw-secured method used on this Lian Li case. Screwless retention on other cases proved to present incompatibility with graphics cards using double-width PCI backplates, and sometimes resulted in adapter plates (e.g. extra audio ports for a soundcard) being pushed into the case and falling on the cards and motherboard within!! So I use screws on all my cases, regardless of a screwless system being offered. It's nice that Lian Li provide all the PCI backplates, and being screw-secured, they are standard so could easily be replaced. For the modders out there, they are also totally flat, so making your own adapter plate for additional ports is easy.

 

Moving onto the front power/reset buttons, indicator LEDs, and fan, you can see the wires are bundled and secured with a twistable plastic clip.

 

 

I decided to remove the Molex-to-3-pin power adapter for the front fan and plug it into one of the motherboard fan headers. The fan cable is quite long and you should be able to reach a fan header on any motherboard. If you don't have one you could always just use the fan power adapter.

The standard button and LED wires are all separate and annoyed me. I braided them together so that they weren't all over the place and connected them to the motherboard. Then, I bundled the cables back into the plastic clip and twisted it back in place to secure them in place.

 

 

The odd-looking screws I mentioned earlier are only partially threaded so that they don't screw in all the way to a hard drive. The remaining shaft of the screw allows you to use the supplied vibration-isolating washers as mounting points for the hard drive. You can see the washers themselves have a notch running around them.

 

 

This is what it looks like with the screw/washer combo attached to the hard drive.

 

 

To install the hard drive you align the notches of the washers with each side of the hard drive cage, and slide the hard drive down to the end. Then you just press the hard drive down in place. If you wanted to transport the system, Lian Li recommends using a screw on the empty middle screw-hole to stop the hard drive moving out of place when the case is being moved around.

 

 

The optical and floppy bays use a more traditional screw-secured installation. I find this slightly tedious, but at least you have the option of adjusting the position of drives, fan controllers, or soundcards. With drive rail or other semi tool-less retention designs, you can end up with a problem with fan controllers that only use the front screw position. So you get the maximum compatibility with 5.25" hardware here.

 

Next, I installed the data cables for the DVD-ROM and hard-drive.

 

 

Nearly there...

Installation:

You attach the PSU mounting plate to the PSU using standard 6-32 screws and then install the PSU from the outside-rear of the case and secure it in place using the knurled thumb-screws.

Is the PSU upside down? You may well ask that, but the mounting plate comes supplied this way round, and is like that in the illustations. Also the perforations in the left-hand side panel allow the PSU to take in fresh air from outside the case. So, I'd say it's fairly safe to say that this is the intended orientation of the PSU.

 

 

With the PSU in place, you can see the small gap left for air intake. Only 21mm, so it is slightly under the common recommendation of 1 inch (25.4mm).

 

 

Continuing on, the power cables can now be attached to the required power ports.

 

 

It probably would have been a better idea to attach the top panel before the PSU, as I had to unscrew the PSU and slide it back in order to plug the top fan into a motherboard fan header.

The USB/audio/Firewire cables can be attached if you wish to use the top access panel. I installed the USB and Firewire, but left the audio cable unconnected as I was using a Soundblaster Audigy2 ZS soundcard. However, for people using onboard audio, you will be interested to know that the audio cable has two header plugs, one for the AC97 standard, and one for HD Audio.

 

 

With everything installed, all that is left to do is put the side panels back on, and use the thumb-screws to keep them in place.

 

 

So that's the installation part complete. My intention of using an explicit step-by-step procedure is that hopefully now you have a good idea of how the installation goes with this case, the features it provides, and the limitations it imposes.

Specifications:

 

Device 5.25" bay x 4, 3.5" bay x 1, 3.5" internal x 3
Fan 12cm sleeve fan x 1, 8cm sleeve fan x 1
Motherboard Type ATX motherboard (max size: 12" x 9.6")
Top I/O USB 2.0 x 2, IEEE1394 x 1, MIC x 1, EAR x 1
Dimensions 210 x 373 x 490mm (W, H, D)

 

Features:

 

Testing:

Well, the Hiper Type-R 580W (pictured in the review so far) refused to boot the motherboard. I think it may be faulty, quite possibly a capacitor being the cause of failure. So I used an Antec Neopower 480W PSU in place of the Hiper PSU.

For comparison of cooling performance, I used another aluminum case, the Thermaltake Tsunami. This case is a fairly roomy mid-tower with the stock Thermaltake 120x120x25mm fan at the front, a Panaflo 120x120x38mm M1A at the rear, and a Panaflo 92x92x25mm M1A at the side. All fans were set to their full speed. The case fans on the Lian Li PC-A58 were all set to full speed via the motherboard bios.

An AeroCool GateWatch front bay device was used for temperature monitoring in both cases. A temperature probe was placed at the rough centre of the case to measure case temperatures.

CPU temperature monitoring and stress testing was accomplished using Intel Thermal Analyis Tool. This was chosen as it gives on-die temperatures rather than a single temperature of the side of the IHS if I chose to use a temperature probe. The average of the two core temperatures is used to represent the overall CPU temperatures as the readings only differ +/- 2°C at most.

The CPU fan was set to use the motherboard's PWM speed controller to set the speed from 50% at 35°C up to 100% at 50°C.

 

Testing Setup:

 

With the upper fan oriented blowing downwards, the idle temps rose in excess of 65°C, so I pushed the plastic pins out, flipped the fan the other way round, put the mesh on the intake side of the fan, and remounted the fan with the plastic pins.

This was slightly better, but the temperatures were still so bad, I thought maybe the CPU IHS was concave and preventing full contact with the heatsink, so I lapped the CPU IHS to 1200 grit and remounted the heatsink.

 

Test Results:

All temperatures are in degrees Centigrade (°C)

The first test was a measure of the temperatures of the CPU cores and internal case temperature after being powered on and sitting at the desktop idle for 30 minutes.

 

 

Pretty disappointing temperatures at idle then. I don't think this case was designed for high performance processors. Even at stock voltage and speed, doing almost nothing at all, the E6600 is running very warm.

The second test was a measure of the temperatures of the CPU cores and internal case temperature after 30 minutes of dual-core full load using Intel Thermal Analyis Tool.

I almost didn't want to carry out the load test because the temperatures topped 70°C within a minute of dual-core full-load stress-testing. For the purposes of the review, I continued anyway whilst gritting my teeth. I can't believe how bad the temperatures were. The CPU is not overclocked or overvolted in any way.

 

 

After these appalling temperature results, I decided to do a further test by flipping the PSU over so that the Antec Neopower's 120mm fan would possibly aid the cooling of the upper case area.

I was skeptical at first, as the PSU fan and CPU fan were in close proximity, and blowing in opposite directions. This is what was achieved with the PSU flipped over with the fan sucking away from the CPU (with the previous Thermaltake Tsunami data used as a comparison).

 

 

Ok, so not as bad this time, the air coming out of the PSU was very, very hot though, and I was worried about subjecting a PSU to this level of heat in the long term.

Conclusion:

So, what do we have here? It's a Lian Li case that looks about the same size as a Micro ATX case, but houses full-size ATX motherboards.

It has the classic Lian Li look, and is aptly named the "Classical Series", and has the high quality construction and handy features that are to be expected from such a world-class manufacturer.

But, what is the point of this case at all really? It can barely support a modern processor running at stock speed. It might be better suited to low-power processors for general-use computing. I would normally suggest a low-power Athlon64 939 processor like a single core Venice, but as the 939 socket is nearing the end of it's life, I'm not sure what to recommend. This is also why I wonder what is the intended target hardware for this case. Surely it can't be designed for Intel Core2 processors, as the temperatures seem to indicate that this would be a bad idea.

A VIA-based mini-ITX solution would be great as those motherboards can take standard 20-pin ATX power, can support 4 IDE and at least 2 SATA drives, and would run very cool. But, the processing power of a VIA CPU might be restrictive depending on what you want to do.

All in all, I'm fairly disappointed with this case, the PSU position limits you to poor-performance low-profile CPU cooling which only adds to the thermal nightmare in that area of the case. If the case cannot be used safely with modern processors, then what is this new case supposed to be used for? The only suitable processors I can think of are either old or small-form factor.

 

Pros:

 

Cons: