Lian Li PC-9N Review

red454 - 2013-07-23 18:00:24 in Cases
Category: Cases
Reviewed by: red454   
Reviewed on: August 14, 2013
Price: $101.99

Lian Li PC-9N Introduction:

This is my first brush with Lian Li - I know the company, but I had never really seen any product up close. So I did a little research. Lian Li has been around since 1983, so it has been in business for 30 years making aluminum cases. In 2009 a subsidiary by the name of LanCool has been making non-aluminum cases aimed at the gamer and enthusiast. But Lian Li has an impressive range of aluminum cases from entry level to high end in about every style and size you can think of. It even has the PC-CK101, which is shaped like a steam engine. Equally impressive is the range of chassis accessories, external hard drive and NAS (Network Attached Storage) enclosures, and power supplies.

Today we have the all aluminum PC-9N in black (silver is also available), which is a mid tower (ATX / micro ATX) case with room for up to a 430mm long graphics card.

 

Lian Li PC-9N Closer Look:

Here we have the box. The sides and ends are identical, so I only have a single shot of each. Nothing fancy in the graphics department. I can see that there is what appears to be a side vent, perhaps large enough for two fans, and I like that. And really, not much more about the case features. And that is fine because honestly, I am usually anxious to get busy with the details and I don't pay much attention to the box. However, if you are at the computer store and don't have the luxury of Internet access, it is nice to be able to compare all of the features and options between cases, which is why the box often plays the role of the salesperson.

 

 

 

 

The plastic bag does its job and keeps the case clean and dust free during storage and shipping, and the heavy Styrofoam end caps ensure that rough handling won't leave your case banged up.

 

 

Out of the box and packing, the case looks nice. Brushed aluminum and anodized black. Now we are ready to take a closer look at the exterior. As I take the packaging off, I am again reminded how light this case is. I like the large side vent.

Lian Li PC-9N Closer Look:

The PC-9N is an all aluminum case, so it is amazingly light; particularly when you don't have any of your componets installed. The finish is brushed aluminum and everything has been black anodized. The case measures 210mm wide x 462mm high x 490mm deep (8.25 x 18.18 x 19.29 inch). The side panels are flat and are retained with removable thumb screws. The main access side panel is ventilated, and has mounting provision for two 140mm or two 120mm fans (not included). Lian Li supplies a plastic cover for the side vent to close it off, but what I find interesting is that the cover is segmented.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So let's look at the main side panel. Here are some close ups. On the left is the inside of the panel. You can see that the cover is initially a single piece, but it is segmented and can be separated into four pieces. You can completely remove the panel and use two fans, or you can snap off the top or bottom two segments and use only one fan. And if you like, you can remove the center two segments and put a fan in the center of the vent. On the right you can see that there are eight screws securing the cover, and there are holes for 120mm or 140mm fans. A single fan can be mounted top, bottom, or center.

 

 

Up front we have a lightly brushed aluminum (not plastic) fascia.  The finish is very nice and consistent. The two side corners are rounded to make a smooth transition into the flat side panels. There are three bays for optical drives and to the lower right there is a small vertical mesh section for front air intake. It seems a little small, and usually there are addidional slots or openings along the sides or espescially the bottom of the fascia for air intake, but not on the PC-9N. It doesn't seem like there is much opportunity for fresh air to get in, so we will see what the testing shows later. Behind the front fascia is an included 140mm front fan, which you will see later.

The rear of the case is unfinished aluminum with an included 120mm rear exhaust fan. Below the fan are two rubber grommeted ports for external liquid cooling. There are eight expansion slots and the block-off covers are ventilated. The PSU mounts at the bottom. To the right of the PSU location is a small vertical vent with horizontal slots.

 

The top is solid - no ventilation grids for air passage.  No fan mounts, just the I/O. With all the real estate on top, it would be nice to have a storage tray. It seems that a lot of cases have them now, and after using a few cases that have them, I find them rather useful. Many cases today have additional intakes on the bottom for a fan, but here we have only the intake for the PSU. Will this be an issue for airflow? The fliter is removable for cleaning.

 

 

Here is a close up of the top I/O. Open the little cover and from left to right there are two USB 3.0 ports, the headphone jack, and the microphone jack. Then there is a reset button and a power button. I like the ports on top - things plugged into front mounted ports sometimes get bumped and bent. The power and HDD activity lights (red LEDs) are on the front fascia, just to the right of the top optical drive bay. Not sure if I like the little door or not; it seems somewhat pointless. It you are trying to hide the ports, then you need something to blend in with, and that is hard to do on a flat, bare surface. Also, it would be nice to see a couple of USB 2.0 ports next to the USB 3.0 ports.

 

 

The filter on the bottom is for the PSU intake and I have removed it for this picture so you can see the louvers. It easily clips in and out for quick cleaning, although you have to turn the case over for access to the filter. It would have been nice to have a filter that slides in and out. There is just under 1/2" of clearance under the case, so be careful if your case will sit on carpet or a rug. You don't want to restrict the PSU intake.

 

 

Lian Li PC-9N Closer Look: Working Components:

 

Other than the obvious weight difference compared to a steel case, the next thing I noticed when I opened the case up was the spartan nature of the chassis. Uh-oh, flashback time. The inside reminded me a little of the cases of long ago, when cases were constructed with cheap thin sheet metal and the designers had little regard for the do-it-yourselfer or enthusiast. There were confined spaces, no flexiblilty, and tons of blood-thirsty sharp edges quietly waiting to cut your hands and fingers during tasks as simple as adding a stick of memory. But that was years ago, things have come a long way, so perhaps I shouldn't rush to judgement.

OK, let's look a the details. The motherboard tray is simply some aluminum rails with mounting studs. Not the usual formed metal tray. No cable routing grommets. No holes for cable to pass through. And really only one place up front to add a fan. However, there certainly seems to be plenty of room. A monster video card would be right at home without having to remove or reconfigure any hard drive cages. Not much to obstruct air flow. Maybe this simplistic approach is not such a bad thing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Up top we have three optical drive bays and the top two are tool-less. And at the rear is the included 120mm exhaust fan. This fan has an internal and external fan guard. Right below the fan are the two rubber grommets for external water cooling. And actually the holes for the grommets are slotted up to the rear fan hole, so I can pop the grommets out and my Corsair H70 radiator can be mounted outside of the case. I did notice that the edges on the back end of the optical drive frame were a tad sharp - nothing horrible, so just be careful.

 

 

With the front fascia removed, you can see the 140mm (included) front fan. Covering this fan is a removable filter that easily clips into position. There is a space directly above this fan to add another 140mm fan if you like, otherwise, there is a plastic cover to control air flow. Above the top optical drive bay (on the front face of the chassis), there are mounting holes and a small slot for an optional Lian Li fan speed controller (part number PT-FN01) for controlling up to three fans. You have to order it from Lian Li - it does not come with this case. After installation, it would only be accessible by removing the front fascia.

 

 

The aluminum hard drive cage can hold three 3.5 inch hard drives below and one SSD on top. Or you can put one SSD on top, two 3.5 inch hard drives in the middle,  and one SSD at the bottom. It is easily removable (two thumb screws) and can be placed in three positions - front, side, and rear facing. I dedcided to go with the side facing position since that was the easiest for routing the power and SATA cables. There are shoulder screws and rubber isolators for mounting your 3.5 inch hard drives. The front 140mm fan is in front of the hard drive cage and supplies a good flow of air to keep your drives cool.

 

 

 

And here are the filters: one for the PSU intake from under the case, and one from the front 140mm fan. The filters are identical, so if you mix them up, it won't matter. It would be nice if the bottom filter could slide out. I hate having to tip the case to get at the filter.

 

The instructions are nicely illustrated, and in several languages. The hardware kit consists of various screws for motherboard and hard drive mounting, a system speaker, a side panel lock bracket, and a USB adapter.

 

 

 

Time for a motherboard test fit. My ASUS Maximus V Formula motherboard, which is an extended ATX board, fits just fine. The extended ATX boards are 1/2 inch wider than a standard ATX. Now, something that I really like is the abiltiy to remove the entire top of the case. Usually they are riveted on, but the PC-9N uses four screws to secure the top to the case chassis. This makes access to the top of the motherboard very convenient, especially when you are attaching the CPU power cables. The I/O cables remain attached to the top, so I carefully set it off to the side while I worked. Make sure you put all the screws back when you are finished.

 

 

On the left, I still have the top off (resting on the top of the chassis), but here is a shot of the back of the case. Since the motherboard mounts on rails, there is some space for air to flow (behind the motherboard), helping to keep it cool.The horizontal rails are shaped like shallow C channels to facilitate cable routing, and there is a nice hole to fish the CPU power cables through. The rails have some notches in them for cable ties. Despite not having a formed motherboard tray or cable routing grommets, the build comes together without any problems. I was a little worried about the cable routing since there just isn't anywhere to really stash them out of view. But it really doesn't look too bad.

 

Now that everything is assembled, let's power it up and start the testing.

Lian Li PC-9N Specifications:

 

Available Color:
Black and Silver
Materials:
Aluminum
Dimensions:
210 x 462 x 490 mm / 8.26 x 18.18 x 19.29 inch
Net Weight:
5.9kg / 12.98lb
M/B Type:
microATX, ATX
5.25" Drive Bays:
3 (two with tool-less design)
3.5" Drive Bays:
3
2.5" Drive Bays:
2 (using both reduces the 3.5" bays by one)
I/O Panel:
USB 3.0 x 2, Audio In & Out (supports AC97 / HD Audio)
Expansion Slots:
8
Cooling System:
Front: 140mm fan x 2 (one included)
Rear: 120mm  x 1 (included)
Left Side: 120mm fan x 2 (optional) or 140mm fan x 2 (optional)
Power Supply:
PSU up to 300mm long
Maximum Compatibility:
 
Water cooling: 120mm radiator (rear)
VGA card length: 430mm / 16.9 inch
CPU cooler height: 170mm / 6.69 inch

 

 

Lian Li PC-9N Features:


 

All information courtesy of Lian-Li @ http://www.lian-li.com/en/dt_portfolio/pc-9n/

Lian Li PC-9N Testing:

Testing involved recording temperatures for the CPU, GPU, and motherboard during idle and load phases. The load was simulated by running Prime95’s small FFTs and 3Dmark Vantage for one hour. The maximum temperatures were recorded using HW Monitor 1.21.0. Please note that each case is tested from its factory setup, including location of fans, unless otherwise noted.

 

Testing Setup:

 

Comparison Cases:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The CPU and GPU idle temps for the PC-9N were as expected. Under a load is where things surprised me. I might have to rethink my view point on multiple fans. I really expected this case with just one front intake and rear exhaust to run hot. More fans are better, right? Well, not so fast. Both the CPU and GPU were kept at the low end, in fact, for the CPU it was the lowest of the cases I have tested. No top fans. No side fans. And the front 140mm fan is pulling air through what seems to me to be a rather small front vent panel. Clearly the case has adequate air flow. And with fewer fans, it is on the quiet end.

So I have to say that this case makes the most of the fewest fans. Perhaps the open, unobstructed air flow is working in our favor. Regardless, this case can keep your hardware working hard and running cool.

Lian Li PC-9N Conclusion:

Well, I wasn't sure what to think at first. After all, I have been spoiled by some fancy cases with some knockout features. The PC-9N is not particularly eye-catching. It doesn't baffle you with LED fans, faux dragon skin on the front fascia, exotic places for radiators, or double-digit hard drive bays, or a dozen fan mounting locations. Nope. No real plan for cable management. It almost sounds like I am trying to find reasons to not like this case, but really, I'm not.

So I try to think of who would buy it. The PC-9N comes in at just under $102. For someone looking for basic functionality, maybe a first time build, you can find plenty of cases in the $50 to $75 range that are certainly adequate. Every manufacturer out there has one in its line up. If you are wanting something with some more kick, you can jump up to the $100 to $120 range and you can get more features - fans, lights, ports, etc. And there are a ton of them to choose from. Can the PC-9N draw you away from cases that have more features for the same or less money?

OK, so what does this case do? Everthing it is supposed to do. It handled my ASUS extended ATX motherboard with no problems. It kept things cool under a load, and without fans all over the place. It does have space for expansion. Then there are the side and front fan options. And the way the top is removable, it came in handy during the build. I do like the all aluminum construction, but is it worth the extra dollars? That is a call only you can make.

The PC-9N is not a bad case, not at all. It may not have the big "wow" factor, but it gets the job done. If you are looking for a light weight, all aluminum, functional case, then this is it.

Pricing is a bit high comparable to other cases with similar features and is currently available at Amazon for $101.99.

 

Pros:

 

Cons: