When it comes to aluminum chassis in the enthusiast field, one name inevitably comes up: Lian Li. The company has been around longer than most other retail brands and was a fierce competitor in the budding enthusiast market to Cooler Master eight years ago. Cooler Master shifted focus and enlarged their portfolio, but Lian Li stuck to their business of producing aluminum chassis - though recently they have extended slightly by offering some power supplies for the retail market.

I visited Lian Li's headquarters located a little outside of Taipei, Taiwan several times in the past - while a certain director of FSP Group was still working there. At that time (2002), Lian Li only had one building and the product lines were in the attic of the building. Lian Li was the first company to introduce a commercially built side panel with water inside; this was a pretty cool feature that doesn't appear to exist anymore (for obvious reasons). Lian Li struggled for a few years with diminishing sales, as consumers and the market were moving in a different direction. However, it looks like they are enjoying increased sales during the last few years, helped by their new case designs and the fact that people are spending more money on fancy computer equipment.

I recently received a nice new chassis from Lian Li and used it for several months. The PC-V1010 is a mid tower with a decent amount of space inside, capable of mounting up to five 5.25" devices. The top of the case has a cover that hides various ports: eSATA, IEEE1394 Firewire, four USB, and headset/mic jacks. The exterior design is very sleek and foregoes flashy lights or any other bling in favor of quiet elegance. There's also no door to get in your way - which could be good or bad depending on user preference. Ventilation is provided by a large perforated area at the lower front, with a 140mm fan on the interior. In addition, all of the 5.25" bay covers are perforated; this can be good for airflow but it also makes keeping the interior dust-free painful.

Lian Li has a very cool system that holds the side panel in place. All you see is a blank plate of aluminum; Lian Li secures the panel with metal latches that are not visible from the outside. To remove the panel, there's only one screw at the top-back corner. Looking inside we see two separate thermal areas, similar to quite a few other high-end cases. The only opening between those two areas is in the middle of the separating plate, where you will route cables for any drives, GPUs, and the motherboard. The edges of the opening are folded aluminum, so you don't need to worry about cutting any cables on sharp edges. The bottom area has space for the power supply and up to six hard drives. You'll need to remove the other side of the case to install any hard drives, which is again accomplished by removing a single thumbscrew.

A large crossbar provides extra support for long expansion cards or graphics cards, and you can remove it to make the installation of the motherboard and other components easier. The front sports six bays for 5.25" drives, five of which have a detachable cover and external access. Lian Li does not include any sort of tool-less clamping system for the drives, so you will need to secure all components with screws. This is one area where cases like the Cooler Master Cosmos S have an advantage, although it's only a concern if you frequently swap components. The large 140mm fan and the 5.25" cover have a fine filter that helps prevent dust from entering the chassis. Unfortunately, there's not a lot of space for the power supply, so you won't be able to fit long power supplies in the case unless you purchase an optional PSU mounting bracket (which extends the PSU out the back of the case about 2"). Another nice feature is the small fan control unit above the rear 120mm fan, which you can connect your case fans and switch between low, medium, and high speeds.

The large interior makes it easy to install all of your components. If you like, you can also remove the motherboard tray to make installation even easier. However, it is not possible to install graphics or expansion cards before the motherboard tray is inside the chassis. The case supports standard motherboard sizes as well as E-ATX boards. There's also a chipset cooling fan, which may or may not work properly depending on your component choices. This is an extra 120mm fan (included) that installs on the expansion card support bar, and it can be adjusted to provide additional cooling for your chipset.

Hard drives are easy to install as well. There are small screws with rubber dampers that attach to the hard drives. With the screws in place, you simply slide the drives into the bottom of the case. The rubber grommets isolate the drives from the rest of the chassis, helping to eliminate noise caused by vibration. If you want to install more than six drives, Lian Li sell an optional HDD cage (EX-33N) that mounts at the front of the chassis and supports three additional HDDs; it also includes a 120mm fan. Another option is the new EX-H33, which provides three HDD mounts and supports hot-swapping of drives through the front of the case (with support from an appropriate SATA controller).

Our three graphics cards fit nicely, with room to route all the necessary cables. However, as you can see in the above gallery, the final install with all of our components doesn't leave a lot of room between our short power supply and the hard drives. Users with detachable cables will have a small advantage here.

The PC-V1010 is available in black and silver, and prices start at around $250 in the U.S and €185 in Europe. Prices for aluminum towers like this are always high since it costs more to use aluminum for the entire chassis instead of cheap plastic. Extras like an additional HDD cage and the extended PSU mounting bracket will also add to the cost - $35 and $20 respectively. For the added cost, however, Lian Li provides excellent quality. The included fans and noise dampening features help make this a very quiet chassis as well. I have used around 20 Lian Li cases during the past several years, and I can that the quality of every one was exceptional. Simply put, it's hard to go wrong with a Lian Li case - the only possible complaints will come from your pocketbook.

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  • strikeback03 - Tuesday, September 16, 2008 - link

    The reason Apple sucks is exactly because they put too much stock in the appearance. Wouldn't have processors running a few degrees from shutdown if it weren't taboo to put in "ugly" fan ports. Reply
  • TA152H - Wednesday, September 17, 2008 - link

    Look at their stock price. They are doing really well for sucking.

    Are they overpriced, of course. Still, they sell.
    Reply
  • headbox - Monday, September 15, 2008 - link

    I agree. All of my PCs have had either Antec (yuck) or Lian Li (much better) but they are still crap compared to an Apple case. This goes all the way back to the Power Mac G3 and G4 with the side opening door. The current Mac Pro case is in a completely different ballpark than any PC case made today. Anyone that doesn't believe it should go to an Apple store and ask to open one up. No PC case maker AT ANY PRICE can compare to the build quality of Apple. Reply
  • whatthehey - Monday, September 15, 2008 - link

    Can you spell proprietary? I can: A-P-P-L-E

    Thanks, but I'd just as soon keep my not-as-cool PC cases that I can upgrade whenever and however I see fit. The insides may look nice at first glance, but I think the G5 is every bit as "ugly" as the various Lian Li offerings. Personally, I use my computer for work (and play), not as furniture or an artistic statement. Oh yeah, and I prefer to pay less money for equivalent performance, not more.
    Reply
  • Christoph Katzer - Tuesday, September 16, 2008 - link

    And there we have the first problem: Price. Of course for some Apple makes the nicest looking cases in the market but the price tag is anything but cheap. So if someone could offer this kind of case would you pay $399 or more? I've been long time ago in the HQ of Chieftec in Taiwan, they make (at least at that time) the cases for Alienware. I think I remember he told me the buying price of Alienware was around $200. Most cases like that are designed for a specific environment and specific hardware. That's the difference and difficulty for companies designing products for the open PC market.

    Second thing is that Apple doesn't have the problem with compatibility. You can stick a billion different components into a PC which makes the difference. We've seen how the market adobts Apple-like concepts like BTX: Not.

    I would never comment on design in a review (or blog) since everyone sees it different anyway. For me it's ugly too but I am still using it as a gaming PC and I can roll it around if needed...
    Reply
  • TA152H - Wednesday, September 17, 2008 - link

    Christopher,

    I paid more than $400 for cases when $400 was a lot of money. $400 today I would pay in a heartbeat for a nice looking case. The reason is simple, it doesn't wear out. How about people that pay for expensive video cards, that get obsolete quickly? Things like that would make me feel like I wasted money, but something like a case lasts indefinitely.

    So, for a case that was quiet, attractive, and well-made, I would pay well over $400 for it. It's a once in a lifetime purchase (well, maybe not if form factors change), and I don't mind spending a lot of money for those. I don't like spending a lot on "once in a year" purchases.

    I understand that cases have to work within the limitations of component sizes, and Apple does, and always has, had more flexibility. ATX motherboards are oversized, and are difficult, but micro-ATX and smaller motherboards are not so difficult.

    My main point is, the computer industry as a whole still, unbelievably, doesn't understand how important appearance is. Except for Apple.

    When I worked for a large jet-engine designer, and we would meet with people from Dell regularly. The computers they sold at that time were very ugly (hasn't really changed, huh?), and I felt silly mentioning to them. However, the representative from Dell said that they got these complaints constantly. Still, it seems lost on them.

    Apples never sold too well because of what they were; they have always been overpriced. But, look at their stock price; style does matter, even with electronics.

    One more point, many people buy a car based on how it looks. How much time to you spend in front of (as opposed to in) your car, compared to how much time you have to spend looking at your computer? It's probably a lot less.

    There are a few attractive cases out there, but Lian Li doesn't make them. Their corporate flower is probably a brick (don't tell them it's not a flower).
    Reply
  • Christoph Katzer - Wednesday, September 17, 2008 - link

    Thanks for the comment, which ATX cases you would consider nice looking then? Reply
  • jonmcc33 - Monday, September 15, 2008 - link

    I'll never understand why case manufacturers stack HDDs on the side like that and expect a low RPM 120mm fan to do anything significant.

    Look at that lower bay after you fill it up with HDDs and a PSU at the back. That's a volcano of heat and that fan isn't going to do anything unless it's high RPM. Pointless design...
    Reply
  • retrospooty - Tuesday, September 16, 2008 - link

    I have almost the exact same case (v1000) I have a Raptor 150 10k RPM and a 750g WD as well... Witht eh fan completely off they are barely warm. Maybe some older hard drives had heat issues , but that is long dead history. Reply
  • yyrkoon - Monday, September 15, 2008 - link

    except that countless studies have been done on the subject, and it has been proven that heat does not play a significant factor in HDD failure . . . Reply

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