In and Around the Lian Li PC-A05FN

From reading the comments on past reviews, it seems like the overwhelming majority of you vastly prefer enclosures that look more classy and austere than flashier designs. While there's certainly a place for some of those (and I adored the gaudy fire engine red NZXT Phantom 410 we recently reviewed), the overarching theme is that people want an enclosure that reminds them of the monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey. Lian Li seems to have delivered for the most part on that front with the PC-A05FN; you can get it in silver or black, but it's always going to have the head-to-toe brushed aluminum finish.

It's definitely an attractive piece of kit, but be warned: the black brushed aluminum is going to pick up fingerprints and smudges. That said, the front of the enclosure is pretty much where all the action happens: there's a pair of 5.25" external bays, a single 3.5" external bay, power and reset buttons, audio jacks, and then singles of USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 ports. These last two are unusual, since there's only one internal connector serving both ports, and that connector is USB 3.0.

The top of the PC-A05FN features a sealed off mount for a 140mm fan; you can remove the aluminum plate and install one internally (and there's space for it), or leave it in and enjoy a remarkably seamless top finish that gives Fractal Design's Define R3 a run for its money. When you swing around to the back is when things are going to start to seem strange: there's no power supply mount, just the I/O cluster, eight expansion slots, and then an AC adaptor plug.

Opening up the enclosure reveals the answer to these mysteries: Lian Li opts to mount the power supply at the front of the case and then route the cable to the front. You can also see how the cooling is fundamentally designed: the rear fan is an intake instead of an exhaust, while the front fan is the exhaust. This looks potentially better for keeping the CPU cool, but at the cost of getting fresh air to the video card(s). For that, we're pretty much hoping the air coming in from the back vents will be enough, but it stands to reason a multi-GPU configuration inside of the PC-A05FN is probably ill-advised.

Overall I found the design of the PC-A05FN interesting, but with some reservations. Much like the last Lian Li case we reviewed, the PC-TU200, I'm left feeling more of that "just because you can doesn't mean you should" kind of vibe in relation to the design decisions. Lian Li has added some allowances for tool-less assembly (like the snapping clips for the 5.25" drive bays), so hopefully assembly will at least go a little more smoothly than the previous Lian Li cases we've tested.

Introducing the Lian Li PC-A05FN Assembling the Lian Li PC-A05FN
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  • ShieTar - Thursday, December 08, 2011 - link

    This is a strange thermal design indeed. It seems the engineers at Lian Li were trying to get the best CPU cooling possible, without too much care about what that will do to the GPU.

    Sounds as if it could give you a nice, silent workstation with a high-power CPU and On-Chip graphics. Sadly, in my personal experience, most business buyers don't seem to care too much about the noise that their employees will have to suffer from their machienes, and just go straight for the cheapest offer.

    Still, it would be interesting too see a comparison of this box and a more classical competitor when filled with this kind of business setup instead of your standard, more gaming centered, testbed.
    Reply
  • Touche - Thursday, December 08, 2011 - link

    Aluminum cases have a big drawback. They tend to hum due to HDD vibrations. It'not (as) noticable if you have loud fans, but it's terrible with quiet computers. Reply
  • bji - Thursday, December 08, 2011 - link

    I have this case and this doesn't happen to mine. No humming. Also my fans are almost never running; it's a quiet computer.

    Why is aluminum more susceptible than steel anyway? What's the science behind your statement?
    Reply
  • Death666Angel - Thursday, December 08, 2011 - link

    Mass (weight) is a great noise insulator. And steel has a greater mass than alu. So usually, steel has better acoustic qualities. Using that to translate "all alu cases are worse than others" is not right. Reply
  • ckryan - Thursday, December 08, 2011 - link

    I put a lot of mass on the panels with the acoustic dampening material, and it's totally worth it. But I didn't have any humming or vibrations beforehand. Reply
  • piroroadkill - Thursday, December 08, 2011 - link

    Sideways 3.5" drive bays. Having them facing the board is just way too cluttered. With the immense width of this case, you'd think they'd have much better cable routing options behind the motherboard tray, too. Reply
  • darkhawk1980 - Thursday, December 08, 2011 - link

    I don't have the case, and it's difficult to really know if it would fit or work, but would it be possible to modify the side panel and add in a 80mm or 120mm fan that could blow air in near the air inlet on the GPU? Specifically, perhaps, placing one right near the back (or front, depending on your viewpoint) of the GPU, and placing it between the end of the GPU and the HDD caddy's? This might improve both the GPU temperatures and the SSD temperatures, although I'm not sure if it would help or hinder the other temperatures inside the case. This would also help to provide a positive internal pressure (looks like 1 inlet fan at the back, and 2 outlet fans [power supply exhaust + front 120mm fan exhaust]) which is definitely a good thing. Reply
  • MadAd - Thursday, December 08, 2011 - link

    Ive given up giving up on these cases with creative item rearrangements. It never works, weve had ATX for 10+ years and if there was a good configuration to be found, wed have it already.

    Why dont the manufacturers start calling for a smaller redesign? Optical Disks and Power Supplies are limiting shrinking the box atm, but ask for a smaller power supply atm and people grimace with the mutterings of 1U on their lips. Mobos can always be smaller, all electronics can, but no one seems to have any will to do it.

    If consoles pads and laptops are 'taking over' standard pcs, then its time to do it...most home users dont need more than a slim client, with space usually going to ppl with many HDD (nas box anyone?) or large gfx arrays.

    IM sure atx wont just disappear tho, enthusiasts that need the space can use it, but we really need to deal with this size thing to move the PC into the living room.
    Reply
  • Death666Angel - Thursday, December 08, 2011 - link

    I don't see the shortage of small enclosures, be they ITX or mATX, in the last few years. There are quite a lot of cases that offer what you describe, with SFX PSUs for moderately powerful gaming rigs or external pico PSUs for mid to high-end CPU+iGPU configurations.
    And there there is also the AIO becoming increasingly powerful and cheap.

    ATX will always be around because a lot of people don't want to pay the premium for the smaller size and they just hide the case. Or they actually need the space. I don't see how anything huge has to change though, as there are products for everyones purposes. :-)
    Reply
  • MadAd - Sunday, December 11, 2011 - link

    "a lot of people don't want to pay the premium for the smaller size"

    exactly!

    so until the market moves to a new standard, anything that isnt atx is going to have a premium on it..its dragging the platform as a whole down
    Reply

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