Assembling the Lian Li PC-A55

Credit where credit is due, Lian Li's PC-A55 came together very smoothly. Usually smaller enclosure designs are difficult to assemble and somewhat involved, but the PC-A55 is very clean and logical and I seldom had to consult the instruction manual to figure out how to get everything to fit inside it.

Starting with the motherboard, while clearance around it is minimal, I'm always happy to see the stand-offs come preinstalled. It's a simple, thoughtful convenience that saves time in the long run. While ordinarily I attach the modular cables to the board first and then plug everything into the power supply at the last step, that's not possible in the PC-A55 due to the reduced clearance between the power supply mount and the drive cage. As a result, I actually connected the necessary cables and installed the power supply almost immediately after installing the motherboard.

Note that we're using a Micro-ATX motherboard as usual, but the only real difference you'd see with a full-size ATX board is that it would be "taller" in the pictures below. Our test board is just as deep as a standard ATX board, but it doesn't have as many expansion slots.

Installing the power supply involves removing a bracket from the bottom front of the enclosure. The power cable is already routed through this bracket and is easy to connect to the power supply, but when we put the PSU and bracket back inside the PC-A55, we discover what I would consider a potentially serious design flaw. The PSU can only be oriented one of two ways: either the bottom-mounted intake fan faces the interior of the case, disrupting the intended airflow, or it faces the inside of the front panel, in which case it's blocked off entirely.

At this point I also learned that the drives should probably be installed first. I had to remove the RAM from the motherboard to fit the 3.5" drive into the bay, though the 5.25" drive was able to slide in from the front of the PC-A55 relatively easily. Note that it's entirely possible to butt the 5.25" drive up against the edge of the motherboard, too. Unusually deep optical drives (like LG's combination HD-DVD/Blu-ray drive) simply won't fit without sticking out of the front of the case. 2.5" drives still use Lian Li's traditional bottom-mounted rubber grommets to slide into the two mounts.

Getting the video card in was easy enough, though, and wiring the PC-A55 was surprisingly simple. Our test SSD does press up against the bottom of the PC-A55, making it a little more difficult to get the data and power cables connected, but it's a minor quibble in the scheme of things. What you have to remember is that because the PC-A55 lacks any space behind the motherboard tray (and is small in general), there's really nowhere to put the cables except to cram them into the space beneath the drive cage.

Once I crammed everything into Lian Li's PC-A55, I immediately realized just how poorly the thermal design might actually perform. Here's the essential problem: if you install a full-height video card, about 75% of the bottom-mounted intake fan is going to be blocked by it, substantially reducing any air that comes in through the case's single intake, leaving the top-mounted exhaust fan to pick up the slack. This also means that multi-GPU is going to be basically out of the question, since the gap between the video cards is going to be basically dead, having nowhere to actually take in air from.

Things get worse. The rubber pegs the case stands on are only about 15mm high, meaning that in the best-case scenario, the intake vent of the PC-A55 is only going to be about 15mm off of the ground. The fan filter shaves another 3mm off of that. This is why every case I've reviewed thus far that had a bottom fan mount left that mount optional and didn't rely on it, excepting the Silverstone cases which all stood at least a full inch off of the ground, allowing for a healthy amount of ventilation and clearance even on carpet. Bottom line: the PC-A55 more or less can't be used on any carpet of any kind, as the bottom intake will be suffocated by it.

In and Around the Lian Li PC-A55 Testing Methodology
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  • Stuka87 - Saturday, June 16, 2012 - link

    You just proved that you are not a regular here. Every new Mac/iPhone/iPad gets heavily reviewed here.

    This site is for "Computer Enthusiast" like you said. That means ALL COMPUTERS. Not just non-Macs. I also find it funny that you says its for Open Standards, which most things reviewed here run Windows.

    I think you should just run along now.
    Reply
  • jmhart - Saturday, June 16, 2012 - link

    Wait, you're calling HIM a poser? Reply
  • AVP - Sunday, June 17, 2012 - link

    Where do losers like this get this mentality? Reply
  • Voo - Sunday, June 17, 2012 - link

    Ah one of the new kids on the block that want to boast, but sadly have no idea what they're talking about.

    Yep there really aren't any Mac users on AT, apart from several staff members.
    Reply
  • zanon - Saturday, June 16, 2012 - link

    Thank you for the thorough review Dustin. I know you dislike having to rag on and thumbs down something that people put effort into, but as potential customers we appreciate it, and Lian Li shouldn't be excused too much. While I very much appreciate companies that are willing to really experiment and push the envelope, they aren't running a charity, they're charging real money and have a duty to be professional. Basic thermal testing isn't rocket science, it's the sort of thing that any company should be doing as a continuous part of R&D, precisely to catch these issues. It's a core part of the engineering they should be doing. If you could get those numbers, they should have been able to as well long before ramping manufacturing. Someone should have said "hey wait a second, this isn't going to be that compelling, I guess we have to go back to the drawing board here."

    I worry that a lot of companies don't use measurement-based reality checks as much as they should be. I hear a lot of "well design is an art, not a science" type of wishy-washy statements (the audio industry seems to be the worst), but ultimately science is definitely a part. They should be as wild as they like in the concept and prototype stages, but everything should go through a careful measurement filter before further work. Hopefully they can do better next time around, they certainly have the engineering chops to produce excellent work. Everyone produces duds once in a while, if it's not a pattern then they can bounce right back with a useful lesson learned.

    Thanks again for the balanced review.
    Reply
  • Olaf van der Spek - Saturday, June 16, 2012 - link

    I'd optimize for depth instead of height. mATX, ODD above board, PSU and HDDs below. Straight front to back airflow. 2x 140 or 2x 180 in front should be enough. Depth of 350mm should be achievable. Reply
  • Dustin Sklavos - Saturday, June 16, 2012 - link

    Actually a single 180mm can more or less nail it:
    http://www.anandtech.com/show/4533/silverstone-tem...
    Reply
  • Olaf van der Spek - Saturday, June 16, 2012 - link

    The TJ08-E is nice but a bit too cramped and a bit too long. Reply
  • Iketh - Saturday, June 16, 2012 - link

    How is this cramped??

    http://www.overclock.net/gallery/image/view/album/...
    Reply
  • Olaf van der Spek - Saturday, June 16, 2012 - link

    You forgot to install the HDD cage... Reply

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