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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  • Dustin Sklavos - Sunday, June 17, 2012 - link

    Considering the mountain of cheap laughs I got working on this review, I'm happy to disappoint you. Reply
  • eBob - Saturday, June 16, 2012 - link

    My current case is full ATX and is smaller than that! I was actually considering going micro-ATX for my next build, but couldn't find a motherboard that I liked. Reply
  • crackedwiseman - Saturday, June 16, 2012 - link

    A couple of years ago I did a build for a customer in an A05, which, similarly to the A55, tries to fit an ATX board in an mATX sized enclosure. It was a bit cramped, but not that bad, and thermal performance was solid given that I had an overclocked i7-920 and a GTX 260 in there. The A05 had a totally different internal layout; I can't image why they decided to change it - this is anything but an improvement Reply
  • rickcain2320 - Thursday, June 21, 2012 - link

    The A05 doesn't work well unless you cut a hole in the top or add a slot fan. I never kept the front panel on because of heating concerns, which turned out to be true as my motherboard chipset fried from the heat, taking out the video card in the process. Reply
  • PortsOrBust - Sunday, June 17, 2012 - link

    "Unfortunately, a case I can't find any argument for."

    This thought may be anathema on a "latest and greatest" enthusiast site, but if one simply wanted a small ATX case, and used only on-board ports with no additional cards, it seems to me that most of the other issues are not deal-killers.

    Granted the PSU mount isn't ideal, but without add-in cards the airflow would likely overcome that problem, and finding a way to raise the box off the floor a half an inch or so isn't a big deal either.

    Some people will pay $110 for the size and looks of a case, but aren't looking to spend $400 on the latest and greatest video card.

    So, its by no means a perfect case, or even the best example of a compact case, but that doesn't mean there's no argument for it . . .
    Reply
  • Dustin Sklavos - Sunday, June 17, 2012 - link

    Except if you're not going to use any expansion cards, what's the point of going with a full ATX board instead of Micro-ATX or even Mini-ITX? Reply
  • erwendigo - Monday, June 18, 2012 - link

    The better quality of a good ATX motherboard, a very "little" point.

    This review is a shame. You lost the point of a minimal case ATX, you had overestimate the importance of temperatures in a system that it isn´t in the enthusiast niche.

    This case have a very specific niche, but you missundertood this and its rol.

    And the worse, you made a lot of badass jokes. :-/
    Reply
  • plamengv - Sunday, June 17, 2012 - link

    Lian Li PC-A55 compared to Antec NSK-4000 is a monster. Lian Li never had such a good case as Antec is! Reply
  • Alchemy69 - Sunday, June 17, 2012 - link

    This will do until NZXT release their M0-U7H case and then I'll go from A55 to M0-U7H. Reply
  • dave1_nyc - Sunday, June 17, 2012 - link

    I'll probably wind up feeling like a dumbass for saying this, but I can' t believe that the dimensions are correct, esp the height, which is shown as 17.6". One of my machines systems uses a Fractal R3, which feels far more spacious, (and which has room for the PSU under the ATX slots), and it's about the same height.

    It measures a little bit higher from the floor, but then it has taller feet, and hence more space under the case for air intake.

    So what am I missing? How can this case be almost 18" high and yet have so little vertical space?
    Reply

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