In and Around the Lian Li PC-A76X

I mentioned in the introduction that I was feeling very optimistic about the Lian Li PC-A76X. While I have misgivings about aluminum as a construction material (see my review of Cubitek's HPTX Ice), the PC-A76X's cooling design looked to be a big winner, at least on paper. The more cases I review, the more I'm convinced the bottom-front intake to top-back exhaust standard is just not the best way to do things. Lian Li looked like they had a winner on their hands.

Then I opened the box, reality set in, and my thoughts drifted from "this case should perform really well" to "I hope they're not charging as much for this as I think they are." Even just removing it from the box, the case had a bit of a rattle. In its journey here from Taiwan the front door had incurred a minor dent, and you can see from the side that though the top and bottom mostly line up, it's...less than secure.

Lian Li uses a traditional black brushed aluminum finish over the entire chassis, and if you're familiar with their other designs there's nothing particularly new here. What struck me once I unlocked and opened the front door was that the PC-A76X reminded me of an aluminum version of one of Fractal Design's cases. The deprecation of external 5.25" drive bays, coupled with the blocked in fan mounts on the top and side panels of the case reminded me of some of the things Fractal Design does, though they're just design tricks that are becoming increasingly common and not unique to that company at this point.

On top of the case is a sliding door that hides the port cluster, but inexplicably there's an opening for what looks like there should've been an eSATA port. The pair of USB 3.0 and 2.0 ports are appreciated, though; I've been of the opinion that four is about the right number of USB ports for the front of a case, and USB 3.0 can still be hinky even on modern boards.

When you do remove the thumbscrews from the back of the case and pop the panels off, you find an interior that's remarkably straightforward. The bigger cases get, the more logical their interiors tend to be, and Lian Li makes the PC-A76X very simple for both new users and for people familiar with their ouevre. There's a removable bracing bar for expansion cards and one single, long drive cage in the front. Note that none of these cages are removable, so even if you don't need space for twelve hard drives, you're unfortunately stuck with that cage blocking some of the front intake.

What concerned me was the paucity of mounting holes in the motherboard tray for routing cables. These are conveniences that are par for the course for high end enclosures, yet these three small holes seem frankly inadequate for a case that's designed to hold multiple high end graphics cards and multi-CPU motherboards. That said, the area behind the motherboard tray is surprisingly spacious, and Lian Li has done a fantastic job of routing the case's cable leads and keeping the cabling clean and tidy.

I don't think you're going to hear me accuse the PC-A76X of being a bad design, but Lian Li's overall design language seems to be a bit behind the curve. The rubber-lined routing holes are really spare and strike me as being inadequate for a case with such lofty ambitions, and the inability to remove unneeded drive cages to improve airflow from the intakes would be troublesome at half the price and borders on unforgivable at $210. The aluminum used in the shell itself also seems frankly chintzy, and the minor damage incurred en route from Taiwan despite the healthy padding in the packaging suggests a case that may not be particularly sturdy in the long term.

Introducing the Lian Li PC-A76X Assembling the Lian Li PC-A76X
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  • Iketh - Sunday, September 30, 2012 - link

    Thanks for sharing my thoughts, not just on this case but Lian Li in general. I want and have always wanted an all-aluminum case for years, but each time I look through Lian Li's stock, I'm left with that feeling of running your nails across a chalk board and I end up with a cheaper case. And that's coming from someone who bought the original Cosmos years ago...

    And, please, case engineers, stop including side vents... they're not needed anymore when you have slotted PCI covers... just give us robust intake solutions and that's it. I have never found a side intake fan that didn't rattle the door or make the case humm and I can only imagine how the case in this review would sound with the thin panels...
    Reply
  • michaelheath - Sunday, September 30, 2012 - link

    I've had a number of aluminum cases over the years, and, to be perfectly honest, the only ones that didn't feel chintzy were the cases that had other materials padding the panels and the frame. There really aren't many realistic benefits to using aluminum aside from weight - which doesn't mean much if you don't move your PC all that often. Aluminum certainly doesn't do much for heat dissipation or noise dampening, and Lian Li isn't alone in winding up with cases with middling performance that rattle and hum (though this particular case seems to avoid that).

    According to the rather thorough testing from Bit-Tech several months ago in their article, "The Big Air Cooling Investigation," where a Fractal Design Define R3 was tested with practically every reasonable (and a few unreasonable) configurations, it seems one of the most critical fan locations was in the side panel. Then again, as I mentioned before, the side panel is made of layered steel and plastic, not aluminum.

    Perforated PCI covers don't really help much when they aren't in the direct path of convection, especially if they aren't in the direct path of moving air. Typically, they sit below most of the sources of heat in a computer case and don't provide any tangible benefit except for allowing another location for sound to escape.
    Reply
  • cashkennedy - Sunday, September 30, 2012 - link

    You obviously have never had a cooler master wave master , or a cooler master atcs, both are made of aluminum so thick, you cant even bend / dent it if you tried with all your strength. I believe the first year or two lian li was around they made cases out of similarly thick aluminum, and those were the years that aluminum cases got a good reputation, later they all started being made out of sheets thinner then a coke can, and add to that the fact that aluminum helping cool the components was all hype by retards who somehow didnt come to grasp the fact that none of your components are in direct contact with the aluminum (except for possibly the hard drives), so cant be cooled by the case... Reply
  • Iketh - Sunday, September 30, 2012 - link

    actually there is obvious truth to aluminum keeping the AIR inside the case cooler... steel will act more as an insulator keeping the heat inside while aluminum will transfer that heat through the panels better, but it's negligible to the point of gimmicky Reply
  • rarson - Monday, October 01, 2012 - link

    You've got that backwards. Aluminum is a poor conductor of heat, hence the outside of an aluminum case will likely stay cooler than a steel case. Steel is a good conductor of heat; a steel case gets hotter because it's transferring heat from inside the case to outside through the metal itself. Reply
  • sor - Monday, October 01, 2012 - link

    My BS meter just went off. Nearly all metals are good conductors of heat, but aluminum, copper, and silver are among the best. Aluminum simply has less mass and doesn't RETAIN heat well, but it conducts heat just fine. Reply
  • Iketh - Monday, October 01, 2012 - link

    sorry, but you're the one that's backwards, and generally lacking knowledge on the subject as illustrated with this statement:

    "Steel is a good conductor of heat; a steel case gets hotter because it's transferring heat from inside the case to outside through the metal itself."
    Reply
  • BiggieShady - Tuesday, October 02, 2012 - link

    If steel is a good conductor of heat, aluminum is better. For purely hot air contact it's negligible, however for direct contact it matters - that's why you have aluminum or copper heatsinks instead of steel. Reply
  • johnsmith9875 - Sunday, October 07, 2012 - link

    Steel is a terrible conductor of heat. They're used in cases mainly because its inexpensive and easy to fabricate compared to aluminum. Reply
  • xc68000 - Monday, October 01, 2012 - link

    Seriously. I can't get rid of my Wavemaster because literally every new aluminum case I look is crap in comparison. It was designed more for the P4 era and as such doesn't have any 120mm fans (except for the one I cut in the side panel). There is a market, but seems like no one is making cases for it. I've never seen a silverstone, but they look like a premium case I wonder about the panel thickness though.

    And seriously...you can see the LianLi badge is on crooked in one of those photos. They have definitely strayed from where they started from.
    Reply

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