Original Link: http://www.anandtech.com/show/5006/lian-li-pctu200-on-the-road-with-lian-li
Lian Li PC-TU200: On the Road With Lian Liby Dustin Sklavos on October 31, 2011 12:45 AM EST
Introducing the Lian Li PC-TU200
More and more lately, mini-ITX boards are becoming very feature rich and users are needing fewer expansion cards in their desktop systems. Where once upon a time we'd need a wireless card, a video card, maybe an eSATA card and/or a sound card, now modern mini-ITX boards can cover just about all of these bases short of the GPU. TV tuner cards aren't even what they used to be with vendor lock-in by cable companies. All of that means that in many cases (no pun intended), all the end user is really going to need is the single PCI Express x16 the board provides.
Addressing this segment of users, Lian Li sent us their PC-TU200 enclosure, a mini-ITX case that offers two expansion slots just for those double-wide video cards that have become de rigeur. The TU200 includes a carrying handle at the top that makes its purpose abundantly clear: producing a case perfect for LAN warriors.
When we were first contacted by Lian Li's PR team, we were posed a question: what do we want to see? Our coverage of full- and mid-towers so far has been pretty good, but smaller enclosures have oftentimes gone by the wayside. So while we do have a couple of larger cases from Lian Li on the bench waiting for review, the TU200 is both one of their newer releases and also one of their most compelling. Cursory examination of the enclosure suggests that for both thermals and performance, it should be a big winner similar to (one of my personal favorites) SilverStone's Temjin TJ-08E, using a similar single-fan wind tunnel design.
|Lian Li PC-TU200 Specifications|
|Motherboard Form Factor||Mini-ITX, Mini-DTX|
|Drive Bays||External||1x 5.25"|
|Internal||4x 3.5" (3x 3.5" if the top 2.5" is occupied) and 2x 2.5"|
|Cooling||Front||1x 140mm intake fan|
|Front I/O Port||eSATA, 2x USB 3.0, mic and headphone jacks|
|Top I/O Port||-|
|Power Supply Size||ATX|
|Clearance||11.5" (Expansion Cards), 80mm (CPU HSF), 140-160mm (PSU)|
|Weight||6.9 lbs. (3.15 kg)|
|Dimensions||13.35" x 8.7" x 11.42" (360mm x 210mm x 320mm)|
There's really no getting around it: the TU200 is tiny. At just a touch under seven pounds, this enclosure is substantially lighter than my cat (who isn't stunningly overweight for an indoor cat if you can believe it), and frankly smaller to boot. Between the diminutive dimensions and the surprisingly rich internal design, one has to wonder if there isn't some kind of strange witchcraft at work to get all of these parts to fit into this tiny enclosure. As it turns out, a little bit may be involved.
In and Around the Lian Li PC-TU200
If you've been keeping up with my case reviews since I started hammering them out a few months ago, you'll know I'm a proponent of enclosure designs that find newer, sometimes smarter ways to work. At the very least, I can respect any company that's willing to tinker with conventions and experiment with their designs: that's why I have such a soft spot for SilverStone, and it's why I'm developing one for Lian Li. But there's a major difference between the two: SilverStone experiments a bit with their designs, but Lian Li oftentimes seems like their engineers have started entirely off the grid to begin with.
Externally, the TU200 seems pretty self-explanatory. The front features a single 5.25" drive bay with a bay cover so as not to mar Lian Li's trademark all-aluminum design. Below it are the power button and reset buttons, followed by the massive front vent for the 140mm intake fan. Making sure to keep with the times, the bottom of the enclosure sports an eSATA port and a pair of USB 3.0 ports, along with the standard headphone and mic jacks. The corners of the enclosure are covered in molded aluminum bumpers while the top has a handle built into it, not so quietly suggesting that the TU200 is meant to spend its time on the road instead of buried under your desk.
Pop over to the back, and you'll notice two major clues that all is not normal in Lian Li's world: two levers at the top, locked into place with thumbscrews, that are designed to pop out the side panels. Below them is a healthy amount of ventilation, the power supply mounting plate, and the openings for the motherboard I/O cluster along with two ventilated expansion bay covers.
When you do open up the TU200, everything is where you'd expect it to be...sort of. There's a fairly healthy sized drive cage to the right able to support four 3.5" drives (or three 3.5" drives and a single 2.5" drive that mounts to the bottom); that cage is held in place by the top cage for the 5.25" drive and a small plate that secures into both the cage and the bottom of the enclosure with thumbscrews. If it wasn't clear from the outside that quarters in the TU200 were going to be cramped, it should be abundantly clear now. Thankfully the standoffs for the motherboard are built into the tray.
Speaking of the motherboard tray, you'll notice that behind it there's virtually no gap between it and the side panel; any cable organization has to be done behind the drive cage backplane. And while that backplane is very much appreciated, it has a couple of minor flaws. The first is that Lian Li inexplicably includes molex power connectors instead of SATA power. I've mentioned this before: molex needs to go the way of the dinosaur, period. The second has to do with the mount at the bottom of the cage used for the 2.5" drive: it just doesn't line up with the bottom connectors. Given that Lian Li has to use custom grommets and screws to mount a 2.5" drive to the bottom of the cage anyhow, I feel like some allowance could or should've been made for this.
Quarters in the TU200 are pretty freaking cramped. That's to be expected from an enclosure this small and designed with these parts in mind. While the front intake fan theoretically provides airflow for the entire system, it also can potentially run into trouble from the drive cage blocking the air, and it's too high to bring in cool air for the video card; for that there's ventilation in the bottom of the case, but as you can see in the photos the TU200's feet don't lift it off the ground very much. On carpet this gap will be completely closed.
Assembling the Lian Li PC-TU200
On the ease of assembly continuum for cases, at one far end you have Corsair (really the brand in general): couldn't be any easier to put together short of including a technician to just do it for you. On the opposite end you'll have some of SilverStone's more exotic cases (such as the Raven RV03), but I have to say the benchmark has really been set: thus far, out of every case I've assembled, the Lian Li PC-TU200 has been among the hardest if not the hardest case to put together.
I don't expect a case this small to be a tool-less design, far from it. But while many of SilverStone's exotic designs feel like puzzles with elegant solutions reflected in the documentation they ship with, the TU200 oftentimes feels like a bit of a head scratcher, not at all dissimilar to the V353 we reviewed recently. Advance warning: newbies need not apply here, and if you're going to build in the TU200 it may behoove you to have it in mind before you even order the first component.
This is the first time I've ever consulted the instruction manual to figure out how to get the side panels off: remove the two thumbscrews in the back (at the top), and then press the levers and the panels pop out. It's kind of cool but not something you'd immediately expect. To Lian Li's credit, all of the mechanisms involved feel very secure and built to last.
Their instruction manual will tell you to insert the I/O shield for the motherboard and then just pop the board in, but I found that there simply isn't enough clearance to get the motherboard in (at least not remotely easily) without completely removing the drive cage, a task that theoretically shouldn't be required if the included instructions are to be believed. That said, I'm always happy when the standoffs for the motherboard are already built into the tray, so once you can shimmy the board in and squeeze it up against the I/O shield, it's just a matter of getting the four screws in place.
After that, though, you get to what I'm convinced is the TU200's fatal flaw: the drive cage. I honestly feel like the way drives are mounted in the TU200 is just plain over-engineered. Here's how drives are supposed to mount, at least in theory: for 3.5" drives, you'll loosen the thumbscrew on the left side of the cage, in the extruded lip of the cage, then slide it up, opening the "rails" for inserting the drive. Then put four screws with large, wheel-shaped heads into the side mounts of the drive, slide the drive into the "rails" and into the SATA and power ports in the backplane, then basically close off the rails with the thumbscrew. I wish there were a clearer way to explain it than that.
2.5" drives are simultaneously better and worse: mount four screws into the bottom of the drive with rubber grommets around them (broad grommet side against the drive itself), then insert it into the open holes at the bottom of the cage (or case) and push it back into place. In the cage, this will block off the bottom bay, while in the case itself it runs the risk of butting up against the video card. Either way, you're going to have to route cables around the top of the cage instead of from the back.
Finally, to mount a 5.25" drive, you need to unscrew two screws on each side of the enclosure's interior that hold the bay cover in place, slide the drive in from the front, screw the bay cover back on, and then screw in the drive. Phew.
This is all over-engineered, but the real problems have to do with the drive cage itself. While I was able to get things mounted without too much trouble, the cage actually blocks a tremendous amount of air from the front fan. Worse still, the extrusion on the left side of the cage, where the thumbscrew that locks the drives into place is, drastically limits the size of power supply you can fit into the case. Lian Li's spec page originally listed the case as being able to support a power supply 180mm in length, the length of our usual test PSU. That PSU just plain didn't fit; cables mushing up against the lip of the cage (along with the power supply itself) saw to that. I had to use a 160mm power supply from Corsair, the AX850, and even then the modular cable plugs drastically interfere with clearance. I also had to flip the power supply since most PSUs have the plugs closer to the side with the intake fan: that meant the intake was left with a small gap between it...and the side panel. No es bueno. There's a reason their spec page now lists the power supply clearance at 140mm, and you'll want to adhere to that requirement.
Finally, because of the monster cage, routing cables turns into a massive chore, and jimmying a video card into the enclosure (particularly our GeForce GTX 580) winds up being an exercise in brute force. This is, I think, the first enclosure I've seen where a modular power supply might actually be a bad idea. Not only that, but I feel like cramming an ATX power supply into a case design like this is just...unwise. I know Lian Li was going for an enclosure that can handle a top-of-the-line graphics card, but there are smaller power supply form factors that may have been more ideal for something like this. Deepening the enclosure an inch or two, moving to a smaller power supply form factor, and mounting it up behind the optical drive might have improved things. That, and a case with an airflow design like this one would benefit tremendously from even a tiny tower-style cooler on the CPU.
For testing Micro-ATX and Mini-ITX cases, we use the following standardized testbed in its stock configuration and a Zotac GeForce GTX 580 in cases that support it to get a feel for how the case handles heat and noise. Due to the power supply clearance constraints of the TU200, we're using a slightly different power supply than our usual.
|Mini-ITX/Micro-ATX Test Configuration|
|CPU||Intel Core i3-530 (73W TDP)|
Intel HD Graphics (IGP)
Zotac GeForce GTX 580 (244W TDP)
|Memory||2x2GB Crucial Ballistix Smart Tracer DDR3-1600|
Samsung 5.25" BD-ROM/DVDRW Drive
Kingston SSDNow V+ 100 64GB SSD
Western Digital Caviar Black 1TB SATA 6Gbps
|CPU Cooler||Zalman CNPS8000A with Cooler Master ThermalFusion 400|
|Power Supply||Corsair Professional Series Gold AX850 80 Plus Gold 850-Watt PSU|
A refresher on how we test:
Acoustic testing is standardized on a foot from the front of the case, using the Extech SL10 with an ambient noise floor of ~32dB. For reference, that's what my silent apartment measures with nothing running, testing acoustics in the dead of night (usually between 1am and 3am). A lot of us sit about a foot away from our computers, so this should be a fairly accurate representation of the kind of noise the case generates, and it's close enough to get noise levels that should register above ambient.
Thermal testing is run with the computer having idled at the desktop for fifteen minutes, and again with the computer running both Furmark (where applicable) and Prime95 (less one thread when a GPU is being used) for fifteen minutes. I've found that leaving one thread open in Prime95 allows the processor to heat up enough while making sure Furmark isn't CPU-limited. We're using the thermal diodes included with the hardware to keep everything standardized, and ambient testing temperature is always between 71F and 74F. Processor temperatures reported are the average of the CPU cores.
For more details on how we arrived at this testbed, you can check out our introductory passage in the review for the SilverStone FT03.
Last but not least, we'd also like to thank the vendors who made our testbed possible:
We have some thanks in order before we press on:
- Thank you to Crucial for providing us with the Ballistix Smart Tracer memory we used to add memory thermals to our testing.
- Thank you to Zalman for providing us with the CNPS8000A heatsink and fan unit we used.
- Thank you to Kingston for providing us with the SSDNow V+ 100 SSD.
- Thank you to CyberPower for providing us with the Western Digital Caviar Black hard drive and the optical drive.
- Thank you to Corsair for providing us with the Corsair Professional Series Gold AX850 power supply.
Noise and Thermal Testing, IGP
You've probably figured out by now from the assembly chapter of this review that our noise and thermal testing with the Lian Li PC-TU200 didn't go as well as we'd hoped. Actually it gets worse: it was surprisingly difficult to keep the power cables from even blocking off the fan in our heatsink. The Intel Core i3 actually can idle with the CPU fan off, but that's not really where we want to be running it. But we did eventually sort things out to come up with the following results.
You can see that thermals aren't terrible in the TU200, but they're not great either. The CPU hits the highest temperatures we've yet tested it at, and this is before adding the GeForce to the enclosure. While our testbed feels generally adequate for getting an overall idea of enclosure performance, the TU200 seems particularly hamstrung by the questionable drive cage design and the resulting poor airflow.
Meanwhile, noise levels are essentially comparable with the other enclosures, none of which have much (or really anything) in the way of sound dampening characteristics. SilverStone's FT03 remains a particularly bad citizen, though it's also working with more fans. Meanwhile, SilverStone's TJ08-E benefits a bit from having fan control included for its single front intake fan.
Noise and Thermal Testing, GeForce GTX 580
I actually tested the Lian Li PC-TU200 with the GTX 580 installed first (it's easier to remove a component than add one), but the results on the previous page should have given you some pause about adding another 244 watts of heat to the mix. The TU200 does cope with the increased thermal load, but we're really starting to push the limits of what it can handle here.
Outside of the odd chipset temperature results, the TU200 suffers for the inclusion of the GTX 580 across the board. The case has a tremendously hard time coping with the resulting heat radiating off of the 580, and this is the first time I've seen the heat coming off the back of a video card do this much damage to a case's thermals. Look at the temperatures of the SSD sitting close to the back of the GTX 580: a load temperature of 46C on an SSD is insane.
It gets worse, too: the Core i3 is now getting perilously close to the max spec for load temperatures. The questionable airflow design plays hell on the processor, and while it never crashed I wouldn't be comfortable running my system at these temperatures.
The increased thermal load and difficulty dissipating it plays out in the noise levels. The GTX 580's fan has to run much higher just to keep the idle temperature at the target, while the similar (but cleaner) airflow design of the TJ08-E allows everything to get fed with cool air to the point where the whole system runs quieter to begin with. SilverStone's enclosure may be a sight bigger than the TU200, but it gets an awful lot of mileage out of it. Whether at load or idle, the case fan is basically maxed out and we get 49dB of noise.
To put it bluntly, while you can fit a GTX 580 into the TU200, you really shouldn't. The case is made for lesser configurations, and really even lesser GPUs are going to cause some problems. You'll probably want to stick with GPUs that don't require any PCIe power connectors in this case.
Conclusion: Needs to Go Back to the Drawing Board
Lian Li's goals with the PC-TU200 and its intended purpose are both admirable and, in my opinion, realistic...at least in concept. I'm not 100% certain Lian Li could be successful with what they're trying to do without adding an inch or two here and there to the TU200's dimensions, but I don't think it's out of the question either. The all-aluminum design Lian Li is famous for is a great fit for something that's supposed to be a portable LAN machine, and the handle is both sturdy and useful. The TU200 is small enough that the handle is actually practical as opposed to just being a cute idea.
Their central idea in terms of airflow and cooling is a proven if underused one as well: a single large fan, lined up directly with the internal components, can maximize cooling efficiency in ways that many larger cases still haven't figured out how to benefit from (for example, it pays off in spades in the SilverStone FT02 where my i7-990X's core temperatures idle at an average of about 24C.) This is something that we know works well; even SilverStone was surprised at how effective this type of design was in the TJ08-E that basically obsoleted their high end FT03 at about half the cost.
The problem is that parts of the TU200 just feel grossly over-engineered, and as a whole the enclosure needs to go back to the drawing board. If we take the question of whether or not they should stick with an ATX power supply out of the equation, we're still left with the case's biggest flaw: the drive cage. Its bulk makes several ATX PSUs difficult if not impossible to include, and it's not exactly a tool-less design. I suspect Lian Li was trying to make it easy to swap hard drives in and out of the TU200, but honestly I think a lot of enclosure designers tend to overvalue that ability. This case is tiny and meant to be portable, and I just don't think the sacrifices made to allow the end user to swap drives a little more easily are worth it. By just slimming down the cage and using flat-headed screws and silicon grommets the way Antec often does to lock the drives into place, Lian Li can score a little bit more interior real estate.
I also appreciate that you can install basically a grand total of five storage drives in the TU200, but in a case this small that seems excessive. At most I'd want to see enough space for an SSD system drive and maybe two 3.5" drives. Making that change could also potentially increase the interior real estate again and allow for improved air flow from the intake fan. If you were to populate all of the drive bays with the current design using traditional mechanical hard drives, even with the large 140mm intake fan the internal drive temperatures are liable to get dangerously high under load—and that's without adding a GPU to the mix.
Since we're compiling a wish list anyhow, I'd also strongly suggest moving the ports somewhere else, either removing the increasingly less relevant optical drive bay entirely and putting them there or placing them in a row at the top of the case. Placing them at the bottom has two adverse effects: it keeps them a bit out of the way (though I get the feeling the TU200 is meant to be placed on a desk or tabletop), and it covers up space that could be used to ventilate the video card. By moving them, you can potentially increase the size of the intake fan and allow it to grow into the area where the video card is meant to reside, providing it with cool outside air instead of relying on a single vent that threatens to be blocked off by carpet or even just the table the case rests on.
There are enough lessons that can be gleaned from this design that I'm confident Lian Li could turn around and produce a revision of this case that would be able to serve the same purposes while performing worlds better both thermally and acoustically, all at the same cost (if not less). I'll admit I don't think our testbed represents a particularly good combination of components for a unique specimen like the TU200, and that a smart end user could probably build a pretty solid machine in it by very carefully choosing the components used. The TU200 is a very new design for Lian Li, though, and it needs a lot of refinement. $179 is just too much to pay for a rough draft; hopefully Lian Li will produce a second generation design that alleviates the issues this one has. Done right, that one could be a very easy recommendation.