When it comes to aluminum chassis in the enthusiast field, one name inevitably comes up: Lian Li. The company has been around longer than most other retail brands and was a fierce competitor in the budding enthusiast market to Cooler Master eight years ago. Cooler Master shifted focus and enlarged their portfolio, but Lian Li stuck to their business of producing aluminum chassis - though recently they have extended slightly by offering some power supplies for the retail market.

I visited Lian Li's headquarters located a little outside of Taipei, Taiwan several times in the past - while a certain director of FSP Group was still working there. At that time (2002), Lian Li only had one building and the product lines were in the attic of the building. Lian Li was the first company to introduce a commercially built side panel with water inside; this was a pretty cool feature that doesn't appear to exist anymore (for obvious reasons). Lian Li struggled for a few years with diminishing sales, as consumers and the market were moving in a different direction. However, it looks like they are enjoying increased sales during the last few years, helped by their new case designs and the fact that people are spending more money on fancy computer equipment.

I recently received a nice new chassis from Lian Li and used it for several months. The PC-V1010 is a mid tower with a decent amount of space inside, capable of mounting up to five 5.25" devices. The top of the case has a cover that hides various ports: eSATA, IEEE1394 Firewire, four USB, and headset/mic jacks. The exterior design is very sleek and foregoes flashy lights or any other bling in favor of quiet elegance. There's also no door to get in your way - which could be good or bad depending on user preference. Ventilation is provided by a large perforated area at the lower front, with a 140mm fan on the interior. In addition, all of the 5.25" bay covers are perforated; this can be good for airflow but it also makes keeping the interior dust-free painful.

Lian Li has a very cool system that holds the side panel in place. All you see is a blank plate of aluminum; Lian Li secures the panel with metal latches that are not visible from the outside. To remove the panel, there's only one screw at the top-back corner. Looking inside we see two separate thermal areas, similar to quite a few other high-end cases. The only opening between those two areas is in the middle of the separating plate, where you will route cables for any drives, GPUs, and the motherboard. The edges of the opening are folded aluminum, so you don't need to worry about cutting any cables on sharp edges. The bottom area has space for the power supply and up to six hard drives. You'll need to remove the other side of the case to install any hard drives, which is again accomplished by removing a single thumbscrew.

A large crossbar provides extra support for long expansion cards or graphics cards, and you can remove it to make the installation of the motherboard and other components easier. The front sports six bays for 5.25" drives, five of which have a detachable cover and external access. Lian Li does not include any sort of tool-less clamping system for the drives, so you will need to secure all components with screws. This is one area where cases like the Cooler Master Cosmos S have an advantage, although it's only a concern if you frequently swap components. The large 140mm fan and the 5.25" cover have a fine filter that helps prevent dust from entering the chassis. Unfortunately, there's not a lot of space for the power supply, so you won't be able to fit long power supplies in the case unless you purchase an optional PSU mounting bracket (which extends the PSU out the back of the case about 2"). Another nice feature is the small fan control unit above the rear 120mm fan, which you can connect your case fans and switch between low, medium, and high speeds.

The large interior makes it easy to install all of your components. If you like, you can also remove the motherboard tray to make installation even easier. However, it is not possible to install graphics or expansion cards before the motherboard tray is inside the chassis. The case supports standard motherboard sizes as well as E-ATX boards. There's also a chipset cooling fan, which may or may not work properly depending on your component choices. This is an extra 120mm fan (included) that installs on the expansion card support bar, and it can be adjusted to provide additional cooling for your chipset.

Hard drives are easy to install as well. There are small screws with rubber dampers that attach to the hard drives. With the screws in place, you simply slide the drives into the bottom of the case. The rubber grommets isolate the drives from the rest of the chassis, helping to eliminate noise caused by vibration. If you want to install more than six drives, Lian Li sell an optional HDD cage (EX-33N) that mounts at the front of the chassis and supports three additional HDDs; it also includes a 120mm fan. Another option is the new EX-H33, which provides three HDD mounts and supports hot-swapping of drives through the front of the case (with support from an appropriate SATA controller).

Our three graphics cards fit nicely, with room to route all the necessary cables. However, as you can see in the above gallery, the final install with all of our components doesn't leave a lot of room between our short power supply and the hard drives. Users with detachable cables will have a small advantage here.

The PC-V1010 is available in black and silver, and prices start at around $250 in the U.S and €185 in Europe. Prices for aluminum towers like this are always high since it costs more to use aluminum for the entire chassis instead of cheap plastic. Extras like an additional HDD cage and the extended PSU mounting bracket will also add to the cost - $35 and $20 respectively. For the added cost, however, Lian Li provides excellent quality. The included fans and noise dampening features help make this a very quiet chassis as well. I have used around 20 Lian Li cases during the past several years, and I can that the quality of every one was exceptional. Simply put, it's hard to go wrong with a Lian Li case - the only possible complaints will come from your pocketbook.

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  • Vidaluna - Wednesday, September 17, 2008 - link

    Had my Lian-li PC-76 for 5 years now & still love this thing to death. No other brand comes even close when ur talking about space & modability. Ok it was expensive to buy back then, but I wouldn't trade it for any of them new Antec / Zalman / Coolermaster cases. It is a shame though to read they're producing thinner sheet aluminium cases??? The new series Lian Li (PC-A77B PC-A77-B) still look pretty good to me. Wouldn't buy anything else.
  • thebeastie - Wednesday, September 17, 2008 - link

    I have to say I think these tool-less Lian-Li cases are poor value.

    All good quality cases from Zalman/CoolerMaster/Antec have easy tool-less 3.5 HD setups with rubber padding everywhere.

    I think Lian-Li are just over digging into peoples trust and money for just so so case designs.
  • Richlet - Wednesday, September 17, 2008 - link

    Quote: "I think Lian-Li are just over digging into peoples trust and money for just so so case designs."

    I couldn't agree more. While they have quality builds, they're so used to the enthusiast community spending scads of money on their cases, only to mod them up the nines.. I believe Lian Li is the #1 most modded case company in the world? People willing to spend crazy amounts only to cut apart and hacksaw what their case was into something new and different-- I like it, but it's definitely something they've noticed and keep charging for while lowering their own costs.
  • Richlet - Wednesday, September 17, 2008 - link

    I don't think they're ugly or anything, but I wouldn't buy a Lian-Li case if I was going to spend a bundle. I mean, sheesh, Silverstone's stuff is just as good for cooling and accessories, and far prettier.

    As for Apple aesthetics, a few companies have made Apple-like cases and I don't see how they're that much prettier. Give me a classic and classy straightforward design anyday. Hell, something as simple as an Antec Sonata III is nice enough for any living room assuming you actually take CARE of your living room and dust everything and polish shiny things, like the mirror finish.
  • anartik - Tuesday, September 16, 2008 - link

    I just built a new system using this case (w/ full window). I do like this case and it’s a lot better than most of the junk out there but it does have a few issues.

    There is plenty of room for most power supplies up to 200mm. I have a long Corsair HX1000 at 200mm and it fits fine. If you need more length the first drive bay is removable. I took mine out anyway for a little more open space. Unless you are using a diesel generator for a power supply you should not have a problem. The optional PS extension is pretty ugly and you don’t want it.

    The whole front of the case is filtered and it is not a dust problem as suggested. The 140 in the bottom has a filter and all the vented 5.25 slot covers have fine mesh that collects dust. They can all be vacuumed or washed.

    The isolated bottom chamber has an adequate 140mm fan (not 120) that blows directly on the two drive racks and is exhausted by the 140mm fan on my power supply. Even with six drives they are spaced for good cooling.

    The one main fault of the case is no intake fan for the upper chamber. I put in a Kama Bay retrofitted with a ~110CFM 140mm fan internally behind the bay covers. It occupies two exposed and one hidden bays.

    I moved from a PC60 and just as a matter of preference I preferred the old style door mounting and mobo tray. I also preferred the old removable front panel with easy access to air filters. You have to remove both doors and the 140mm fan to get to the filter.

    The PCI support rail is a good idea poorly implemented with cheap plastic retainers for the cards that bend and flex. I think the real issue is it was designed with shorter PCI cards in mind vs. longer cards like the 8800GTX. The mid section fan mounting slots (on the rail) are too high and miss the NB (easy to remedy with dremel). With some large round or square CPU coolers you may have to remove the support rail altogether. I’m using an Ultra 120 Extreme and it fits just fine. The case fans are just ok… I replaced the 2 x 120’s with higher CFM Scythes. 3x140, 3x120, stock Geforce fan with slot cooler next to it and it’s reasonably quiet for a heavily overclocked system. The case contains noise pretty well and is vibration free. In person it’s a very functional and tasteful tech case and while it’s a little long it’s no taller than the typical mid tower (w/o wheels close to PC60). There’s plenty of room for internal watercooling or anything else. However it’s definitely not a gaudy kiddy toy alien monster or Barbie accessory apple case...
  • abnderby - Tuesday, September 16, 2008 - link

    I have for many years liked lian li cases but when running eatx dual xeons they were not a choice in building my pc. My biggest problem with all of these 'nice' cases is that there are always too many 5 1/4" bays who runs that mnay opticals today? at most i run 2 and a 3 1/3 floppy and media card combo.

    Next even with the optional hdd bay that is only 9 drives currently i run 11 6 sata raid 5 4 scsi raid 10 and 1 sata backup. So again i am stuck with a server case.

    I wish I could post some picturse of my case I run a dual xeon in Intels SC5300 modded to be more of a gamer case so to speak. It is big but it fits a whole lot of hardware. Retail it is like 600+ but ebay has them all of the time for 200 - 250 with 10 hot swap bays.

    If lian li and others would get off this design failure they could make some real cases in same size but with many more features.

    I would like to see this one fully equipted with a dual xeon rig and all bays stuffed.

    Also for note my intel case's cooling is excellent. But the sheer weight is not something to be hauling around without a dolly.
  • whatthehey - Tuesday, September 16, 2008 - link

    Not that you don't have your reasons, but seriously -- 11 hard drives in a "gamer" system? It seems more like a server that you sometimes use for gaming rather than the other way around. There's nothing wrong with saying you need a server case for what you're doing, but I'm pretty sure the market for such things is trivially small. Besides, Lian Li makes a hard drive cage that allows you to install three hard drives while using two 5.25" bays. Grab two of those and you could end up with 12 hard drives in this particular chassis.

    Personally, rather than trying to cram more hard drives into a case, I just upgrade to larger hard drives. 1TB drives start at $135 these days. That's a lot of porn/games/movies/etc. before you even manage to fill up a couple of those let alone six. (SCSI? Bleh... Definitely server material there. I wouldn't even bother with SCSI in a workstation these days.)
  • TA152H - Monday, September 15, 2008 - link

    I bought a few Lian Li's when the cases weren't so ugly, and they are decent enough cases, but they seem to have gone from plain to plain ugly.

    I don't care how good a case is, if it's ugly, it's not going to sell well. Maybe Apple needs to design a new form factor and case, they seem to be the only company that understands that the appearance of a computer is important. People are visual, and no one wants ugly.

    What style would you call this one? The perforated black brick?
  • strikeback03 - Tuesday, September 16, 2008 - link

    The reason Apple sucks is exactly because they put too much stock in the appearance. Wouldn't have processors running a few degrees from shutdown if it weren't taboo to put in "ugly" fan ports.
  • TA152H - Wednesday, September 17, 2008 - link

    Look at their stock price. They are doing really well for sucking.

    Are they overpriced, of course. Still, they sell.

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