Lian Li's PC-90: The Hammer Strikes Hardby Dustin Sklavos on February 21, 2012 12:00 AM EST
Assembling the Lian Li PC-90
I have to be honest, what Lian Li packages with the PC-90 is pretty daunting, and I think a lot of it really could've been excised without harming the overall package. There is such a thing as too much, and the PC-90 finds it. Lian Li includes a plastic case for holding screws, a nice touch, but also includes several confusing plastic pieces that you'll find are supposed to be snapped into the middle plate to help brace expansion cards. These are liable to be used for bracing extra-long workstation cards, but it still feels excessive and worse, needlessly confusing.
Thankfully, if you can parse out what Lian Li includes, assembly of the PC-90 is actually fairly simple and logical. The motherboard tray comes with standoffs for an ATX motherboard already installed, and once you take those drive and cable routing plates out things are a lot simpler. There's plenty of space for installing the motherboard as well as wiring it up and installing any expansion cards you may have. Better still, Lian Li includes special thumbscrews for mounting the motherboard, making it that much easier.
Where assembly is a little out of order with the PC-90 is when installing storage drives. Those go on the plates and the plates go in last, so before you do that, you'll want to install the power supply and optical drive. The power supply goes in easily enough; remove the mounting bracket from the back (attached with four thumbscrews), screw the bracket on to the PSU, and then slide the PSU into the enclosure and secure it. You can actually remove the top panel of the PC-90 if you're so inclined, but it's not necessary.
Installing the optical drive involves popping the front panel off (it's designed to come off easily but also stay on securely). From there, you need to remove the fascia for the optical drive (held on by two screws), then screw in four rubber grommets and screws into the sides of the drive. Slide it in on the rails until it's in as far as it can go, then replace the fascia. The problem with this design is the same one that plagued the other Lian Li systems I tested: the button on the fascia just doesn't line up with the button on our Blu-ray drive, and there's no simple way to correct it. Understanding that not using the fascia might break up the PC-90's aesthetic, I think it's still a sacrifice worth making.
Before installing the 3.5" and 2.5" drives, you'll want to make sure everything else is wired up first, and you may even want to have the power and SATA leads ready for the drives. The drives are mounted by using thumbscrews with rubber grommets; the drives pop into the plates and slide into a locked position, and it's actually reasonably secure. You'll want to consult the manual on how exactly to orient the drives, though, lest you risk installing them the wrong way the first time like I did. Lian Li wants the cables to be routed through the center plates (and accompanying routing holes), but I honestly felt like this was an untenable solution. End users may be better off removing the center plates outright.
Lian Li's design for the PC-90 does feature one major shortcoming, and that's cable management. Given the way they intend components to be installed in the enclosure I have a hard time seeing how they could've done a much better job, but it does bear mentioning that much like many older enclosure designs there are going to be a lot of floating cables. Lian Li's engineers pay lip service to the idea of routing cables behind the motherboard tray, but realistically there's virtually no space back there.
I'll confess that once I got everything put together, I was skeptical of how well the PC-90 would perform. This straightforward wind tunnel design can be absolutely fantastic (as SilverStone's smaller TJ08-E proves), but with all of the floating cables potentially obstructing airflow and few allowances for handling them, it's easy to see how the PC-90 could lose a lot of that cooling potential. Thankfully it acquitted itself very well when the time came to do thermal testing.