Assembling the Lian Li PC-A05FN

The fundamental problem with trying to assemble a system in any kind of small enclosure is that the enclosure itself is going to make the work slow and cramped. That's not really the fault of anyone or anything but physics, but sometimes a manufacturer tries to make their case a little bit more "capable" than they probably ought. Such may very well be Lian Li's PC-A05FN, which ostensibly has space for our testbed components (and indeed, we were able to fit the standardized testbed inside with some work), but honestly, if you're interested in this enclosure you're going to want to be fairly selective about the parts you choose.

Lian Li was gracious enough to include standoffs built into the motherboard tray, but because of the reversed cooling design, I had to remove the HSF unit we use for testing and then rotate it 180 degrees. Another option for a build in the PC-A05FN may be to orient the HSF to exhaust out of the top of the enclosure (by adding a 140mm fan), thus giving the unit sole access to the air coming in from the back. By that logic, it might also be wise to turn the front fan into an intake as well. Either way, our full-ATX motherboard was able to be jimmied in, but I ran into a problem almost immediately.

The SilverStone Strider Gold power supply we use for testing is 180mm, 20mm longer than Lian Li's specifications indicate. Thankfully I was still able to get it into the enclosure (I actually installed it first, though you can also install it by first removing the front bezel and then removing the mounting bracket) and get everything wired, but you're better off sticking with a 160mm or shorter unit. Note that clearance isn't good at all; the PSU completely blocks off the side-mounted SATA ports on the motherboard and prevents you from routing any cabling behind the motherboard tray (not that there's much reason to.) I do have to question whether that missing 20mm really matters, though; that's about enough to plug in a SATA cable but it cuts things awfully close.

I'm still not a fan of Lian Li's "rubber and rails" approach to installing 3.5" drives. You basically mount four thumbscrews with rubber rings into the sides of the drive, "unlock" the drive cage by removing the thumbscrew and lifting up the interior metal bumper, slide the drive in, then lower the bumper again and "lock" it by replacing the thumbscrew. I'm just not sure this is really that much easier than a basic, run of the mill drive cage where you have to screw the drive in by hand. And while the 5.25" optical drive at least benefits from a snap-to-close tool-less locking mechanism, that mechanism feels loose and you'll want to screw it in on the opposite side just to be safe (e.g. a loose DVD mount can cause increased vibration noise).

2.5" drives use a similar approach to their 3.5" cousins, but instead the screw and mount go into the bottom of the drive, and you have to use a screwdriver. From there, you pop the drive into a set of holes in the bottom of the chassis and then slide it into place. It feels remarkably secure, but any SATA power plug you use for these low drives is going to need to be at the end of the chain; clearance between the drive and the bottom of the chassis is basically nonexistent. I'd also recommend against using a mechanical drive in one of these mounts; these were clearly intended for SSDs and I can't vouch for how a mechanical drive will handle the vibration or the heat.

You can fit a 10.5" video card like our Zotac GeForce GTX 580 into the PC-A50FN, but you'll sacrifice at least one of the 3.5" drive bays in the process. Really you're better off with a smaller, shorter card like a GTX 560 or Radeon HD 6870; this is another one of those instances where "you can" doesn't mean "you should."

Finally, wiring the whole thing up was troublesome. Part of that is due to using a power supply that's admittedly a touch out of spec for this enclosure, but part of it is also the fact that while there's some space behind the motherboard tray, there's also really nothing to put back there or route. The result is a build that looks a bit messy internally, and worse, seems to crowd the video card something fierce. You could probably clean things up a bit more with some better component choices, but cable management is not the PC-A50FN's strong suit.

Honestly, I like the PC-A50FN more than the other Lian Li cases I've tested so far, but once again you really do need to choose your components carefully if you elect to build in this enclosure. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but this is most definitely not a "one size fits all" case.

In and Around the Lian Li PC-A05FN Testing Methodology
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  • Iketh - Thursday, December 8, 2011 - link

    http://static.googleusercontent.com/external_conte...

    Scroll down to figure 4 and 5. The sweet spot for hard drives is 35-45C, which makes sense since that's the temps they reach with very little air flow and probably the temps manufacturers tune their microscopic clearances.
    Reply
  • ckryan - Wednesday, December 7, 2011 - link

    I have the last revision of this case, and it's my favorite. It's sure as hell not for everyone, and maybe not even for many, but a few people such as myself love this case design. I love the aesthetic, and when fitted with the right components and some good case dampening material you get a quiet but good looking system. (It looks particularly good with the Samsung BD drives...). Some think of this case as a blank canvas, and I count myself among those.

    The last previous revisions have had no out of box top vent for the GPU area. That's pretty much my major complaint (but I enjoy the lack of exterior openings for noise to leak out). With the airflow of the rear intake you can run a good tower cooler passively if you so desire. Cable management is a nightmare do to the PSU placement being way too close to power connections on the motherboard itself. But I like the upside down motherboard placement and think it's a great system. GPUs face up, and as long as it can cope with cooling itself, it's awesome.

    Thank you for obtaining the new version of this case. I have a Lian Li V351 uATX case, and it's a strange but beautiful design. If you're willing to work with the enclosure, I think they're most satisfying, attractive, and quirky.
    Reply
  • Alecthar - Thursday, December 8, 2011 - link

    It's a generally held belief among the Lian Li enthusiasts I know that the earlier revisions of this case (A05NB) are superior to the slightly more orthodox layout of this newer model. I certainly agree in principle (I can't speak to practice, as I don't currently own one0. Reply
  • Hrel - Wednesday, December 7, 2011 - link

    I really like the brushed aluminum minimalist looks of this. But it's too loud and too small. I'd really like a Fractal R3 except with this brushed aluminum exterior and no side grate, smooth everywhere. Some sound dampening foam would go a long way too. Also the reverse design is weird and wouldn't work for how I build rigs.

    All in all I love the aesthetics of this thing. But a micro-ATX case is as small as I can go, and then things get cramped. Reverse design = no good. Too loud.

    With all that said, I think there will be people who will really want this. I think it'd make a really nice looking HTPC case. As I've never been a fan of paying 150+ for a horizontal case with a wimpy power supply just so it can "look" like a receiver and not a computer. I'll never understand the market for those cases. What's wrong with just a regular PC tower?
    Reply
  • ckryan - Wednesday, December 7, 2011 - link

    I added AcoustiPak material to all of the interior surfaces and the inside of the front bezel. With a Noctua U12 SE2 cooler and a midrange GPU everything is great. The new USB3.0 revision has the 140mm top fan mount to reign in the GPU area heat. So multi gpu configurations are out, but with the right card you can have low noise and good temps... but it's a little challenging. I'm using a Seasonic X650 PSU, and it's always running in passive cooling mode (as a 2500K doesn't suck much juice even with a healthy OC).

    But seriously, it's not for everyone. I liked the case enough that I was willing to choose components that would work in the case, and I think it's the most attractive mid tower case around. I recommend something like a GTX460/560 that runs cool to begin with, and some designs are going to work better than others. But you don't have to worry about CPU tems, so to a certain extent it's okay if the case gets warm elsewhere.
    Reply
  • S0me1X - Wednesday, December 7, 2011 - link

    Like the previous poster, I have the previous version of this case. It is actually superior in terms of cooling (provided you upgrade the fan-less top panel with the 140-mm fan one). This way, you get directed airflow from bottom (cpu) of the case to the top (gpu). Alternatively, you can use one of these kits: http://www.lian-li.com/v2/en/product/product06.php... , which integrates well with both cases. Also, if you use the PCI cooling bracket, you should use a GPU heatsink which has no built in fan (Prolimatech MK13 is a great match for this).

    Another thing is: this case cools a lot better without the hard drive bracket. I'm only using the 5.25 bays (4 120gb ssds in a single bay:) ). So remove the hard drive bracket (also remove the hard drive fan) and have the PSU fan pointing upwards. Finally, replacing the bay covers with these http://www.lian-li.com/v2/en/product/product06.php... actually has a dramatic impact.

    What I am getting at is this case requires some simple (tool-less) modifications to really shine. What you get is a compact (but fits full size mobo) all aluminum (light and elegant) case for a very good price.
    Reply
  • S0me1X - Wednesday, December 7, 2011 - link

    I'd like to add that I would probably try reversing the fans in the revision used in your review. In other words, have the back/top fans exhaust and don't use the front fan at all. Remove the hard drive bay and install the PCI cooling bracket. Reply
  • Stuka87 - Thursday, December 8, 2011 - link

    I am not digging on this case. I love aluminum cases, but this case is too short. The video card goes into the hard drive area.

    And I dont case for the air intake. Far too much resistance which means that intake fan most likely ends up pulling in air from the case, rather than from outside the case.

    It needs to be about an inch longer, and have a larger air intake from that front fan.
    Reply
  • tzhu07 - Thursday, December 8, 2011 - link

    Just read (skimmed) through this. I like the elegance of Lian Li, however their cases are not the best for noise control.

    I recently ordered parts for a build on Newegg, and I considered lots of Lian Li's for microATX, but in the end I chose the Fractal Design Define Mini. It's not too big and not too small, and most of all was built with silence in mind. Can't wait to assemble it together.
    Reply
  • Beenthere - Thursday, December 8, 2011 - link

    ...poor design throughout. "Just because you can doesn't mean you should", sums up this design precisely. This is usually the result of looking for sales by being weird and it actually works sometimes. Reply

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