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A heat-smart interior
Like most of its siblings, the X500's side panels are held in place by a latch anchored with a thumbscrew. This nice little arrangement ensures you won't lose the screw.

Sound-dampening foam fills the portion of the panels under the drive cutouts

Although it theoretically impedes heat dissipation, Lian Li lines the X500's case panels with acoustic absorption foam to help reduce system noise levels.

Separated thermal zones—done right

This image nicely illustrates Lian Li's internal approach with the X500. All of the drive bays are located at the top of the case in a separate partition that also includes the power supply. Only the motherboard and expansion cards remain in the area below, with the twin 120 mm intake fans and single 120 mm exhaust creating a net positive pressure as long as the PSU fan moves less air than the lower case fan exhausts.

The drive area. I took the just the top hard drive cage out for this shot.

Pressure drives airflow to the upper reaches of the case, right past the hard drives, where it's helped along by the negative pressure created by the single 120 mm exhaust fan in this top thermal zone. Overall, the arrangement makes a lot of sense. Most power supply units ramp up their fan speeds under load, directing more airflow through the lower portion of the case—the only zone containing components likely to require additional cooling.

The top zone looks pretty much the same from both sides

A single opening in the motherboard tray to allow cables to pass from the upper area of the case to the lower reaches of the motherboard. Up top, things look mostly the same, where the hard drive cages can be secured from either side.

You can plug additional fans into the speed control module if they have three-pin headers

Assembling a PC in the X500 is a little different from a normal build simply because cables must be carefully routed based on your drive facing preference. There are multiple routes available for standard cables like the motherboard's main ATX connector, providing plenty of flexibility for those looking for a clean build. With the power supply in a central location, you can get by with shorter PSU cables, too.

Lian Li opts for thumbscrews and rubber washers to secure hard drives in their cages.

I started our system assembly with the hard drive cages, which were certainly easy enough to work with. Enough specialized thumbscrews are provided to install four internal 3.5" drives (plus a fifth in the floppy bay if you want). The thumbscrews slide through thick, rubber grommets, ensuring a measure of vibration (and, by extension, acoustic) isolation for each hard drive. The extra-large venting holes that pepper the cages should also help keep drives cool.

Everything in but the optical drive and graphics card

Our test system's motherboard was easy to mount, and once it was in place, we slipped in the PSU. Lian Li provides a simple, four-hole mounting bracket that attaches to the case and PSU separately, allowing you to orient it facing up or down. This flexibility ensures the PSU's active intake draws air from the desired zone.

A modular power supply is a must-have for the X500, since there really isn't any extra space to stuff unused cables unless you're willing to part with the lower hard drive cage. It would also be very difficult to fit any power supply longer than 6.5 inches into the X500 without sacrificing the same cage. Prospective X500 buyers will have to choose their PSUs wisely.

Cable management options are good, but not great

When installing an optical drive, one only needs to secure four custom screws into the drive so that it can slide into place along grooves in the bay. To anchor drives at the right depth, a standard screw is inserted through slots in the front panel and into the drive.

Housing drives at the top of the case puts them about as far as possible from most motherboard storage ports. Lian Li includes an extra-long SATA cable with the case, and I needed it to reach the hard drive in our test system. There's only one of these lengthy cables included, though, so you'll need to procure extras if you want to run multiple drives. Getting a ribbon cable all the way up to the optical drive proved challenging, but not impossible. However, if you intend to run a second IDE optical drive as a slave, you'll need a ribbon cable with both end connectors very close together. The need for longer cables made me wish the X500 came with more innovative routing features, such as those we saw with Thermaltake's Spedo. Lian Li does include velcro straps, which still helped a lot.

Extra-long graphics cards create cabling difficulties in the PC-X500

The only serious problem with X500's slender figure appeared when I was putting in our test system's GeForce 8800 GTS graphics card. There was enough clearance for the auxiliary power connector that plugs into the back of the nine-inch-long card, but cabling was dangerously close to the bottom intake fan, which is thankfully equipped with a grill. If you're running a graphics card longer than 10 inches, especially one with power leads connected to the right edge of the card as in the picture above, you may be forced to remove the lower 120 mm intake fan.