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Lian Li’s PC-V800 enclosure

Geoff Gasior Former Managing Editor Author expertise
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Manufacturer Lian Li
Model PC-V800
Price $140
Availability Now

FOR YEARS, ENTHUSIASTS have drooled over Lian Li’s high-end PC cases. Carefully designed and immaculately manufactured, the all-aluminum towers have undeniable sex appeal and enough practical features to back up the their visual flair. You see, while aluminum can be brushed or polished for an attractive finish, the metal’s physical properties also allow manufacturers to create lightweight enclosures that radiate heat much better than steel or plastic designs.

Lian Li’s most recent tower designs have borrowed heavily from Apple’s Power Mac G5 enclosure, and the company’s new desktop case is no exception. The PC-V800 features the same perforated panels as Lian Li’s PC-V1000 tower in a form factor suitable for PC desktops and home theater systems. Is there a place for the PC-V800’s bold aesthetic in the living room? Does this desktop design work for home theater PCs? Read on to find out.

The case
The PC-V800 measures 380mm wide, 400mm deep, and 164mm high. That’s a little taller than most desktop or home theater PC cases, but also narrower than comparable ATX enclosures. The narrower profile could help the PC-V800 slide more easily into home entertainment units, at least those with adjustable shelf heights.

As one might expect, the PC-V800’s all-aluminum construction makes for an extremely light case. At 5.5kg, the PC-V800 isn’t the lightest desktop case we’ve reviewed (SilverStone’s LC01 weighs just over 4kg), but it’s easily the sturdiest. Of course, weight is only so important for a desktop enclosure. Desktop cases tend not to be popular at LAN parties, and most home theater PCs never move more than a few inches.

The PC-V800 is a study in brushed aluminum. It’s essentially a desktop version of Lian Li’s PC-V1000 series, whose design roots can be traced back to Apple’s Power Mac G5 enclosure. The bold look should be popular among those who favor industrial designs, but it’s certainly not for everyone. For those looking for a more subdued enclosure, the PC-V800 is also available in black. The black finish tones down the front panel’s grill-like appearance and should blend more comfortably with home theater components and living room environments. I’m a sucker for bare metal, so the brushed aluminum looks better to me.

While we’re looking at the front of the case, I can’t help but point out the floppy face plate on the bottom 5.25″ drive bay. The face plate should keep beige or otherwise mismatched drive colors from clashing with the case’s aluminum exterior, but it leaves a gaping and ultimately unattractive hole at the front of the case. Do home theater PC users actually need a floppy drive? With the exception of using third-party storage drivers during Windows XP’s installation routine, does anyone use floppy drives anymore?

 

External features
While I can’t understand why Lian Li would spec the PC-V800 with a floppy drive face plate, the case’s stealthed 5.25″ optical bay is a useful addition.

The spring-loaded aluminum drive cover flips down as the optical drive tray slides out, and when the tray slides back in, the cover snaps closed with a satisfying metal-on-metal click. The drive bay door can catch on the tray lip of some optical drives, but that’s easily remedied by removing the drive tray’s face plate. The stealthed drive bay’s eject button isn’t adjustable, either, although it works just fine with the collection of Lite On, MSI, Pioneer, Samsung, and Sony optical drives I have in the labs.

A closer look at the front of the case reveals a standard assortment of buttons and expansion ports, including LEDs for hard drive access and system power that have a reasonable level of brightness for the living room. No piercing blue Death Ray here.

Our close-up also reveals that the front panel’s perforations aren’t just for show. The holes provide plenty of airflow through the front of the case, which can be both a blessing and a curse. Increased airflow should result in lower system temperatures, but the lack of filtering creates a potential dust trap. The open venting will also allow more noise to escape from the case, which isn’t ideal if you’re looking to build a silent system for the living room.

The PC-V800 doesn’t rely solely on its drafty face for ventilation. The PC-V800’s top panel also features an 80mm blow hole, complete with a fan, above the CPU socket—and that’s not all.

Lian Li has blessed the bottom of the case with limited venting under the power supply mount. These vents should line up with the bottom-facing PSU fans that are common on low-noise power supplies. With rubber-tipped feet elevating the case by about half an inch, there should be just enough clearance for a reasonable amount of airflow.

The rear of the PC-V800 also offer ample opportunity for air movement. In addition to perforations that match the front of the case, there are a couple of grills for the case’s dual 60mm exhaust fans. Unfortunately, the grills look like they might impede airflow more than the case’s drilled-out front and rear panels, which doesn’t make much sense. A more open grill design could facilitate greater airflow and lower noise levels while still protecting prying fingers from being nicked by the exhaust fans.

 

A look inside
Removing the PC-V800’s top panel is as simple as loosening a single thumbscrew—pretty slick.

The panel slides off to reveal a reasonably spacious interior that can accommodate full ATX motherboards without breaking a sweat. Micro and Mini-ITX motherboards will also fit, but Extended ATX won’t. A dual-processor home theater PC would be overkill, anyway, although the potential for better media encoding performance is tempting.

5.25″ drives mount in a removable drive cage that’s secured by a total of six screws. Normally, the screws wouldn’t faze me, but it’s a little odd to have to go through that much effort to remove the optical drive cage when the rest of the case is largely a tool-free design.

Lian Li achieves the PC-V800’s narrower profile by mounting hard drives in a pair of vertical bays along the side of the system. Unlike most case manufacturers, Lian Li doesn’t use drive rails. Instead, they supply hard drive screws topped with metal casters that slide into plastic channels built into the drive cages. Plastic tabs keep the drives from sliding back out, keeping everything snug and secure. However, I can’t help but wonder if these plastic channels can dampen vibration noise as effectively as rubber-damped hard drive mounts.

From this angle, we can also get a look at the PC-V800’s dual 60mm exhaust fans. Unlike the 80mm blow hole fan, which uses a three-pin power connector that will plug right into a motherboard, both exhaust fans are tied into a single four-pin Molex connector. The case doesn’t ship with a fan speed controller, so that will be up to your motherboard, power supply, or an external fanbus.

Lian Li uses thumbscrews to secure the expansion slot back plates. That’s great in theory, but the execution isn’t quite there. The screws are partially obscured by a metal lip at the back of the case, which makes it difficult for my stubby fingers to completely turn the screws by hand. Falling back to a screwdriver for final tightening is always an option, but then they’re not really thumbscrews anymore.

The PC-V800 doesn’t come with a power supply, but you can add your own to a bracket at the front of the case. The PSU points out towards the front of the case rather than to the rear, which can make for an interesting glow when combined with a funky, LED-infested power supply.

Below the power supply mount we can see a bundle of wires, including plugs for the PC-V800’s front expansion ports. Audio, USB, and Firewire extensions are available with standard pin pattern blocks, which should work with most motherboards, and also with a set of individual wires for non-standard pin layouts. Unfortunately, the extension cables are a little on the short side; they don’t reach the opposite side of the case. That shouldn’t be a problem for USB connections, since the internal USB headers on most motherboards are rarely on the far edge of the motherboard. You may not be so lucky with internal audio or Firewire connectors, though.

 

Our testing methods
Tests were conducted using the following test system.

Processor Pentium 4 2.4GHz
System bus 533MHz (133MHz quad-pumped)
Motherboard Abit IT7-MAX2 v2.0
North bridge Intel 82845PE
South bridge Intel 82801DB
Chipset drivers Intel 5.1.0.1006
Memory size 512MB (2 DIMMs)
Memory type Micron PC2700 DDR SDRAM
Graphics GeForce 5600 with ForceWare 66.39 drivers
Hard drives Western Digital WD1200JB 120GB PATA
OS Windows XP Professional
OS updates Service Pack 2, DirectX 9.0C

Rather than building a new system to test the PC-V800, I decided to see how it would handle my current home theater PC. This system has been running in an Antec Overture enclosure for well over a year, nearly silently thanks to a Zalman Reserator. After all, what better way is there to test an enclosure’s ability to handle home theater PC duties than with a real home theater PC in the living room?

We’d like to thank the folks at CoolerGuys for providing our PC-V800 sample for testing. Thus far, they’re one of only a couple of online retailers carrying the case.

We used the following versions of our test applications:

The test systems’ Windows desktop was set at 1024×768 in 32-bit color at a 60Hz screen refresh rate. Vertical refresh sync (vsync) was disabled for all tests.

All the tests and methods we employed are publicly available and reproducible. If you have questions about our methods, hit our forums to talk with us about them.

 

Noise levels
Noise levels were measured with an Extech 407727 Digital Sound Level Meter placed one inch from the front, top, side, and rear of the case. Testing was conducted after 30 minutes of idle and 30 minutes into a BeyondTV ShowSqueeze WMV encode, which generates a heavy CPU load and a fair amount of hard drive activity. This is also a typical activity for a home theater PC. The PC-V800 was tested with its fans running and with them unplugged.

With its fans running at full tilt, the PC-V800 is a noisy beast. And that’s with a largely silent Reserator handling the CPU cooling. Some form of fan speed control is clearly necessary for those who intend to run the case with the fans on.

Without the fans, the PC-V800’s noise levels are comparable to the Antec Overture. The Overture features an 80mm exhaust fan whose speed is temperature-controlled by the case’s power supply, so it should be slightly noisier than the fan-free PC-V800. However, the PC-V800’s perforated front and rear panels allow more system noise to escape, most notably from the hard drive, which is probably what evens the score.

 

Temperature levels
The PC-V800 is too loud for the living room with all its fans spinning at full speed, but can the aluminum case radiate enough heat to run comfortably with its fans disabled? To find out, we measured various system temperatures using the same conditions as our noise level tests. We used Motherboard Monitor to track CPU and case temperatures, and we used NVIDIA’s ForceWare drivers to monitor GPU and ambient temperatures. In this case, the GPU ambient temperature refers to the ambient temperature around the graphics card.

All hail aluminum’s conductive properties. Although the PC-V800 keeps the system impressively cool with the fans whining at full speed, the case runs cooler with its fans disabled than the steel Antec Overture. It’s particularly interesting to note that CPU temperatures are lower with the PC-V800, despite the fact that CPU cooling is being handled by an external Reserator water cooler. Since the water flowing through the Reserator’s CPU lines runs through the case, it seems likely that the Overture’s significantly higher system temperature is warming the coolant, resulting in higher CPU temperatures.

 

Conclusions
CoolerGuys currently sells the PC-V800 for $140 and is one of only a handful of retailers stocking the case. $140 might seem a little on the expensive side for a case that doesn’t come with a power supply, but it’s actually quite reasonable for an all-aluminum home theater PC enclosure.

And it looks nothing like any other home theater PC enclosure. The perforated aluminum will undoubtedly clash with some living rooms, but the bold, industrial look will be right at home in others. Personally, I’m a big fan of the design, but there’s no accounting for taste.

We can account for performance, in particular the case’s high noise levels with its fans spinning at full speed. Fortunately, the case is radiant and ventilated enough to maintain low system temperatures with the fans disabled. Even after days of running under a full Folding@home load, in direct sunlight and with no air conditioning, the fan-free PC-V800 has managed consistently lower system temperatures than my fan-equipped Antec Overture.

Of course, the PC-V800’s isn’t without its trade-offs. The case could also use longer port header leads and a little more room around the PCI back plate thumbscrews. Those are minor issues, though. Overall, the PC-V800 is a solid design that I’m quite happy to have enclosing my living room home theater PC. Now if only I could get the rest of my apartment to match the brushed aluminum look. 

The Tech Report - Editorial ProcessOur Editorial Process

The Tech Report editorial policy is centered on providing helpful, accurate content that offers real value to our readers. We only work with experienced writers who have specific knowledge in the topics they cover, including latest developments in technology, online privacy, cryptocurrencies, software, and more. Our editorial policy ensures that each topic is researched and curated by our in-house editors. We maintain rigorous journalistic standards, and every article is 100% written by real authors.

Geoff Gasior Former Managing Editor

Geoff Gasior Former Managing Editor

Geoff Gasior, a seasoned tech marketing expert with over 20 years of experience, specializes in crafting engaging narratives that connect people with technology. At Tech Report, he excelled in editorial management, covering all aspects of computer hardware and software and much more.

Gasior's deep expertise in this field allows him to effectively communicate complex concepts to a wide range of audiences, making technology accessible and engaging for everyone

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