In and Around the Lian Li PC-A76X

I mentioned in the introduction that I was feeling very optimistic about the Lian Li PC-A76X. While I have misgivings about aluminum as a construction material (see my review of Cubitek's HPTX Ice), the PC-A76X's cooling design looked to be a big winner, at least on paper. The more cases I review, the more I'm convinced the bottom-front intake to top-back exhaust standard is just not the best way to do things. Lian Li looked like they had a winner on their hands.

Then I opened the box, reality set in, and my thoughts drifted from "this case should perform really well" to "I hope they're not charging as much for this as I think they are." Even just removing it from the box, the case had a bit of a rattle. In its journey here from Taiwan the front door had incurred a minor dent, and you can see from the side that though the top and bottom mostly line up, it's...less than secure.

Lian Li uses a traditional black brushed aluminum finish over the entire chassis, and if you're familiar with their other designs there's nothing particularly new here. What struck me once I unlocked and opened the front door was that the PC-A76X reminded me of an aluminum version of one of Fractal Design's cases. The deprecation of external 5.25" drive bays, coupled with the blocked in fan mounts on the top and side panels of the case reminded me of some of the things Fractal Design does, though they're just design tricks that are becoming increasingly common and not unique to that company at this point.

On top of the case is a sliding door that hides the port cluster, but inexplicably there's an opening for what looks like there should've been an eSATA port. The pair of USB 3.0 and 2.0 ports are appreciated, though; I've been of the opinion that four is about the right number of USB ports for the front of a case, and USB 3.0 can still be hinky even on modern boards.

When you do remove the thumbscrews from the back of the case and pop the panels off, you find an interior that's remarkably straightforward. The bigger cases get, the more logical their interiors tend to be, and Lian Li makes the PC-A76X very simple for both new users and for people familiar with their ouevre. There's a removable bracing bar for expansion cards and one single, long drive cage in the front. Note that none of these cages are removable, so even if you don't need space for twelve hard drives, you're unfortunately stuck with that cage blocking some of the front intake.

What concerned me was the paucity of mounting holes in the motherboard tray for routing cables. These are conveniences that are par for the course for high end enclosures, yet these three small holes seem frankly inadequate for a case that's designed to hold multiple high end graphics cards and multi-CPU motherboards. That said, the area behind the motherboard tray is surprisingly spacious, and Lian Li has done a fantastic job of routing the case's cable leads and keeping the cabling clean and tidy.

I don't think you're going to hear me accuse the PC-A76X of being a bad design, but Lian Li's overall design language seems to be a bit behind the curve. The rubber-lined routing holes are really spare and strike me as being inadequate for a case with such lofty ambitions, and the inability to remove unneeded drive cages to improve airflow from the intakes would be troublesome at half the price and borders on unforgivable at $210. The aluminum used in the shell itself also seems frankly chintzy, and the minor damage incurred en route from Taiwan despite the healthy padding in the packaging suggests a case that may not be particularly sturdy in the long term.

Introducing the Lian Li PC-A76X Assembling the Lian Li PC-A76X
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  • fausto412 - Sunday, September 30, 2012 - link

    Lian Li had a case that sold for 400+ dollars a few years back. The P180 was a cheap version of it. Lian Li was the leader in their component seperation scheme. Why Lian Li still makes good cases you can get the same or better just not 100% aluminum for way better price. Reply
  • Samus - Sunday, September 30, 2012 - link

    I prefer the aluminum/steel hybrid Silverstone implemented in the FT01. The outer ring is a seamless C-member made of steel, which makes the rest of the (aluminum) chassis very rigid. This way they don't need additional aluminum support brackets and crap to keep things sturdy. The added benifit of the outer ring and edges being steel is that it wont ding and dent (like even this Lian-Li PC-A76X sample did) when it is transported to you or when you transport it anywhere. I've moved mine across the country to San Diego and back in a car, and it still looks brand new four years later.

    Obviously using steel as the exterior support adds weight, in this case, it is 8lbs more than the PC-A76X, but after water cooling, 5 HDD's and a GTX570, who's counting weight?
    Reply
  • Brendonmc - Monday, October 01, 2012 - link


    Agreed. Silverstone make some of the nicest looking cases on the market. I've thrown a whole heap of goodness into their SUGO SG04F, which is a full-width mini tower. It can accommodate a full size power supply and 2 full size double slot graphics cards. The concession is a micro ATX form-factor, but there are some good mobos available.
    Reply
  • Granseth - Sunday, September 30, 2012 - link

    It also looks very much like Fractal Designs R3 (and 4) cabinets. But I like the design very much, so I won't complain about a better selection. Reply
  • StevoLincolnite - Sunday, September 30, 2012 - link

    And yet... I think it looks ugly. Something like a brushed metal bar fridge. Reply
  • NicodemusMM - Sunday, September 30, 2012 - link

    I have a Lian Li Tyr PC-X2000 which is about the same width, though I believe significantly taller. It easily accommodates a Noctura NH-D14, which is a massive. I will tell you from my experience with the Tyr that taking the front door off helps airflow and temps. The cutouts in the front are insufficient to permit the volume of air that the 3 fans are capable of and this case has even smaller cutouts. I'm currently running an i7-2600K @ 4.9GHz with HT on with the D14, but only with the front off. It restricts airflow that much.

    I can't comment on this case specifically, but my experience with Lian Li has been superb. The construction is top notch. My only complaints so far would be with the Tyr's choked airflow from the front and it's insufficient room for cables between the motherboard tray and the side panel.

    Regarding noise; I've found their cases to be quiet, but like all cases if you have a loud GPU it can get irritating.... even with noise dampening materials. Said materials are readily available, so if you're planning a HTPC near your seating area you may wish to consider it.
    Reply
  • Impulses - Sunday, September 30, 2012 - link

    " A76X's cooling design looked to be a big winner, at least on paper. The more cases I review, the more I'm convinced the bottom-front intake to top-back exhaust standard is just not the best way to do things. "

    I've been saying this for a while now... Forcing air thru that S or L shape just isn't very efficient (before even taking internal components into account, and their fans). I just don't understand why we haven't seen much experimentation beyond a few fringe cases like the Silverstone FT02. The whole thing makes even less sense when you look at more compact mid towers...

    How many people out there are really using more than one or two external bays along with more than 1-3 drives, the vast majority of users aren't... Yet the vast majority of cases dedicate a third of the space to this huge tower of drive bays.

    I wanna see a case with a single external bay that's either oriented vertically (for media readers or slot loading opticals) or moved up and OVER all the other components, with two front fans pointing directly at the CPU area and directly at the GPU area, slap a couple of sleds for HDD/SSD on the bottom (maybe two stacks that are two drives tall each, so they occupy the space in front of the PSU), and done.

    Instant cross flow across every major component, direct path of air allows for better cooling with lower speed fans and eliminates the need for a lot of side/top fans. Why does no one make a case like this that focuses on cooling without wasting space to also house a sever inside it?
    Reply
  • Impulses - Sunday, September 30, 2012 - link

    That kinda case might be a smidge taller than average, but it'll be at least a third shallower (less wasted material) and it'd cool better than most (with just 3 fans, could even skimp and ship it with two), it can't possibly be that big a risk... Someone make it happen please! Reply
  • Grok42 - Sunday, September 30, 2012 - link

    Why even have a single external bay, just get rid of them entirely. Surely there are enough people that don't have a need for any external drives that there could be a few of these types of cases on the market? I will say I'm impressed that Lian-Li *only* put two external bays in a case this large. Despite my opinion that none were needed, this is a huge step forward from silly cases with 5-9 external bays.

    I get your point that a huge portion of the builds don't need more than a few drives, but I think that unlike the external bay issue, the internal bays could be engineered in such a way that they are flexible and have no trade offs. It seems that a rail system could be conceived that did the job of supporting the structural needs of the case while not blocking air flow at all. Of course, as you add drives, they would block the flow of air but that is a choice you could make. My other big beef with almost all internal bay systems is that spacing the drives is always a trade-off between cabling requirements and heat. With SSDs becoming more popular the 3.5" Vs 2.5" bays is also getting to be a problem. It seems the internal drive rails could be made in such a way that you could decide on the spacing and not need to be locked into set distances based on how many and what type of drives you have.
    Reply
  • Wardrop - Sunday, September 30, 2012 - link

    I agree that the need for optical drives is on the decline. Very rarely do I, or anyone else in my house for that matter, need to read or write to an optical disc.

    Where I disagree is with cases with heaps of 5.25" bays. There's a market for them; especially for cases with ONLY 5.25" drive bays. I bought a Lian Li PC-A17B about 2 years ago - I had to shop around to find one as they had been discontinued (I bought one of the last available in Australia). The idea was to buy a bunch of Lian Li 3x 5.25" to 4x 3.5" hot-swap cages, which is exactly what I did. I've now got 3 optical drives and 8 hot-swap drives in the size of a standard ATX case. I could if I needed to, scrap the optical drives and go with another hard-drive cage for 12 hot-swap hard-drives in a standard ATX case. Not only does this function really well, it also looks great as the Lian Li drive bays look like they came with the case as they have the same finish and styling. Each drive cage also has a 120mm fan, so thermal performance isn't completely ruined either.

    I just wish Lian Li didn't discontinue this line of cases, as by having this case, they could essentially save themselves from having to make about 5 additional cases to account for all the combinations that could be achieved with the PC-A17.

    Modular case design. Just my two cents.
    Reply

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