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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  • etamin - Sunday, September 30, 2012 - link

    I've owned the original PC-A71F (before the USB 3.0 version) for over 2 years and thought that the A76X was the perfect successor to it when I first glossed the photos. I like that the interior has been blacked out and that there are only two 5.25" bays (perfect for 1 optical, 1 card reader). But then I realized all the misses...

    Despite the A76X being taller than the A71F, the two seem to share the same front panel door design which can be quite problematic. After about a year of use, my door hinge began rattling intermittently (good call on the long term durability of cheaper materials, Dustin). Also, the fan filters are especially hard to remove and clean as the entire front fascia is held on by 7 screws. Dustin, you mentioned in the review that the A76X has no fan filters in the front, but can you try removing the front fascia to see if there are any underneath?...it may be the same design as the A71F.

    Another downgrade on the A76X for me is the case feet. The shiny discs that many of the larger older Lian Li's sat on seem to have been replaced by small, black rubber feet. And as this case seems to be the first Lian Li to offer rubber cable openings, I'm not really sold on their functionality vs. what Corsair and Fractal have come up with. Lastly, the extra height of the case makes cabling especially ugly from the PSU to the external bays, even more so than the Tyr PC-X2000 as the A76X is longer.

    I wish Lian Li can just shrink the A71F a tad shorter, black out the interior, and leave 2 exertnal bays...that would make my day. The B-10 comes close, but a bit too small for me.
    Reply
  • etamin - Sunday, September 30, 2012 - link

    and also I'd like to see an easy pop-off front fasica right behind the case door. Reply
  • sulu1977 - Sunday, September 30, 2012 - link

    Do any of these pricey, hi-end cases keep bugs out? I'm pretty sure that a spider, ant or some other small critter can short out an exposed circuits... and there seems to be hundreds of exposed circuits inside a pc. Reply
  • HardwareDufus - Sunday, September 30, 2012 - link

    I like AnandTech. I appreciate your reviews. This review told me little about the performance of the case for it's intended purpose.

    It's big.... So I would have expacted to see a Dual CPU E-ATX case.
    It has 12 drive bays. I would have at least expected to see a Raid5 setup....

    Equipping this case in a manner similar to the way the targe audience intends to use it, permits you to run meaningful tests.

    How is it's noise and thermal perrformance wthen equipped this way? We don't know.. you chose to use a MATX board and few drives.

    This review should be run again...
    Reply
  • Hood6558 - Sunday, September 30, 2012 - link

    I never liked any of their overpriced cases, they always looked like the design is from 20 years ago, and user input is obviously ignored since they remain overpriced outdated curiosities. Their only so-called benefit is all aluminum construction, which as others pointed out, makes for a flimsy case when the aluminum gets thinner, and offers no real help in cooling, only in dent-collecting. Besides that, they all look the same - get over the whole "mysteriously smooth monolith" bit already and quit sacrificing function for form, and ugly form at that. (I like the "dormitory fridge" reference). Don't get me wrong, I like classy understated designs over gaudy, flashy gaming rigs, but Lian Li's have all the warm appeal of a brick. Hard to believe they flow any real air given the closed up design, and there's no options for upgrading the airflow - hardly an "enthusiast" case, more like a "Grandpa's email machine" type of case. Right now there are hundreds of good cases to choose from, so many that it's difficult to settle on just one, but it's easy to decide not to buy Lian Li, so that narrows it down a bit. Reply
  • londiste - Monday, October 01, 2012 - link

    how is it that all the lian li cases that get reviewed here seem to be the slightly flawed ones?

    i have owned lian li cases of various sizes (itx, small atx, large atx) and they were never that bad. i had a slightly smaller lian li case of similar design... that was completely toolless, did not have the issues depicted in the review, and had sound dampening mats in it by default.

    when i changed it for a fractal define (out of curiosity rather than actual need), i suddenly realized what a difference there actually is. fractal define is not a bad case by any measure but when looking (and touching/feeling) it as compared to a good lian li side-by-side, they are simply not comparable. yes, the price difference is two-fold, but by now i do know what that difference buys you.
    Reply
  • leonsk - Monday, October 01, 2012 - link

    I have had about 5-6 LianLi cases (three of them are in my study right now, all operational) and almost as many Silverstones, both makes are my favorites. I just completed a build of the PC-A75X, which is pretty much the same as the current review. The 75 is perfect for my EVGA SR-2, easily if snugly accomodating that huge HPATX factor. Two Xeon E5645 with Corsair H60 liquid cooler units, 12 x 4GB Geil 1600 memory, Gigabyte HD6870, all powered by Seasonic X-series 80+gold PSU. The drive rack looks positively barren with only 2 x Samsung 830 128 SSDs and 2 x 1TB Seagate HDDs. Inside is spacious with good airflow from the three massive 140 mm fans in the front (yes, they do have easily removed filters; the front bezel snaps off). Cable management is no problem with the storage units having a big channel space along the side so not to obstruct the inflow from the front fans. The system is almost as silent as my HTPC but does get just a tad bit louder when stressing the system. Note that my Xeons are overclocked from the stock 2.4 GHz to 3.9; the Corsairs are easily and quietly handling that because each Xeon has TDP of 80W while each Corsair is rated to handle 135W+.

    I think many of the comment I see here are from persons with little real familiarity with the actual cases. I find the design just about perfect, the aluminum alloy stiff and with excellent fit of all parts. LianLi encloses a box of silent mounting fasteners which make for easy install and quiet operations. The aluminum is of particular benefit here in my tropical island location because each and every steel case I have seen rusts within several months, but my cases look almost good as new. On an impulse that I greatly regret I bought a Cooler-Master Cosmos II case, intending to use that for the SR-2. Huge 55 lb. steel monster, with multiple doors and removable panels, but it turned out that I had a difficult time installing one of the Corsair H-60s; both of them were an easy fit into the LianLi. The biggie remains in a remote corner and will probably rust into oblivion unless I can unload it on somebody.
    Reply
  • knightsilver7 - Monday, October 01, 2012 - link

    Im getting a little sick of the case reviews, that arent reviews, more like pictures with a few words......

    Pathetic cable management

    Not using different or proper sized hardware, aka mATX motherboard in a HPTX case, if ur going to do smaller, at least do a comparison VS an HPTX motherboard.

    And backup ur facts, if ya think this Lain Li case is flimsy, prove it, do ya know the difference between light and flimsy or sturdy?

    anandtech.com use to have awesome detailed reviews and unbiased, ya can still get a great case for $200.

    Any more reviews like these, Im giving up on Anandtech....................
    Reply
  • SleepyItes - Monday, October 01, 2012 - link

    I have owned several mid-tower Lian-Li cases over the years (PC-60, PC-6070, and my favorite the PC-7B plus). These all had a a very solid build quality and incredible ease of access features (removable hard drive cages, removable motherboard trays, etc.). The aluminum was thick, and there were panels and rails inside the case that provided excellent reinforcements. These things were rock solid.

    I just purchased the PC-Q18A for a Mini-ITX HTPC/Server. I have noticed the thinness of the aluminum and lack of reinforcement makes the case seem flimsy. Luckily this is a small case and doesn't need a lot of stability, but I can see how this would make a huge difference in a mid or full tower case. Maybe it's just the "Q" and "A" series cases, but it seems that Lian-Li is damaging its reputation by going with thin aluminum and not focusing on the physical stability of their cases. I have always recommended Lian-Li in the past (also Antec for budget steel), but if this is the way they are heading, I will probably look elsewhere for my future case purchases.
    Reply
  • BlueReason - Monday, October 01, 2012 - link

    I really enjoy your attention to detail in reviews, Dustin, though noise and thermal testing with a build configured without consideration for the case or utilization of its unfilled cooling options doesn't really reflect how someone would actually build their rig. A case is part of a kit that requires completion on part of the builder in a way that effectively suits the particular build. Often that requires the addition or relocation of fans, and the supplied options are a part of that case's potential. Merely putting a preconfigured build in a case unaltered out of the box and letting it ride really doesn't demonstrate much, because no thoughtful builder would do that.

    I would enjoy seeing case reviews being done where the build was completed, within reason (no modding, or anything rather elaborate), in a fair approximation of how you would build it if it were going to be your daily use rig. That could mean relocating fans, or even adding them. I realize you want to stick as close as possible to what the case provides, but by definition it is an unfinished part of a whole that requires additional parts that can differ per the build. This case is an extreme example due to the size/components disparity, but I'm also referring to case reviews in general.

    Despite that, very nice review, as usual. =)
    Reply

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