Sometimes I cannot believe that I have been writing away on Overclock3D for over a year now. During this period of time many of you have been obliged to listen to me rant about various processors, motherboards, graphics cards and memory. However, there is one systems component that I have yet to ever assess; the computer chassis.
Now I'm certain that many of you are in firm belief that its only what's inside that counts. As cute as that may be, I would like to quash this notion before I say another word as this is simply untrue. Much like how one would rather approach that elegant and curvaceous brunette in a west end bar over the slack jawed and drooling cyclops in the corner, it must be said that as much as it's denied, looks and build quality (err...) matter.
Your choice of computer chassis is one of the most important decisions you can make when building a new computer. Unlike processors, graphics cards and RAM which will inevitably fall to the knees of Moore's Law, the right computer case could live through dozens of system upgrades without replacement. This is exactly why it's important to make the right decision from the very beginning.
Those who have been kind enough to closely follow my reviews will know that I have been OC3Ds Mini ITX assessor. As a student who inevitably has to move computer gear around quite frequently, the notion of the Small Form Factor desktop is simply perfect. As far as laptops have come, they are still somewhat restrictive for power users and offer minimal scope for performance optimisation such as Overclocking. So here's the query of the day :- What does one do if they want to build a compact performance machine that can hold it's own against today's full sized desktops? Today we believe Lian Li have the answer to this question with their PC-Q08 chassis.
|Case Type||Mini Tower|
|Dimensions||(W) 227mm x (H) 272mm x (D) 345mm|
|Front bezel Material||Aluminum|
|Color||Black / Silver / Red|
|5.25" drive bay (External)||1|
|3.5" drive bay (External)||none|
|3.5" drive bay (Internal)||6|
|Motherboard||Mini-ITX / Mini-DTX|
|System Fan (Front)||Black, Silver / 140mm Blue LED Fan x 1|
Red / 140mm Red LED Fan x 1
|System Fan (Top)||Black, Silver / 120mm Fan x 1|
Red / 120mm Red LED Fan x 1
|System Fan (Rear)||none|
|I/O Ports||USB3.0 x 2 / HD Audio|
At 22cm x 27cm x 34cm, the Lian Li PC-Q08 is one of the largest Mini ITX/DTX cases around today. However if you run with us for a moment, you will understand why...
Returning to my Buzz Killington like story about aesthetics and build quality, it should be mentioned that Lian Li truly are the Bentley or Rolls Royce of the computing industry. The designers behind these cases firmly believe that glossy plastic and SECC Steel have no place on the vast majority of their product portfolio. So Xclio/ColoursIT/Raidmax fanboys, step aside as we're about to show you what true quality is about...hopefully.
As you can see from the photographs below, you would struggle to miss the PC-Q08 on the shelf of a hardware store. The manufacturer and model name is labelled very clearly and most importantly, the background of the box design revolves around the chassis itself. Also note the tick boxes that denote the colour of the Q08 you're buying; be sure to check this before purchase!
Opening the box from the top, you will be able to see the top of the chassis and it should be held in place by two blocks of moulded polystyrene. The case is protected from scratches by a light polythene based wrapping.
Contrary to popular belief, I'm not dull enough to carry on describing the packaging material so let's have a word about the case itself.
First of all, yes it may appear to be somewhat bland. That might be true but it's the Q08's understated design that makes it so ideal for its target usage. After all, this particular case hasn't been made to stand out like a sore thumb, but instead to subtly integrate itself with any contemporary designed room.
Much like the rest of the Lian Li product range, the Q08 is made entirely from Aluminium. As such you would not be surprised to find that the case is very light. All exterior panels feature a matted and "brushed" finish, which adds to the perceived build quality of the chassis.
Something you should have noticed is the amount of ventilation that the case affords; the front, rear, bottom and left side panels feature large areas of perforated metal. Further, there are two fans located at the front (140mm intake) and top (120mm exhaust) of the case. It would certainly seem that the correct foundations have been laid down for a high end system to be accomodated.
For ease of access, both side panels are removable. On the next page we will take a closer look at the internal specification of the PC-Q08 chassis.
With both side panels open, the Lian Li PC-Q08 offers a much easier component installation than its cube based competitors. That said, this isn't surprising when the case itself is one of the largest Mini ITX/DTX chassis' in terms of volume.
Inside you will find the front panel and I/O cables tucked and folded away. The I/O cables are suitably braided, while the Audio and USB cables are covered in thicker shrouding. An adapter is included to convert the external USB cable into an internal USB connector.
A major aspect of the PC-Q08 that I wanted to cover was its level of customisation. Nothing inside the case is welded together; it is entirely modular. For all intents and purposes, if you wished to strip out all fans and drive bays, then by all means do so.
Need to accomodate for a 120mm Radiator or an all in one kit such as the Corsair H50/H70? No problem, just remove the triple slot drive cage and/or the lower dual slot cages with a couple of twists of a screwdriver. Perhaps you have a RAID setup to retain and you want to fit a 12" Radeon HD 5970 graphics card? Lian Li have thought about this too as the lower twin HDD cage can be removed to make way for larger expansion cards.
In theory, this case is the perfect recipe for success but how well will it really perform when we begin to fill it with components? Let's find out.
Intel Core i3 530 @ 2.93GHz
ZOTAC H55-ITX WiFi
4GB Kingston HyperX DDR3-1866 C9 Memory
nVidia GeForce GTX 460 768MB GDDR5
OCZ 500w stealthXstream PSU
Lian Li PC-Q08 Case
Windows 7 Home Premium x64
Continuing on the PC-Q08's modular approach, you probably wouldn't be surprised to find that you can complete most of your system build outside of the case's main structure. This makes the building process a lot more simple but beware of the sheer number of screws that you'll need to keep track of!
As the Power Supply Unit sits directly above the system components in this configuration, it may be wise to install it last. However, until then you can fit the PSU backplate, which prepares the unit for mounting.
The RHS Side Panel doubles as a motherboard tray. For the ease of installation, we decided to remove the panel in order to install the core system components.
At this stage it would be very wise to fit all Front Panel and I/O cables to your motherboard's header; this will avoid hassle later on in the build process.
Note that our nVidia GeForce GTX 460 was marginally too long for the bottom drive bay to remain mounted. However, those who intend on fitting a more powerful graphics card can see that there is plenty of space available in order to do so. Likewise, dual slot graphics card designs are compatible.
Finally, the Power Supply Unit is fitted, thus completing the build process. Depending on your system configuration, you may choose to direct your Power Supply as an intake fan for the system (as above) or alternatively, the unit can be faced so that it's fan faces the side panel's ventilation grille.
All in all, the build was as straight forward as expected. About the only problem faced was the level of tightness on some of the smaller screws that held the 5.25" drive bay into place. Even with the correct tools, it was easy to compromise the integrity of the screw's head; this can make installation unnecessarily tedious.
On the next page, we will cover temperatures and noise.
With both chassis fans operating at full speed, they are indeed noticeable but could not be described as loud. There is a minimal amount of motor noise however the sound of airflow is audible. In the context of a conventional system, which may have a variety of 80-120mm fans, the chassis fans are unlikely to be the predominent noise contributors. However, one must consider that the sheer amount of holes in the case means that internal fan noise will not be muted particularly well. This is something to consider for those fitting graphics cards such as the GTX 480 or HD 5970.
We were also pleased to find that there was minimal vibration heard from the case. This would suggest that the rubber dampeners fitted to the screw mounts for Hard Disk Drives and Fans worked effectively. A lot of aluminium cases suffer from vibration noise however the PC-Q08 seems to be have held up very well.
For temperature testing purposes, we opted to run Prime95's Small FFTs test while the Graphics Card was put through its paces with Furmark.
Having ran each test for an extended period of time, we found our two core components to have reached load temperatures of 46*c and 68*c respectively. Compared to our open air testbeds, these temperatures are very reasonable; especially when placed in a small form factor chassis. With this in mind, we wouldn't hesitate to believe that the Lian Li PC-Q08 could cope with more power hungry and warm running equipment.
Let's wrap this one up.
Alas, I return to my original story. The right computer chassis will last multiple generations of system builds. They will cool today's and tomorrow's system components without fuss and they will not fall to pieces when life moves you from one location to another. From an aesthetics point of view, perhaps this case could be considered as bland. This in itself is not a disadvantage or a flaw as that's the exact intention of the PC-Q08. The fact of the matter is that flamboyant styling cues are irrelevant when a case is built and designed so well. From what we have seen and tested, we do believe that the PC-Q08 meets the criteria of the "right chassis". For that matter, there are very few Mini ITX chassis' today that are built to a similar standard.
For some, size might be a concern. Fundamentally speaking, the Mini ITX form factor (at 17cm x 17cm) should not command anywhere near this sort of space. In order to fully appreciate this case, one must realise that it is infact the high performance graphics cards, (multiple) hard disk drives and cooling requirements of overclocked processors that requires the case to be of the dimensions that it is. Perhaps in that sense it seems farcicle to opt for Mini ITX in the first place but thanks to Lian Li's ways of arranging components, the case still has a considerably smaller footprint and (in some cases) height than most Micro ATX cases. Really, the Q08 suits those who really want to stretch the Mini ITX form factor for all it's worth with the latest and greatest hardware. Those with lesser performance demands will be much better off with the smaller and cheaper Q07 chassis.
Our only gripe lies with Lian Li's implementation of LED fans. Granted, everyones tastes vary and while the fan's lighting is not too noticeable during daylight hours, it seems both excessive and tacky under lower lighting situations. To us, this appears to be a cheap way of trying to cater to those who would have dismissed this case for it's "bland" looks. For what its worth, those who are particularly offended by the LEDs are free to purchase a 140mm fan without them.
Finally as an advisory rather than a complaint, it would be wise to place the PC-Q08 case in an environment without dust - i.e.- Not on the floor. As previously mentioned, the case has ventilation holes on almost every panel including the floor. The case rests on aluminium feet but unless you want your toasty GeForce GTX 480 eating dust (or grilling your carpet) it would be advisable to rest the case on a table.
All in all, we are greatly impressed with Lian Li's new "baby" chassis. The PC-Q08 offers the best of two worlds; cooling, build quality and modularity for a price that matches its size.
- Lian Li Trademark Build Quality
- Completely Modular; a clean slate for modders
- Cooling Performance
- Reasonably Quiet
- LED Fans. Why?
Thanks to Caseking for the sample today, you can discuss our thoughts in the forums.