Lian Li PC-A51 Review
We never take anything for granted when we review, however with some manufacturers there are certain things we've come to expect. With Lian Li that certain something is quality. Not just good quality, but excellent quality. Having gone over the PC-A51 with a fine tooth comb we're pleased to report that it does not disappoint. This quality can be found in many areas of the case, but for us the standout areas are the superbly crafted Aluminium, the excellent hairline brushed finish, the perfect panel fit and even such things as the tool free fan installation.
Lian Li are also known for their frequent deviation away from the conventional PC chassis layout in favour of a foray into something a bit more esoteric. With the PC-A51 we see a case that is little taller than most M-ITX and M-ATX chassis, indeed it’s smaller than the 350D but is still able to accommodate full size ATX boards. It does this in part by locating the PSU at the front of the case as opposed to underneath the motherboard at the rear and by utilising a rear to front airflow. But don't go thinking they've had to cut some critical areas to achieve this. You still get 6 HDD/SSD bays, 7 expansion slots, CPU coolers up to 175mm tall and even water cooling support. We also love the way the HDD bays seem apparently suspended from the case wall, this being accomplished by means of a cantilever mechanism that sees them fixed through to the reverse side of the case.
In merely just mentioning water cooling support we are perhaps doing the PC-A51 an injustice, as for quite a low profile chassis it has a surprisingly large amount of space up in the roof. In fact any rad/fan combination up to 65mm thick can be seriously considered, which it has to be said encompasses most of the 240mm based AIOs on the market today. It also appears that the PC-A51 supports 280mm rads although it must be emphasised that Lian Li do not claim this level of support. You might think that's where the water cooling story ends, but it's not. In removing all the front HDD racks it's certainly possible to get a 140mm rad in there and depending on how big your GPU is and where you have it positioned a push pull set up may be on the cards, all of which means you can have a 240 in the roof cooling your CPU and a 140 in the front working with a certain recently reviewed GPU mounting bracket cooling your Graphics card. Winner Winner Chicken Dinner!
However, although this case has Ying, it regrettably has some Yang. Most of which revolves around the spacing between the PSU and the GPU. If you're using a standard ATX board then odds are you have your GPU in the top slot, which relates to the 3rd PCI slot down at the rear. If this is the case then it brings your GPU directly into line with the back end of the PSU meaning that with a 150mm long PSU you're not going to be able to have a GPU much longer than 250mm. Why so short? Well you have to factor in the power cables leaving the GPU but more crucially the cables leaving your PSU. Inverting the PSU as we did serves to gain you a bit of extra head room, especially as we were pushing the limits somewhat with our 170mm long unit. If you have a motherboard where the PCI slot of choice is located higher up then this will be less of an issues, and the claimed 280mm of GPU room will be achievable, but we thought it best to make our concerns known. The other issue, is that even with a short 150mm or 160mm PSUs is the amount of cables that are required to fit through what is by PSU management holes standards, a very small hole indeed. In the body of the text we likened this with an analogy we can't really repeat here in the conclusion but suffice to say its "crammed full". This busy area of the case is also right next to our SATA and front I/O insertions which made it very difficult get them attached and in some cases physically impossible. Round the reverse side there's also good and bad to be found. On the plus side there's a positively chasm like 27mm of cable management space on offer. On the negative side there are no cable tie points at all. Instead Lian Li have stuck a pair of large (but not large enough) cable clips to the inside rear of the motherboard tray. That's it, nothing else, no other cable management aids what-so-ever. In practice we found it very hard to achieve a tidy build, and had to resort to cable tying accessory cables to the main bundle as there was no room for them in the clips.
When we look at the competition we see that the £100 being asked for this case gives you quite a lot of choice. Assuming that you've already decided you want something with a small physical presence and something that's demure and mature and not a balls out gaming case you might want to also consider the 350D or the H440, bearing in mind that the former is slightly taller but only supports up to M-ATX whilst the latter is quite a bit bigger, and then of course there's the define R4. We think all of these are good cases, they have their strengths and they have their weaknesses, with the choice falling very much to personal preference and design aesthetic.
The PC-A51 does have quite a few niggles as detailed above. Thing is, because this case is so nicely put together we're almost willing to forgive it its little faults. If you decide it's the case for you you're going to have to select your PSU and motherboard carefully so as to avoid possible conflicts, and be prepared to tear a few hairs out when you come to wiring it all up, but all that said when it's assembled and sitting on the desk next to you you're not going to be able to take your eyes or hands off it. Objectively it doesn't score as well as it might, but we can't help but really like it. Maybe we're just suckers for Hairline Brushed Aluminium.
Thanks to Lian Li for sending the A51 in for review, you can discuss your thoughts in the OC3D Forums.