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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  • SleepyItes - Monday, October 1, 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.
  • BlueReason - Monday, October 1, 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. =)
  • SleepyItes - Monday, October 1, 2012 - link

    I agree. Part of the enjoyment of getting a nice case is tweaking it with new fans and/or fan controllers, heat sinks, noise dampening materials, etc. to meet your specific goals, whether that is overclocking, noise level, power usage, or just a good overall balance of these things.

    Because those goals are subjective, it would be hard to review from this perspective, but it would be nice to at least see an acknowledgement that, with a small amount of tweaking, much better cooling and noise reduction can be attained, and what would those minor tweaks be for this case?
  • superflex - Monday, October 1, 2012 - link

    I still own my Li Li PCV1000 and love the case. While Lian Li does have crap English instructions, I find their quality to be 1st class. My 1000 has a giant scratch in the top where my 30 pound Hafler amplifier fell on it, but not a dent to be seen. Try that with your BitFenix case.
  • pandemonium - Tuesday, October 2, 2012 - link

    I've been considering replacing my case for a while now, since I've started overclocking and my PC6070 can't accomodate the required air flow without needing very loud fans; this has me thinking. The notes of the build quality being lack-luster is key here. Thanks!
  • FrozenAsset - Tuesday, October 2, 2012 - link

    I've built several computers using Lian Li cases. I'm disappointed to hear that the quality may have dropped. I can say that any build I've had with the cases pre-2010 have been top notch, stylish and convenient.

    As far as thermal conductivity, steel sucks. Unless you want to pay for a case made of Silver, Copper or Gold..., aluminum is your best bet. I seem to remember something about copper transferring heat better than aluminum, but aluminum dissipating it quicker than copper, which I think is why some heat sinks have a copper core.
  • deeppow - Wednesday, October 3, 2012 - link

    I have several LL cases and have just bought another.

    The only problem I've found is LL has a total absences of support and never replies to their "support" email. Last case I ordered from Newegg had a broken fan blade. Newegg couldn't provide a new fan, they could only replace the whole case (they would cover all shipping costs both-ways). To save my time I just replaced the fan myself.

    You get a new LL case, check it out completely for damage before starting a build. To be buying another LL case, I must think they are a quality case.
  • jginnane - Sunday, March 31, 2013 - link

    I'm in a room surrounded by Lian Li cases -- half active, half in the process of new builds or refurbishment. One of the nicest things about LLs is that they're essentially immortal -- visit the Taiwanese website to get a new USB 3.0 set of headers for your external case ports. Presto -- good for another 10 years! My oldest Lian Li is awaiting its 4th m/b and CPU. I've built one B10 and 2 B12s this year, and was lucky to find a red PC8-FIR unopened (which I'm saving for my granddaughter's first system).

    I'm not having issues with heat like many posters here, probably because aside from using Seasonic and Corsair 850 watt Gold PSUs, I'm careful in component selection. Who needs more than 2 SSDs and 2 internal 2.5" 3-4TB HDs these days? The killer, the multiple-GPU system, is most times just a sad case of OCD. Instead of multiple monitors on each system -- been there, tried that -- I'm replacing the 27"Samsung 1920x1200 monitors with 27" and 30" 2560x1600 single monitors.

    I can appreciate that some modest overclocking is fun, perhaps slightly profitable ... but who's paying the electric bill in your household? (I've dropped my electric bill 50% by using CREE LED downlights throughout the most heavily trafficked rooms.) Note that almost any serious overclocking can start adding 20-40% (and up) monthly to your system energy costs. (Use a Kill-a-Watt to test.) When you have a half dozen systems in 24/7 use, that's a serious no-no.
  • naisanza - Friday, June 7, 2013 - link

    My Antec 1200 currently has three hard drives in it right now and an SSD. 5TB total storage. My 240 radiator currently takes up the rest of the bays.
  • naisanza - Friday, June 7, 2013 - link

    I was hoping the build quality would be denser. I was really set on getting this, because it's the best looking case with a full front panel, but the flimsy build and the irremovable hard drive cages is a pretty big deal breaker.

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