by Vasily Melnik
03/01/2007 | 02:44 PM
Lian Li is a brand that doesn’t need a special introduction. I guess there are few people interested in PC hardware who haven’t ever heard that name. In my opinion, Lian Li is actually the only manufacturer who can make aluminum system cases exactly as they should be. The rest of the makers go the easiest way. They use the old designs and just replace the material. As a result, the aluminum version of a system case is considerably lighter, yet somewhat flaccid, the thickness of the metal being the same. You can take any popular aluminum case, especially from a price category of below $80 without a PSU, and remove the side panel. The rigidity of the chassis will deteriorate greatly. In the worst case, you can make the open aluminum case steady only by installing your mainboard with a couple of expansion cards into it. This ingenious solution to use PC components to add rigidity to the structure is not used by first-tier manufacturers, of course. They reinforce the ribs of the chassis and put various crossbars in there, yet these are but half measures.
There is the right way, however. People at Lian Li didn’t go inventing elaborate crossbars or anything, but took the simplest approach. If the traditional thickness of 0.8-1.0 millimeters is not enough to achieve rigidity comparable to the steel version, it must be increased! So, they use 2mm aluminum (and even thicker in critical spots) to avoid any problems with the structure rigidity. Together with the lack of plastic in its products, with the adherence to the conservative trend in design, and with the utter unwillingness to compromise if it may worsen the product quality – all this makes Lian Li the best brand in the sector of top-end system cases.
The company has matured by now. It is a little over 20 years of age. Any respectable company is expected to produce something exceptional for its own anniversary and Lian Li must have even given vacations to its entire marketing department so that their mercantile considerations wouldn’t interfere. Yes, the anniversary product from Lian Li is very dubious from the commercial point of view. It is made by people who develop, not sell. It is a gift that is made for the company’s own self, financial factors being put aside for a while. Not all users will find this technological miracle affordable, system cases from Lian Li have never been affordable (an “affordable Lian Li” sounds just as nonsense to me as an “inexpensive Bentley”, for example). The anniversary product costs about $300 – without a power supply. Well, even if you can’t afford it, it’s good just to know that such perfect things exist.
So, the Lian Li PC-777 system case is shipped in a big and nicely designed box:
At least you can get a notion of what is contained within. You should take a friend of yours when you go for this purchase. Even though aluminum, this system case is not light, and the box is rather too large to be easily handled by one person. In reality, the case has a much more imposing appearance than its image on the box:
The design is original, but won’t satisfy everyone’s taste, I guess. This is not a mass product, after all. The system case is obviously meant to stand on the floor. If you place it on the desk, you will find it difficult to access the Power and Reset buttons as well as the optical drive installed in the top bay. The stamping on the stand indicates that the product belongs to the anniversary series.
The stand itself is an example of sheer squandering. The 6mm aluminum plate seems to contain as much metal as the whole chassis of an ordinary aluminum system case costing $60-80 (there are a lot of such cases nowadays, but their quality is about as low as their price).
The manufacturer’s attention to detail should be acknowledged, particularly the neat feet and the wavy notches on the edges of all the plates, be it a side panel or a stand:
You can’t cut your fingers and the appearance of the product is greatly improved. It is in such trifles that the quality of a product is reflected.
I was somewhat surprised to see a floppy drive faceplate:
We’ve already progressed into the 21st century, but this atavism still persists. If you’ve already forgot what a floppy diskette looks like, you can try to buy and install a multi-format card-reader into this bay for the system to look complete. There is only one decorative faceplate for a 5.25” bay.
People at Lian Li must be of the opinion that there should not be more than one optical drive in a PC. Perhaps they are right, but not all users share the same point of view, and it wouldn’t have been difficult for the manufacturer to put yet another faceplate into the box.
The Power and Reset buttons are placed in the front part of the top of the case which smoothly transitions into the rear panel as you can see if you take a look at this system case from a side.
There are interface connectors near the buttons. It means that placing the system case on the floor is the most optimal solution. It is going to be difficult to use the connectors if the case is placed on a desk.
In the bottom part of the front panel of this “snail” there is a front air-intake grid:
The side panels serve the same purpose, too.
These are in fact two huge air inlets, but designed in a more aesthetic way. They have a snail-like stamping to match the overall design concept of the system case.
The rear panel is just what you can expect from a modern system case:
Note the protruding sides: you can press the case against a wall without fearing that the cables and connectors may get damaged.
The side panels are fastened in a curious way – by means of pronged latches.
It’s simple – you unfasten the screw and take the latch out.
And then you can easily remove the panel. The panels are designed well:
Besides the reinforcing ribs for more stiffness, there is a lock in the bottom part to center the panel during installation. The side grid can be easily removed:
And that’s a proper solution. From the point of view of cooling, this system case is in fact an originally decorated open rack, which is good for keeping the temperature of components as low as possible. But it is not good when you are building a silent PC, for example. It’s easy to transform the PC-777 into an acoustically closed system case: just unfasten a few screws and replace the default vent grids with custom-made acryl panels. If you care about the appearance of your system case, you can also fasten a lamp on the interior of the side panel to highlight what picture you’ve had engraved on it.
It is all rather ordinary inside except that you have a lot of free room due to the special shape of the case:
There are two preinstalled fans here. One is in front of the drives cage:
And the other is on the rear panel:
Both are installed properly. I’ll talk about the intake fan below. As for the exhaust one, the good grid on the rear panel and the grill on the interior can be noted – the manufacturer didn’t try to save on trifles. The power supply is supposed to be placed at the bottom of the case.
Not a popular place for it. This provokes some minor troubles I’ll talk about below.
Aluminum doesn’t have a high mechanical strength, so there are special hard-alloy inserts in the places of threaded connections.
Thus, the threading in the holes for the expansion card’s mounting bracket is unlikely to get damaged.
The intake fan is placed in a kind of an aluminum capsule secured with two screws:
It is easy to remove and is also equipped with a dust filter:
This is a common filter made from some foamed-plastic material.
That’s a common solution, quite sufficient for keeping the PC clean in most situations, but not in this one. Considering that the side vents and the intake opening for the PSU do not have any filters, this filter only keeps dust away from the drives and the intake fan. The problem can be solved: you should just put dust filters into the side panels and the PSU air inlet (the filters won’t increase the resistance to airflow much because of the large area).
It’s better to start to assemble the system with 5.25” devices. You’ll have to turn the system case around a little to do that, so it’s better if it is as light as possible. The designers abandoned all ergonomic considerations here. You first have to remove the front-panel frame that is secured with four screws like this one:
They are rather inconveniently placed, making you use a long screwdriver. The screw has some kind of a rail that prevents it from skewing. With the frame removed, the front panel looks like this:
But that’s not all. After you have removed the frame, you have to unscrew the drive’s faceplate, too. This faceplate is secured with screws from the inside.
Next you should install the drive without fastening it. Then put the faceplate back in place, press the drive against it and fasten the screws. Yes, this is no screw-less fastening! And I guess it is right because this Lian Li is not a mass product for system integrators. Moreover, it is a pure pleasure to assemble your computer in such a system case notwithstanding the screws. It is designed so rightly that the lack of any plastic locks counts as an advantage. As a result, I’ve got the following:
Included with the system case are cable braces that can be attached anywhere inside and a special screwdriver to fasten the mainboard’s installation posts.
You also get a few adapters to connect fans:
This is in case the mainboard doesn’t offer enough fan connectors. I guess this is a fantastic situation, though. This system case will certainly accommodate a top-end mainboard, and latest samples of such mainboards offer at least half a dozen of fan connectors.
The optical drive being nestled in its place, you can move on to the power supply. It is to be installed at the bottom of the case. The modern PSU will take air in from the holes in the system case’s bottom:
Unfortunately, PSU manufacturers didn’t suppose their products would be placed like that and the cables go rather far from the mainboard.
The idea is good, however, because the cables go exactly where they should, but the cable with the additional 4- or 8-pin connector is going to be too short with the PSU placed like that. So, you have either to choose a PSU with long mainboard power cables (and there are not many such models available) or elongate the cable as I did. I took two pieces of shrinkable black and yellow film with a total length of 1 meter, a soldering iron, a cable from an old PSU as a donor, wires, and half an hour of time. It is rather a tedious job to elongate 8 wires by 15cm each, I should confess, but the result was worth the trouble. The cable was now long enough to reach anywhere.
Note how the other cables are placed – in a neater way than when the PSU is placed in its customary position at the top of the case.
One brace on a sticker proved to be especially useful:
It helped collect the cables together tidily, but it takes a mere second to release them when necessary. The additional power connector on the elongated cable is attached from above.
If you find free cables after you’ve assembled your system, you can tuck them down under the drives cage:
Tie them up and put them in there.
To install your HDDs, you will need four such screws (included with the system case):
You should screw them into the drive’s case…
…and then insert the drive into the bay:
The drive is fixed with two locks on the sides of the bay:
The engineers didn’t use the screw-based fastening mechanism as with the optical drives. Quick access to the hard drive may be important, especially for this system case which is likely to be used as a demo platform. And even if the owner is a private individual, he is likely to be an enthusiast who doesn’t use hardware components for any long time.
The assembled system looks like this:
You can see the components inside even if you close the panel:
There is quite a lot of free room in there. People who are frequently changing their PC components are going to appreciate this. It is easy to do any installation/removal works inside this system case.
So, the computer is assembled. And although I have no doubt about excellent results, I will now test it nevertheless.
I tested the system case as it was, i.e. without changing the default speed of the preinstalled system fans. The tests were performed on a closed and fully assembled case and at a constant ambient temperature maintained by an air conditioner. I also took care to lay out the cables and wires in such a way that they didn’t hinder free circulation of air.
The following system was assembled in the tested PC case:
This system is far ahead of any regular user configuration as well as of a lot of overclocked ones in terms of CPU heat dissipation. This should suffice for testing CPU coolers as well as system cases.
There were four test modes:
The temperatures of the CPU and mainboard were read with ASUS PC Probe which was supplied with the mainboard. The GPU and graphics card temperatures were read with RivaTuner. The HDD temperature was reported by HDD Thermometer. The temperatures were read only after they had fully stabilized. The ambient temperature remained constant at 23°C throughout the tests.
The system case shipping without a power supply, there was nothing else in it to produce noise.
The manufacturer’s specification of the Lian Li PC-777 system case:
The results are quite predictable:
So, it’s almost like an open testbed with some reservations: the HDD is cooled much better while the chipset and the mainboard’s power elements don’t heat up much. There’s no need for my comments, actually. This is just a superb system case. There are no cooling-related problems with any of the system components. The exterior design may be arguable, but is surely original. The quality of manufacture is highest. There are no dust filters, but this is a specific accessory that is not very important for people who buy such system cases.
It’s up to you to buy it or not, but Lian Li has made an excellent and remarkable system case. You won’t forget it after you’ve seen it just once. And I can also add one personal thing: I haven’t enjoyed assembling a computer in a “right” system case that much for very long. I express my sincere thanks to Lian Li for this pleasure and hope that it’s not the last time I meet this company’s excellent products.