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On Lian Li and breaking trends in PC chassis design

On Lian Li and breaking trends in PC chassis design

Icrontic took some time to meet up with Lian Li on the CES 2012 showfloor to check out their chassis lineup. We were shown a massive lineup of PC cases across all major form factors. From extremely small HTPC chassis to massive full size server boxes, Lian Li boasts an impressive array of sleek and simple computer case solutions. Keeping in line with their famously low-key design language, almost every one of their chassis featured efficient simplicity. Copious bright lights, massive windows, and ridiculous paint jobs were nowhere to be seen, replaced instead with dark aluminum, conservative shapes, and astoundingly functional interiors. Signature Lian Li style.

Lian Li CES booth

Lian Li's CES booth

Among these cases, one new design was particularly compelling. It didn’t catch our eyes with a bold look on the exterior, but rather because of the decisions made on the interior. The new Lian Li PC-100 chassis features a front-facing I/O bracket position—the motherboard mounting tray is inverted to face toward the front of the case, rather than the rear. This means all of your USB, video out, audio jacks, and power ports are all at the front of the case. The ports are concealed behind a simple swinging door, keeping the front of the chassis clean and attractive once everything is plugged into the motherboard.

Lian Li at CESThis sort of design is an interesting move for Lian Li. We don’t see case manufacturers muck about with the motherboard mounting position very often—the Silverstone RAVEN is one of the few examples (which puts the I/O bracket at the top). But just because companies haven’t made previous attempts to make such an enormous adjustment doesn’t mean we don’t need it. Such a design introduces many new benefits, as well as drawbacks.

The obvious advantage to such a setup is easier access to all of your computer’s ports. No longer will you need to fumble around in the darkness behind your machine as you try to plug a USB device in. Everything is clearly visible at the front. The PC-100 has a built in cable trench along the side, enabling you to cleanly clip in the cables from the PC’s ports, keeping the front from becoming a mess of random cables.

The design could introduce a few new issues. Cooling could be affected, as most video cards will end up exhausting hot air out to the front, which depending on the rest of the fan setup on the chassis, could potentially pull the hot air back inside. Additionally, if you wish to wire your cables up the back of your desk to your peripherals, you may need to acquire longer cables to compensate for the fact that they must be plugged into the front. Despite these potential issues, this design could not only be great for PC builders, but it could be the kind of move that revolutionizes PC hardware. If you ask me, we need more companies that are willing to take design risks like that.

Lian Li PC-100 back panel

PC-100 back panel with no I/O panel

Shaking up the PC design paradigm

PC hardware is an industry with very little change. In the last 15 years, we have seen very few shakeups that changed the way computers are built and how they function. With cases specifically, things have been relatively unchanged ever since building PCs became a geek pastime. It wasn’t until recently that case design saw one of its biggest revolutions when placing power supplies at the bottom rather than the top became a regular occurrence. This change made sense for many reasons, especially when you consider weight distribution, and was a welcome adjustment that we never knew we wanted. The lack of innovation in chassis design over the years leading up to this change wasn’t an indication that we didn’t need new designs, we just needed someone to step forward and start asking the right questions.

Icrontic also had a quick meeting with ECS admist the chaos of CES. While we were shown some of their new motherboard designs up in their private suite, we were particularly impressed by what would typically be seen as an unimportant detail. The 8-pin CPU power connector was elevated a full inch and a half above the surface of the motherboard. This allows the builder to plug the CPU power in without struggling to get their fingers into the small space dominated by the large passive cooling fins (it also prevents the painful cuts those fins generally dish out). This is a simple design change that left us dumbfounded—why in the world hadn’t anyone else ever considered doing something like this before?

Raised power connector on ECS motherboard at CES

An extremely small change with a huge impact. ECS raised power connector

We don’t need hardware manufacturers to reinvent the wheel, but new designs and ideas are certainly welcome. The industry has been design stagnant for years, and PC builders want innovation to shake things up. Fortunately, we have companies like Lian Li and ECS trying new things that will, with a little luck and enthusiastic consumers, change our industry for the better.

The bold decision to mount the motherboard inversely on the Lian Li PC-100 may not be useful to every system builder out there, and we probably won’t see this mounting style become commonplace. But as such a design is indeed useful, it will resonate with users that have specific needs met by a backward-facing motherboard. Hopefully, it’s situations like this that will allow the new style found on the PC-100 to give consumers plenty of new, different options when shopping for a PC chassis. A market of variety will mean happier consumers and more interesting builds. Here’s to hoping that more designers decide to push unique new ideas in the future to continue to improve our wonderful hobby.


  1. Tushon
    Tushon I'm not looking forward to having to choose between Lian Li and NZXT for my next case. That will be a hard decision, as #FWP as that sounds.
  2. _k
    _k That is easy. Lian Li.
  3. Butters
    Butters I want a Lian Li style case with NZXT prices.
  4. fatcat
    fatcat you forgot Silverstone Tush, imo, better than Lian Li
  5. PirateNinja
    PirateNinja The build quality of Silverstone vs Lian Li is not comparable IMO. Then again I used to use Lian Li only, so I'm likely biased.
    Anyway, these days I use NZXT because I won one in a contest. The build quality was OK, but the functionality and usability was on a whole other level than any previous Lian Li or Silverstone I had. It's great to see Lian Li trying new things.
  6. pigflipper
    pigflipper I would buy Lian Li again if I could, but I can't afford them.

    I bought a Lian Li PC-V1000, one of the original builds with the PSU on the bottom, but the motherboard was also inverted so that the CPU was at the bottom, just over the (but seperated by metal) PSU and HDD cage. I got that case in 2003 or so when I was preparing a Doom3/HL2 rig. Only replaced it when I got a cheap, but much better interior layout NZXT.
  7. Leonardo
    Leonardo Thanks for the good article.
  8. Garg
    Garg I love my Lian Li case. For years and years I've seem them reiewed, and I finally got a PC-A05 about two years ago. It's one of their cheaper and smaller cases, but the quality is superb. Ventilation wasn't as superb for Crossfire, but I finally found one of their official replacement top panels with a vent up top. The availability of quality replacement and modding panels is a great selling point for Lian Li, IMO.
  9. ardichoke
    ardichoke Is there any practical reason anyone can come up with to have the I/O ports on the front of a case? All I can come up with is possibly LAN party boxes and other computers that get moved around a lot, but then again most people want smaller cases for those applications and this looks like a mid or full sized ATX case. I like that they're trying something new, but I'm having a hard time seeing what they're attempting to accomplish here, especially in the age of standardized front port headers.
  10. UPSLynx
    UPSLynx There are a few DCC type stuffs that might make this useful (configuration of framelock/genlock, monitor swapouts, and such). There's a user base, admittedly small, with a need for something like this out there.

    But moreso, I think it's a question of what's useful on cases anymore. When you consider that most of us don't use any of the input methods on the front of a typical chassis (CD or floppy), that makes the I/O ports on the back see more attention than anything on the front does anymore. I dunno, I think since they understand that typical users no longer use the stuff on the front of a case, might as well put the useful stuff in an easier to reach spot.
  11. pigflipper
    pigflipper I use 4 plugs on my computer: monitor and sound (HDMI), NIC, 2x USB for mouse and keyboard. That is all I have plugged in right now and I can see where a front panel for all that is far more attractive than having to reach around the back of the case. My question/issue with this design at this stage is airflow, if that could be reasonably resolved (to my satisfaction) I would seriously consider going to a front I/O panel case.

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