Dressing up the Lian Li PC-60USBReview date: 24 October 2001. Last modified 03-Dec-2011.
I like Lian Li's PC-60 aluminium midi-tower cases. I own two of them. They've got lots of drive bays, they've got excellent cooling, they're easy to work on, they're light, and they look groovy.
On the down side, they're really expensive, and the PC-60's brushed-aluminium finish means beige drives look a bit dorky, and they cost a lot, and the lightness of a PC's case isn't a big deal when the rest of the gear in a stacked computer still leaves you with a fairly heavy box. And, oh yeah, they're not cheap.
A PC-60 with a quality AOpen 300 watt power supply will cost you $AU462 from Aus PC Market (they've dropped their prices lately - it used to be more than $AU500!). That's not as bad as it looks, because it includes delivery within Australia (provided your nearest metropolitan centre isn't Coober Pedy, seven hours' drive away). But it's still a substantial chunk of change.
But if none of these problems bother you, a PC-60 has always been a good choice of case for all but the most outrageously equipped computers.
The PC-60s I've got, though, are slightly elderly. My original PC-60 review, here, was written more than a year ago, and both of the PC-60s I own are of that vintage.
At a glance, they look the same as the current version of the PC-60, the "PC-60USB". There are, however, several small but significant differences.
And you can now get a optional parts that can make your PC-60 very obviously different from the old model.
So I thought I'd check the new gear out.
Bells, whistles and gongs
This is the all-options maxi-mod GT Production version of the PC-60, with some appropriately decorative PC components installed. Never mind the parts with semiconductors, for the moment; let's just look at the Lian Li bits.
They're the PC-60USB case ($AU357.50 without power supply, delivered, from Aus PC Market), with a factory-modified plexiglass-window side panel ($AU99 delivered, or $AU88 if you buy it with a case), and an EX-10 "I/O Adapter" ($AU104.50 delivered). The version of the PC-60USB that comes with the window-side pre-installed is called the PC-65 (I review it here), but the only real difference is the window. You can buy the window separately for any PC-60-series case.
The standard PC-60USB is a bit better than the original PC-60.
The only obvious difference on the outside...
...is this, at the bottom of the front panel, behind a flip-down door. These four USB ports connect to the standard motherboard USB bracket headers, but you'll need a motherboard with two such headers to use all four of the PC-60USB's front ports. A lot of boards these days have two headers.
This, of course, isn't a standard PC-60USB; it's got a see-through side and an I/O Adapter.
Lian Li's EX-10 I/O Adapter is an aluminium box that's deep enough to be fixed in place like the front part of a normal 5.25 inch drive. It's only deep enough to have the first set of mounting screw holes, but that's enough. You could install it in any case with an ordinary external 5.25 inch bay, if you liked.
The brushed-aluminium front panel of the EX-10 has USB, audio, joystick and FireWire connectors on it, plus one PS/2 connector, labelled "Mouse". You don't have to use that connector for a mouse, though; you can use it for a keyboard, if you attach the other end of the EX-10's cable to that port instead. This is not an elegant all-inside-the-PC front connector solution, because you just can't do that with ordinary PC hardware. Instead, there's a loopback cable. It's about as elegant as one of these things can be.
On the back of the EX-10 box, there's a 37 pin D socket, to which you attach a supplied chunky male-to-male cable, which only goes as far as the back of the case. There, the connector on the other end of the cable pokes through a provided rear slot cover (it doesn't screw onto that cover itself; that's a feature, not a bug). You attach a cat-of-several-tails cable to the outside of that; this second cable has a 37 pin female connector on one end, and connectors matching all of the connectors on the front panel of the EX-10 on the other.
Many "front ports" gadgets don't have this two-cable setup. They have just one cable, which you feed out through a rear panel hole and loop back to all of your ports. There's nothing wrong with that idea, unless you're using a case with a slide-out motherboard tray, like the PC-60. If you are, then you'll probably have to unplug the big hard-to-reach connector on one end of the cable or all of the little connectors on the other, if you don't want the cable to pull taut before the tray's moved much. The EX-10 cable disconnects more elegantly, in the middle.
Still, though - $AU104.50 delivered, just to move some ports to the front of the computer? If you're plugging and unplugging things all the time and this functionality therefore really matters to you then, OK, go for it. Most people can do without this thing, though.
Lots of case modders make their own side windows, either from scratch or using a window kit from one of several suppliers, which provides you with edging material, fasteners, the window itself, and maybe some other frills - BYO jigsaw, Dremel or axe.
This window's pre-made for you by Lian Li, and you can buy it separately and just swap it in, in place of the standard left side panel (as you look at the case from the front). It's the work of 30 seconds to install it.
If you for some reason want a window on each side of your case, you'll have to make your own for the right side panel, though. The Lian Li side panels aren't interchangeable. Since the right side only lets you see the back of the motherboard tray, though, only an unusually dedicated case modder is likely to care about this.
The Lian Li window panel's cleanly made - for $AU99 delivered, you'd want it to be - though the clear acrylic used for the window is very static-y. That might pose a static risk to components in the computer, but I wouldn't get too worried about that; the chief problem with it is that on dry days, it attracts dust.
All plastic window materials are about as bad as each other in this respect, and glass windows are obviously more tricky to engineer, so it's a necessary evil.
The other concern that springs to mind, when you're considering a computer that isn't encased in metal all around, is radio frequency interference. Modern PCs produce quite a lot of electy-magnetic radiation (EMR). Naked, case-free computers are known for messing up TV and radio reception, at least for things with antennas in the same room as the computer.
The Lian Li window is 330 by 290mm in size (about 13 by 11.4 inches). This matters, because a hole in a conducting surface has to be substantially smaller than the wavelength of a given frequency of EMR to stop that EMR from passing through. This is why people can drill holes in microwave ovens to mount little cameras, without barbecuing the camera or themselves. 2.45GHz microwave radiation, as used in the ovens, has a 122mm wavelength, so a hole a few millimetres across won't let it through. This phenomenon's quite well explained here.
The great big case window hole will, barring any weird resonances in the rest of the case (which shouldn't happen, since it's earthed), pass pretty much all of the higher frequencies being emitted by a PC. Everything from about 30MHz upwards, most likely. The earthed case should eat any radiation that isn't emitted in the direction of the hole, and the emitted radiation should only beam out in the direction that the hole's facing, but you'll still likely to violate local EMR restrictions with any PC that isn't fully cased.
This is not a problem to which the case modding community pays a lot of attention, because the energy levels involved are still going to be low enough that all the EMR involved will do in a normal home or office environment is foul up reception for nearby indoor TV antennas.
Lots of people run computers with no case at all, or cases with no side panels, and government detector vans do not cruise around busting them. But if you've got an indoor TV antenna, then the problem's worth considering. And if you set up a windowed case pointing at someone's radio telescope, angry people in white lab coats are likely to visit you in the near future.
You might not find that a very frightening prospect, but bear in mind that radio telescope repair and adjustment kits are likely to contain some really large spanners.
While I'm on the subject, here's another unwise microwave oven experiments page. The management disclaims all responsibility.
The point of a case window, of course, is to show off the bad-ass internal componentry of your computer, preferably with some funky lighting.
The thing lighting the case up in this picture is a roughly 1.4 watt 36-LED array which I built for an upcoming feature in Atomic: Maximum Power Computing magazine. I could tell you all about it, but then you'd have less reason to buy the magazine, and the magazine would then go broke, and I'd have to go back to selling shredded eucalypt leaves by the gram to gullible schoolchildren. So I won't.
When the relevant issue of Atomic has well and truly come and gone, I'll put a how-to-make-this-caselight feature up on this site. But don't hold your breath.
Readers outside Australia and New Zealand, of course, probably aren't ever going to see Atomic magazine, and may therefore feel they've been somewhat gypped. Well, that's right. You have been. Live with it.
If you haven't invested in the window-panelled PC-65USB or the I/O Adapter, the PC-60USB is very similar to the original PC-60. The front panel now attaches with Lian Li's pleasing rattle-free press-clips instead of the fragile plastic latches the older cases use, but everything else is much the same.
Two standard front fans with a switch that lets you choose from three possible power levels, and a removable foam dust filter. One standard rear fan. Slide-out motherboard tray. Thumbscrew fasteners used throughout. Four 5.25 inch bays, each with a front panel cutout; three 3.5 inch bays with a cutout, five more 3.5 inch bays in the vertical-mount cage right behind the intake fans. Understated front panel styling not done by Mad Mister Hong's House Of Giant LEDs and Alarming Plastic Bas-Relief, which organisation appears to win the design contracts for a lot of other fancy cases.
The motherboard tray area's the same as it used to be - but you can see the I/O Adapter cable snaking over the empty card slots. The motherboard mounts on the same clip-in standoffs used by all current Lian Li boxes, not the little hexagonal brass screw-in units used in most other cases.
All recent Lian Li cases seem to come with these grilles on their rear fans. Whether they let as much air through as a basic chromed-wire finger guard, I'm not sure; they probably don't. But the difference isn't much, and they look nifty.
The rest of the hardware in this box, by the way, makes up the bare bones of a pretty fast PC. As well as the PC-60USB, window and I/O Adapter, there's a 420 watt Topower dual-fan power supply (which I review here), an MSI K7T Turbo-R Limited Edition motherboard (which I review here), a 1.4GHz Thunderbird Athlon CPU lurking under a Global Win CAK38 copper CPU cooler (I review the cooler here), 512Mb of Apacer PC133 RAM, rounded floppy and IDE leads of reasonable length (which I talk about here), and a common-or-garden beige floppy drive.
This whole package, with a WBK38 cooler instead of the CAK38 (I review the WBK38 here), is available from Aus PC Market as their "Hotrod" combo, for $AU1595, delivered. If you add up the prices of all of the stuff in this combo, it's a good deal. Provided you want all of that stuff.
Personally, I could do without the I/O Adapter, and people pursuing Ultimate Performance don't want Standard Data Rate memory any more, or a mere Thunderbird Athlon, now that the Palomino-core Athlon XP CPUs are out.
So here's another option. The motherboard that's mounted in the PC-65USB for this glowing-computer picture isn't the K7T Turbo-R Limited Edition Warning This Motherboard's Name Goes On And On; it's a newer bright red MSI board, the K7T266 Pro 2. This board uses the Via KT266A DDR-memory chipset, and you can get it, plus 256Mb of PC-2400 DDR memory, an Athlon XP 1600+ CPU (which runs at 1400MHz, and performs a little better than a 1400MHz Thunderbird Athlon, despite running significantly cooler), and a Global Win FOP32-1 cooler (which I review here), for $AU731.50 delivered from Aus PC Market.
This is a bit more than the SDR-memory motherboard-and-RAM-and-CPU option, but you'll get away for less than the Hotrod's price, if you're not interested in the I/O Adapter.
Whatever hardware you're putting in it, the PC-60USB is a fine successor to the PC-60. It fixes the occasional broken-clips-on-the-front-panel problem, it's got mounting holes for all flavours of full-ATX-or-smaller motherboards, and the front USB ports work elegantly.
The I/O Adapter doesn't really turn me on, particularly given its less than bargain price. You'll know if you need it.
The side window's a nice no-effort way to make yourself a stylin' case; whether it's worth the money (bought separately or as the PC-65USB package) depends on how highly you value your time.
Since I've made that caselight now, of course, I'm going to need a windowed case.
Readers from Australia or New Zealand can purchase current versions of the products mentioned on this page (yes, Lian Li are still making PC-60s!) from Aus PC Market.
(if you're NOT from Australia or New Zealand, Aus PC Market won't deliver to you. If you're in the USA, try a price search at DealTime!)