I am a huge fan of leaving my case on my desktop for easy access to all the innards, but every once in a while I really ponder moving to a much smaller rig for my day to day use. With the advances in m-ITX motherboards for low power HTPC usage alongside the advances in m-ATX and the ability to overclock even on a tiny motherboard, something like one of these paired with let's say a GTX 460, and I could have the best of everything and still be able to game pretty well. Now the question comes to mind, what case do I house it all in?
Lian Li has stepped up to the plate and offers a HTPC chassis that keeps in tune with much of what we expect to see from them. All Aluminum construction, choices of red, silver, or the black you are about to see, along with some really cool innovations, this chassis design packs quite a bit into a really small footprint. Inside you will still find all the typical features of a Lian Li built chassis; it is the outside that is where most of the magic happens.
I am speaking of the Lian Li PC-V352 chassis. This cube, SFF, HTPC, or whatever you want to refer to it as, offers innovative design twists and optional features such as which side of the chassis to use for the optical bays and I/O connectivity. No matter if the chassis sits to the right or left of you, the chassis can be adjusted to fit your needs. The chassis is listed as an HTPC chassis, but the lack of front access to the drives makes it better used on the desktop.
Enough with my preconceptions of the chassis and more on what you should expect to see! - Let's get a look at the specifications and you can see for yourself what Lian Li has in store for you with the PC-V352.
Specifications, Availability and Pricing
Roughly eleven inches square on the front and almost sixteen inches deep, the PC-V352 deserves the HTPC classification, but this isn't the usual HTPC chassis. Where most of those have room for a hard drive or two and a slim optical drive, this chassis is designed for a real HTPC concept. Not only can you take a m-ITX ATOM/ION board and save a ton of electricity to stream to the TV, you can also grab something like the X58 Rampage II Gene m-ATX motherboard and hide quite the power packed system inside with a VGA under 280mm, and that leaves a lot of options. The chassis does come in one of three choices of colors to either match your decor or personal attraction to either Red, Silver, or the black version we are about to look at.
Inside the PC-V352 we run into more and more aluminum. The sled used to house the two 5.25" drives has the option to receive drives in either side of it. As it runs in the top from side to side, aluminum cover plates are all that stands between you and installing the drive from either side of the chassis, and the I/O connections are also removable and able to be placed on either side. With room for a full sized power supply and I strongly suggest it is modular; next to it is room for up to three 3.5" drives in a removable rack. That leaves the rest of the chassis to support the room for a removable motherboard tray for easy access to the lower level.
Cooling inside the chassis is handled with three fans included inside the chassis. One of the fans is an 89mm black fan that can be powered with a 3-pin anywhere on the motherboard or by using an adapter to a Molex connection. The best option is to power it with the switchable connections in the rear wall of the chassis. The other two fans in the PC-V352 are 120mm and not only having dust filters, but also are engineered to be easily removed with a simple slide to the side. These two fans wires terminate in a 3-pin connection and have Molex adapters included. With a bit of planning and wire running, these fans can also be powered by the same switch in the rear.
This chassis has been on the market for just a bit of time and already is in many e-tailers listings as I shop availability. Pricing is just as varied as the amount of locations. I am seeing the black and silver versions going for as little as $145, while the Red ones seem to demand near $200 in some shops. The advice here is to do a bit of shopping and find the best deal, and don't just go to the first link you find. As I shopped around I was happy to see our favorite e-tailer giving one of the best deals I found on the Black version I am looking at. They have it listed at the great price of $129.99 at Newegg.com, and they only require an additional $10 to ship, making it still the lowest price for this version I could locate.
The packaging was pretty abraded and the corners look like it may have taken a tumble, so this will be a great look at the security of the packaging. On the front and back panel you will find a large image of the PC-V325 flanks with seven features to the right along with the blue USB 3.0 logo.
Both ends of the packaging show all three colors of the PC-V352 and three boxes with a check in one to designate the included color. Taking up the bulk of the room is a six language chart for the specifications.
Even as roughed up as the box looked, the Styrofoam ends kept the damage at bay. These caps keep the PC-V352 centered while the plastic liner keep vibrations from affecting the brushed aluminum outer finish.
The Lian Li PC-V352 B Desktop / HTPC Chassis
From the front Lian Li offers a simple looking case. The panel is made from black anodized aluminum and has holes drilled for ventilation, and is etched for a bit of flash. The logo and the ring of silver around the front are cut into the aluminum, so it is natural aluminum showing not paint. If you follow the trim line to the right you will see it helps you locate the power and reset buttons.
Turning the chassis to expose the left side you can see there are covers for what appear to be two optical drive bays and a longer slot cover below it. Depending on how the chassis needs to be oriented for your use, these may or may not need to be messed with. The aluminum panel that surrounds the covers is screwed into the side of the chassis and again is drilled to allow for a bit of air flow.
At the rear of the PC-V352 there is a large hole at the top right corner for a power supply, while the exposed aluminum section containing the 80mm fan, the rear I/O, and the expansion slots is all removable. Just remove the seven thumb screws and you can slide the whole thing out, more on that in a bit.
Here we have a complete reversal of the other side we just looked at. This aluminum panel is also screwed in place, but the difference it up front. There is the two optical bay slots, one of which has a 3.5" adapter cover, but this time the long cover at the bottom is replaced with the I/O panel. Here you can use USB 3.0 and 2.0, eSATA, and your HD Audio.
Under the chassis you can see the motherboard tray rails and fan mounting support have been riveted into place. On the four corners there are large plastic feet with rubber pads to keep it motionless on the table top or stacked on a components in the home theater cabinet. The front of the chassis is ventilated to aid the drilled holes in the face to allow the two 120mm fans proper air flow into the chassis.
Inside the Lian Li PC-V352 B Desktop / HTPC Chassis
Removing those seven thumbscrews allows you to slide out the motherboard tray and start to get a look inside. You will find your box of hardware strapped in where the PSU goes. After this, it's just the removal of twelve screws and we can get the side panels off as well.
The motherboard tray has all the holes you will need to place either a m-ITX or m-ATX motherboard in place. The left half of the tray gets a bit more interesting. The 80mm fan is placed high to keep the top half of the chassis cool and supply the hard drive area with a bit of spot cooling. To the right of the fan is a PCB with a switch on the other side for high and low settings of the chassis fans. This PCB gets powered with a Molex adapter and can provide power to all three 3-pin fan connectors. If you do plan to fill all four ventilated slots with cards, don't worry, that's why the side panels are drilled, to allow the 120mm fan air flow to go out there.
With the sides and motherboard tray out of the way you can get a better idea of the layout from here. As you can see, the front I/O wiring goes to the rear of the case and back to the front, so there is plenty of length for easy connectivity.
Spinning the case 180 from the last image, we can get to the removal of the sub assemblies found inside the Pc-V352. To remove the 5.25" drive sled simply unscrew the spring loaded thumbscrew under the bottom cover and slide the whole assembly out this side and set it aside for later.
With the panels out of the way it is a good time to contemplate which side you want to access the I/O and drives. If access from the right side of the chassis isn't going to work, just pull two screws and gently feed the wiring through. Remove the cover from the other side and reverse the process. Included with this I/O is not only USB 3.0 connectivity, but a handy little card reader as well; perfect for showing your latest snapshots on the TV in the living room.
The front 120mm fans are designed to ride in a frame via rubber washers. This allows for the fans to be able to be slid and removed for easy access to the dust filters that protect the system from growing a small animals worth of dust inside. As an added measure, these fans also include fan grills in case there is a need to reach inside the chassis while it is running, and also helps keep loose wiring from getting near the blades.
Looking in from the rear of the chassis to the left of the power supply, you will find the rack to accept up to three 3.5" devices. In order to more easily screw the drive in, the cage is removable once the two thumbscrews in the bottom are removed.
With all the components out of the chassis it really starts to look roomy, and the quest to pack it full of goods doesn't seem so daunting any longer.
The wiring includes everything you will need to get things under way. There is of course the power switch, reset, power LED and HDD LED connections. Then there are the 3-pin connections and Molex adapters for the front fans. There is the USB 3.0 connections that need plugging into the rear I/O, or they can be used with an adapter for USB 2.0. That leaves just the e-SATA, HD Audio, and the card reader connection.
Accessories and Documentation
Slid inside the plastic liner outside of the chassis, you find the instructional paperwork along with a full color pamphlet showing all the optional accessories that you may want to contemplate purchasing to add to the PC-V352 and make it a bit more personal.
Along with the rest of the hardware you are about to see, the random bit of hardware include a USB 3.0 to USB 2.0 adapter, a couple of zip ties, and a motherboard speaker. The expansion slot cover is to be used to allow the USB 3.0 cables to exit the case so they can be plugged into the rear I/O.
This is only half of the screws included. Here we have nine motherboard screws for mounting the board to the risers. There is a set of eight thumbscrews which I found handy for mounting the optical drives. That leaves the four PSU mounting screws on the right.
You will find thirteen thumbscrews that are used to mount the hard drives into the rack, along with a pair of tiny black screws to be used in conjunction with the 5.25" to 3.5" conversion cover.
The Build and Finished Product
Basic assembly ensues! With all the removable components it makes assembly really easy. For instance I am able to install the motherboard, CPU cooler, memory, and the graphics card. I also went ahead and shortened up the fan wiring as I plan to control all three fans via this switch.
A look at the back of the 5.25" to 3.5" adapter shows how the center bit can easily be removed and your favorite floppy drive can be installed. To secure the drive, grab the two small black screws and use the square openings in the sides of the adapter for access.
To install an optical device, just remove the cover in the position you want to use, slide in the drive, and use a few thumbscrews to mount the drive into place. Keeping things simple, I installed the drive to be positioned with the I/O on the right side, as shipped. If your case sits to the right, install the drive in the other end of the sled.
To install the hard drives you just slide one or up to three drives in the rack, and with the use of the larger, flatter thumbscrews, you mount them securely into the rack. At this point we are ready to start the assembly.
I snapped this image to show you just how tight the clearance is inside the PC-V352. Since the top level is supported all the way across the back at the same height, this means that the CPU cooler cannot be taller than the VGA, or you are going to have some issues. That is why I went simple and used the stock cooling solution for this review.
I mentioned earlier that the right PSU is a must inside of this chassis. Things like powering the graphics card don't become that apparent until you have things already installed. While not the easiest task by any means, I was able to power my card, but the removal of those connections is where I had to get creative.
With some creative wiring and a few more zip ties than what is supplied you can really make things look neat and tidy inside the PC-V352. I will warn you though, if you plan to fill all the bays with drives, it doesn't leave a lot of room for extra PSU wiring. Again, a modular PSU does solve this.
Another consideration to the PSU choice is the length of the unit. With the shorter power supply that I have, the wiring hole is easily accessible. A longer PSU will not only cover the hole, but will make any extra room up top for wires simply vanish. The lower half is roomy enough for my GTS 250, and with the 120mm fan so close it really helps keep temperatures down here. All we have left to do is screw the panels back into place and power things up.
Once the PC-V352 is powered on the LEDs in the power and reset buttons are all you will even notice from a distance. Getting closer, there is a bit of an audible hum when the fans are set to the high position, but at the low setting it is practically inaudible. Even fully loaded with components, not much on the outside has changed and you are left with the same sleek, simple, yet elegant looking chassis that we started with.
Let me start by praising what I did like, and there is a lot I liked. The modular feel of the build; loved the way you can slide groups of components into the build in one step, simplifying the process. On top of that, the way all of the devices mount into their respective compartments is made simple and at most requires a Phillip's head screwdriver to make your way through the entire build. The cooling is impressive for such a small enclosure, and the fact that the fans include fan guards and dust filters keeps things clean and safe inside. Having them easily slide in and out of place for easy cleaning of the dust filters takes things to another level of ingenuity. It is very apparent that every square inch of the interior is very well thought out, and laid out with all things considered prior to the final placement in the design.
The things I ran across that are worth mentioning aren't issues by any means, just things I noticed along the way. Limited CPU cooler clearance may be a make or break point in the buying decision, but I already realize that with a HTPC, or small cube design, they aren't geared to house the most powerful PC on the planet, even though they offer plenty of room for you to attempt it. The other thing that I didn't really like is that the sides had to be screwed or unscrewed to get access or close up shop. I noticed that there is very little room for any sort of door catch mechanism, so with space at a premium, they did use the next best solution. That in itself isn't so bad, but when I attempted to mount the door panels I noticed I had to loosen the rear tray and PSU screws to allow the case to "relax" and the holes to line up. Not a deal breaker, but it was still a bit of a time taker to get it all back to square.
Once I got everything mounted I got to use the chassis for a bit of time to see just how well things stayed cool inside and how things got if it were in smaller confines found in a typical HTPC setup. With the fan switched to low, the system is very quiet, and there is enough airflow to keep even my aged components within reasonable temperature ranges. When I switched it to high there was a bit of noise emanating from inside, but the temperatures of the CPU, VGA, and the HDD dropped. At first glance I wasn't so sure that the small areas of drilled holes were going to be enough to let this chassis breathe very well, but during testing the flow out of those areas was very good, and judging by what I saw in temperatures dropping, they are sufficient enough to allow for ample flow both in and out of the chassis.
If you are looking to add simple elegance to either your desktop or your home theater room, the Lian Li PC-V352 should definitely be considered for almost any situation with a micro-ITX or mini-ATX motherboard.
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