The rig I work and game on day to day just happens to be very large. The TJ11 I use offers me plenty of room for everything I need to do and some. This leads me to where we are going today, but way on the opposite end of the size scale. No matter how much stuff I jam into my main rig, I am always more impressed with what you can do these days with something in the Small Form Factor category. Lower powered and even more high end CPUs have the option to run on some mini-ITX motherboards. We have seen my ZOTAC many times before as a low powered example, but these days I can put a 2600K on a ZOTAC and run that to power my media center and offer a lot more options than my Atom powered solution brings to the table. I am always game for something I can put that board into, and also brings us to why you are here.
The PC-Q series from Lian Li have all been small in stature and along the lines improvements and new ideas are incorporated. What we are about to see does get most of its inspiration from the PC-Q11. The idea seems to have been to strip the PC-Q11 of the front I/O and external bays and leave a smooth undisturbed front panel in its place. Internally a few more changes are made, such as the drive bays, but they do keep some of the old mixed in as well. Don't think this is a complete rehash. Even though the idea of why something is there is the same, the way in which it is mounted or how it installs may be a complete turnaround.
As you already know if you had read the title, we are going to be looking at the latest addition to the Mini-Q cases. I mentioned that this is a more simplified external design and may not be for gamers or those who demand a ton of connectivity, or even demand access to an optical device. To me, the way to look at this case is something you might add a handle to for a LAN event or a trip over to your friends house for some old school home LAN action, at least that is how I see a gamer using this. For me this chassis is more intended to be used in a HTPC environment, on a very sophisticated desktop with an aluminum keyboard and exotic wood pen set, or maybe as a media streaming rig sitting on the floor next to your desk. Now that we sort of have a grip on what we are about to see, I say we do just that.
Specifications, Availability and Pricing
The exterior of this PC-Q25 is anodized black and there is a silver option as well. The brushed aluminum on the front and sides is almost fully inclusive. The front of the chassis only has a backlit power button and Lian Li name plate to break up the aluminum on the front. On the sides there are slanted grooves cut into the panels near the front. This is where the intake fan draws its air supply. On the top there is an area the size of the exhaust fan that also has these same slanted cuts made to allow it to rid the case of built up heat. The floor of the chassis also has venting, but it is round holes and receives a clip-on dust filter to keep dirt out of the chassis.
Internally the aluminum is left raw or silver. The motherboard tray for the Mini-ITX or Mini-DTX motherboards, the hot swap hard drive bays, the multi-purpose hard drive rack on the floor and the mounting plate for the intake fan are all like this. Speaking of fans, there is a pair included that can be powered either with a 3-pin connection or a Molex connection with the included adapters. There is a 140mm fan in the front working as the intake and has a filter installed on it. The exhaust fan is a 120mm fan and also has a filter on it. The floor of the chassis is left to breathe naturally and the power supply acts as the rear exhaust fan.
Let's cover a few things you will and won't find in here. There is room for up to eight hard drives inside this chassis. There is also no room for an optical drive of any sort, nor does it have a cutout in the front for one. There is room for a power supply directly over the CPU cooler, but it has to be less than 170mm all included. There is room for two expansion cards or one dual slot card up to 320mm in length. If stock cooling isn't an option, look into some low profile coolers as there isn't much room to play around in here once the PSU is in place.
Now that we have a grasp on what we do get, and what we aren't getting, the deal breaker if you are still interested may be the pricing. With Lian Li, I have come to expect one thing to coincide with their build quality and that is a higher price point than most other solutions in that class. When I got my e-mails asking if I wanted to look at this chassis, I was made aware of the $149 MSRP that Lian li had set upon release.
Going to Google shopping, I wasn't able to dig up many places that have the PC-Q25 in stock in either color. While I did find a lot of postings about its release, I had to manually search our favorite site to see if it was in stock. Low and behold, there it was, the PC-Q25 in Black for $119.99 at Newegg.com. Not only is that well under the MSRP, it is a really good asking price. Now let's really see what we get for that money from Lian Li!
Lian Li keeps the packaging simple to help everyone save a bit of money. You get a rendering of the chassis at the right with the PC-Q25 naming on top of a bright green stripe that flanks the front and back of the box. The strange thing is that I found Pringles, cheese flavoured at that, in small pieces inside the box! I'm pretty sure it wasn't an intended gift, as it felt pretty stale to me.
The ends of the packaging show the PC-Q25's color options at the top and we received the Black version. The specifications chart is laid out in English on the left and what i guess is Taiwanese at the right. The bottom houses all of the ISO and UL certifications along with icons to aid in shipping.
As a cost cutting measure and since a lot of the chassis is covered in the specs chart, Lian Li went ahead and repeated the same information on both the front and rear of the box.
The right and left sides are matching panels too.
Opening the box and removing the case, we find Lian Li went with Styrofoam end caps to center and secure the chassis in transit. It did well as it and the plastic liner allowed for the arrival of a chassis in perfect shape even though the box looks a bit rough. Inside the liner you will find all of the included paperwork stacked up and laid directly on the chassis.
The Lian Li PC-Q25 Mini-Q SFF Chassis
The front of the PC-Q25 is simply, well, black! With no external drive bays, and just the power button and name plate to distract the eye, you are left looking at a lot of hairline brushed, anodized black aluminum. If the chassis sits high enough, you can just see the natural aluminum feet poking out from underneath.
There is an intake fan in the front of the case. It draws air from the slots on the side and allows the front to keep a sleek and stylish, but simple case to look at. The side panels snap on and off, and are cut to lie over the frame and the edges are exposed from these panels on all sides.
Around the other side, you can see it has a matching set of grill work to allow fresh air into the PC-Q25. The back of the chassis has room for the rear I/O and two expansion slots with vented covers. The large hole is to slide in a power supply over the cooler of your motherboard, so keep this in mind when selecting a cooler.
The top of the chassis supports a 120mm fan under it, and to allow it to breathe, Lian Li has matched the top venting to the sides with more angled slots cut in the aluminum.
Under the chassis there are the four large plastic feet with rubber rings to keep the chassis in place and protect what it sits on. In the middle is an area with little round holes cut into the aluminum to allow the flow of air through the bottom of the case. To keep things clean inside, there is a clip on filter to keep dust on the outside.
This is what I mean when I said the doors pop on and off. There is a pin and catch system employed in the PC-Q25. With eight pins on each panel and corresponding plastic "catches" the door just pulls off and snaps back on.
Inside the Lian Li PC-Q25 Mini-Q SFF Chassis
With both panels off we can see inside of the Mini-Q. The first thing I noticed was it seems someone got a little overzealous with the hard drive rack, but nothing I can't bend back into shape. The hardware is in the white box strapped in here, while the fan and front panel wiring are free to move around with the absorbent paper.
The slightly bent drive system holds up to five 3.5" drives and has a hot swap panel installed in the back of the cage to make life a little easier as you want to add more storage into this little aluminum box.
The motherboard tray has little to offer outside of the four pre-installed risers. The 120mm fan above is set about ¾" above the top of the motherboard, so keep this in mind if you plan to use an aftermarket cooler.
I removed the fan just to show you how easy it is to remove and replace for cleaning later on. It uses rubber grommets and screws much like we are used to with the hard drive systems in a Lian Li case. You simply slide them out, and to reinstall them, you get the rubber in the holes and slide it forward.
Inside the rear of the Pc-Q25, there isn't a whole lot going on since most of this will be taken up with the rear I/O, PSU, and expansion cards. You will notice the cards don't screw in on the inside, look back to the image of the rear of the case, it's all externally mounted.
Spinning the case around you can see the five hot swap drives are controlled with two panels. The top one has two Molex connections for powering the three drives and of course corresponding SATA connections. The bottom panel is laid out the same but uses only one Molex connection and offers two SATA ports.
Wiring is kept simple inside the Mini-Q! All there is to connect to the motherboard are these two headers for the power switch and power LED.
Accessories and Documentation
The pair of fans I removed both have dust filters installed on the side the mounting hardware is on. For the 140mm on the left, the intake side of the fan is filtered, while the 120 on the right is filtered on the exhaust side. Both fans are powered via a 3-pin connection, and have 3-pin to Molex adapters on them from Lian Li.
You may remember this piece from when we first opened the chassis. It is intended to either mount two 3.5" hard drives going left to right with the eight holes in the middle. The twelve holes around the outer edges, top and bottom, are to allow you to optionally install up to three 2.5" drives facing front to back.
In the white box that was so elegantly strapped to the bays, you will find this assortment of hardware and goodies. The ten plastic components on the left are to use with 3.5" drives to use with the five hot swap bays. I will show you those mounted as well. The bag full of screws in the middle contains all the hard drive mounting screws for 3.5" drives you will ever need. The bag at the top right has the PSU, motherboard, and 2.5" drive screws. The bag at the bottom has rubber grommets for 2.6" drives, a pair of wire ties, and a speaker. I do miss the plastic sorter I have gotten with my last few Lian Li cases though!
Instructions come in two sets. There is the native version to the left, and to the right is a fold out version of the same instructions in various languages. Really everything you are going to need to know are shown in here except for the same things missing from the specifications, the length of compatible power supplies, or the maximum height of a cooler.
Along with the instructions you also get a full color brochure that covers any sort of adapter or accessory you may not have thought of when buying the PC-Q25. If you do have a need when building this chassis, I'm sure there is something on one or the other side of this that will solve you issues.
I went ahead and installed the slides on the hard drives. Typically this used to have rubber grommets with a groove in them under the thumbscrews. This design uses a plastic rail to slide in and out against the aluminum rails.
The Build and Finished Product
After sliding the hard drives into the hot swap bays, there isn't really much of mounting involved. You literally just slide them in until you feel the clips plug into the drive. That is why this thumbscrew is on the right side of the bays. It allows you to move an inner bit of metal that will slide down and keep the drives from moving outward.
The assembly sort of happens in layers due to the way components are oriented inside the chassis. At this stage I went ahead and added a couple of SATA cables and the GPU to the Zotac Atom Mini-ITX board I use for such occasions.
Just for demonstration purposes, I went ahead an installed a pair of 2.5" drives I had on hand to give you an idea of how it looks installed. In hindsight I would move the right drive further right to allow the card better air flow, but I actually didn't keep this aluminum panel inside the build as I set it in my living room.
At this point I have all of the modular wires attached where they need to be and the case is pretty much ready for the power supply and we can get to testing things out.
A modular power supply is a must in a chassis this compact. Since the motherboard tray sits flush with the panel that covers it, there is little room to hide anything. The area behind the hot swap panels offers a bit, but you don't have room for a full assortment of unused wiring really. For what I have installed, I couldn't be more pleased with the build thus far.
Here is where I think I may have gotten way ahead of myself. The intended power supply just isn't going to work, and I really love this SilverStone PSU for its clean and modular setup. Looks like I have to pull out "old Betsy"!
Good thing I had this lying around the house! The HX520 is short enough to allow connectivity and room for the attached cabling, and still fit the 170mm restriction.
This is something minor, but since it is what I am looking at now for my HTPC I really wish whoever left the crumbs from some sort of cheesy potato chips in my packaging wasn't related to the guy who can't fit the sticker in the assigned dent. I know the price is relatively low, but do we have to cut corners like this?
With everything closed back up I was ready to power up the PC-Q25 and see how well it breathes. This is where I would assume the power button should have lit up blue possibly. At first I figured I had the pins backwards, but after some tinkering, I found the LED is just dysfunctional. I was going to not plug it in for use in my HTPC setup, but this just makes it a non-issue for me.
While Blister in the Sun plays in the background, I am pondering how to handle my approach here. On one hand the PC-Q25 did everything I asked and offers a good amount of air flow inside of a very confined foot print. I really appreciate the pop off panels, as it's not only easy to use, but left me gain access in confined spaces, as mine sits inside an entertainment stand. I really like the hot swap feature as it allows me to just add a disc full of movies, music, or images from my main rig right to the system that would play them there. With plenty of room for a small motherboard and many GPU's as long as they are shorter than 320mm in length, you are fine. It seems every angle and image I replay in my head has me liking what I received from Lian Li, even if not perfect. I mean I obviously like it, it's in use in my living room as I type this!
On the flip side of things, I am overlooking some downsides. First off, let's address the drive bays. Not only were mine bent and it didn't happen in shipping, the metal used on said racks seemed cheap and thin. Come to think of it, the motherboard tray and this were both thinner than I am used to. The outside, door panels and interior housings for the fans are all very solid in defense of my attack on quality. I would have been willing to maybe gloss over the cheapish interior, but once the LED was found dysfunctional and that leading me to really look at the badly placed Lian Li name plate, I had to say something. I guess the remnants of the cheesy Pringles should have been a tip something wasn't quite right, but as always, I trudged on to bring it to you as I got it and I believe we did just that.
I hope this isn't a path that Lian Li continues on and in my experience with them, this is the first I have gotten a chassis from them with damage, or chips! The PC-Q25 as I received it was still worthy of my attention and I put it in use full time for now. Considering that most Lian Li chassis' are going to run you up to $200 or more, it is pleasing to see the pricing where it is. With the miniscule asking price of $119.99 at Newegg.com, I can forgive a few imperfections. I know had I addressed the issues I found with Lian Li, they would have taken care of it, or maybe even sent a whole other case, but that isn't the point really. To me with everything to date I have received from Lian Li, this is sort of a letdown, but the price is just so appealing that I can help turning this around to a win for Lian Li.
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