Lian Li PC-TU100 B Mini-Tower Chassis Review

Lian Li PC-TU100 B Mini-Tower Chassis Review

One of the smallest, yet very portable SFF chassis designs hits the TweakTown desk, as Lian Li delivers the PC-TU100 for testing.

| Aug 5, 2013 at 9:01 am CDT
Rating: 87%Manufacturer: Lian Li

Introduction

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Back in 2011, I received a chassis that I affectionately called a "nuclear football" or a "sleeper", with a very industrial feel to it when the PC-TU200 was delivered from Lian Li. That design was very compact, but still allowed for things like larger CPU coolers and full sized video cards. Along the line, since that release, there must have been some requests to take what already was pretty compact for what you could fit inside, take it back to the drawing board, and figure out how to make this design even smaller.

There is a point where you can go too far in this way of thinking. With the original, you could slam in a real powerhouse of a build and easily tote it around with the sturdy handle attached to the top panel of the chassis. With the idea to go smaller, you are definitely cutting into things like CPU cooler height restrictions, overall video card length, as well as the amount of room offered for optical or storage drives, as well as even being able to cool the much smaller design. This, however, did not stop Lian Li from producing something, that while slightly specific to workable components, will easily fit into a backpack or even a carry-on bag for you next long distance trip. We have all heard of some of the horror stories about traveling with larger cases, and maybe some of you have seen the images of the damage as I have, but with a design like this, I can say that will never happen with this newest design.

The newest addition to the Lian Li lineup is the PC-TU100, and somehow Lian Li figured out how to almost halve the exterior dimensions, while still leaving a fair amount of room for certain components. As long as you plan ahead with a chassis such as this, even though you are about to see a very compact chassis that needs a few specialized parts to make it all work flawlessly and still be able to deliver chassis that would work perfect for LANs, a trip across town to a buddies, or a flight halfway around the world is possible.

For such a small chassis, there is still a lot going on in the design and feature set, so pay close attention as we continue with the review to see if the PC-TU100 from Lian Li is the right chassis for your needs.

Specifications, Availability and Pricing

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With a Lian Li chassis, you expect aluminum, either natural or anodized black, and this is exactly what you get in the PC-TU100 Mini-Tower. The amazing thing about this all aluminum construction that makes up this industrial suitcase feel is that it only stands 277mm tall without the handle. It is only 252mm from front to back, sits at 170mm in width, and empty it weighs less than 2kg. Just like with most of the Lian Li offerings, you can get this in both the natural and anodized versions I mentioned, and if you continue on, you will see that every component is constructed of aluminum, and I mean everything. The only steel found on this chassis is in the few rivets and screws used to hold in some of the components of the interior.

Speaking of the interior, the offerings may seem pretty slim, but in reality, you can build a pretty decent system still. At the top you have an option to use a Slim ODD, but if you want this as an HTPC to play other media, you can also stash a 2.5" storage drive in here. There is no room assigned to the standard 3.5" hard drives, but there are two more trays on the floor of the chassis that will accept 2.5" drives. In the back of the chassis there are two expansion slots provided for video cards less than 190mm in length, and this is also where you would mount the SFX power supply, no longer than 170mm, over the CPU cooler. This is why there is 60mm of room for CPU cooling on either a Mini-ITX or Mini-DTX motherboard. The chassis also offers a single 140mm fan to cool the chassis and a front I/O with Native USB 3.0.

Last I knew the PC-TU100 was to be released in late June, but that time has since been and gone, and I don't see any ETA information in the listing I did find. While the press releases all refer to an MSRP of $110, the out of stock, pre-release page for this chassis has a price of $129.99, with an additional $9.99 in shipping. To be real honest, this is a very nice chassis for $110, but when you are getting much closer to $150 to actually obtain one to your door, it really changes my views on this chassis.

While I am certain you will find the chassis very cool, something you would like to try out once in your life, and if you don't mind some modding, this is a chassis with a lot of potential, but at $150 there are just way too many other options. I will give Lian Li this, there is only one other option aesthetically similar, and they built that too, and aside from maybe the Prodigy, there aren't many this easy to tote around in style.

Packaging

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Considering this chassis shipped directly from Taiwan, the packaging doesn't look all that bad. Lian Li places a large image of the chassis under all of the fancy naming and "Adventurer" series for this type of chassis. Down the right side you see seven small images pointing out features, along with an image inside of the chassis at the bottom showing the video card length restriction.

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This smaller side panel offers images of both the natural silver color and the black. Below these images you see a very condensed specifications chart that is repeated in five languages after the English version at the top left corner of them.

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The back of the packaging is an exact duplicate. One thing I did notice is the tiny plane that lets you know that this is something that is easily traveled with, and this is the main point of this design as it is shipped.

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The final side of the packaging is again a duplicate. I did, however, pick up an extra sticker from Hampton during its travels. As for the specifications, they are in the same six languages here too.

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With a chassis that only weighs 1.77kg or 3.9 pounds for those on this side of the pond, and with the over engineered inner packaging of the super thick Styrofoam corners and thick plastic liner to protect the finish, it would take the force from an air cannon, shooting this at a wall, to even dent the chassis. This is great for potential buyers as there is no reason to think this case will arrive damaged in any way.

Lian Li PC-TU100 Mini-Tower Chassis

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Staring into the face of the PC-TU100, you see a lot of black anodized, brushed aluminum with rounded aluminum caps placed at all four corners. Down the face you are offered a removable cover for a Slim ODD, the backlit power button, a large ventilated area for intake, and an I/O panel at the bottom. This I/O panel contains just a pair of USB 3.0 ports and the HD audio 3.5mm jacks.

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The top of the chassis is a flat expanse of more brushed aluminum. Right in the middle of that Lian Li screws on a composite handle from inside the chassis for a very clean finished look, and the portability that many people on the go desire.

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The left side of the chassis shows the rivets used to cap the corners, and each side has some thickness, before you get to the removable panel. This side panel offers ventilation at the left side, as this is where the SFX power supply is mounted, and it offers a way to draw in more cold air for it.

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Under a pair of slides you immediately run into the rear I/O area, and slim areas of ventilated aluminum around the SFX PSU mounting position. Then at the bottom you are given two expansion slots that are accessed from outside the chassis.

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These are the pair of sliders that I mentioned, and as you can tell, they are both set toward the middle of the chassis now. If you were to slide them towards the side panel it is nearest, the panel will lift off for access to remove them.

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With the slider now moved toward the left side panel of the chassis, a bar slides out against the corner of the panel and pops it out so that you can get a finger behind it to release the other three ball and socket style latches on the back of them that hold these panels in place.

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The right side of the chassis offers the same sized panel that is smaller in all dimensions that the chassis frame. The main difference here is that there is no ventilation, or really anything other than all that brushed aluminum.

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Under this chassis you have half round aluminium feet, so be careful, as depending on the surface it is setting on, it may scratch or slide around easily, but they will take more abuse than plastic or rubber feet would. You can also see the ends of the screws here holding in the 2.5" drive brackets on the floor of the chassis inside.

Inside the PC-TU100 B

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With both panels out of the way, you can see right on through. The hardware comes strapped to the rear of the case, there is some moisture absorbing paper, and you can see the front I/O wiring and the native USB 3.0 cable bound up in the front.

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Inside of the front of the chassis is a 140mm fan as the only source of mechanical ventilation inside. Lian Li also adds a fan guard to keep fingers and wires from getting damaged, or possibly even the fan being damaged.

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If you would like to clean or outright replace the front 140mm fan, lift it up, and then pull it out. As you can see with the keyed slots, it is much like the HDD system, where you use screws and rubber grommets to mount any 140mm fan in here easily.

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Above everything there is the removable tray for the Slim ODD drive if you want to use one. There are holes in the floor of the tray to easily install a 2.5" drive as an option also. You can also see the six strand ribbon cable that connects to the motherboard for the power switch, HDD activity and power LED.

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Here you can see the screws for the handle at the top of the chassis and the plate supporting the door sliders at the back, but the reason in reality was to show the top support for the chassis that has the top two stand-offs pre-installed for the motherboard installation.

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Since there isn't a "tray", we can move right to the bottom of the chassis. Here you have the lower support bar with the other two stand-offs pre-installed to it. On the floor you see a single piece of natural brushed aluminum shaped and cut to allow two 2.5" storage drives into it.

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At the back you can see a little better what sort of room you have between the motherboard and where the SFX PSU needs to be installed. You can also see much easier that the expansion slot covers at the bottom has no access for removing them or the cards from inside of the chassis.

Accessories and Documentation

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This is part of what you will find in the hardware box. At the top left there is a bag with the PSU and ODD screws. At the top right there is a second bag containing the motherboard screws, the four screws to convert the ODD bay to storage, and a whole mess of screws for the sides of storage drives.

At the bottom is an extra socket for the case rails to hold the panels on, just in case one should break. You are also given nine rubber anti-vibration grommets to use with the screws to slide the drives into the trays on the floor of the chassis.

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The rest of the included hardware is what you see in the image above. There is a Native USB 3.0 to USB 2.0 adapter, in case, like me, you don't have a new Mini-ITX motherboard. You also get a post code speaker for the motherboard and a pair of zip-ties to help with some limited wire managing you may run across.

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The instructions also come in six variations to cover the same markets that were outside of the packaging. These are shipped inside the plastic liner, but outside of the chassis, so that you can read them to figure out the doors, and go from there with the images and text explaining the parts, the installation process, and even offers wiring pin-outs at the bottom.

The Build and Finished Product

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If you make the choice as I did to not opt to install a slim optical drive into the chassis, you are left with the same exact aesthetics as you got the chassis out of the box. For those on the go with a case such as this, it is also one less thing to be tampered with or broken along the way.

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The motherboard fits easily, but I needed to grab a photo of this before we get too far with adding the layers of components into this build. I also did not use a video card with this chassis as my 460 is too long, and this chassis was designed with the ASUS 670 Mini in mind when they finalized the dimensions.

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The drives need the screws and grommets, but once they are in place, the drives slide easily onto the aluminum support frame. Make sure to orient the wiring forward, I tried the other way around and the SATA cable extends too far, and won't allow for a correct fit.

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With the PSU installed, there are a few things to consider. This is a small PSU and you can see it is flexing the rear of the chassis already. If you were to install a video card in this chassis, you would also need another place to hide the wiring than I have chosen. The last thing to ponder is do you use the PSU fan as I did to aid the chassis air flow, or do you leave just the single 140mm to try to cool more demanding components than the Atom I used here.

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At the back of the chassis, I fitted the dust shield with little effort, and the small PSU is very easy to hold there while you mount it, and even with the expansion slot access being on the outside, the cover is secure and will hold a card in very well.

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There is very little room behind the motherboard. I guess you could run some fan wiring here, or clean up the front I/O wiring running it here, but let's face it, why bother when there are solid panels going back on the chassis, and that wiring tucks nicely next to the fan with little effort involved.

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As I said, when the chassis is all put back together, and ready to use, it changes very little. You may have the tray of the ODD and its logos to deal with, and maybe a look at the PSU or its fan through the ventilation on the left, but other than that, nothing is drastically changed.

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Since images are tough to guesstimate size, I thought it proper to put a stock LGA1156 heat sink next to the chassis for a bit of perspective. I am pretty sure that most of my shoe boxes are much bigger than this, so even if just building for a second PC for on the go purposes only, it will take very little room to store it until the next trip too.

When the chassis was powered for testing, the power button has a constant blue LED backlighting and that same button will flicker red when the storage drives are active.

Final Thoughts

There are quite a few things I like about the PC-TU100. The aim from Lian Li was to make the smallest chassis they possibly could, while giving that same customer a rugged, yet sleek and industrial looking bit of kit to take with them anywhere you can fit your back pack.

In fact, if you don't want to bungee strap this thing to the bike, just throw it inside whatever bags you happen to be taking with you on your trip. The handle is very sturdy, and even fully loaded, I would have no issues running and putting stress to it in a way that I think a normal human could break it or strip the screws out. I liked the aspect of going from something like the 900D and going right into this as my next chassis review - it was a complete change of pace, and an outright flip of extreme ends of what buyers out there may want. The last bit that I liked, but it has its drawbacks too, was the 34 dB sound levels that were produced inside of this chassis, but the components do suffer a bit.

That brings me to the things I didn't like or found somewhat lacking. Also keep in mind I am looking at this now as a specific-needs buyer that is in dire need of a small chassis to tote around. The single 140mm fan I don't think is enough to keep much more demanding systems than mine. I did run the Atom with the passive cooler, but I was also running the PSU as a chassis exhaust, and the thermal results were on the high-end of any SFF chassis that I have tested. The limitations are a huge factor when thinking about this chassis, and in this instance, I say you need to plan the build to fit the chassis, and not the other way around. No 3.5" drive bays may stifle some, but there is room for three 2.5" drives. There aren't a lot of great air coolers out there less than 60mm in height, but an AIO cooler is an option, if you don't need a video card added in. That brings me to the last issue, and that is in the quest to make the smallest chassis they could, Lian Li shoehorns themselves into only the smallest of video cards.

I do feel that in the end there is a great mix of compact size, even if limited to specific choices of components all the way around, but as long as you really think things through, you could make a very comprehensive computer to take for business or pleasure. At $110 I am left thinking that most of the cost is in the material costs and assembly, but even then that is stretching my acceptance to want to buy the chassis. If the $140 pricing that Newegg is currently showing is what you will have to pay, I will just end it with this. The BitFenix Prodigy, many of the cases in the Silverstone lineup, even other Lian Li offerings are much better for the gamer on the go, or the guy who just likes the challenge of packing 20 pound of components into a box that should only hold 10 pounds, I think you are better off with other offerings.

However, for the guy on the go with no real gaming requirements, things are strictly business and emails, maybe some Facebook gaming, then sure, this is definitely a case worth seriously considering. If you have the need to travel everywhere with your own PC, the PC-TU100 may trip up security at the airport, but this case will ride above your head in the plane of your carry-on luggage, if that's what you want.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR -

After a year of gaming, Chad caught the OC bug. With overclocking comes the need for better cooling, and Chad has had many air and water setups. With a few years of abusing computer parts, he decided to take his chances and try to get a review job. As an avid overclocker, Chad is always looking for the next leg up in RAM, cooling, as well as peripherals.

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