Lian Li is one of the companies that always are on the forefront of case design and innovation. One of their trademarks is that they make cases in literally all shapes and sizes ranging from a near 3ft behemoth to a case the size of a big power supply. Another trademark of Lian Li’s is that they love to use high quality materials which are usually followed by higher prices. Because of this, practically all of their cases are aluminum and its usually brushed. This results in a lighter and cooler case which in many cases also means that it is quieter.
Today, we will be looking at one of Lian Li’s Mini-ITX offerings. Mini-ITX is a standard that was developed in order to accommodate motherboards of an extremely small size that have minimal requirements. For scenarios where lots of PCI and RAM slots are not needed but size is of the essence. These motherboards are most easily described as the upper half of an ATX motherboard with less DIMM slots (generally 2 instead of 4). Such a small motherboard also means that there is going to be a very small case. This is where Lian Li’s PC-Q08 comes in and fills the niche.
The Lian Li PC-Q08 is a Mini-ITX case that supports a dual-slot full length (300mm) graphics card along with a full size power supply. This is important because many Mini-ITX cases require proprietary power supplies which are generally smaller than the ATX standard PSU and are usually less powerful and more expensive. Plus, with a very unique PSU you are very limited in your choices, as such being able to mount a full size ATX PSU is invaluable when considering that this case also supports a full length power hungry graphics card. This case also comes in three awesome colors, Black w/blue fan, Silver w/blue fan and Red w/red fan. Each 140mm color fan is complemented by a 120mm blowhole fan as well.
Another great feature of this case is the fact that it has a blow hole in the top of the case to allow for you to exhaust the heat out of your case. Many mini-ITX cases have a rear exhaust only and as a result, it is very hard to get any sort of air flow going through the case because the contents of the case are so cramped. In our build, we opted for a water cooling solution from Antec because in order to run a 2700K processor in a quiet and cool manner water cooling was necessary.
As such, we used the top blow hole to install the radiator of the water cooling setup. Also, because we used a water cooler instead of an air cooler we created more space between the PSU and CPU allowing for more air flow across the board. I would recommend that anyone building in these cases consider going with a water cooling solution at it is actually a much quieter and cooler solution for many reasons.
Another interesting thing about this case is that one of the side panels of the case is actually the motherboard back plate and when you remove one of the side panels you’re effectively removing the entire motherboard assembly. This is extremely helpful because you can essentially mount the motherboard inside the case without having to mess around with all the tight spaces.
Building Blocks Inside the Case
In this case we opted to build pretty much the most powerful system you can put on an ITX motherboard. The system is powered by the fastest Sandy Bridge processor, the Intel Core i7-2700K system, on an ASRock mini-ITX motherboard with two sticks of 4GB memory modules. In order to push the envelope, we are installing an Antec Kuhler CPU liquid cooling as well. The one thing that we will caution anyone building inside of this case is to install the CD/DVD drive first because it will be impossible to get to during any other time in the installation.
After that, you can go ahead and install the motherboard onto the motherboard tray/side panel. As you are doing so, you’ll notice that this case actually has the standoffs already built into the tray/side panel so there’s no messing around with those or losing them. This is a great thing to have because its a real pain to do such things in such a small case. With Lian Li’s quality you don’t really have to worry about stripped threads or anything along those lines so you can build with confidence.
We also recommend that you take out the hard drive cage and install all of your SSDs and hard drives into it prior to doing anything else because it will be really hard to do it when it’s actually installed inside the case. Note that this case uses Lian Li’s own hard drive mounting system which consists of a series of screws and rubber grommets to reduce vibration and sound.
Once we had finished installing the motherboard we proceeded to install the CPU cooler with the radiator and block/pump assembly. This was a little tough, but it did just barely fit inside the case. We removed the already installed 120mm fan and in its place installed the radiator and fan included with it. Following that, we pre-wired all of the front panel headers, USB ports, SATA, etc. because they would be extremely hard to get to once we installed the GPU and RAM.
The USB 3.0 solution in the Lian Li PC-Q08 is kind of odd, but understandable. This is because Lian Li provides you two actual male USB 3.0 ports that connect to the front panel of the case but must be plugged into the back of your motherboard as if they were just standard USB 3.0 ports being routed to the front. This solution is in no way elegant, but considering that there is very little room for USB 3.0 headers on the motherboard, almost no motherboard vendors support USB 3.0 on the board via header. In this case, we simply used the Lian Li provided adapter which converted the USB 3.0 connectors into a single USB 2.0 header so that the cable wouldn’t snake outside of the case and remain contained.
Upon wiring everything up, we installed our GTX 275 graphics card and 8GB of RAM. Note, that in order to install the full length card you will have to remove a piece of metal that provides additional hard drives.
The next step was probably one of the most important; we pre-connected all of the power cables to their necessary connectors BEFORE installing the PSU. The reason for that is because the PSU slides into the case and blocks the entire motherboard and effectively rides its way almost into the hard drive cage. We also recommend purchasing a modular PSU so that you can plug everything into where it belongs and as you begin to slide the PSU into the case, you just plug in everything to the PSU and go on your happy way. After you’ve slid the PSU in and secured it with the screws you’re done.
The end result was an extremely small and quiet system which took up half the space of a traditional full tower and provided the exact same level of performance and overclocking. We even put it side by side against our ThermalTake’s Level10 GT to illustrate the size difference even though they could effectively fit and cool almost the exact same parts.
The Lian Li PC-Q08 case isn’t necessarily a cheap case currently selling for $109.99 in black and silver on Newegg and $119.99 in red. This price is admittedly not cheap until you realize that it is a Lian Li and Lian Li’s are notorious for being expensive and generally appreciated for their quality.
When it comes to this case, we feel that Lian Li has really put a lot of thought into this case and it is probably the best case for the money when you consider how expensive other Mini-ITX cases are out there. Many of the competing cases also don’t have the same feature set as the PC-Q08 which is yet another reason why its value is really quite good. Yes, many of the competition’s cases (mostly Silverstone) do come with power supplies, but the lack of customization is inherent when you consider that you’re limited by the PSU they provide you with.
There isn’t really much to building inside of this case other than the fact that you’ve basically got to disassemble nearly everything initially in order to make your life easier as you progress in your build. The end result isn’t necessarily beautiful inside, but it is cool, quiet, fast and extremely small. The only obstacle that we encountered in our build was that our CPU cooler’s radiator and fan combination rubbed against the PSU as we slid it in which meant that we had to do a little wiggling in order to get it installed correctly.
Overall, though, this case really does live up to the Lian Li name and doesn’t really seem overpriced for what it delivers. Lian Li’s innovative thinking and design have really shown that they understand their market and that if someone is going to go out and build themselves a custom gaming machine they want to have it fully customized, including the PSU. Because of Lian Li’s design decisions and quality we are happy to award them our Innovation award for giving us the ability to fit huge performance into a tiny little package.