Into the Vault: Lian Li
Welcome back to the Vault.
Which actually makes no sense, it’s not even a vault.
It’s my basement.
My name is Matt Mutch.
I am a computer enthusiast.
I’d like to tell you a story.
This one is older and newer than some of my stories. It is older in that the computer is older than several of the ones I’ve discussed, coming in from around 2000-ish. As far as technology goes, that’s ancient, but I’m sure I don’t have to explain this to a world conditioned to upgrade to the latest phone each year.
(It’s not your fault. The marketing budgets are huge and planned obsolescence is real.)
I should also let you know I’m not writing this on my Writer’s Room computer. I’m just not. There’s no good reason.
Today’s Vault entry was literally deposited in my living room this very afternoon by its now previous owner while I was out at a family gathering. Sean takes care of the cats when I’m gone and is my oldest friend, which is why he has a key and didn’t just break in, drop off a computer, and leave.
Hailing from the early Oughts is this relic clad in brushed aluminum. The real time capsule, I feel, is the capsule itself—the case, and what it means to me.
Don’t hold your breath. It’s not a deep or life changing meaning.
The computer held within this ultra light, extremely expensive chassis is an ordinary middle range computer from approximately 2005 consisting of an AMD Socket 939 mainboard and an AMD Athlon64 CPU. It uses SATA based rotating hard disk drives (two of them) and the total capacity is less than 500 gigabytes. It uses a PCI card for WiFi and has an AGP graphics card and oh my god, I barely even care. The thing about this computer is that it was built within a Lian Li computer case, which at the time was a big deal. As far as my memory serves, we were still deep in an era of beige, boxy computer towers that were giant, heavy, and frankly, dangerous to work within. We didn’t consider a build to be underway until one of us had been sliced and bled into a computer—not on purpose, mind you.
When Lian Li was at (what I remember to be) its height, the climate of computer exteriors was that making the bog standard computer cases either gray or white was Innovation. Yes, Apple had already wrapped up their grand experiments in Sage and Graphite and Blue Dalmatian years prior, and so had Compaq, but no one remembers or cares about them. The greater PC market was still trying to deal with how conceptually phenomenal making a case black was. And then Lian Li shows up and says two words:
These guys started making computer cases that were clean, bright, beautiful, and expensive as hell. While the computer sitting in my living room is from 2005, the case is older than that. I don’t know where Sean got the money—we must have had part-time high school jobs at the time. Our computers were our lives, except electively, as opposed to now where our computers are our phones and we range from not being able to function without them to being clinically addicted to them.
You could lift one without giving yourself a hernia. Compared to the 1.0 mil full steel cases some of us were using because they were cheap, the Lian Li was incredibly lightweight, which never mattered except when you had to lift the thing to service, troubleshoot, or clean it. And when you did, the interior edges were rolled or had plastic guards so you could keep your blood inside of your body.
Almost every screw on the case was a thumbscrew, which was incredibly novel at the time. Any work you needed to do on your computer post-initial-build could be done- more likely than not- without tools. For a couple of nerds who were really into Do-It-Yourself PCs early in the modern enthusiast market, this was a huge deal. We had never gotten our hands on a premium component before, and the beauty it compared to everything else we had utilized or dealt up until this point with was exceptional. And it still is, to a point.
When Sean called and asked if he could drop it off since he was around, I honestly felt a little excited. The Lian Li had been so amazing to me and I hadn’t seen it in, conservatively, nine years. While my memory gets more and more fiddly as time goes on, I had a “sense memory” of how cool this thing was.
But I also knew something else—call it a hunch. And I was eager to find out if I was right.
I was right.
This Lian Li case is outdated.
The recent aesthetic is glass panels and stylish ventilation, and the enthusiast community is all about RGB lighting effects. At the high end, you are more likely to find PCs that would be at home at a rave than not. I just built a high end desktop for the office and it has a hundred times more bling or yeet or yeehaw or whatever it is kids like nowadays than anything I’ve ever built before, and that’s just as a matter of fact. If I wanted high end components, they’re literally going to be lit.
There are no windows in the Lian Li. Components stay hidden away within its thin, resilient, aluminum walls. The only place to peer inside are through the bold, no-nonsense grates machined into the metal body which just… aren’t attractive for reasons I can’t fully explain. They are very utilitarian in appearance, as best I can describe. They reek of, “Oh, there isn’t enough air flow? Cut a couple holes in it, I guess.” And even then, whereas there was sufficient airflow, there isn’t now.
It reminds me of the desktop I built for work, seen in the photo above. The high end desktop (Theis) runs with a waste heat volume previously unseen by me personally, and I was unprepared for it. I was literally unprepared. I had to go back to the store the following day, after triumphantly finishing the build in short order, and buy a hundred dollars of additional fans to get it to run without killing itself. Truth be told, since it’s a funnier story, the expensive fans then proved to be insufficient, top tier status be damned, and I had to go harvest three not-messing-around fans from an old derelict Dean Machine and throw those in instead.
And those worked.
The Lian Li appears to have three 60mm fan intakes and one 60mm exhaust. I don’t have any metric rulers and I’m not a mathematician, but that is literally half of the diameter of the three 120 mm intakes and single 120mm exhaust facilitating Theis’ ability to just function within normal parameters. The mid-2000s mid-range desktop was fine, and probably ran cool as a cucumber in the Lian Li. A modern mid-range desktop would probably also run fine. But aesthetically (not important) and cooling-wise (critically important), this case probably won’t cut it anymore.
Will I try it out in the near future?
Will it be fine?
Do I own any high end heat belching components to mash into it to put it to the test?
The insufficiency of this case is a mere educated guess based on experience. The means to test it are unavailable at this time. But results aren’t why we enter the Vault. We come here for pontification, tangents, nostalgia, and the same picture of Dean every month.
Got an old computer or a new computer that you like or hate or are indifferent to and want to talk about it?
I’m @geekadematt on Twitter, and this has been “Into the Vault: Lian Li”.
“Sean” is a computer built around an AMD Athlon64 cpu on the Socket 939 platform. It is installed in an MSI K8T Neo 2 F/IR mainboard with four DDR RAM slots, two of which are occupied each by a 1 GB DDR-400 stick of RAM for dual-channel functionality. Two IDE channels are complimented by two SATA-150 ports with two more on a Promise RAID controller, plus a then-requisite floppy disk controller supporting two devices, one of which is actually installed – a 3.5 inch floppy disk drive. Other included antiques come in the form of a 16x DVD-RW drive on one of said IDE channels. The SATA ports are occupied with a 160 GB 7200 rpm Hard Drive and a 320 GB Hard Drive. Graphics are handled by an ATI Radeon 9600 on the system’s AGP 8X slot with 128 MB DDR RAM frame buffer and 10/100 networking and six channel audio are on board, while the networking is primarily handled with an add-in 802.11n based PCI card featuring three antennae for MIMO connectivity.