While the pull of media PCs has perhaps lessened with the advent of dedicated media players like the excellent WDTV Live (review incoming), there’s undoubtedly still a market for those who want to bring the power and flexibility of a fully featured PC into the living room. In the past though, HTPC cases have often either been ludicrously expensive such as the £450 Moncaso 972 or sub-standard in vital areas such as build quality or cooling performance.
In fact, finding a decent, well featured media PC case on the bank balance friendly side of £150 has always been a difficult ask, which is why we were so surprised when Lian Li’s latest, the PC-C32 arrived in the labs. All aluminium construction, classy design, roomy interior and a £120 price tag – is this the HTPC chassis we’ve been waiting for?
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Looking at the exterior at least it certainly seems so. The whole case is made out of gorgeous black (or silver if you prefer) anodised aluminium and with a design that’s smooth and understated it looks fantastic, especially from the front which, realistically is all you’ll be seeing of the PC-C32 on a regular basis. We did note the aluminium, as is so often the case with Lian Li’s cases, was particularly vulnerable to fingerprints though.
The case itself is huge though, measuring 53cm x 42.5cm x 17cm, making it notably larger than a conventional tower turned on its side. You’ll certainly need a big TV unit to house this beast comfortably and even as a desktop system you’ll be pushed to find a desk that can easily accommodate it. Alternatively Lian Li has designed the PC-C32 to be rack-mount friendly, with mount grooves and screw holes positioned down both sides and high quality front mountable handles to allow you easily slide the case into and out of place. We admit it’s a niche feature, but for those who’ve really gone to town on their home cinema, we’re sure it’s a useful one.
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With much of the case made up of unblemished anodised aluminium the airflow into the main compartment is via four sets of ventilation holes – one set of grilled venting in each side panel towards the front, ventilation holes at the front of the floor panel and a third 140mm grill in the roof panel. Strangely though none of these vents are fitted with any sort of intake fan with all airflow into the case coming from internally mounted fans blowing directly onto the core hardware and drawing air through these front ventilation holes passively as the internal fans blow air towards the rear of the case.
While less effective at getting cool air into the case, this method reduces the noise of air being drawn into the PC-C32 while still providing cooling to the core hardware. The omission of any sort of dust filters is a bigger worry though and is frankly baffling considering Lian Li frequently includes them in its desktop cases and even budget cases such as the Akasa Freedom Xone now offer them.
External drive bay wise the PC-C32 is predictably barren for an HTPC, although it gains bonus points by supporting either a single 5.25in drive and a 3.5in or two 5.25in drives rather than the slimline optical drives other HTPCs often force you to use. Both drive bays are front facing and are joined on the case’s otherwise clean front fascia by neat aluminium power and reset switches, power and HDD activity LEDs and the usual array of front panel ports. There’s no external volume control or IR receiver though, so you’ll need to source these yourself for the full HTPC experience.