Once fitted with an aluminium mount frame and appropriate screws, a 3.5" SATA hard drive is easily slid into place, connecting to the SATA hot swap board at the rear of the enclosure, and then firmly secured by a pair of slide down clips. Although this won’t be of any use to those still clinging to IDE hard disks, for the majority of us it’s a great feature that’s been very well engineered, although we’re not sure of the use of a lock on the door – popping off the front fascia reveals that the door is held in place by just a pair of easily removed Phillips head screws.
Nevertheless, while you don’t have to be Danny Ocean to break into the drive bay, using the lock isn’t mandatory, with the door also secured shut by a small magnet. While this sort of front accessed drive bay is something we’ve seen before in the Zalman GS1000
, here it's much better implemented, especially with the pre-fitted hot swap PCB board, although the lack of any vibration dampening fittings on the drive mounts is a little disappointing, as they really can make a huge difference in hard disk noise.
The lockable hard drive cage is also, somewhat strangely, at the centre of the PC-9's intake cooling system, with a large grilled section cut into the left and right side panels alongside it, allowing air to travel through the case laterally over the hard disks.
Click to enlarge - the front accessed hot swap hard drive bay is a great feature
This seems like a pretty strange choice considering that modern hard drives are tested to operate in even the toastiest of temperatures, but it is complemented by the grilled 5.25” blanking plates and drive bay door, both of which are fitted with removable washable dust filters.
Frustratingly though, actually removing the dust filters is immensely difficult as they're secured with six separate absolutely tiny push pins and require a great deal of either force or finger dexterity pry out. What's worse is that despite fitting dust filters to the front of the case, Lian Li has completely forgotten to fit any on the side panel vents! While we appreciate the effort made here, it seems like the design team has just checked the box marked "dust filters" without actually thinking about how dust ends up in a case, resulting in a half arsed attempt that while very neat and tidy, isn't at all effective very effective at keeping the inside of the PC-9 dust free.
Click to enlarge
Looking to the top panel of the PC-9 finds the front panel recessed behind the hinged panel shared throughout much of Lian Li’s range. There’s plenty of connectivity on offer, with four USB 2.0 ports, Firewire 400 and eSATA, as well as the usual mic and headphone jacks supporting both AC97 and HD-Audio.
So good looks and compact dimensions combine with a standout feature, but are soured by a baffling ventilation system and poor dust filtering. Let’s see how the PC-9 fares when we take off the side panels.
With the case popped open you immediately see just how cramped the interior of the PC-9 is, with the compact external dimensions not leaving a great deal of room inside for manoeuvring, although this is admittedly lessened by the entirely external access to the hard drive mounting mechanism and 5.25” drive bays.
The lack of a removable motherboard tray certainly doesn’t help things though, and while Lian Li includes all the necessary fittings along with plenty of spares, actually fitting a motherboard into the PC-9 proved tricky. Securing the board to the uppermost motherboard standoffs will certainly need a fair amount of screwdriver acrobatics, especially if you fit your motherboard with CPU cooler pre-installed which is practically a necessity considering the cramped confines at the top of the chassis. You’d certainly be stretched to fit a very large CPU cooler inside, although Lian Li has cut a large section of the motherboard tray out behind the CPU socket to aide in fitting back plate mounted CPU coolers.