Review: LIAN LI PC-Q25B Black Mini-ITX Tower Computer Case

by Damian on January 2, 2012 · 21 comments

in Reviews

Nearly a year ago I wrote a post about building a Mini-ITX HTPC. Since then I have been wanting to build a server to use as a testing ground for Windows Home Server 2011. Since this is meant to be a test server, I wasn’t looking to spend a lot of money. If anything, I was hoping to recycle as many parts as possible from PCs lying around my house, and the server needed to be small (after all, I already have a beast called Shawshank patrolling my office). After digging around the internet I came across the Lian Li PC-Q25B Mini-ITX Computer Case which caught my attention. Being small form factor with the ability to hold 5 hot swap 3.5in hard drives and a total of 8 hard drives, the PC-Q25B seemed like the perfect fit. With that being said, let’s take a closer look at the PC-Q25B and how well it works in building a small form factor server.

Build Components:

Since my mini-ITX HTPC has been collecting dust, I figured take as many parts as possible out of there for the server. I also had several unused hard drives lying around, so I was covered there. The only thing I needed to purchase (aside from the case of course) was RAM as the 2GB RAM I had in my HTPC was insufficient to load Windows Home Server 2011.

Since most of the parts were recycled the actual cost for me to build was only $170 (the Lian Li case and 8GB RAM).

Lian Li Specs:

A Look At The Case:

The case I got was the black finish. In the front there is only a power button which may be a bit of a deterrent for some who would like to have access to external bays or connections such as USB ports. At the top and the side of the case are grills where the case fans are for air flow. Overall the case feels solid and surprisingly I did not find the aluminum finish to be much of a fingerprint magnet.

The sides of the case snap off very easy. If looking directly at the front of the case, the left side comes off which gives you access to the insides. You can see the 5 bay Hot Swap cage, a case fan at the front, a case fan at the top (where the case fan wires are hanging down) and a hard drive mounting tray on the bottom.

Here is a closer look at the 5 bay Hot Swap cage. Unfortunatelythe bay came bent slightly (if you look half way down to the left) but it didn’t cause any issues. From reading a few other reviews it seems that this was a common issue, so it is a little disappointing given this is not a cheap case.

Snap off the other side of the case and you get access to the back of the hot swap cage where the power and sata connectors are. Also to the right of the cage is the motherboard tray.

Here is a picture of the rear of the case. You have your cutouts for your motherboard, PSU, and one full sized external card.

For size comparisons the PC-Q25B comes in at approximately the same size as my Keurig coffee machine!

The Build:

Of course the fun doesn’t begin until you actually start the build. The goal here was to be able to reuse all my spare PC parts and hopefully make it as tool-less of an operation as possible.

Whenever building a PC, I usually like to stare at the inside of the case for anywhere between 5 minutes to an hour (probably having more to do with where my attention span is at that moment!) to come up with a game plan for what order makes the most sense for installing the components. Since th PSU would go over the motherboard, I left the PSU for last and decided to install the motherboard/hard drives first.

Installing The Motherboard:

Since I just pulled the motherboard out of my HTPC, the CPU, CPU Cooler, and RAM were already installed, so it was one less thing for me to do.

As I mentioned earlier, there is an included motherboard tray with the case which can be removed with a screwdriver.

The purpose here is to mount the motherboard to the tray, and then reattach the tray to the case. Since we are dealing with a Mini-ITX case space can be very tight to work in, so being able to prepare/attach components outside the case is a plus.

With the motherboard secured to the tray, all is needed is to reattach the tray to the case, screwing in form the back side.

Installing the Hard Drives:

Next up is installing the hard drives. There are several different options to choose from. The Hot Swap Cage supports up to 5 3.5in hard drives. The hard drive tray underneath the cage supports a combination of 2.5in and 3.5in hard drives. First up we will look at the hard drive tray. In order to attach a drive to the tray, you need to screw in the provided rubber mounts into each drive

Once the rubber mounts are secured, it is as easy as removing the tray from the case and matching up the rubber mounts with the holes in the tray. From what I can tell you can have the following 3 combinations (2 x 3.5in hdds, 3 x 2.5in hdds, or 2 x 3.5in hdds and 1 x 2.5in hdd).

With the drives secured simply slide the tray back into the case and fasten.

Now that the drive tray is taken care of, next up is the HDD cage. The prepare each drive for the cage, a cage rail is provided which easily screws into each side of  the hard drive.

Once done it is just a matter of sliding each drive into the cage, making sure to push in far enough so the drives connect to the cage connectors in the back.

Overall, installing the drives was surprisingly easy, and the nice thing is everything is included to do so (with the exception of a screw driver of course). The only negative I found is that with the cage it is very difficult to pull out a drive when there is a drive above and below (not a lot of room to really grab hold of the drive). On the Lian Li website they have a Hot Swap Bay HDD Handle, just not sure if it would be compatible with this cage.

Also, there is one important thing worth mentioning with the hdd tray. I don’t know any mini-ITX motherboards that support more then 6 sata connections, so even though you could squeeze 8 hard drives into this case you would only be able to connect 6. The only option would be to install a RAID controller card to get an additional 2 connections. However, you may find space to be extremely tight to get a card installed along with the tray full of drives (and don’t forget you still need space for the PSU wiring. I didn’t do any testing since I didn’t have a spare controller card, but it is something worth keeping in mind if you hope  to utilize the maximum number of drives in this case.

Installing the PSU / Connecting All Wires

This part was actually a little tricky.When you install the PSU, it actually goes over the motherboard making it virtually impossible to connect any wires to the motherboard. So instead what I did was connected all wires that didn’t require the PSU (such as the sata cables and case fan cables). Next I connected all PSU cables to the motherboard / drives / cage with the PSU still outside the case. Once done the last step was to actually install the PSU.

Here is a picture of the rear of the HDD cage with everything connected. The best option for cable management would be to use as short as possible SATA cables (I think the cables I used were either 18in or 24in).

I forgot to take a picture as I was inserting the PSU, but here is a picture from the Lian Li website which shows you can actually remove the PSU bracket, attach to the PSU, and then slide the PSU in from the outside of the case. Given the amount of limited space this is definitely a positive.

Here is a picture once everything was installed. As you can see the wiring can get a bit cluttered, and ideally I would choose to go with a modular PSU to help eliminate wires that go unused. Also, you can see where using the maximum amount of drives on the HDD tray could make wiring even more tight. Before you put the case lid back on it is best to start up the server. The main reason is that after installing the PSU some of the wires may have gotten pressed against either the case fan or CPU cooler, so this is a good opportunity to try and adjust as needed.

Here is a picture of the new Lian Li server (called Redemption) next to my current Windows Home Server (Shawshank).

Installing Windows Home Server 2011

Of course what good is a server without an Operating System, so I connected my USB ROM drive to Redemption, loaded my Windows Home Server 2011 disc, and crossed my fingers! Fortunately it installed without any problems.

Here is a picture of the Windows Home Server 2011 console showing the internal drives (unfortunately 1 of the 5 drives was dead).

With the O/S humming along I let Redemption run for several days straight without issue. The included case fans were very quiet, so I don’t see needing to switch out, but of course everyone’s interpretation of what is loud will vary. One thing worth mentioning, in order to take advantage of the drives in the Hot Swap Cage being truly hot swap, the motherboard SATA ports need to be set to AHCI. Without this you will have to turn off the server and add/remove a drive for it to be properly recognized. For the time being I didn’t set up AHCI, but if this case becomes the home of a more permanent server then I would definitely look to do.

Final Thoughts

I must say that overall I am very impressed with this case. The layout was well thought out, between the HDD cage and tray to little things like the ability to slide the PSU in from the outside. The case itself feels solid and the aluminum outside has a very simple yet elegant look to it. I was disappointed to see that the HDD Cage was slightly bent and would have preferred more usable HDD trays/mounts for  the cage (i.e. with a handle) were provided to give easier access  to removing drives. Some people may be turned off by the lack of external bays (for a possible external ROM drive) or even any ports on the front of the case, but for me this case fit my needs perfectly. For anyone who does want these items Lian Li makes another Mini-ITX case called the PC-Q08B which comes with 1 5.25in External Bay and 2 USB 3.0 Front Ports. The tradeoff is you lose the Hot Swap cage and can hold a maximum of only 7 drives.





Article by

Hi, my name is Damian, and I'm tech gadget addict! Although I always had some interest in technology, it wasn't until I got my EX470 and more importantly found Mediasmartserver.net, that my interest became an addiction. My goal, aside from world domination and to see the Mets/Broncos win another championship, is to set up the perfect digital home where all my media is available at the click of a button. When I am not writing for Mediasmartserver.net you can find me over at my blog at http://www.adigitalhomeblog.com or follow me on twitter


{ 20 comments }

Alex Kuretz January 2, 2012 at 6:45 pm

Nice looking case and build. I don’t see the need for an optical drive on the server, I use an old Xbox HD-DVD external drive for my installation needs, and don’t mind plugging USB devices in the back.

Have you decided what you are going to do to manage storage? RAID or run one of the available Add-Ins?

Is the dead drive DOA or an old drive you had lying around?

Damian January 3, 2012 at 5:39 am

Thanks Alex. Not sure yet which add in I will try. Honestly I am holding out for the FlexRAID WHS 2011 integration as I think in general there would be more interest in getting that running versus the current DE replacement add ins.

I think one drive died from sitting around. I believe at one point my wife decided to clean up my desk and I imagine there wasn’t any special handling of the hard drives lying around…

Chris Ratner January 2, 2012 at 9:19 pm

Nice article, Damian. I haven’t yet upgraded to WHS2011, but you’ve given me a good start in selecting a nice looking case. This is definately a task I’m going to take up this year. What type of duty to you plan to have this server take on? Media serving or something else?

Damian January 3, 2012 at 5:37 am

For now this is really just meant to be a test environment. I don’t plan on actually using it as a replacement for my current WHS since I don’t feel comfortable yet with the DE replacement add ins for WHS 2011. It is a case down the road I actually could see using as a replacement for my current WHS to serve media in my house, especially since it would support drives greater then 2TB.

Geoff Coupe January 3, 2012 at 4:04 am

Damian, I see that you’re running the Alpha of the Home Server SMART Add-in. How’s that working out for you? Is it worth installing, and should I wait for at least a Beta?

Thanks.

Damian January 3, 2012 at 5:40 am

I have had no issues running it, and from what I can see it performs in the same manner as the Home Server SMART Add-in I currently use for my WHS v1 machine.

Comp1962 January 3, 2012 at 6:43 am

Outstanding write up. I really like that enclosure alot. I keep looking at it almost daily for my next build which will be based around an AMD A8-3800 processor I have been dying to try out. I would prefer to have an external 5.25″ Bay for a Blu-Ray Drive but it would not be the first where I put the Blu-Ray Drive in an external enclosure. I have become addicted to the Mini-ITX. For most people that enclosure offers more than enough capacity for a Server but to utilize all the storage capacity an additional SATA card would be necessary since most Mini-ITX board only have 4 SATA Ports but yourse I see has 6 which is very nice.

I see your using a 2.5″ drive for the system drive. I did the same with Highlander using a WD Scorpio Black drive and its been running quite well since I fired it up back on July 7th and I placed another one along side it for its backup in WHS2011 just because I had another 2.5″ drive but that one was not a Scorpio Black Drive.

Could you kindly post the drive and CPU Temps after its been runing for a while? It appears the enclosure will remove the heat but I would like to know for sure. Right now I am debating another VidaBox Enclosure which I have become very fond of vs the enclosure in your build. I am not over concerned with noise as most would be mainly because I prefer cooling efficiency however if its quiet and removes the heat well then its an added bonus. I think my little space in life here makes more noise then Houston Control at times.

Damian January 3, 2012 at 12:11 pm

I really do like Mini-ITX. If you look at my current Windows Home Server (Shawshank), it is nearly 3x the size, and in part needs to be since right now I can only hold up to 2TB drives. With 3TB+ drives out there I could actually get the same storage capacity that i get with Shawshank in a much smaller case, and then just add on with external enclosures if need be (USB 3.0). I didn’t realize that it was uncommon for mini-ITX boards to have 6 sata ports. I started looking around and most had between 2-4 SATA ports.

I will let Redemption run for a while and post back the Drive/CPU temps.

Comp1962 January 3, 2012 at 5:48 pm

All the Mini-ITX boards I have used have 4 SATA Ports of course most SFF enclosures used for these boards have storge bay limitation so generally 4 SATA Ports works out well. Your board has 6 SATA Ports which is very nice and will go nicely for your awesome enclosure. I recall your building an HTPC which you did a write up on and that enclosure was very tight compared to the Lian-LI enclosure. There appears to be lots of room for the CPU cooler something I have run into issues with in the past. A couple weeks ago I swapped out an AMD x2 250 with an X4 840 and the cooler just barely fit but it turned out the new CPU ran cooler but thats another story.

Again it looks like you have an awesome enclosure so I will be watching closely how it works out for you.

javilicios3 January 5, 2012 at 6:09 pm

Nice review… Me too would like to know Drive/CPU temps… I would probably install the CORSAIR H80 Cooling for the CPU… Do you think the radiator will fit with the limited amount of space in the case?

Damian January 13, 2012 at 12:50 pm

I plan on letting Redemption run over the weekend so I can monitor the CPU and Drive temps, as well as see if I can determine approx how much room you have to play with between the mobo and PSU for a CPU cooler. Got a bit sidetracked the last few weeks so just starting to get caught back up.

Comp1962 January 6, 2012 at 3:37 pm

Hey Damian that LIAN LI case has 2 slot openings for expansion. Of course my beloved Mini-ITX formats don’t have that but there is a form factor called DTX and so I am our searching for DTX Motherboards to see whats available on the market. So far all I can find is one from Zotac but it comes with a an Intel Atom not the processor I would prefer to use. I think if I can find an acceptable DTX Motherboard then I will order one of these enclosures because I would like to utilize all the internal drive capacity and then expand outside the box thus the need for the 2 expansion cards. However if I keep looking at it long enough I might bring one in just to touch it too.

Dan January 8, 2012 at 4:20 pm

A nice little setup, love the case. I’ve noticed more people focusing on power efficiency and demanding media streaming abilities from their NAS devices.

I hope to build a new NAS box this year using Unraid, 2U ITX x-case server and the Plex addon to power my Samsung Smart TV content. Although been a fan of Raid5 setups in the past, I now see the light with JBOD with a parity & cache disk.

I don’t think I could cope with losing 12Tb of storage upon two disks failing!

Ken May 12, 2012 at 7:16 pm

Here is a new case from Lian Li that has an optical drive bay and 2 USB 3.0 front ports but you lose 1 hot swap bay in the HDD cage.

http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16811112365

Comp1962 June 28, 2012 at 3:44 am

@ Ken – Now thats a nice case. I do prefer the option to install an optical drive. I think it would be even nicer if Lian Li built the same case but provided a slim drive slot which I believe could be done and still allow the installation of the original compliment of drives in the case Damian reviewed which I have one comming in this week. Anything I build for others has to have an optical drive slot. While I do have larger systems I have become extremely fond of the SFF enclosures.

Comp1962 June 30, 2012 at 7:39 am

@ Damian ~ Can you tell me what your seeing for drive temps on your bottom tray vs the drives in the cage? I realize you have a couple of green drives in the bottom tray but am curious about the temperature differences your seeing? On my end I see the drives in the cage floating around 31c but on the bottom tray 35-39c. All my drives are 7200 RPM Drives and while operating within range. I may install an additional fan to help bring the drives down abit but wanted to see what your seeing on your end.

Damian July 7, 2012 at 6:03 am

Honestly no clue, I haven’t turned on the server in over 2 months. I had been testing it but then we started reorganizing things in the house. I unplugged it to move, never plugged it back in lol. Definitely something I want to revisit, especially if I am going to look at Windows Server 2012 seriously as a replacement for WHS v1

Comp1962 July 7, 2012 at 8:29 am

I did install a PCI-X1 4 Port SATA card using one of the ports for eSATA because all ports are actually port multiplier aware. This allowed me to fully populate the enclosure with 7 drives. Right now I am very happy with the enclosure. As for Windows Server 2012 I have to read up on it abit more to see if its a good fit for me or not.

Damian July 7, 2012 at 9:17 am

At some point I definitely want to upgrade from WHS v1, so it really comes down to making a Windows 8 Server or Windows 2012 Server. Server 2012 Essentials is pricy (I think around $450), but hopefully this is covered under my technet plus subscription

Comp1962 July 7, 2012 at 12:03 pm

I have a Technet subscription so it enables me to try things out as you already know. I do not have a personal issue with the price but I know many will either keep what they have or find other solutions which is a sad day for the WHS Communitity and I am not certain if the Foundation version will meet anyones needs provided they can obtain it as its listed as OEM but unclear if it will be made available to the public. MS with WHSv1 and 2011 has made it very affordable and for what you actually get I do not see the newer server software as over priced just more than what most will be willing to pay.

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