Wow… This pretty much sums up the first impressions of the Lian Li PC-Q21. The case is tiny to the point of being comparative to a nineties micro stereo (yep, sadly I’m getting on a bit…). Its diminutive size along with the sleek brushed aluminium outer chassis also helps to give the PC-Q21 a rather sleek, almost timeless appearance that’s sure to fit in with any environment. This does however beg the question ‘how the hell am I going to fit a gaming rig inside it?!?’
The Lian Li PC-Q21 is currently available in two colours, black (PC-Q21B) or silver (PC-Q21A) like our review sample. As I’ve mentioned already the case itself is tiny measuring just 149mm(W) x 257mm(H) x 224mm(D). To put this into perspective, the fantastic Noctua NH-D15 measures in at 150mm(W) x 165mm(H) x 161mm(D). The case may be minuscule, but the materials and workmanship are anything but. The PC-Q21A definitely shows its Lian Li pedigree. Brushed aluminium is always a winner as far as I’m concerned and this silver hairline textured cube certainly looks the business. Yet what are aesthetics without the build quality to back it up? Well the good news is the case has it in spades. The main chassis (front, top, back & underside) are composed of just the two sheets of brushed aluminium taking away any sharp angles and giving the PC-Q21A a beautifully curved appearance.
From the left we find the PC-Q21A to be largely featureless despite its rather lovely brushed aluminium appearance. Towards the front and at the foot of the panel, we find vented areas to help allow cool air inside the rather unusual little case. Something worthy of note is how well cut and finished the intake cut-outs are. They are nigh on perfectly finished and unlike some of the competition, will not take away small pieces of finger upon removal.
Looking at the left we find that just like almost every other case available today, the panel is entirely featureless. Of course does we still get the wonderful aesthetics of the brushed aluminium, so its not all bad.
Due to its little stature, the Lian Li PC-Q21A features a very basic front I/O panel with just two USB 3.0 ports and a power button. The power button itself sits completely flush with the panel, but it isn’t made using the same brushed aluminium as the rest of the front panel, instead we find a button made of plastic and painted silver with a tone accurate enough to make you think it identical at first glance.
From the rear we get a better idea as to how Lian Li have made the case so compact. On the left we find a typical cut-out for an MITX motherboard I/O shield, to the right of which we find an unusually placed PSU cut-out for SFX or SFX-L power supplies. This is a great space saving idea, however it does limit the height of the CPU cooler used to a maximum of 60mm and potentially could make for not only a tasty looking rig, but a toasty one as well. Surrounding the two dominant cut-outs we find a large amount of venting which the rig inside will surely need, beneath this we find two expansion slots with a dust-cap styled blanking plate. Just as previously mentioned on the left side panel, the finish of each and every cut-out is perfect, which should help to prevent no accidental injuries during installation. To show how much care and attention Lian Li give to their cases, even the PCIE expansion plates feel of high quality, in fact the blanking plates and fittings almost look as if they’ve been chrome plated.
Once the left panel is removed, the Lian Li PC-Q21A still looks tiny, but also incredibly empty due to the lack of drive racks. As we can see, the motherboard tray itself features four pre-installed stand-offs and a rather large CPU cooler cut-out. The basic feature set of the front I/O panel is actually of great benefit to the interior of the PC-Q21A as it helps to reduce cable clutter. Whilst it’s nice to see that both the USB 3.0 and front panel cables are entirely black, it does seem a little odd that the cables are incredibly long for a case of this size. Measuring across the depth of the chassis shows the PC-Q21A will accept graphics cards up to 170mm in length, whilst the maximum CPU cooler height is just 60mm. This will of course limits your choice of components somewhat.
Whilst looking at the right side with the panel off we find the motherboard tray to be removable and held firmly in place by four screws. Although their generally aren’t many features on the back of a motherboard tray aside from a variety of cut-outs, there is something of a notable absence on the reverse of the PC Q21A. That being a total lack of space for any kind of cable management.
One area that the PC-Q21A certainly excels in is internal space management and it’s comes as a huge surprise as to what you can actually fit inside it. On the floor of the case we find a removable vented tray held in place via a long black thumb screw. The tray itself features mounts for not one, but two 2.5″ storage drives of your choosing. The mounting screws for the drives are described by Lian Li as Tool-less, which should be interesting during the install.
With the 2.5″ drive tray removed, we find yet two more sets of mounts. One for the installation of a 3.5″ storage drive, the other for a 120mm fan. Sadly there isn’t quite enough space to install a 3.5″ drive and the 2.5″ drive tray above it. Similarly even a slimline 120mm fan won’t fit beneath the tray. Luckily there are further mounting points for storage drives elsewhere.
Looking at the roof of the case we find a rather sturdy looking tray for a 5.25″ ODD. With the space limitations, Lian Li have understandably chosen to make the PC-Q21A compatible with slimline slot loaded drives only. For me this is personally not a problem, I can’t honestly remember the last time I’d even seen a DVD or disc of any kind, let alone used a drive. It also gives the case a slight boost in aesthetics and helps to give it a much cleaner look externally. If you choose not to use the tray for an ODD, there are also mounts available for yet another 2.5″ storage drive.
If that wasn’t enough drive space for you, the inside of the front panel adds a further two! One for 3.5″ and the second for a 2.5″. These of course fill in the same mounting space so can’t be used together. Just above the mounting space we find a clamp of sorts. Although unnecessary for the likes of an SSD which features no moving parts, this clamp may prove useful in holding a mechanical HDD in place and perhaps help to deaden the vibrations produced by said drive.
The Lian Li PC-Q21A has already proven to hold a surprisingly rich feature list for a case of its size, yet there’s still a little more to come. Beneath the case we find not only four caster styled feet with anti-slip pads, but a removable tight weave nylon dust filter.
One feature that I personally love is the lack of thumb screws to keep the PC-Q21A side panels on (I hate them. I lose thumb screws, I find them with my feet, I instantly regret not wearing shoes around the house, I further regret kicking something after finding the missing thumbscrew…). Instead Lian Li have chosen to use a tool-free ball and socket type system (or quick release you could say), perhaps not a new feature we haven’t seen before, but certainly an underrated one and something I’d like to see more of.