The First Aftermarket Case For The Intel NUC
The PC-N1 from Lian Li is an aftermarket case for Intel's Next Level of Computing (NUC) that was first shown at CES 2013. Lian Li got a bunch of feedback on the PC-N1 NUC case during the show and have sent us a newer revision of this chassis to try out. The Lian Li PC-N1 still is not finalized yet, but you are about to see the February 2013 revision of the PC-N1 case that is in development. This case has an MSRP of $49 and should be for sale in late May or early June.
The Lian Li PC-N1 Next Unit of computing PC chassis came to us in a very small white box with just the brand name and product name on the top of it.
We cracked open the box as we weren't sure if Lian Li was sending us the black or silver version and it looks like we got the silver version of the PC-N1.
The Lian Li PC-N1 has the companies traditional brushed aluminum finish that so many people around the world love. The PC-N1 measures 122 x 40 x 108mm and comes with the VESA mount that is needed to attach this small form factor (SFF) PC to the back of your monitor. Pictured above is everything you get with the Lian Li PC-N1; four screws for the motherboard and four screws for the VESA mounting interface. Since this is an early prototype not even directions were included with our review sample.
The image above shows the Lian Li PC-N1 chassis flipped in order to show how you can slide off the VESA monitor mount. This mounting system is quick and easy, but doesn't really prevent theft as one could just unplug your devices and walk off with the NUC. Usually you don't have to worry about someone stealing your desktop PC these days, but the Intel NUC can almost fit in your pant pocket! The Intel chassis that they use for the NUC comes with a Kensington lock location for additional security, but that is not offered on this third party case by Lian Li for some reason.
The four mounts that are used for the VESA mounting interface are made from plastic and are held on with a screw from inside the case. If you wanted to remove these feet to make it lower profile, you easily could. You could also remove them and install some rubber pads to keep it from sliding around your desk if that is what you wanted to do.
One of the first things that we noticed with the PC-N1 is that Lian Li flipped the motherboard orientation. The CPU and chipset cooler is now located on the bottom of the case with large ventilation ports on both ends of the case. That obviously means that the I/O ports are now on the top of the PC-N1 case. On the front of the PC-N1 you have the brand name and the lone USB 2.0 port. Just above the front on the top cover you'll find the power button. The power button has been completely redesigned since the original prototype was shown at CES 2013. The power button has an LED inside it that shows system power. The original version had holes drilled into the case for two separate LED activity lights, so this is a much cleaner look and likely more cost effective.
Spinning the Lian Li PC-N1 around we can show you the back side of the chassis. On this side you have the RJ45 Ethernet port, two full size HDMI outputs, two USB ports and a a DC power jack. There are no audio only ports on this board, so you'll have to use the HDMI cable to carry the audio channels over to your monitor or other audio solution.
Currently, the Lian Li PC-N1 is the only case for the Intel NUC and that might be a deal breaker for some as Intel makes two NUC motherboards right now. The Lian Li PC-N1 can only be used on the Intel BOXDC3217IYE NUC Kit or the Intel D32217GKE 'Campers Lake' motherboard. The other version of the Intel NUC has a Thunderbolt port, so perhaps Lian Li will do a PC-N2 case down the road for those system users.
By removing the four Philips screws on the bottom of the Lian Li PC-N1 you can gain access to the inside of the chassis. Usually a case review takes 5-6 pages to cover all the features, but it looks like this review is going to be very short as this case doesn't really have many! You just put the motherboard in, screw it down, hook up the power button and put the cover back on!
In this photo you can see the four black screws that hold down the VESA mounting standoffs on the inside of the bottom cover that we talked about earlier. It would be nice if Lian Li included some rubber feet that be switched out by the end user depending on how they wanted to use the NUC.
Here is a closer look at the Lian Li PC-N1 power switch wiring, which is the only thing that you need to do in order to install the NUC motherboard! On the next page we will install the Intel D32217GKE 'Campers Lake' motherboard into this case!
Building The Lian-Li PC-N1 NUC Case
The first thing that you need to when assembling the Lian Li PC-N1 is to wire the power button up. The Intel NUC D33217GKE motherboard comes with a physical power button on one side and on the other is your typical front panel panel header.
To put the motherboard into the PC-N1 you just need to run the power switch cable and power LED cables to the correct headers and you are done. The front panel header diagram for the Intel D33217GKE motherboard can be found here. You can't wire the board, install the SO-DIMM memory or PCIe devices once the board is installed into the chassis, so do it first! We found that sitting the top cover on its side as shown above is the easiest way to wire it up as the wires are not that long.
The one thing that we immediately noticed is that Lian Li did not provide an antenna in the PC-N1 for those that wanted to run a PCIe Wireless card! The Intel NUC Kit comes with a Wifi Antenna pre-routed and secured inside their OEM chassis, so it is odd that Lian Li again loses some functionality over the case they are supposed to be upgrading!
Next you just need to sit the board into the chassis and hold it in place with the four supplied screws. The Intel NUC board will only install one way in this case, so it isn't too hard to figure out!
Here is the fully assembled Lian Li PC-N1 just before the bottom cover went on.
Here is the fully assembled Lian Li PC-N1 case from an angle view of the front.
And another shot of the Lian Li PC-N1 build from an angle view of the back. It looks pretty much the same as before, but now you can see other than just empty holes where the I/O devices are cut out in the aluminum.
Here is a side by side look of the Lian Li PC-N1 sitting next to the Intel OEM NUC case.
And another shot of the back.
We also noticed that the Lian Li PC-N1 is a litter wider and taller than the Intel NUC case, but that shouldn't be a deal breaker for most.
Final Thoughts and Conclusions:
When we first saw the Lian Li PC-N1 chassis at CES 2013 it looked good and it looked like something that would help the DIY community notice that they had some customization options when building the Intel NUC. If you are wanting to get a NUC you have two options for the model with the Intel Core i3- 3217U processor and Gigabit Ethernet.
- Intel Next Unit of Computing Kit DC3217IYE - $289.99 Shipped
- Intel D33217GKE Motherboard - $269.63 + Shipping
After shipping there is about a $15 price difference between buying just the bare motherboard versus the entire kit from Intel. The Intel NUC Kit comes with the case and power adapter, so it is well worth the extra $15. The Lian Li PC-N1 has an MSRP of $49, so it will add a little more to the build cost. It also doesn't come with the power adapter, Wi-Fi antenna or Kensington lock, which means you also lose some features. At the end of the day the Lian Li PC-N1 looks better thanks to the brushed aluminum chassis, but it actually lacks some of the features the Intel case had and required taking the motherboard all the way out in order to change out hardware. We asked Lian Li about the Wi-Fi antenna issue and they had this to say:
"As far as I know antenna is just prerouted in the case and the antenna can be transplanted into from the factory NUC case to the Lian Li PC-N1. Also, I just want to note that in-between now and the actual release date, there might be some slight modifications of the PC-N1. This is for aesthetics (and antenna) as well as since the PC-N1 is in process to get the certification from Intel." - Lian Li PR
So, it sounds like Lian Li expects most people to buy the Intel NUC Kit and then transplant the Wi-Fi cable into the Lian Li PC-N1. It also sounds like Lian Li will still be modifying the PC-N1 between now and it's launch date that is targeted for late May or early June 2013. We hope that Lian Li will include a Wi-Fi antenna and Kensington lock in the final version as right now you are paying an extra $49 for better aesthetics and less features. In our humble opinion, Lian Li should at least be able to match the features! That said, we can't wait to see the final version and to see what future modifications that Lian Li has for the PC-N1!
Legit Bottom Line: The Lian Li PC-N1 is the first third party case that we have ever reviewed. The Lian Li PC-N1 is still a work in progress, but needs some more TLC before being released.