I’ve been testing selected computer hardware with flight simulation programs for several years, and I’ve written many reviews about my experiences and specific test results. In some instances, I’ve been mounting hardware in computer cases, though in other situations, to keep costs lower and provide for easy changes of components, I’ve done “bench testing” of hardware. In those instances, I’ve cleared a horizontal surface for all necessary components, including motherboards, which I’ve placed on a fairly firm piece of foam insulation board, using a clamp, cable, and bracelet device to ground myself while handling components, to avoid issues with static electricity, particularly with motherboards and processors.
With some additional hardware testing on the horizon, I thought about purchasing another computer case, maybe one that would be fairly open, though I wanted complete accessibility to allow easy and frequent changing of components. So, I Googled “computer test stand,” “computer test bench,” and similar terms, thinking that at least one manufacturer had developed the product I imagined. I found only three candidate products, two of which are described briefly, and the third comprises the main part of this article.
High Speed PC Tech Station. This product is manufactured in four sizes, selling for prices between $80 and $229 USD, from only a few vendors. On a positive note, the product appears to be very accessible for changing components, though only the motherboard is fastened to the device. In photos I viewed online, such as the image below from www.highspeedpc.com, other components seem to be simply placed on the lower shelf. The four models are furnished with varying numbers of 120 mm fans, which can be positioned as desired with furnished mounting clips. The platforms are constructed of “non-electrically conductive, scratch-resistant, high grade polymers,” which may not be as durable as metal, though the lack of susceptibility to static electricity is positive. Some of the marketing materials I saw for this device were dated 2004, with very few retailers showing availability of this product, so availability may be limited.
Antec Skeleton Computer Case. The next product I found is from computer component manufacturer Antec, called their Skeleton model. It’s sold as a stylish open air computer case, and from its picture, it could be used as a test stand, though it looks to be somewhat cramped for easily swapping of components. I noticed very few of these in stock with major retailers, so it may be nearing end of product life. Of retailers with the Skeleton in stock, prices I found averaged about $150, and as usual, that does not include a power supply.
PC-T60 PITSTOP DIY Test Bench. The third product I found is from Lian Li, which is is well known manufacturer of high quality aluminum computer cases and related accessories. After contacting their sole U.S. distributor, I was able to obtain a sample of their model PC-T60B (Black) PITSTOP DIY Test Bench, which is the subject of this review. The Test Bench is also available in silver and red finishes.
The Lian Li Test Bench has two levels, with top and bottom spaces available for mounting components. The product has accommodations for:
- ATX and mini ATX motherboards
- Two bays for 5.25” for CD-Rom, DVD, and/or Blu-ray devices
- One removable cage for up to three 3.5” drives, with sound isolation mounts
- One bay for mounting one or two 2.5” drives
- Mounting bracket for connecting up to eight PCI cards
- One bay for mounting a standard size power supply unit
- Pre-installed Start and Reset switches, with wires and marked terminals for connecting to the motherboard being tested
The image below, from the first page of the Assembly Guide, shows the combined and separate parts.
DIY, as used by Lian Li, means “Do It Yourself,” and though my background includes electrical and mechanical engineering, assembling the test bench was somewhat challenging, for two principal reasons:
- As you can see in the accompanying image, there are many parts, and the drawings in the furnished Assembly Guide are very small and difficult to read. My best reference to understand how the parts fit together was looking at the large photograph on the retail box.
- The kit is furnished with eleven different types of connectors, designated by the Assembly Guide as types A through K. Though there is some separation of these connectors into different, small plastic envelopes, there are not separate envelopes for each type of connector, many of the items are very small, and the envelopes are not labeled with the A through K identifiers.
My first step was to remove all the metal parts and lay them out in the order shown in the Assembly Guide. Next, I used several small glass dishes to sort and label the various screws and other connectors into types A through K, plus setting out three types of rubber parts, and the small speaker/buzzer.
The general order of assembly was:
- Attach rubber feet to bottom panel and rubber pads to PSU support brackets.
- Attach the left and right side panels to the bottom panel.
- Attach the power supply support brackets to the bottom panel.
- Attach the PSU tray to the bottom, left, and right side panels.
- Attach the hard drive cage and removable bracket to the bottom panel.
- Attach the two 5.25” device brackets to the underside of the motherboard tray.
- Attach the motherboard tray to the left and right side panels, using choice of several positions.
- Attach the 2.5” HDD brackets to the underside of the motherboard tray.
- Attach the PCI slots assembly to the motherboard tray.
- Insert motherboard stand-offs into the motherboard tray, as needed to match mounting holes in motherboard to be tested.
- Attach two handle parts to each other, and then attach handle to side panels.
- Attach rubber pad to motherboard support bracket and attach bracket to motherboard tray.
The accompanying image from Lian Li shows the Test Bench, in silver finish, assembled and loaded with components, without cables showing, and without optional ports or fan cooler kits, which are described below.
I’m impressed with the PITSTOP Test Bench in terms of “fit and finish.” It’s well engineered and all parts fit together well. I was impressed that panels and brackets are connected with machine screws (small bolts) and small nuts that are factory-pressed into holes in the panels. This method is a much better alternative than using sheet metal screws, which by their nature enlarge and slightly deform their receiving holes.
My principal “needs improvement” comments relates to identification of the many small screws and other connectors, and the need for assembly photos to be larger and easier to read. I might also suggest that the design or styling of the angled side panels contributes nothing to the functionality of the product, and it likely contributed to the need for Lian Li to add the motherboard support bracket to improve the test bench’s balance when loaded with components (see below). Though the PITSTOP Test Bench has a list price of about $120 US, at time of writing, it was priced at $80–90, plus shipping, on Newegg.com and Amazon.com. At the lowest price, I think it’s a good value.
Anodized parts. I was also impressed with Lian Li’s choice of using anodized aluminum instead of painted or powder coated sheet metal. “Anodizing” is an electrolytic passivation process, which is used to increase the thickness of the natural oxide layer on the surface of metal parts. The process is called “anodizing” because the part to be treated forms the “anode” electrode of an electrical circuit. Anodizing increases corrosion resistance and wear resistance, and it provides better adhesion for paint primers and glues than bare metal. Anodic films can also be used for a number of cosmetic effects, such as adding color to anodized parts; such as the three colors in which the Test Bench is available.
Product Improvement. There previously were problems reported by some users in regard to the “weight and balance” of the test bench, which could lead to it tipping over, depending on weights of components and also, the selected mounting position of the motherboard tray, relative to the side panels. This problem was solved by Lian Li adding the “M/B (motherboard) support bracket,” shown uninstalled in the lower right-hand corner of the Case Components image above. It’s attached to the front side of the motherboard tray, and it has slotted holes at the top end, to allow adjusting it to touch the surface on which the Test Bench is used.
Option Kits. For cost of about $25–30 US each, plus shipping, users can purchase two optional component kits:
- Multimedia I/O Ports Upgrade Kit, model PW-IS20AH55AT0, list price $25 US. This kit provides 2 x USB 3.0, 1 x eSATA, and mic and headphone audio ports, attached to the motherboard tray adjacent to the pre-installed Start and Reset buttons. This is probably unnecessary for most users, because motherboards generally have these same ports a few inches away.
- 120mm/140mm Fan Cooler Kit, model T60-1, list price 30 USD. This is a single piece of formed, color-matched anodized aluminum that accommodates two 120mm and/or 140mm cooling fans, to help cool motherboard and graphics card components. The shipping cost is probably higher than the likely cost of production, and it would make sense to include this part in the base package, with or without fans.
by Doug Horton