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How much does the best Desk PC cost?


Lian Li DK-05 Company Stock Photo

When I first began entertaining the idea of a Desk PC, I wondered if I should attempt to build one myself or just buy one pre-manufactured. Although building from scratch is a fun and affordable way to join the Desk PC revolution, manufactured PC Desks are amazing for those who can afford them.

The cost of a pre-built desk PC case can range anywhere from $500-$2000 dollars in the US, more likely the latter. That’s not including the PC components that you’ll be installing. A DIY desk PC, by contrast, can be built for less than a couple hundred dollars or so on average. That leaves a lot of cash on the table for PC parts.

Here’s a look at some of the more popular manufactured desk pc cases.

Making the Case for Pre-Built Desk PCs.

The Major Players

If there are three names that are synonymous with Desk PC cases in the PC manufacturing world it is definitely Lian Li, Vector, and Red Harbinger. Each of these companies is known for manufacturing drool-worthy desk PC cases. Unfortunately, Red Harbinger’s website has recently disappeared from the internet and is throwing a DNS error.

Additionally, their Facebook page appears to have last been updated in Sept 2017 and there are multiple comments on the company’s Facebook page regarding their apparent disappearance from the market. I’m hoping this doesn’t mean that the company has gone the way of Compaq and Toys R Us but all signs point to a product line that has faded away.

And That Leaves Just One Contender… and another.

LIan LI

I don’t mind saying that I absolutely love Lian Li’s concepts and designs. They are sleek, elegant, and wrapped in a deep black aluminum that just screams “classy”. As much as I love building DIY Desk PC cases I would love to own one of these, just because.

The company is not new to the PC case business. They have been around since 1983 designing traditional PC cases and accessories. With corporate offices located in Taiwan and worldwide distribution of their products, they have a well-respected reputation in the computer industry.

There are three models of the Desk PC case on the market from Lian Li as of this writing, the DK-03, DK-04, and DK-05. All three models offer height adjustable legs (the DK-03 has manual adjustments with minimal change levels while the other two offer electronic height adjustment and standing or sitting option). What this means is that you can really find that sweet spot for long hours in front of the computer. Just as with everything else in life, the more you want the more it’s gonna cost and if you really want the extras you have to step up to the higher models.

Their desk cases are designed to accommodate dual systems which means you could have one motherboard setup that is used for daily computing and another that is dedicated as a server (or any other number of scenarios).

In truth, the ports, the expandability, and all of the features of these desk PC cases are great. But what really impresses with all Lian Li PC desks is the look of the cases and the impression of a commitment to excellence in their builds.

It’s important to remember that the earlier models are predecessors. So each step up in model number represents an evolution in the company’s understanding of system design as well as an integration of customer feedback. Generally speaking, the latest desk, the DK-05, incorporates all that the company has learned along the way and is the latest evolution so by purchasing the older models, we would be moving backward.

DK-03

Dimensions (approximate) – 51 inches wide and 27.5 inches deep.

The DK-03 is the most box-shaped of the desk PC line from Lian Li. The front of the desk that faces the user is a flat surface that spans the width of the desk. I’m not personally a fan of this design as it can create discomfort with long periods of use.

I personally prefer a knee cut out or at the very least a recessed area where the user sits, a feature found on both the DK-04 and DK-05. If we look past that, however, we can still find a lot to like about the DK-03 considering this is an earlier model released back in 2015.  The height can be adjusted using screw bottom feet from 785mm to 815mm which provides some level of customization though certainly not to the extent of the higher models. Still, it is nice that height adjustment is included.

In truth, if I were in the market for a Desk PC case I would skip the DK-03 completely. It’s an outdated model. As it’s name implies, it is was the third iteration of Lian Li’s Desk PC case concept when the design was still in its infancy. The fact that it includes an optical drive bay on the front panel gives some insight into this and I will not be surprised to see it discontinued within the next two years.

DK-04

Dimensions (approximate) – 47 inches wide and 29.5 inches deep

The DK-04 improves on the DK-03 first and foremost with a recessed front that allows for improved knee placement and what I believe to be a decrease in the likelihood of developing wrist discomfort with prolonged use. This model then kicks it into hyperdrive with electrical height adjustment that ranges from approximately 27 inches to 46 inches. As a shorter person, I appreciate the wider range of lower height than the DK-03 offers. At the same time, the ability to use the desk in a standing position is intriguing. I’m also a fan of their airflow strategy (no pun intended). Cool air is pulled in through 120mm filtered front mounted fans and warm air is exhausted out the back.

On the front panel, you have four USB 3.0 ports, HD audio mic and headphone, and independent RGB control knobs for precision lighting. Power and reset buttons are also present of course as well as a 5.25” drive bay. You also have four presets to set preferred standing and sitting heights.

DK-05

Dimensions (approximate) – 55 inches wide and 30.7 inches deep

This is the showcase of the Lian Li desk PC case lineup. Everything about this desk screams premium. Touted as “the last case you’ll ever need”, the DK-05 has room for two extended ATX motherboards with four 3.5” and four 2.5” drive spaces per system. Crazy!

Electronic height adjustment allows for precision positioning from approximately 27 inches to 46.5 inches. The front panel allows for USB 3.1 Type C, HDMI (for Virtual Reality headsets), two USB 3.0 and HD audio headphone and mic. There are also independently adjustable RGB knobs that allow you to dial in the exact lighting ambiance that you are looking for like the DK-04. With more than adequate room for water cooling reservoirs and radiators, there is little to be left wanting for.

The DK-05 represents the latest evolution of Lian Li’s understanding of integrating the computer system with a desk. Make no mistake, this is a premium case and it comes at a premium price of about $2000.

The Honorable Mention(s)

There are two additional alternatives for those seeking a premade desk PC case solution. The Vector Desk or the Vector Mini. Maybe. 

The Vector Desk

Weighing in at 55kg (around 121 pounds), the Vector desk is a beauty to behold. Black powder-coated aluminum and 8mm Tempered Safety Glass ensure a sleek and long-lasting solution to your Desk PC case needs. With mounting to support up to 4 5.25 inch drive bays, 5 hard HDD hard drives, and a whopping 8 expansion ports you’ll not likely feel limited by your expansion options. The front I/O includes two HSB 3.0 ports and an HD audio and mic inputs. The desk is about 43 inches wide and a little over 31 inches deep. Current price postings as of this time average $1499 but it is difficult to find dealers.

I’m not a fan of their airflow strategy, pulling air in from the sides and exhausting out the back. This approach tends to leave pockets where air doesn’t circulate well and warms quickly. I’d be interested in seeing a smoke demonstration of the airflow through one of these desks. Otherwise, I believe their build has a lot to offer to someone with the financial means to build it in.

If I were to offer any hesitations on this desk beyond airflow design it would be a concern over the lack of attention to detail on their company website. For example, the footer on at least some of the pages has the predefined “Lorem ipsum” verbiage that website templates are filled in with to show how the text will look. This makes me wonder as to the level of detail going into the desks themselves. According to their Facebook page, the company was founded in 2012. The company is based out of Malaysia. The website itself is very scant of documentation. As far as looks go for the desk itself, however, there is little to complain about. Assembly required.

I was unable to locate an official product overview video for this desk on the company’s website or YouTube. They do not appear to have an official YouTube channel, at least that I could find. 

Vector Desk company website stock photo
Company website stock photo

The Vector Mini

This one is peculiar and I saved it for last because of that peculiarity. Although the Vector Mini is the least expensive pre-built Desk PC that I have seen on the market, and it clearly carries the Vector logo on the front, I can very little mention of the product on the company’s website. Their homepage does showcase it but clicking the link returns a “Page Not Found” error.

The only specifications I was able to obtain was from 3rd party dealers, none of which were in the US. At only around $500 this one may be appealing if it meets your needs (and you can get it).  At only 29.5 inches wide AND deep this desk is remarkably compact. It’s obviously designed to meet a certain niche need such as a small apartment or corner. While I have no reason to question the build quality of the desk itself, I do wonder if there is, in fact, a market for a $500 desk that is so small. Perhaps this is why the desk does not even show on the manufacturer’s website or maybe the site just has not been updated as it does not appear to be actively managed. In any case, this is an option for you if you can find a dealer and are needing (and willing) to work on such a cramped workspace.

Update (December 21, 2018) – I had previously reached out to Vector to seek clarification on these concerns and did receive a response to some of them. You can read the post outlining their responses here.

And The Winner Is…

If I were looking into investing in a pre-built desk PC case, I’d put my money into Lian Li before any other. First, they have a long list of dealers worldwide in the “where to buy” section” of their website (something suspiciously missing from Vector’s). This means you actually can figure out where to purchase one. Another reason quite frankly is that they are sold through Newegg.com. I tend to purchase from dealers that I know and trust and get a feeling of reassurance when I read their reviews.

The third reason and this is a big one for me, is Lian Li seems to be the only company left out there who is actually continuing to market their product. Try as I may I just can’t find a practical way to purchase a Vector Desk in the US and Red Harbinger appears to have disappeared off the face of the earth. By all accounts, Lian Li is the only player still active in the game, at least in the US market where I am.

As for which model I would recommend, DK-05 wins it hands down. It’s the latest model with the most current improvements. And with it including ports such as HDMI and USB 3.1 it is the most future proof model available.

What I Love About the Lian Li Desks

Aside from the sleek look, (which is truly sleek), I’m taken by the forethought that has gone into their design. The DK-05X model which is the one currently available on Newegg at the time of this writing is the Mercedes of Manufactured Desk PC cases. The adjustable height allows for precision sitting or standing positioning with configurable preset buttons that allow you to quickly remember and return to up to four heights. Assembly is required but the instructions are clear and easy to follow. There appears to be a wealth of ports on the front panel according to the specifications section of the Newegg website including 4 USB 3.0, 2 HDMI, 2 USB 3.1 type C and HD audio ports. Remember, this system is designed to hold and run two completely different computer systems each with their own independent VR-Ready front port access.  What is truly unique is that the front panel also includes individual RGB adjustment dials for each system. This allows you to fine-tune your LED lighting to just your liking. Wow.

What I don’t Love about the Lian Li Desks

At $1999 on Newegg (tack on another $120 for shipping) as of this writing for the DK-05X (the only model currently available), I cannot imagine putting down two grand for a desk that did not already include most if not all of the PC components. This is a luxury item to be sure and I’m just not in the market or the financial position to justify a purchase of this size for what is essentially an empty shell.

I’m also not a fan of predefined mounting systems. When you look into the bottom of this or any manufactured Desk PC case there are all these cable routing gaps and mounting holes everywhere. Sure, this makes it easier to install your PC components but what if you don’t need all of those. Now what? Well, it just ends up looking incomplete with all those mounting spaces and cable routing holes. Personally, I’m a fan of building a desk PC case that will hold the components I want to install while also allowing me to customize the rest of the inside, however, I want to and not looking like an incomplete build if I don’t have $10,000 work of PC parts to put in it. But again, maybe that’s just me.

Okay, I’ll admit it. I’m rationalizing. I love this thing. I just can’t afford it.

The bottom line here is that the Lian Li DK-05X is a thing of beauty. Something worthy of admiration and definitely a goal to aspire to.

For my dollar, however, at least at this point and time, I’ll continue on the DIY path, perfecting my skill, and customizing to my heart’s content. But that’s me. If you are in the market and have the means, the Lian Li DK-05X is the manufactured Desk PC to own.

Author’s note: I did reach out to the manufacturer of the Vector and Vector Mini to gain insight and clarity on a few of the points outlined in this review but as of this writing I have not received a reply. I’ll update this post if and when a response is received.

Paul

I'm just a dad who wanted to build something unique with his son. Together we built an awesome Desk PC - literally a computer built into a desk. I want to show you how to do the same thing!

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