Lian Li T-3 and T-3B LCD ThermometersReview date: 4 September 2002. Last modified 03-Dec-2011.
A while ago, I reviewed the Lian Li T-4 LCD thermometer module. It's a simple enough thing - two digital temperature displays connected to two flat thermal probes, all built into an aluminium 5.25 inch drive bay cover, suitable for any Lian Li case with a spare 5.25 inch bay.
The T-4 has some limitations, chief among which is the fact that its two thermometers run from little lithium cells, and don't have on/off switches. Which gives you the opportunity to measure your computer's temperature when it's turned off, in case you care, but which also means that you'll be swapping batteries periodically. This is a bit ridiculous, considering that it's not exactly hard to find DC power inside a running PC.
The T-4 also takes up rather a lot of front panel real estate, for what it is. Something like a Macpower DigitalDoc5, with buttons and a fan and a fancier display, needs 5.25-inch-sized panel - but a mere couple of LCD temperature displays aren't that big.
Thee T-4 and its black-anodised variant, the T-4B, also aren't cheap. $AU71.50 delivered for either of them, from Aus PC Market here in Australia. Lian Li's sleek aluminium cases and associated gear are always more expensive than pretty much everyone else's stuff, but a DigitalDoc5 is only $AU132 delivered from AusPC (or $AU115.50, if you buy it with a case...) and it does a lot more than a T-4.
Lian Li have had another stab at the thermometers-in-a-drive-bay idea now, with the T-3 and T-3B (the silver and black versions, respectively).
The T-3 and T-3B are still expensive, at $AU66 delivered from Aus PC Market. But apart from that, the news seems to be good (that's right - it seems to be. This is known as "foreshadowing").
The T-3 and T-3B are built into 3.5 inch bay covers, and will just click into place in any current Lian Li case. It shouldn't be too hard to cram them into another case's drive bay either, but if that case doesn't have a brushed finish to match the Lian Li product then the result will, of course, look weird.
Like the T-4s, the T-3s have a couple of flat thermal probes on leads long enough to reach pretty much anywhere in all but the most enormous cases. But they also have a simple passthrough four pin power connector, instead of dinky little batteries.
The T-3/T-3B package comes with four little silver stickers that say "HDD", "VGA", "M/B" and "CPU"; you can apply them next to the displays if you like, to remind you what you're measuring. There are a couple of little tape tabs as well, for sticking the probes to components.
Fire the T-3s up and you get a nifty green backlit display, with a decent refresh rate. If the rate of temperature change is small, as it usually will be, you get about one display update per second. Greatly increase the rate of temperature change - by plunging the room-temperature probes into cold or hot water, for instance - and the display won't update for a couple of seconds.
I tried both an ice slurry and some hot water, and the T-3s managed decent accuracy, and quite close calibration between the two probes, too. Down around freezing point, the temperature readings were within 0.1°C of each other; up around 55°C, they were still not more than one degree apart. That's about all you can expect from cheap digital thermometers - and, since there's no calibration control on the T-3s, it's what you're going to have to live with.
So what's the problem with these things, besides the price?
You probably won't be able to read them. That's what.
Many liquid crystal displays (LCDs) have noticeable vertical viewing angle restrictions, thanks to their polariser-based design. The LCDs in the T-3s, rather annoyingly, are only viewable if your eyes are in front of the display or below it. If your computer's sitting on the floor and you're looking down at the display from your chair, you won't be able to read a T-3.
Well, OK, maybe if you wangle a way to mount it on the top of the case facing up, or something. But not if it's in a normal front-facing drive bay.
In this picture, the camera's only looking down on the T-3's display from an angle of about 15 degrees above the horizontal; the display's already very pale. At anything more than about 20°, it's completely illegible.
If you ask me, this by itself makes these things excessively irritating, for most users. If your computer is at eye level or above then you're fine, but if it's not, then you're going to have to grovel around on the floor to read the temperature displays. It's not as if these things have an alarm, or anything; the only way to get any data out of them at all is by reading them, and that's just too hard to do.
If your black or silver Lian Li case is sitting level with your head or above it, then a T-3 or T-3B will work just fine for you. You could jam one in upside-down in a floor-standing case and be able to see the displays reasonably well, but that's not going to win any more Elegance Awards than will turning the whole computer over.
All these things need to be a decent, if pricey, product is a better display. They don't take up too much room, they seem to be reasonably accurate, they've got no stupid batteries to replace, and the backlighting's pretty.
But if you can't freakin' read them, none of that matters.
Readers from Australia or New Zealand can purchase Lian Li products from Aus PC Market.
(if you're NOT from Australia or New Zealand, Aus PC Market won't deliver to you. If you're in the USA, try a price search at DealTime!)