another pc question: can I get away with a decently specced PC is a small case? My current (and old ) pc is a big hulking thing. I'm planning on getting a new machine soon, probably based round the "hard choices" advice. But if I stick a speedy i5 and new GPU in a smaller case, am I going to have cooling/noise problems?
I don't really play high end shooters, although I would like to play Sins:Rebellion on a large map with extra shineyness :)
I like quiet pcs :) Reckon I'm maybe best just sticking with big fullsize tower cases?
I used to have a Shuttle and loved it, but it had a serious problem with heat. I had to leave the case off and point a desktop fan into it to keep it from overheating. This was a first generation case, so maybe issues have been worked out since then?
Here's a pic:
No reason you can't make a high-power gaming build in a mATX or even ITX case. There's a rather nice little ITX case from Bitfenix that can even fit watercooling or massive CPU coolers like the NH-D14. Or the Silverstone SG06 is rather nice if you want something smaller still. Both cases can accomodate most dual-slot graphics cards, and have ample ventilation for them, although if noise is a concern you might want to choose your graphics card carefully as they tend to be rather loud under load and there's nothing to blocks the noise being produced.
Of course, ITX motherboards are rather limited in terms of upgrade potential due to their size. You're only going to get a single PCI-E slot, only two DIMM slots, and a limited number of SATA ports, so it's a lot more limiting. You could of course go for a mATX based system, which can have more than enough upgrade potential for most people (my current system is mATX). There's not all that many nice mATX cases around to be honest, but Silverstone is a good brand to check out for these as well.
EDIT: The Shuttles had very poor cooling, and also pretty awful non-standard PSUs that liked to fail on a regular basis. I'd always recommend going for something in a standard form factor (eg mATX or ITX), and using a standard PSU form like ATX or SFX, that way you aren't stuck with proprietary parts.
These guys nailed it. Heat is an issue in a small case - the empty space in larger cases is essential for airflow. Also, nonstandard PSUs are low-powered and can't handle beefy gaming components. Using a small case essentially introduces many limitations of laptop gaming to the desktop.