Why You (Might) Need A Decent PC Case

The ultimate in modular construction and max-flow air cooling...

Do you need a proper PC case? Not really, no. In fact, you don’t strictly need a PC case at all. A fully functional PC will actually hang together perfectly well without one. Would you appreciate one? Ah, now that’s more complicated question. I therefore present to you the proverbial good PC case, and a semi-serious dissertation that examines some of the more convincing reasons why you might want one.

Let’s start by being absolutely clear. You don’t need a fancy PC case. In fact, you don’t need a PC case at all. As the image above demonstrates and which I might add was (exclusively!) staged for this very post, a cardboard box and a flat surface is enough.

‘Building’ this six-core, mega-GPU’ed, fully functional beast up from raw bits to fully booted took me all of about three minutes. Indeed, for much of my benchmarking career, if you can call it that, a mobo sitting atop a box has been as sophisticated as it gets. I can assure you I am not alone in that regard.

No nasty sharp edges…

It gets worse than that. But if I tell you about balancing coolers on top of CPU sockets and using weights to ensure suitable thermal coupling because I can’t be arsed to fiddle with clamps I’m probably at risk of both revealing too much of the sausage factory and also establishing myself as what you might euphemistically call something of an outlier.

The point is that you could go caseless, run some benchmarks and find nothing has changed. As it happens, it’s also pretty darn easy to swap out components when they are entirely exposed. Even mobo swaps are snappy when nothing is screwed down. Handy for group tests. The cooling ain’t too shabby, either.

As a long-term proposition, on the other hand, the odds of damage escalate pretty dramatically in terms of dust exposure, spills, bumps and other mishaps. But the thing would run fine for a while as the ‘rig’ above is proving as I type these very words upon it.

Mon dieu, it actually makes sense…

Of course, it goes very nearly without saying I am not advocating caseless PCs. You should have a case. This astute and insightful advice I provide entirely for free and I mention the whole caseless thing only to properly frame the case for, well, cases that follows. Absolute necessity isn’t in the mix. Question is, however, does it matter which case?

Much of the time, if the key metric is performance or just a PC that works, the answer is no. In extremis, a crap case can cause overheating. But that’s actually fairly unusual, especially with components running within factory spec rather than overclocked. You do need to make sure the bits you want to stick inside will fit. Super-long video cards, water cooling rads, batteries of hard drives – all of these and more can throw up ergonomic issues in that regard.

Death to dust!

But really, it’s things like ease of use, practicality and longevity that underpin the argument for a decent case. On that note, may I introduce the RPS massive to the proverbial good PC case mentioned earlier. In this instance, I’ve gone for a Fractal Define R5. Cue BBC-style disclaimer – other case models are available from other case manufacturers. Some may well be better and I’d certainly welcome suggestions below, but from my point of view at least, this one isn’t too far off the sweet spot of ease, practicality and appearance.

I fancied getting hold of the R5 because Fractal generally gets a pretty good press, I haven’t previously had any hands-on time with a Fractal box and this particular model showcases much of what has become good practice in case design without veering into crazy money territory.

Not that it’s exactly cheap. Not for roughly £85 in Blighty and $110 Stateside. But what does that buy you? Well, something pretty nicely put together and very thoughtfully arranged. From the neat little baggies for the all-black screws to the damped drive cages, careful cable management and copious cooling options, much of the upside of a case like this is the lack of nastiness during the build process. You can tell whoever designed it knew what they were doing.

Certainly not a rat’s nest…

Even the manual is crystal clear and user friendly. Fractal, if you weren’t aware, is a Swedish company, so perhaps that helps with avoiding too much strangled English. Monolingual as I am, I pass no comment on the accuracy of the alternate translations.

Anyway, like I said, this thing is about attention to detail and ease of use. That starts with stuff like no nasty sharp edges inside or out with which to slice yourself up. Then there are features like the front door that can be hinged on either side and takes all of about 30 seconds to swap. Or the near full-length dust tray that can be accessed from the front.

We’re up and running!

The drive cages are another nice touch in that the case is engineered to allow for multiple configurations – that goes beyond merely having them fitted or not and extends to multiple locations, which can be handy when you’re tackling something like an uber-long video card.

There’s plenty of sound deadening material liberally strewn about the case and the cooling options, be that plain old fans or full-on water rads and pumps, are legion.

Put all this together and you have the kind of case that’s a very pleasant base for a build and gives the impression of being a safe pair of hands in the long run for your precious components in terms of everything from cooling to component swapping to dust management.

Noise? What noise?

Is it perfect? Obviously not. If I am brutally honest, there has yet to be a PC case that has totally satisfied me for engineering quality. Dont get me wrong, the R5 is nicely finished. But it’s still pressed steel and plastic. It pains me to say it, but I’ve yet to see a PC case that can go toe to toe with Apple’s all-alloy PowerMac tower for simple material loveliness.

But that’s tangential to our remit today. My ambitions here are pretty modest. Old self-build hands will be familiar with the upsides of a decent box. For everyone else, I just want to provide a little insight into the upsides of the proverbial good PC case. It’s not going to make your frame rates leap through the ceiling. And we’ve really only scratched the surface of what goes into a great case, much less touched on all the different options and form factors.

Our mean but not entirely lean monolith

But the basic point holds. A decent case will provide plenty of tangible long-term goodness and a good ‘un will certainly see you through several rounds of system upgrades. In other words, buy right and you’ll probably only buy once.

Again, here we’re using it as an example to illustrate key principles to look out for rather than claiming the Fractal is the be-all and end-all: many, many other cases press just as many of the right buttons and cut just as few fingers. Please do share your own recommendations below.

112 Comments

  1. joa says:

    I thought a case was required in order to ground all the electrical components?

    • Premium User Badge

      Tam-Lin says:

      No; if anything, a case is specifically not supposed to ground the electrical components. The electrical components are supposed to be grounded via the power supply.

      • derbefrier says:

        I don’t think they are. Correct me if I am wrong I haven’t looked in a while but I don’t think there are ground connections on the power supply plugs that go to your components? Its all voltage as far as I remember. I certaintly wouldn’t trust it unless I stuck an ohm meter to it and verified that the psu ground wasn’t isolated. In other words don’t take this advice unless you can absolutely without a doubt prove the ground in the psu isn’t isolated and adding another ground will not hurt anything but not adding it could.

        • derbefrier says:

          I could be overly paranoid. I lost a mobo to a ground issue about a years ago. Just don’t assume make sure it is actually grouunded.

    • bee says:

      There was a time, long ago, when that was sometimes true. It hasn’t been necessary to ground components in a very long time though.

    • TacticalNuclearPenguin says:

      Or maybe you don’t need a case, but you sure as hell need this.

    • Muzman says:

      Yeah, me and some other dudes ran into this problem when trying to make a case entirely out of clear acrylic. Someone else who did it had to build a little Faraday cage around the joins (although probably not an actual Faraday cage in form and function). Although at the time this was also to help offset interference from/to (I forget which) his two ginormous CRT monitors.

      Australian appliance regulation also required that sort of grounding and the components were designed for it at the time.
      Absolutely no idea if this is still true. Didn’t really have a solid idea what was going on at the time either (as is probably plain to electrical nerds).

    • El_Emmental says:

      It’s mostly the I/O shield for ports, the rest goes through the PSU.

      The worst that could happen would be frying a port or the controller for that type of port, but these days only the most cheapest motherboards should ever see that happening. The biggest risk (in my opinion) would be using a peripheral with its own power supply that doesn’t have proper grounding (old USB hub, old printer/scanner, terribly cheap USB accessory, etc).

    • astronaute says:

      Best cases in the world IMHO are Mountain Mods.
      Just look at this beauty :
      link to mountainmods.com

      link to mountainmods.com

  2. vlonk says:

    I have a cat. I have a PC. I like to have both coexist without sad departures. Since the cat scratches and bites everything in the appartment at least once per weak – that Cat-Simulator is on the spot! – I need a casing for the PC or the cat. Are there any useful cat-casings in the market?

    • grrrz says:

      well, you should properly ground your cat – if he’s been bad of course – but it seems to be the case.

      • Ross Angus says:

        I believe the litter tray is designed to ground the cat.

    • Fitzmogwai says:

      Schroedinger’s do an excellent range specifically for cats.

      • pepperfez says:

        I hear they’re moving ahead rapidly on a new range, but nobody can give me a straight answer on how close they are to done.

        • ThePoetPyronius says:

          I heard that there was critical overheating issues with 50% of their cats. But then… maybe not.

          • Ejia says:

            I’ve also heard ventilation might be a problem, but sound dampening is quite good.

          • vlonk says:

            Thx for the advice guys but I tried the Schrodinger line already. It seemed promising but it played out as a total disaster. The water cooling system did not work AT ALL with my cat. Such a letdown.

      • Crane says:

        Wake up sheeple! The Schrodinger’s case line is just a way for the Big Poison companies to squeeze a little extra money out of the consumer! Do you really need a bottle of cyanide and a radiation source in your case? I DON’T THINK SO!

        • Press X to Gary Busey says:

          Without those it’s just a regular Bohring box.

  3. Premium User Badge

    Wisq says:

    I got a Silverstone TJ11 case for my last build, almost entirely based on two things: One, tons of space (I was banking on the possibility of water cooling later); and two, the vertical motherboard alignment. That is to say, the “back” is the “top” — the video cards and CPU vent out the top of the case, and giant 140mm fans pull air in from the bottom (via side vent slots) and up through the case to help them.

    Having done this once, I don’t think I would ever go back to the “standard” ATX layout. Thermodynamically, venting out the top just makes sense — that’s where the heat wants to go anyway. But there are also other useful aspects, like never having to worry about PCI cards sagging (I didn’t even know this was a thing), or never worrying about dropping one card onto another while extracting them in-situ. It’s also a lot more convenient to hook up cables, since the back of the PC is almost universally in a hard-to-reach place, while the top is generally not so bad.

    The downside, of course, is having to keep it on top of the desk rather than under it — both for venting reasons (can’t have it just venting up into the desk and not going anywhere), and for “let’s not spill things into the computer” reasons. But that also makes it easier to work with, and looks better anyway (what with the case window) and allows me to see the motherboard’s POST code display. And although it has no sound baffling whatsoever, the giant fans plus the complete absence of spinning disks (I went pure SSD) makes it one of the quietest PCs I’ve ever had.

    Granted, I’m not suggesting people go out and get this ridiculous case — aside from the price tag, there’s also the size and weight. (I bought a hand truck just to be able to safely transport this thing.) But what I’d say is, if you don’t mind keeping your PC up on your desk, you may want to specifically consider cases with the alternate back-is-top / vent-out-the-top layout.

    (Another thing to look for is removable motherboard trays. Also not required, but makes it a lot easier to do complete rebuilds and safer benchmarking.)

    • Person of Interest says:

      The 90º-rotated case style has caught my eye as well. However I was concerned that all the cables had to be bent in order to exit out the duct at the back of the case. Do you leave the top cover off so the cables can “sprout” freely from the top? Or maybe you don’t have as many cables to contend with as I do.

      I don’t have any links on-hand, but from what I’ve read, the heat convection direction is not really a factor. Review sites have taken these cases, as well as cases with standard orientation, and flipped them onto their front or top. I don’t recall them performing significantly differently. The giant Silverstone cases do well mostly because they have 2-3 giant 180mm fans moving large volumes of air, not because they move the air bottom-to-top.

      • Premium User Badge

        Wisq says:

        Regarding cables, the actual cards are fairly recessed from the top — a good two inches, maybe even three. USB cables have no problem with that, and I use mini-DisplayPort for video, so no giant DVI cable to contend with. I do leave the top on, and it gives me decent cable management, since they all come out one of two slots.

        Regarding the thermal aspect: My main beef with standard case designs is that most of your components are getting pre-heated air. In a typical old-school ATX case, air passes from front to back. That means that the GPUs and CPU get air that’s already passed by the hard drives (not hugely heated, but some), and the power supply gets air that’s already passed across the hard drives, motherboard, and CPU. The power supply is the component you least want to fail — a failing PSU can take everything else with it in some cases.

        There’s also the risk (again, theoretical, I know) of forming hot air pockets (between components or via cables) that don’t get as much cooling. That includes any area that isn’t seeing decent ventilation (e.g. between PCI cards without fans).

        Finally, there’s the fact that most cases focus on blowing air out rather than sucking air in. That means that the unused card slots typically function as an inlet rather than an outlet, and so you can (in theory) get a tight cycle between e.g. GPUs venting hot air out and then the spare slots sucking that hot air right back in. It also means that air is coming in via non-dust-filtered inlets.

        The 90º design very clearly establishes airflow direction — in from the bottom (filtered), out via the top. The GPU fans are no match for the giant case fans (you’re right, 180mm, not sure why I was thinking 140mm) so there’s no risk of them sucking air in via the top. And every component is getting cooled, fans or no, without any potential pockets. (Also, the cable management is really, really good, since all cables approach from what would be the “front” of a normal case and come in via a shared channel inbetween the two fans.)

        Oh, and PSU cooling is handled via the same way that Antec did their old P180 series — a separate, isolated compartment on the bottom, which is also where you’d keep the spinning disks if you had them. And that whole area is wide open and well-ventilated. The only downside is that PSU air isn’t dust-filtered. (And that area also makes a great place for a giant radiator for liquid cooling, someday.)

        So yeah, those are all the reasons I’m pretty happy with the TJ11. Unless they change the ATX standard, it might be the last case I ever buy.

    • Premium User Badge

      Wisq says:

      Addendum: Regardless of my advice above, the far better advice is just what the article itself is saying. You should actually choose a case — decide what aspects you most want, read reviews, etc.

      I went through a dozen old “this is what the local computer shop gave me” cases, and at least three “this is what I chose for myself” cases. Each chosen-case has been an improvement on the last, but none of those transitions will ever come close to the massive quality jump between shop-case and chosen-case.

      • TacticalNuclearPenguin says:

        I went for Corsair’s monster cube of doom, the Air 540 ( or 340? Or something ).

        It has two readily apparent advantages:

        1) you can be the untidiest builder ever ( that would be me ) and it’ll still be impossible to make something messy, you simply throw most of the junk ( including PSU and HDD, their need for fans aside from ultra high RPM ones is a myth ) in the right side and you’re served.

        2) now that your “garbage bin” is appropriately full, on the left side you have your clean looking mobo, with your GPU and CPU with it’s heatsink or waterblock or whatever, and nothing else, save from TWO 140 fans in the front and another two in exhausting up, which in my case are those of the closed loop since there’s enough air flowing that they can be easily used as exhaust even if it’s not exactly the most efficient thing for the CPU, in this case i did this because it was the best overall compromise for the system as a whole.

        Also, the good thing is that it’s not that tall or deep, only large and fat, which means that the two fans in the front of the important closed side and those on top cover almost all the space, so it’s essentially a wind tunnel that doesn’t lose much efficiency if you turn their speed down a little. If anyone wants pics i’ll happily oblige.

        • sandineyes says:

          Carbide Air 540. I have it as well. The only complaints I have are that it is a bit louder than my ancient Antec 900 that it replaced, and that the two HDD hot-swap bays didn’t seat the HDD’s properly when plugged in; in fact, I had to push on them hard enough that the trays came off the rails in order to fully connect them. Also, they don’t fit modern, smaller SSDs very well in the tool-less cage.

          But still, it is impossible to make a mess of the cabling in this case, and has some great airflow due to the fact that there are no HDD cages blocking the intake fans like many cases do.

          • Ushao says:

            Interestingly enough I just got a 540, myself. The sound problem is quite the opposite for me. It’s about halved the noise level. But then again, I was running aftermarket fans due to the originals in my Antec crapping out. These 140mm fans seem to run quieter.

            I didn’t have the HDD mount problem that you did but I agree that the snap in SSD mounts are too roomy for the current thinner drives.

          • TacticalNuclearPenguin says:

            I didn’t even get to the point of pushing them, i wasn’t sure they simply were working in the first place and i was afraid of damage, long story short i simply unscrewed all that stuff and passed some normal cables in the resulting hole, but then it was harder than expected to make that happen.

            Still, about the noise thing, while there surely are noisier ones you totally should try to give it a spin at reduced RPMs, the airflow is well designed enough that you shouldn’t take a significant hit unless you really go far too low.

        • Ushao says:

          I love the “garbage bin” analogy! That perfectly describes what that side ends up being. I absolutely love my 540, though.

  4. fulcrum89 says:

    I currently have an NZXT H440 and I love it. The design is sleek, the construction is top notch, it’s quiet, lots of options for cable management, really have no complaints to speak of. Cons for some people might be that it doesn’t allow the use of 5.25″ optical drives, and some people may find that the cooling isn’t sufficient because of how the air intakes are somewhat constricted. Personally cooling have never been a factor, and I don’t ever use an optical drive so these weren’t problems for me. It is very much an en vogue case at the moment, so lots of people are buying it, so you might not stick out as an individual with it, but it’s popular for a reason.

    • Blaaaaaaag says:

      I love my NZXT Switch 810, but if it were available at the time, I’d have probably gone for the H440. That thing is sexy. Well, as sexy as a largely featureless rectangular prism can really be, anyway.

    • CookPassBabtridge says:

      440 owner here too. The cooling is an interesting one. Lots of people find that it restricts flow and adds temps to their stress tests. This is true, in fact if I leave the front and top panels on, I will see an extra 10 degrees on my temps. However, with the H105 I have cooling a 4.5GHz 5820K, those temps never went that far into the red anyway. With the panels on, it would push 80, which isn’t awesome. That said, there is no game I run, even flight sims, that pushes my CPU to those temps anyway. Only stress testing would ever be a problem. I also have two GPU’s putting heat into the case, which the 140mm fan at the back eliminates nicely.

      YMMV depending on chip – if you overclock a previous gen haswell, or even the 5960X, you may run into more trouble, but certainly with the 5820K its fine. It also seems very dependent on your setup and where you place gans / coolers etc.

      • CookPassBabtridge says:

        PS its white, and with an all black and white / some silver build (X99 deluxe, Corsair Dominator, EVGA GPU’s) it looks beautiful. Recently added subtle white lighting and I love it.

    • Maxheadroom says:

      Recently started spec’ing a replacement PC for myself and after much researching I too decided on an NZXT H440.

      Given that I’m not 15 though and didn’t want something that looked like a transformer crashed into an LED factory my choices were already limited

  5. caff says:

    I must say, a Fractal Design case is a) very quiet and b) very easy to work with.

    In the three years I’ve owned my R3, cracking it open and adjusting things has never been an issue.

    Get a decent, quiet, well made case. It will last you longer than all the bits inside.

    • simontifik says:

      Another Fractal Designs fan here, I have the R3’s younger brother the Define Mini. Solid case, easy to work with and best of all it doesn’t look like something out of a 90s sci-fi movie. I’m really glad we are coming to the end of that trend.

      • laiwm says:

        Had the Mini for a while now and it’s a fantastic case – my only complaint is that Fractal’s customer service (at least for UK customers) seems to be almost non-existent. I broke the front panel audio component and waited over 6 months for a replacement to come in stock, with no reply to emails in the meantime.

      • MadArcher says:

        Been using a non-windowed R4 case for over a year now and I couldn’t be happier!
        It has all the features I was looking after:
        – It is dead silent even with three fans on the case.
        – It has great airflow to keep components cool
        – It keeps most of the dust outside or on the filers
        – It’s roomy enough to keep maintenance simple and it digests looooooooooong graphic cards
        – True that it is not cheap but it is fair-priced
        – Kind of classy look, far from the bells and whistles I have seen elsewhere that didn’t fit in for me.

    • Gordon Shock says:

      Thanks for putting me on to Fractal Design, just got a look at their “DEFINE” line and looks like a winner to me.

      Cheers!

    • Premium User Badge

      Harlander says:

      Mm, I’ve got the case shown in the article and it’s solid.

      Still managed to cut the hell out of my thumbs putting the computer together, but at least it wasn’t a sharp edge of the case I stabbed ’em on.

    • frightlever says:

      I got a R4 almost two years ago, to re-house a 6 month old build that was in a way too small case. Normally I give my old PCs away and buy everything new. For the first time in ages I’ll be re-using the case. I love that thing.

    • golem09 says:

      Yeah, the Fractal DEFINE lines are quite the cases. Got the R4 and love it because of the easily accessible dustfilter and the simple design. Also housing 4 huge fans and my components never ever overheat again.

    • Trelow says:

      I recently moved my darling from an Antec 300 to the R5. I was just bubbling with joy the whole time.

  6. C0llic says:

    Using a Cooler Master full tower case myself. It’s the first ‘real’ case I’ve bothered to spend money on; previously I’d just go and grab the cheapest one I could find (I’ve been building my own PCs for ages).

    I have to say, as someone who has recently bought one that is at least half decent, it really does help. Things like screw-less caddies for your drives, nice amounts of room for cables, and dust shields really do help. It improves your quality of life immensely when building or maintaining it.

    I haven’t heard of the brand mentioned here, but I’d say if you went with this, a Cooler Master (or other big brand name) with a price tag in the £80-£100 range you’d get the benefit.

    It really is worth it if you build your own.

  7. zind says:

    I’ve been using a Silverstone RV-03B “Raven” for years now and I don’t anticipate swapping away from it. It’s got some style to it while not looking ostentatious, has very solid construction, and makes cable management pretty easy. I’m using a Corsair H100 cooler, and the rad for that doesn’t QUITE fit nicely in the double fan bay up front, but with some zip ties I was able to get it in there solidly enough. I love the 90-degree turn it has though, with all of the “rear” ports nicely up top and accessible.

    I’ve also done a couple builds for friends recently and put them inside of Corsair 200R cases, one windowed and one not. I think my absolute favorite thing about them was the toolless drive brackets. Cable management is slightly harder in them depending on the location of some of the headers on the motherboard, but nothing dealbreaking.

  8. Donkeyfumbler says:

    Sound advice. I’ve lost count of the things I’ve swapped in and out of my case over the years – at least three motherboards for a start – and it’s certainly the only thing left from my original build. It’s an old Antec P160 that’s now over 10 years old and it cost a fair amount at the time, but it’s been more than worth it and I can’t see myself getting rid of it when I next replace the mobo/cpu/ram.

    It’s easy to overlook the case and PSU when building a machine, but these are the foundations that everything else will be built on for years to come and it would be a false economy that you’ll eventually regret if you don’t spend a bit of extra money on them.

  9. Person of Interest says:

    Sometimes when my cat jumps on top of the case, the computer freezes. After suffering through that a few times, I open the case and re-seat all the cards, wires, and connectors, and sometimes swap a dodgy-looking SATA cable. Then everything’s fine for a while, until I install another hard drive and bump something almost-loose in the process, and the cycle repeats.

    Most important for me is a case that is quiet (or, to be more precise, a case that is conducive to building a quiet PC). Silent PC Review has wonderfully thorough reviews of cases, both using the fans that come with the case and with aftermarket fans. But I’d also like a case that can help secure all the cables and such from my clumsy jostling. I’m not sure if the now-standard cable management technique of, “cram it all behind the motherboard tray” would be enough.

    • cederic says:

      Yep. A case designed to support a near silent PC also tends to have good space and accessibility, as a silent PC needs clean airflows and you aren’t getting those with a cramped ugly build.

      My tower is quiet enough that I can’t hear it running – an element of deafness in there, but mainly the variable speed silent fans fitted to a properly designed quiet case.

    • TacticalNuclearPenguin says:

      Try with Corsair Air 540, it’s a cube and you essentially have an entire garbage bin for your absolutely sound technique of cramming everything back, the left side only contains the important bits and it’s designed as a pretty serious wind tunnel, which means that you can easily reduce the fans speed a LOT or replace them without loosing much efficiency. Not linearly at least.

  10. Fitzmogwai says:

    I’ve had a Thermaltake Kandalf for – oh, must be the best part of a decade now. Not perfect, just very, very good. Basically until someone radically redesigns and improves the PC tower, I don’t have a reason to change it.

  11. sharkh20 says:

    Easily cleanable dust screens make PC gaming so much better in the LA area.

  12. P.Funk says:

    CM690 for the last oh… 8 years? I’ll reuse this thing forever.

  13. Det. Bullock says:

    I mantained my old case when I went from the old athlon XP to an i5 for budget reasons and it would be fine if it wasn’t for the fact that the side panel often starts vibrating making quite a racket (probably something got slightly bent one of the many times I swapped stuff over the years) and I would be tempted to change it, but having the power supply on the bottom of the case always seemed rather odd to me and I don’t think the made-for-older-PCs piece of furniture I use took that kind of design into account.

  14. montorsi says:

    My Corsair Obsidian 550D is gorgeous. Sound dampening, dust filters, plenty of fans. Panels you can remove for more air flow if needed, or you can slap them on and your PC will be utterly silent.

  15. Wedge says:

    Love minimal designed cases. I’ve got a serviceable CM case that I bought when I thought having plenty of airflow would be important for my tame OCing, but if I ever transplant or rebuild I’m definitely going to get one of those slick black aluminium Lian-Li’s with the 1-way airflow and barely any visible ventilation aside from the back.

  16. racccoon says:

    My case is an ARMOR case is has stood the test of time and now with the i7 upgrade a few months back, it breaths and of course it now has a lot space :) I have had this case for nearly 7+ years. its brilliant. link to media.bestofmicro.com

  17. fish99 says:

    A good washable and easily removed dust filter is by far the best feature any case can have (assuming you’re air cooling of course). It extends the life of your components, and can even improve their resale value. Obviously you need to actually clean it every few months or it’s wasted.

    It’s great taking a 3 yr old video card out of your case and seeing just a tiny layer of dust on it, and the heatsink not clogged up. It’s sad that some cases don’t have them. If that’s the case you can buy a filter to attach over the fan, but it’s harder to clean it.

    • CookPassBabtridge says:

      Good to know. I’ve had an H440 running for about 6 months now and there is only the tinest, occasional dust speckle that you need direct LED light to see on the GPU’s (or anywhere else for that matter). It does mean you need to regularly clean the filters, but they are so easy to take out its not a problem. Glad to hear my parts should be good for some time to come! :)

  18. ThatFuzzyTiger says:

    Nanoxia Deep Silence One. Anthracite front.

    It’s German. It’s efficient. The manual does not say please or thank you. It says FOLLOW THE INSTRUCTIONS in capitals. There’s one bit of colour, the german flag, the rest of the manual is pure black and white.

    It demands a clean, efficient build, and you to be organised, but what you get is a ridiculously efficient box in return that allows you to “hot clean” your dust filters -without having to turn off the PC-. Press little compartment, fan swings out, unhook filter, blast with air duster, slot back in, clicky clicky. Job done. Time taken : 30 seconds. Feeling of smug satisfaction as everyone else has to shut their PCs down to get at THEIR filters – priceless.

    • PopeRatzo says:

      I don’t mind the German flag, but I think the “Deutschland Uber Alles” laser-engraved on the side is a little bit overkill.

  19. Ejia says:

    I just about swooned when I saw that dust filter. Are easily removable filters rare these days? Because I want a case with one now.

    • CookPassBabtridge says:

      I think they are pretty common. The NZXT H440 has two of them and it was about £80:

      link to legitreviews.com

      One big one, magnetic, easy to remove once the panel is simply removed with a tug. The other is underneath, for the PSU intake. That one slides out as with the Fractal.

  20. Rae says:

    Fractal Design does have nice cases. I love my fridge. Nothing wrong with plastic as it’s still lighter and fairly durable for my needs. I mean sure if I had infinite money I’d get brass everything too.

  21. Fellhuhn says:

    I went for a Cooler Master Silencio 550 black when I built my PC. Not because of the nice interior (which it doesn’t have) but just because it has a full shiny black front which was required to get the allowance to put it next to my TV. And now it looks quire similar to the subwoofer and doesn’t look like a computer in a living room.

  22. skalpadda says:

    I have a case, but the only parts of my computer that actually live in it are the PSU and the power button. The rest are sort of spilled out on my desk as if there’s been some horrible accident and the innards of my PC are only connected to its body by the dangling intestines of the power cables. This has been the case (ah) for years now.

  23. Shadowcat says:

    Convenience/ease-of-use are high on my list of attractive features for a PC case, and I like my Antec Solo a lot.

    The main side panel is fastened with large comfortable thumb screws which still remain attached to the panel when they’re fully unscrewed. This is far and away the most convenient system I’ve ever had in a PC case.

    You definitely want a case with rails for the disk drives. Manually using a screwdriver to attach and detach drives directly to/from the case is such a hassle. With rails, you just screw the drive (one time only!) to a pair of small metal strips (which of course is very easy to do outside of the case), and then you can slide the drive into and out of the case almost effortlessly, with it clicking firmly into place at the appropriate position. It’s amazing just how much better this is than the old way.

    Any features which prevent the accumulation of dust inside the case are tremendously desirable. Most of the time your case is going to be closed, and the more it takes care of itself during this time, the better.

    Finally, get a power supply with a modular cable system!!! Not strictly part of the case, but the difference this makes to the case internals is absolutely massive. No more giant mess of cables to try to stash away inside the case; instead you connect only the specific cables you need to power the components you have. Mine is a Corsair HX 520W. (And opening the case to check that took all of 10 seconds :) Once you’ve tried a modular power supply, you will never go back.

  24. Premium User Badge

    Don Reba says:

    These days, micro-ATX cases are going mainstream, and mini-ITX are bound to follow soon. So, if you buy a full tower case today, it may look pretty archaic tomorrow.

    • Premium User Badge

      Harlander says:

      It’s fine, it’s only going to go under the desk out of sight anyway. (I’d be less likely to bump my legs against a smaller case, I guess)

    • The Dark One says:

      The most painful parts of putting together a Mini-ITX system are figuring out if you’re have clearance for your video card and finding a reputable PSU. Those goes away if you’re building an HTPC or a Web/Office workstation, but at that point, you might as well buy a NUC.

    • Subject 706 says:

      Depends on how much you want to cram into the case. Myself, I switched to MicroATX a while ago since I liked to build smaller systems, and full tower ATX just meant I had a lot of unused space in the case. My system currently lives in a Fractal Design Node 804. Also built my first custom watercooling loop in it. Great little case.

  25. TheApologist says:

    I upgraded mine and my friend’s PC a few weeks ago. He used his old case that came with a PC he bought years ago, and it was an exercise in fighting with cables, crap airflow, lacerated hands and getting the power button cable to stretch without going to Maplins to buy and extension and which one was the power button because NOTHING IS LABELLED and AAAARGH.

    For mine, I got myself a Corsair Carbide 300R and it took literally half the time to do my upgrade. It’s not super quiet – it’s all grills and no noise dampening – but y’know, decent fans and coolers mean it isn’t loud either. More to the point, it’s relatively cheap (£60), not massive, pretty inoffensive looking, and putting things in it was easy. Cables behind the mobo. You can screw SSDs into the drive tray. Everything fit nicely. And it has dust-catchy thingers. Totally worth it.

    • TheApologist says:

      Edit: “I upgraded mine and my friend’s PC a few weeks ago.”

      To be clear I was upgrading my PC and also my friend’s PC at the same time. Not one PC that belonged to both of us. Please bring back the edit button :(

  26. a8a says:

    <a href="link to youtube.com Enthoo Pro is my case of choice at the moment – I’ve found it to be seriously good so far, especially for the price.

    • a8a says:

      Formatting…
      Phanteks Enthoo Pro

      • Hunchback says:

        Impressive case!
        For some reason it’s quite more expensive in Europe though… go figure :(

    • foop says:

      Me too. I love it. Plenty of room, which is essential as my most recent build is a foray into water-cooling (not for any real reason, apart perhaps from quietness, but mostly because I could).

      The upside is that if I ever find myself homeless, I can strip out the PC and live inside the case.

    • Continuity says:

      Yeah the Enthoo Pro was a runner up for my new build, I disqualified it in the end as it has serious cooling problems in some setups, especially when you have several hard drives blocking the intake fan, the lower card in an SLI setup can get insanely hot.

      • CookPassBabtridge says:

        Did you look at the Corsair 760T at all? I was looking for charts that showed relative cooling performance involving it, and found only one with it – right at the top. What put me off was the slightly flexy, cheap construction. A lot of the videos showed the wall bending when attaching cables etc. The Enthoos were high contenders, especially with all the cable routing. I went for an H440 in the end as it had the best combination of features as well as sexiness for my black and white build (yes I am shallow).

  27. RuySan says:

    Are Bitfenix cases any good? They are among the few brands that make cases that don’t look absolutely ridiculous.

    • Jonnyuk77 says:

      I bought a bitfenix prodigy a few months ago for a mini-itx build (it’s going in a cupboard), it’s the size of a house, for some reason I never looked at the sizes and assumed it was about a quarter of the size it turned out to be. That says more about me than the case… The build quality is ok, nothing special. The interior plastics feel a tad cheap. The Bitfenix logo on the front is marginally toff center too, annoying.

      My main case is the Fractal R5 (R something) shown in the article above, much nicer, better materials and finish and not that much more expensive.

    • Premium User Badge

      john_silence says:

      Bitfenix Phenom owner here. I had the system assemblee by the e-tailer I bought my PC from so I wouldn’t know how easy the set-up is – although I did notice a few months afterwards they specifically refused to assemble systems inside that case themselves!
      I had to put in the GPU inside myself though, and that was a right horrible pain. I got an R9 290, the custom black and orange Sapphire edition, that is basically one of the hugest, longest, hottest cards known to man. It sits well inside the advertised max length, and I paid attention to the size of every component, but still I thought it would never go in. The GPU’s edge threatened to saw through the PSU cables :/
      The result: the system is incredibly silent when idling, much more so than my former Lancool K62 case (that’s in no small part because there’s no CD tray spinning), but incredibly loud under load. And again, that’s with the custom R9 290, not the reference, infamously loud one.
      I could feel an actual current of cool air coming out from the Lancool, even when gaming – the Phenom by contrast runs hot under load. I keep the side panel open when gaming, not even because of the GPU (I only go from 85 to 80 degrees there, no big deal) but for the CPU, which sits quite enclosed with nowhere to vent most of its heat. Even with an aftermarket CPU fan running at full pelt, opening the side panel gains me almost 20C°…
      I almost changed it, or bought one of those tiny 970’s, but opening the side panel is very easy and basically satisfactory. Down the line, when I can gain both performance AND better temp/noise, I’ll no doubt switch the GPU for something more efficient.
      Bottom line: with small-factor, efficient, carefully picked pieces, it’s fine. But don’t fall for the marketing talk of assembling a regular ITX system inside a mini-ITX form factor, that’s an exaggeration. And by Jove don’t put it inside a cupboard unless it’s used for undemanding work exclusively. Plus it’s actually quite big, as was said above. Ultimately I am happy with it because the fiancée loves its looks, and after the fuss and trauma and hiding schemes surrounding the Lancool that’s priceless. Plus the parts for Mini-ITX are actually getting more and more like regular ITX as the years go by, so it’s already a more sensible proposition than it was when I bought it in January 14.
      Bitfenix’s “normal” ITX cases like the Shinobi look nice but are somewhat poor technically I believe.

    • CookPassBabtridge says:

      The Pandora looks amazing, especially the black and white one. Shame its a small form factor otherwise it was quite a contender for me.

      They teased a new one called the Atlas which looked great to me at the time. Not sure now though, perhaps in different colours:

      link to techreport.com Also has big blue light tubes built into the edges, not switched on here.

  28. Solar says:

    Have the Define R4 after searching around for awhile. So much space, huge silent case fans. Door isnt reversable as far as I know. Any other upgrades to the R5 worth shouting about? Price point for R4 was very reasonable.

  29. Mr Wonderstuff says:

    I have that case. Understated, capacious and quiet. My 970 fits which is nice.

    • veehan says:

      Likewise, this is a great case that doesn’t look obnoxious, is very quiet, and has tons of utility.

  30. big boy barry says:

    I used to have mine assembled on boxes too. although that was probably in a vain attempt to make my bedroom look like the one out of weird science more than anything

  31. kael13 says:

    I have a 750D. On the one hand I love the window that shows off my pride and joy; my self-built six-core custom water-cooled beast, but my god is it flimsy and the materials construction below the quality of the components. The entire motherboard tray flexes with the slightest pressure.

    For my dad’s PC, I built it in a H440. It’s a lovely case; fantastic materials and colour. It’s just a bit tight on space, if you want to water-cool.

    I’ve just ordered a PC for work which is built into a Fractal R5. Excited to see it, now that you’ve mentioned it here.

    There are a couple of small companies who make sturdy aluminium cases for super high-end rigs, but the ones I’ve seen are so ugly and harken back to the beige box era. I too, long for a capacious, Mac Pro-like tower case that’s a pleasure to work in and you don’t mind showing off to your friends.

    • kael13 says:

      I should say, that’s the Corsair 750. And the NZXT H440.

      And the first paragraph needs a rewrite but oh well.

    • Continuity says:

      Yep the Corsair 750D is my case of choice, plenty of room and great cable management, you can reposition the modular HDD racks to ensure unobstructed air intake giving great air flow over all even with loads of hard drives (a rarity). Tones of room at the top for radiators plus a neat sideways mounting for SSDs. Easily accessible front ports and clean lines over all, the only thing I don’t like about it is the mandatory window, but I can live with that.

  32. SparksV says:

    I still have my first PC case, Thermaltake Matrix. And I still like it, even though it’s heavy (when I need to take it to a friend’s house), it doesn’t have cable management options. But it was one of the first screwless cases I’ve heard of and I still remember my dad shouting at me for buying a case for 50$ without a PSU. WORTH IT. There was a fan installed already in the back of the case, I installed one in the front. I still like that I can swap anything, but the PSU without a screwdriver and the “Where did I put the screws?” thoughts. I’ve been thinking about a small factor case like the Antec ISK600 or maybe a Bitfenix Prodigy.

  33. drewski says:

    My old tower case lasted for a decade. Was still going strong but I ditched it when the rig inside it died because really a full tower case was increasingly impractical (and I’d never used the extra space anyway).

  34. Retro says:

    Do I need a case for my laptop?

    • iainl says:

      It does help the screen fall off when you pick it up, yes.

    • Bfox says:

      We call those bags

    • Continuity says:

      I’ve never seen a laptop without a case, its kinda integrated. If you don’t have a case for your laptop then you’re some sort of nut job.

  35. Buuurr says:

    Corsair Air 540 is my staple. Once sound dampened and wrapped with a little adhesive foam, it is nearly silent. My wife has a fairly new aluminum Asus laptop which can be heard over my 4x140mm + 2X120mm monstrosity. I run a liquid cooled heat sink with the 140mms providing more then ample airflow to the GPU. Cooling is just not an issue.

    Like others here I came from an Antec case and have seen drops of 25F plus with this case. The airflow is just stunning. Honestly thinking it will cut AC costs this summer.

  36. noom says:

    Well this is weird: literally just built my brand-new PC last night using this exact case (well almost; I opted for the windowed model). Definitely the best of the small number of cases that I’ve used in my life. From reviews, the thermal performance isn’t quite on par with other cases, but that’s to be expected with all the sound insulation I guess.

    Definitely worth the money imo.

    • noom says:

      Also, combined with a selection of quiet components, its quiet as a mouse. Can barely even hear it under idle conditions.

  37. rodan32 says:

    I’m still running an ancient Lian Li I got in 2004. Am I getting old?

    • RonnieBoy says:

      Been running with my Lian Li PC60 for over a decade as well. Had a fish tank in the side of it for a few years but pulled that out after the water went green! I’ve changed everything in the case 2 or 3 times now but feel no need to upgrade the case.

  38. Jediben says:

    I love my Antec 1200 so much I bought three to house all my machines. It even fits my Corsair H100i (barely). It is big, black, has more fans than One Direction and is so heavy it couldn’t be stolen by anyone. It is so massive I have them all mounted on the little LAN trolley that Antec produced back in the day.

  39. Bishop149 says:

    This reminds me, I must start my project to make my own (rather dumbed down) version of this:
    link to forums.bit-tech.net
    I rather like the idea of having the PC and my associated water cooling gubbins built into a desk.

  40. Premium User Badge

    syllopsium says:

    My main system is running a Cooler Master Stacker (830 or similar I think). It’s useful to have a motherboard tray, lots of fans and plenty of room for expansion including EATX motherboards and a load of hard drives. By today’s standards it’s getting on a bit, though.

    On the other hand I’m not sure it’s necessary for many systems. My main gaming system, which I threw together out of spare parts and cheap ebay stuff was going to be put in an old beige case win an 8cm fan, but I decided to spend 30-40 quid on a Zalman (Z3, I think)

    The Zalman has no sharp edges. It has a drive cage, plenty of space for graphics cards, a PSU at the bottom, and fits 12cm fans. It looks good too. The only thing the cheaper model misses is a support strut for high end graphics cards. The gaming system has only a graphics card, a sound card and a hard disk. Everything else is built in/directly on the motherboard. A more expensive case would have been easier to build on, but this is a system I will not be messing with.

    I also question the use of drive cages. For most of my systems I use a trayless SATA front panel. It’s £20 and makes maintenance so much easier. Hard disks are easily the item I swap in and out most often.

    So, if it’s not a super powerful system, doesn’t need to be particularly small or carried, and isn’t going to be frequently maintained I’m not sure I see the point of expensive cases. The standard of cases is infiinitely better than 15 years ago when even the expensive ones could slice your fingers open, and they all had horrific airflow and shitty fans. Not to mention everything is serial these days, so there’s no fat cables clogging things up .

  41. jsbenjamin says:

    It’s beastly huge, but I’ve never found anything that beats my Cooler Master HAF 932. Easy to work in (because it’s cavernous), and tons of airflow (because it’s cavernous). It’s practically like running caseless!

    • Premium User Badge

      Edski says:

      *HAF 932 Fist-bump*

      I love my HAF 932, and it’s currently playing host to its third PC! It now houses my lounge room PC, and is the same height and colour as the entertainment unit containing my TV/Amp/consoles (and weighs about the same) =D. Some people might favour small form factor PCs for their lounge room, but I’ll stick with my HAF 932 and its many many fans!

  42. Juke says:

    Last rebuild I decided to move my primary PC from a tower to a HTPC case by SilverStone. It’s a tighter fit than a full-size tower but with modular power cabling the case stayed pretty clean.

    The 5.25″ bays are a bit archaic now, but it’s a great look when racked up with a AV receiver and (*gasp*) game consoles. It fits the form factor of a shelving unit better than a floorstanding case would. No windows, no accents, just a consistent brushed black aluminum. For any PC that isn’t going to live under a desk, HTPC cases can be a good option.

  43. mpcarolin says:

    In my most recent build I decided to eschew my old case and buy a shiny new Corsair Air 540. One of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

    It might look boxy, but that’s exactly what I like. Maneuvering parts and cables within this spacious beast is a dream; I don’t think I’ll ever go back to the cramped and suffocating experience of a typical tower pc. To top it all off, the air flow is fantastic, never once allowing my gtx770 and quad core to overheat, and the dust filter is even better. I’ve had this machine for over a year now and have had to clean it out not ONCE!

    As the write-up says, do yourself a favor and buy a nice case.

  44. TeeJay says:

    Still rocking an Antec P180.

    Although the design is maybe 10 years old or so now it has loads of decent features (eg. externally accessible dust filters, modular detachable front drive bays (good for fitting large GPUs), separate front-to-back air intake and compartment for PSU located at the bottom of case) which make it look ahead of its time.

    The only problems I am having now are that some of the plastic door hinges had snapped (my fault really) and the included antec tricooler fans are getting noisey.

    • TheNavvie says:

      The P180 was my first non ‘grey box’ case and it was such a joy compared to the £30 cases I’d been using to PC builds for family and friends.

      I took a craft knife to the slats on the doors to open them up a bit for more airflow, they are L shaped slats from the factory and I made mine _ shaped.

      I’ve since (2013) built a new PC in a Corsair 750D, much easier to work in than the P180 and just as quiet, but that’s mostly due to being SSD only and graphics cards being much quieter than they were in 2008.

  45. Xan says:

    My case is as ancient as its name, Cooler Master Centurion 532

    It’s nothing special but my only issue is that the side panel doesn’t have a long enough ‘mesh’ link to content.hwigroup.net on the side to properly let out heat from the GPU.
    I’ll have to swap it out once I get a new motherboard.

  46. Talismania! says:

    I find cases useful for keeping the children’s fingers out of the fans and motherboard interfaces.

  47. bakaohki says:

    Ikea kallax drawer here. Matx mobo, small form factor gtx970 with a corsair psu.