What should I look for in a computer case?

5 minute read

For some the computer case is an afterthought it’s just the casing right? For others it needs just as much consideration as all the other components on the list.

There are the practical considerations like how hot air is managed inside the case, how durable and sturdy it is and how well the layout is designed as well as how easy is it to fit the components.

There’s also the size and look of the case to choose: do you need a small compact case or a full size tower case. Some people love LED’s and clear windows to see their components inside whereas others just want a functional case that simply houses the components inside.

Size matters

The size of motherboard you choose will decide what size cases are available. Cases come in 3 main standard sizes but there are many different variations in shape like wide, long or cube cases.

Always check the dimensions of the case to ensure it will fit on your desk or under your desk or wherever it is that it will live.

Full Tower ATX: All sizes of motherboards fit into a Full ATX case because of the standard spacing of screw holes on the motherboards and cases. These roomy cases tend to have better airflow management and the extra space is able to accommodate water-cooling solutions, multiple hard drives and many expansion cards. If you don’t mind a large tower computer this size is a good option for future proofing.

Micro ATX Cases: Micro or mid-sized tower cases are for those people who prefer smaller computers or who are limited for desk space. Micro ATX motherboards fit into these cases but usually Mini ITX motherboards fit as well.

Mini ITX Cases: These compact cases are great for small desk builds like media boxes, office PCs and space saving general use computers. They can sit on your desk for easy access and some can even be mounted to the back of your monitor for a minimalist look. If you have a Mini ITX motherboard these are the cases for you.

The layout inside is important

The layout of the case should provide enough room for all of your components so that they fit correctly. Look for how many expansion slots and external drives like DVD drives the case supports. Internal drives come in 3.5” and 2.5” sizes, so your case needs to support the number and types of drives you need.

Some cases will be categorized as performance or gaming cases which really means that they have more options for cooling, look out for these if you’re building a gaming or high end rig.

These also have well thought out air flow layouts including how cool air flows over hot components and how and from where hot air is removed from the case. Take note of the location and size of fans as larger fans are quieter and more efficient at cooling your computer.

Build Quality

The quality of the case depends on your budget and your requirements. A flimsy, bland looking case is just fine if the computer is going to sit out of the way in a corner somewhere. Don’t be put off looking at cheaper cases if you’re on a tight budget.

Cheaper cases are made from thin metal and plastic and tend to have sharper rougher edges inside. They usually have a limited amount of accessories like screws, cable ties and hard drive caddies. The holes and fitting dimensions also tend to be a bit off.

I’ve found that it takes longer to build the PC and can be a frustrating and even a painful experience. Stay away if you can otherwise choose the best out of the cheaper cases.

Higher quality cases are made from thicker metal and are solid and sturdy. The inside layout is geared to making the build process as easy as possible and there are plenty of extras. The old saying ‘you get what you pay for’ really does apply to choosing computer cases.

What Style Suits you?

Gaming, office or maybe compact, just some of the styles of cases out there. This is as much a personal choice as a functional choice. Most people want their build to reflect the intended use for the computer.

Cases really have come a long way since the days of boring rectangular towers that you would hide away underneath your desk. There’s performance cases, cube cases, gaming cases, minimal cases and compact cases.

Choose the one that suits your taste and don’t forget about the connections and ports on the front panel. USB ports, audio ports and card readers in an easily accessible place can be really useful.

Extra Features

Some cases come with fans and PSU’s included and although there are always exceptions, on average these are just cheap and loud – avoid them if you can. Good quality quiet fans don’t cost that much so consider getting separate ones if you need to.

Good cases have inbuilt cable management that allows the cables to be hidden out of the way. They can be routed easily through various holes and channels on the inside of the case. The cables are kept in place using cable ties that are included to reduce mess.

Not only does this create good air flow inside the case, it gives your build a clean look especially important for cases where you can see inside through side window panels.

Better cases have rubber grommets for sound damping and shock proofing as well as dust covers that can be removed for easier cleaning. There’s also tool-less designs so that components like hard drives and expansion slots can be snapped into place without the need for screws or tools.

For those of you who overclock, some cases have fan controllers and/or temperature indicators to control and view how hot it’s getting inside. There are also spaces designed to hold water cooling systems.

On the surface a case houses just the computer’s components but below the surface there are many things to look out for. This is why the cost of a computer case varies so much.

Your perfect case is out there

Just like with the other components look at cases in your price range as well as below and above your range. Decide on the size, quality and style of the case taking into account all the features each case has and somewhere is the crowd of all those cases, you’ll find the right one.