Computer cases come in many shapes, sizes, colors
and levels of functionality. Before purchasing a case
you'll want to consider several things.
End users tend to choose a case based
on outside appearance and price. Computer experts tend
to choose based on functionality and brands. Quality
of most cases that would be considered aesthetically
pleasing tends to vary, since much of the styling is
done by plastic shells over a simple metal box. Check
the floor models whenever possible to avoid unpleasant
The power supply is one of
a few PC components that has moving parts (a cooling
fan or fans), and a possible point of future failures.
Therefore, choosing a case with a reliable power supply
is very important. The wattage of a power supply is
likely less important than its reliability. 400W is
more than enough for the majority of systems running
today. 450W-500W is necessary when multiple hard drives
and optical drives are used in conjunction with high
end video or other components. Industry standards for
measuring the reliability of a power supply (or most
other PC components) do not exist. We recommend staying
with major brands such as Antec.
A case fan
(or fans) is highly recommended! With the modern processors
used today it is important to deliver cool air to hot
components such as processors, video cards, and hard
drives. Failure to do so can result in decreased stability
and longevity of a system, especially since the failure
of a power supply fan can go unnoticed for weeks in
a system until the power supply fails or shuts down
from overheating. High temperature is one of the worst
enemies of all computer components! A front case fan
should pull ambient air into the case, while a power
supply fan moves hot air from inside the case out.
This creates a flow of air across the CPU and helps
maintain the temperature inside the case at a relatively
low and constant level. Top or rear case fans should
push hot air out of the case. Side panel fans (usually
positioned near the CPU assembly) should be mounted
to pull cool air into the case where it is needed most.
A dual fan power supply is recommended when using modern
AMD Athlon/XP/64 processors or Intel Pentium 4 processors.
The second fan on the power supply helps quickly move
hot air away from the processor's heat sink fan combination.
Ease of Use
A roomy case that is easy to access
and does not have sharp edges should be on your list.
To be fair, the manufacturers are doing much better
in removing sharp edges and making strong, attractive
cases. But keep in mind, that manufacturing a case
out of thinner sheet metal, having straight, unrolled
edges, no reinforced folds or framing, and using standard
screws (or pop-rivets) are simple ways to keep the
cost down. If you are the type of person that is always
changing something in your system, then investing in
a case that uses time saving features such as thumb
screws, spring-locked covers, removable motherboard
tray and snap-in drive rails.
Form Factor and Compatibility
Matching the motherboard
size specification to the case means that the mounting
posts either line up or can be placed to match the
holes in the motherboard and there is adequate room
to install it in the case.
- ATX. Almost all motherboards
today are ATX or some variant thereof. ATX motherboards
are typically 12" x 9.6" or slightly smaller.
The most common size of case used to house an ATX motherboard
is a Mid-Tower case. If a case supports ATX then it
should also work with MicroATX and FlexATX motherboards.
- E-ATX and Full ATX. Typically found in server cases
such as full towers, cubes, and rack mounts, the size
of these boards range from 12" x 11" to 12" x
13". If a case supports this size then it should
also support ATX, MicroATX, and FlexATX.
people like a case that has a slide out side panel,
while others like a connected top and cover. Some people
like having a slide out motherboard tray, while others
prefer a very roomy case to install the motherboard
to. We feel that each of these design elements has
their pros and cons and that it's largely a matter
of personal preference.
are inexpensive, but heavy. Aluminum cases are much
lighter than steel cases, but tend to be much more
expensive. The light weight makes it a popular choice
among people who move their PCs around very often,
such as LAN party fans. Some people believe that aluminum
cases have slightly better cooling than the steel ones.
While aluminum cases may have a more modern and exotic
look than steel cases, they have a drawback of being
structurally weaker than steel and more prone to surface
scratching and damage.
Computers have very few
moving parts except for fans and drives. The optical
drives typically only run at full speed when accessing
data, installing, or sometimes burning media. The same
is true of floppy disks, in that you only access them
to load or save data. The hard drive generally rotates
whenever the computer is on, although power management
may turn it off during periods of inactivity. Fans
on the other hand, run all the time. Fans on the CPU,
fans on the case, fans in the power supply. How the
fan is mounted, the size and speed of the fan, and
where the fan is located all contribute to system noise
levels. Fan speed control kits, thermal sensors and
pc-health monitored fan control can reduce the overall
system noise during normal operation. Reinforced or
sound-dampening construction can make the difference
between quite operation and a noisy system.
In thin steel cases, aluminum cases,
and some of the ultra low cost models, vibration can
become a problem. Vibration Transfer can happen if
a piece with moving parts (such as a fan, hard drive,
power supply or optical drive) is screwed directly
into the case. In severe cases this vibration can be
transmitted into the side panels which case then act
as noise amplifiers (think steel drums).
As a rule of thumb,
the thicker the case is, the less likely this is to
be a problem. Thicker materials tend to absorb vibration
rather then transmit it. High quality cases will usually
have a thick drive mounting frame. This increases stability
and reduces the possibility of transfer. Another approach
to this is to use plastic or another substance as an
intermediary between the two mounting surfaces. To
that end, a large number of cases now use plastic fan
mounts instead of traditional fan mounting screws.
Fans tend to be a bigger source of vibration then drives.
The number, position and size of the
drive bays may be an important factor when selecting
a case. How many optical drives do you want? Do you
need a floppy drive or bay-mounted memory card reader?
(Many cases only have a single 3 1/2" drive bay
opening.) Another factor you may run into when starting
assembly is positioning your drives so that the data
cables can reach, or getting power-splitter cables
to connect the drives to the power supply or to reach
other additions like lighting kits.
(Do It Yourself Modifications) Some cases
are more modification friendly then others. If you
are thinking about purchasing a case and "modding" it
then we recommend that you look for a case that has
solid metal panels (either metal or aluminum) instead
of plastic or a plastic/steel mix. These types of panels
are easier to alter. Also it is better to have separated
sides and top instead of joined sides and top, joined
sides are hard to alter. For top window or "blow-hole" mods
it is best to find a case that uses screws instead
of bolts to hold the top of the case on, and to use
a case that has a flat metal top vs. a curved plastic
Once you go beyond basics, the
case manufacturers are trying to get your attention
with a diverse set of enhancements, many of which sever
no real purpose other than to look cool. Some of the
case enhancements include thermometer display panels
with sensors that you can place under the CPU or next
to a hard drive. There are LED illuminated case fans,
ultraviolet reactive case fittings, and light-up doors
or front panel light shows. There are concealing drive
bay doors that hide the ugly beige or black optical
drive (when it is closed.) And of course, there are
the stylized front and side panels of alien or demonic
In-store Clinic Update