Unless you are a serious builder, chances are you haven’t spent much time thinking about your computer case. However, for serious builders or even hobbyists, choosing the right computer case is an essential part of the build. The computer case you choose will impact everything about your new build, from the type of motherboard you buy, what cards you choose, and how much you can add to it later after you have finished the initial build.
While computer cases are mostly about aesthetics, that doesn’t mean that things can’t go wrong simply because you chose the wrong case. In fact, you can run into a whole host of problems if you select the wrong case for your computer. The problems can be minor such as upgrade issues down the road or it could be crippling to your system because you don’t have the room to connect the peripherals you need. In more extreme cases, your machine may not even function properly because your case doesn’t allow for good air flow. As you can see, choosing the right computer case is more important than you probably realized.
Today, let’s take a look at many different factors you need to consider when choosing the right computer case for your next desktop rebuild.
Size Does Matter
Notice I didn’t say bigger is better. That’s a discussion for another time on another blog. When it comes to computer cases, however, size does matter. The bigger the case, the more room you will have for your motherboard, hard drive, and any expansion cards that you want to install. The two most common types of cases you will see are ATX and microATX cases. The ATX case is the standard sized case and usually measures about 12 inches by 9.6 inches, while the microATX is a smaller form designed for small footprints measuring in at only 9.6 inches by 9.6 inches. Of course, you will see cases that are much larger that still fall under the ATX format as well, so it is important you examine how large they are and how much room they give you for expansion.
Now that we have mentioned size, let’s talk about the standard forms. You can find desktop models and towers as well, even though these still fall under the desktop category. Among these different forms, you fill find all shapes and sizes designed to accommodate different needs. Choosing the right one depends largely on what you are trying to accomplish and exactly how much room you have in your office for a desktop.
Beauty Is In the Eyes of the Beholder
While technically not as important as many of the other things to consider that made this list, to many users how your computer looks is just as important as how functional it is. Gamers especially enjoy tricking out their cases and creating a custom look that no one else has. Some cases come with custom lights and windows on the side that allow you to see inside, while others don’t even look like traditional cases at all sporting fancy shaped designs that you don’t normally see on a computer.
This doesn’t even factor in the color of the case to start with. Gone are the days where you could get 2 shades of beige. Now you can find cases that are beige, white, black, grey, clear and pretty much any other color of the rainbow. It all comes down to your taste. For many builders, choosing the right case is the equivalent of an architect designing the exterior of a building. While it’s technically not necessary for a building to function, a nice exterior sure makes more people want to go into said building.
When choosing how your case looks, take a few minutes to consider your decision. Just because it looks cool, doesn’t mean you are going to want to look at it for the next two to three years. So choose carefully.
Check Your Bays
As I have already said, the larger the case, the more bays you will have for expansion. But it’s not just the number of bays that you get, but also the types of bays that you have available. There are three types of bays that you can find in desktop cases today. The first and classic bay is the 5.25-inch bay. This bay is designed to accommodate hard drives and optical drives and is the largest of all the bays available in cases today. The second bay size is the 3.5-inch bay. For years this bay was the home of the long-lived 3.5-inch floppy disk drive. Of course, today, the death of that drive has made room for manufacturers to create card readers and other smaller expansion options. Finally, we come to the 2.5-inch bay. This bay got its start in laptops but has seen adoption into the desktop world as of late. Today it is often home to solid-state drives and other smaller devices. These bays are often quite rare in desktop cases although most will come with adapters you can use to adapt the smaller device into a larger 3.5 or 5.25 bay.
When choosing your new case, you need to take a look at how many bays it has and what size they are. Take that information and compare it to the hardware you plan on installing into the case. Does the case give you enough room for what you have now? Does it give you enough room for expansion later? If so, then it could be the right case for you.
Expansion Slots a Plenty
Many computer upgrades come in the way of cards that you plug into your motherboard. These cards will often have external ports on them so you can plug in peripherals to your computer. A standard ATX cases usually comes with six or seven slots for expansion while a microATX case usually has about four. Of course, some of the high end gaming desktop cases that are on the larger side often have ten or more slots. In some cases, this is more than even the largest motherboards out there!
Just like your drive bays, you need to take a look at the cards you have to plug into your motherboard and make sure your case gives you enough room to install them all. You also need to take into consideration the heat factor as well. While we will talk more about heat below, remember that these cards will generate heat so you need to make sure there is enough room in your case to ensure proper air flow between them.
Ports on the Front
Does the new case you are considering come with ports on the front? If so, what types of ports and how many do you have? Ports on the front of a desktop are very convenient if you need to connect accessories such as headphones or even a flash drive or external hard drive on occasion. Instead of reaching around to the back of your case or, depending on your setup, digging your entire case out of its spot below your desk, all you have to do is access the front panel to connect these types of devices.
Different cases come with different options. So before you decide which case to buy, have a look at the different accessories you want to use and find out if having a port at the front for that device is important. If it is, then make sure you are only looking at cases that provide these types of ports at the front. Otherwise, you will be performing more reach arounds than you ever wanted.
Tools or No Tools
Do you enjoy using tools like small screwdrivers when setting up your desktop? In the past, this was the only way to do it. Today, however, case manufacturers have come up with many different solutions that allow you to build your computer without having to use a single tool. Sometimes, these types of cases are a little more difficult to deal with compared to the traditional screw but it is pretty cool. Personally, I have never cared either way, but to some this could be very important if they prefer not to secure the parts of their computers using plain old screws that they could drop or lose.
Batteries Not Included
Ok I admit it, we aren’t talking about batteries. Instead, we are talking power supplies. Some computer cases you buy will come with a power supply, while others will not. These power supplies aren’t usually as powerful as the ones you can buy on your own although there are exceptions to this rule. When you build a new computer, you will have to get a power supply, but you need to make sure you choose the right power supply for your computer.
Depending on what parts you are putting into your new build, you may have to take out the underpowered power supply included with the case and replace it. Your other option, of course, is to purchase a case that doesn’t come with a power supply and then put one in yourself. If you are building a high end gaming machine, that is what I would do. However, if you are just building one for basic office use, the power supplies that are usually included with most cases should provide enough power for your needs.
It’s Getting Hot In Here
One of the biggest enemies to a computer is heat which is especially important for high-end gaming PCs. Of course, everything inside a computer case generates heat. From the processor to the video card and even the hard drives, when these parts are running heat is building inside your system. Because of this, case manufacturers often include both an intake and outtake fan on the front and back of the computer case. The intake fan is usually located on the front of the case close to the hard drives. This ensures that they get a little cooling first. The outtake is often located on the back of the computer and is designed to pull the hot air away from the motherboard and other cards in the back of the machine.
Sometimes, you need to add additional fans to your system in order to cool it properly. Remember, the more fans you add and the smaller the fan that purchase, the louder your desktop will become. Ideally, you need to find the right balance with your fans. Get only enough to cool it properly and no more. That way, your system doesn’t begun a jet engine that sits next to your desk.
When you shop for a new case, you will find a huge selection available from a wide variety of manufacturers. Which one do you choose? The decision can be tough, but personally I would recommend cases from manufactures such as Antec or Corsair. If you’re a gamer, you should check out cases made by Cooler Master to get you started. If you are simply looking for something that is well built and elegant, then Lian Li makes some impressive cases. I’m not saying don’t try an unknown manufacturer, I’m just saying that some of these manufacturers have been in the case game for quite a while with many people swearing by their cases for their desktop builds.
Most people don’t give their computer case much thought even if they are building their own. They simply select the case that looks the best and is the most cost effective. But, if you want to get the most out of your desktop, you should spend a little extra time selecting the perfect computer case for your new build. Choosing the right case will allow you to get the look that you want while also giving you the amount of space you need outside for your current hardware plus any expansions you hope to make to your desktop down the road.
Remember, the right case can not only help you improve your computer, but the look of your office as well, as a great looking case will make a great addition to any office. So make your selection carefully. By following this article, you can choose the case that is perfect for your needs so you build a computer that is truly right for both you are your needs.