When building a new computer, it is easy to overlook the importance of choosing a good case. Computer cases can serve the aesthetic purpose of showing off your equipment. However, the PC case you use will also determine airflow (thus performance), ease of maintenance, and access to external ports.
This article will dive into various considerations when choosing the perfect case for your PC build.
Check out my Recommended PC Cases below.
Computer case form factors for tower cases are typically defined by their supported motherboard form factor and the exterior tower size. There are often mounting points for smaller form factor motherboards in cases designed for larger motherboards.
Common motherboard form factors include:
- Standard-ATX (ATX) is the most common form factor for a desktop motherboard.
- E-ATX is a larger motherboard design than ATX that can support more memory modules and more double-spaced PCIe slots for graphics cards.
- Micro-ATX / Small Form Factor motherboards are small motherboards that can fit into compact cases.
Common tower categories include:
- Super-Towers are typically extra-wide compared to a Full-Tower. Only a few models of this type are available.
- Full-Towers are huge cases that provide ample room for a vertically mounted graphics card, multiple liquid cooling radiators/reservoirs, or extra storage. Full-tower computer cases can sometimes even have room for two motherboards/PSUs; this is called dual system/PSU support.
- Mid-Towers are standard-size cases that may provide space for an AIO radiator. This case size is appropriate for a standard air-cooled system and the size I would recommend for a basic PC build.
- Midi-Towers include case sizes somewhere between Mid-Towers and Mini-Towers.
- Mini-Towers are small form factor cases that typically only have enough room for a Micro-ATX or smaller motherboard.
In addition to running games, content creation tools, or business applications, you may also want your computer to be visually appealing. Do you want your computer to be purely a workhorse or also to be a piece of art that is aesthetically pleasing?
A case's cable routing features impact aesthetics, airflow, and maintenance.
Cases may include the following cable routing features:
- Channels/Cutouts: Holes to pass cables through various sections of the case for routing and concealing the cables
- Hooks: Anchor points for tying down cables
- Rubber Grommets: Rubber pieces to fill in unused portions of cable cutouts
- Power Supply Shroud: A metal or plastic sheet for hiding extra (non-modular) power supply cables.
Cables sprawled through a case may reduce airflow, make it difficult to access various components, and make a computer unappealing.
Cutouts can allow you to hide cables behind a motherboard or keep them under control by tying them down.
Cases can include various RGB or monotone LED lighting attached to the case itself or embedded in case fans.
Case fans are almost always replaceable, so you can swap out the included fans for ones that match your lighting preferences.
See-Through Side Panel
If you splurged for liquid cooling or components with LEDs, then you likely want to be able to see how cool it looks!
Cases with acrylic (plastic) or tempered glass windows allow you to see inside.
Tempered glass is more expensive and heavier than acrylic but is more resistant to scratches. Tempered glass can shatter into many pieces if not handled carefully.
Acrylic can scratch easily but is more resistant to breaking.
Vertical GPU Mount
Some cases include the option to mount your GPU vertically, to be visible from the side panel.
Support for vertical mounting may require additional brackets and a PCIe riser cable.
Depending on your case layout, vertical mounting an air-cooled GPU can negatively impact its cooling ability. Vertically mounting a GPU may also block some PCIe slots.
If you plan to mount a graphics card vertically, you'll need a case specifically designed to support this.
Your case's temperature depends on:
- Heat output of components
- Fan quantities, positions, sizes
- Whether anything is blocking the desired airflow
- Surface permeability (i.e., solid vs. grille surfaces)
- Liquid cooler's ability to dissipate heat via radiators and fans
Assuming you don't want to drill holes yourself, you'll need a case that includes your desired fan mounting locations.
Most cases will come with a few fans, but you may want to purchase additional fans or replace the existing ones.
Ensure that fan mounting locations match the size of the fan that you want to use.
Keep in mind that even if you don't have a fan mounted in some positions, a fan mounting location with a grille can allow for an additional airflow path.
Dust filters are washable inserts that prevent your fans from sucking dust and other particles into your computer case. Consider getting a case with dust filters to prevent dust from building up.
Power supplies have an intake fan on one side and an exhaust fan on the back. If you plan to place your PC on a carpet, consider using a case with a top-mounted PSU position to ensure that you will have adequate airflow.
Build quality can sometimes correlate with price. If you get a budget case, expect that the companies will cut some corners when designing the case.
Things that can be impacted by build quality:
- Build materials and process (will pieces break or last a long time?)
- Structural integrity (do the case components easily bend when you apply some force?)
- Inclusion of accessories such as:
- Numerous fans
- Rubber or other safeguards on sharp edges
- Tool-less thumb screws
- Extra screws
Some cases are built to target quiet builds.
For example, some cases have noise-dampening fiber material covering the removable panels. However, this typically means you won't be able to use a side-mounted fan or see-through window on that panel.
You can also reduce fan noise by using bigger fans, as they can move more air without spinning as fast.
In addition to ensuring that your case supports your desired motherboard form factor, it's crucial to ensure that your case can fit the component dimensions.
Some component dimensions to consider:
- Graphics card length: Some of the newest graphics cards are getting longer to include more fans.
- CPU cooler, liquid cooling radiator, and liquid cooling reservoir size: Smaller cases might only hold a single radiator. Large computer cases may be able to support multiple radiators.
- PSU wire lengths: While large cases allow for more flexibility in component layout, ensure that your power supply's wire lengths reach the desired locations.
Determine how many storage devices you want to be able to support now and in the future. When choosing a case, consider how easy adding or removing a storage device will be.
While you won't need storage mounts if you're only using motherboard-mounted M.2 SDDs, you need drive bays for 3.5" HDDs and mount points for 2.5" SSDs.
Many newer cases allow you to mount SSD behind the motherboard. Ensure that airflow is appropriate for the drive to avoid overheating if you mount SSDs in this location.
CPU Cooler Cut-Outs
Some cases provide access to the back of your motherboard, so you can replace your CPU cooler without needing to remove your entire motherboard.
It's often desirable to easily access some USB ports and audio jacks from the front or top panel.
Ensure that USB ports are your desired version/speed (e.g., USB 3.2 Gen 1 or faster) and port type (USB-A vs. USB-C).
Many modern PC cases have removed the 5.25-inch drive bays previously used for accessories such as DVD drives. Because most software is installable via the Internet, there's less need for DVD drives.
Without the front space of the case being allocated to drive bays, you can use the location for more fans and liquid cooling radiators.
Determine whether you want to read or write DVDs daily or if an external USB-based DVD drive would meet your needs. If you get a case with drive bays, you can also use these bays for accessories such as USB hubs, temperature monitors, and card readers.
Mid Tower - Lian Li O11 Dynamic
- Tempered glass on the front and side.
- Motherboard form factors: E-ATX, ATX, Micro-ATX.
- Supports six 2.5" SSDs or three 2.5" SSDs + three 3.5" HDDs.
- Fits up to three 360 mm radiators.
Mid Tower - Corsair ICUE 4000X RGB
- Tempered glass on the front and side.
- Supports vertically mounting a graphics card. You'll need a PCIe extension/riser cable if you want to do this.
- Motherboard form factors: E-ATX, ATX, Mini-ATX, Micro-ATX.
- Supports two 3.5" HDDs and two 2.5" SSDs.
Mid Tower - Fractal Design Define 7
- No windows, which is a plus for those who are more focused on utility.
- Sound dampening material to help reduce fan noise.
- Motherboard form factors: E-ATX, ATX, Micro-ATX, Mini-ITX.
- Up to fourteen 3.5" HDD bays + 4 SDD mounts.
- The front panel (top) has five USB ports, including one USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type C port.
- Fits a variety of radiator configurations.
Full Tower - Lian Li O11D XL
- Tempered glass on the front and side.
- Motherboard form factors: E-ATX, ATX, Micro-ATX, ITX.
- Fits up to three 360 mm radiators or two wider 280 mm radiators + one 360 mm radiator.
- The front panel has one USB 3.1 Type C port and four USB 3.0 ports.
- Supports ten 2.5" SSDs or six 2.5" SSDs + four 3.5" HDDs (hot-swappable).
- Can support vertically mounting graphics card with a vertical mount sold separately.
Full Tower - Corsair 700D Airflow
- Tempered glass on one side with a steel front panel grille.
- ATX motherboard form factor.
- Fits up to three 360 mm radiators, in addition to other combinations.
- Supports vertically mounting a graphics card.
- Supports ten 2.5" SSDs or four 2.5" SSDs + six 3.5" HDDs.
Want to brush up on other new technologies to consider when building a computer? Check out these articles:
- CPU Coolers:
- Graphics Cards:
- Power Supplies: