What to Look For in Desktop PC Cases

Buying the right case for your desktop PC can be just as important as picking up the right power supply, processor, or graphics card. Contrary to popular belief, your case makes a big difference on your system’s longevity and serviceability throughout its lifetime. It protects your computer’s components from the dangers of open exposure, facilitates air flow, and makes it easier to extend and service your existing PC components.

I’m not going to try to tell you that your case will speed up your computer or have any direct impact on performance, but I will state that how well your PC cools makes a giant difference on its longevity. Components that get too hot run the risk of shutting down or even breaking. A good case coupled with well-placed fans can provide optimal cooling without sounding like a jet engine preparing for takeoff.

Here are some things to consider when making your next desktop PC case purchase.

Air Flow

One of the first questions to ask yourself when building your own desktop PC is how you’re going to handle cooling. Unless water cooling is your method of choice, you’ll want to consider how the case deals with air flow. Does it provide mounts for fans in the front and back? Are there any side panels with fan mounts or a blow hole?

Ideally, air should flow in the front and out the back in one smooth motion. Somewhere in the middle of this path sits the processor with its own cooling fan and even your graphics card. Both of these components get considerably hot and if the hit air being released by these fans isn’t removed from the case, it’ll cycle through over and over until the component overheats. Dedicated graphics cards at least handle their own extraction, but extra air flow certainly helps.

Because heat rises, a blow hole (fan mounted on the top of the case) makes some sense, but it doesn’t exactly make a huge difference on standard designs. It’s more useful to have a fan mounted to any areas that don’t receive sufficient air flow than to worry about heat rising. It won’t rise if it’s being pushed out of the case through the back.

Both Antec and Cooler Master are exceptionally good brands when it comes to case design that maximizes air flow. There are plenty of companies out there that make excellent designs for cooling overclocked components, these just happen to be the two I’ve gone with and would personally recommend.

Footprint

The next thing to consider is footprint. Do you need a case that takes up half of the space under your desk? What about a smaller case that is made to sit under your monitor or behind it? These are questions everyone building a PC should be asking themselves. Bigger is not always better, and unless you’re adding a dozen hard drives and four Blu-ray burners into your PC, there’s no need to go all out.

The biggest area people get caught involves PCI cards. Going with a larger motherboard that accommodates two graphics cards means having a little more room at the bottom of the case to do so.

Weight

This factor isn’t so much of an issue these days when LAN parties aren’t quite as popular as they used to be. Still, why lug around a 50 Lb. computer when you can get a case that does the same job at a quarter of the weight? Aluminum (in moderation) is a light material, as is plastic. Going with a case that doesn’t utilize excess heavy metals for the sake of having excess heavy metals can save you a backache down the line when it comes time to move.

I’ve regretted full server tower case purchases in the past for this very reason. Going with something light and easy to move around (without sacrificing cooling) will make more of a difference than you think. Just ask anyone that has had to move Mac Pros from one room to another. Those things weigh a ton.

Bottom line: You should go with something that works for you. All the windows and flashing lights in the world make little difference when it comes to extending the life of your computer. There are plenty of options out there that combine function and form.

Do you have a case that you’re particularly proud of?

Image: Antec

8 comments On What to Look For in Desktop PC Cases

  • Good article. I might be building a PC soon and this may help me. Though most cases you see are Mid Tower cases. Because Full tower is big.
    I think an addition to this article would be Cable management. It’s important because it makes things look better, and makes air flow better.

  • Very good Article … as i have the Thermaltake Spedo for those of you that dont know this is a fairly large tower with LOTS of room for upgrades and various other options. The Lanboy Air would be my next option as i have been drooling over that case for months now guess it all depends on what your looking for and what you want it to do …. Happy Modding 🙂

  • hey thats a great timing, actually i was going to buy myself a decent pc case as i m upgrading to a new pc, yeah these points definitely help making my decisions easier, thanks!

    P.S. – if u guys haven’t done already would u also please post what to look when buying a decent GPU? thanks!

  • Thanks for the article and perfect timing! I will probably be upgrading soon. With liquid cooling the issue of airflow isn’t as big of a concern so much as the room needed for everything to fit with room to spare for my hands to move around to get components in and out without completely tearing down the rig. The thing I am having a hard time finding is a case with serviceable filters for the vents to keep dust to a minimum. I also would like to get a case that has three 5.25 expansion slots that has USB 3.0 slots on the front of the case. Any suggestions?

  • Great article. These tips I think are very beneficial to those who are just jumping onto the computer building bandwagon.

  • This is great for computer building. I might just build one for kicks. Give it an SSD with a sweet graphics card! Plus, give it Wifi capabilities. The HP desktop we have doesn’t have wifi. We literally have to plug an ethernet cable into it. Hello, it’s 2012. All computers, Mac and PC are wireless, in terms of internet not power. But wireless power might come in a few years.

  • Building computers is cool and brings back memories, but i think PC building is a thing of the past if only because of the cost associated with it. Anyone can pickup a PC with comparable specs for normally cheaper than actually building it. That being said, for people who are looking for PC cases and are into this, it’s a beneficial article.

  • i never built a computer but only think of how easy or hard it is to open in order to clean out dust from the inside. some cases i had were very hard to open. plus they had all the important info on the of the unit toward the wall. of course, that’s when everything was so heavy. oh well…

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