Things to Consider When Choosing a Computer Case
past, computer cases were all very similar… Clones of the same
boring, beige box. With all of the choices available today, this is no
longer the ‘case’, and people can use their systems’ chassis as a means
to express themselves and to set their system apart from the rest.
Although appearance may be a big one, it isn’t the only factor in the
selection process and the following items should be considered when
shopping for a new computer case.
1. Form Factor
different sizes of motherboards, which in turn require different cases
to house them. Case form factors share the names of the motherboards
they support, and some of the common ones include ATX, Micro ATX (mATX),
FlexATX and Mini ITX. ATX motherboards are perhaps the most common,
and the largest of the four, measuring at most 12″ x 9.6″ (305mm x
244mm). A Micro ATX board is at most 9.6″ x 9.6″ (244mm x 244mm), a
FlexATX is 9.0″ x 7.5″ (229mm x 191mm) and a Mini ITX comes in at a tiny
6.7″ x 6.7″ (170mm x 170mm). ATX and mATX are by far the most popular
motherboard sizes for consumer motherboards, and hence, most cases are
made to support one or both of these sizes.
A mATX motherboard can
obviously fit in a smaller enclosure than an ATX motherboard, and
therefore there are different size cases available to match. The larger
cases are generally downward compatible with smaller from factor
motherboards, but the opposite is not true. For example, someone with
this Amptron mATX motherboard could save a few inches and install it in
this 14.25″ tall mATX case, or pick something like this black ATX case
that stands just a bit taller at 16.5″.
Many branded systems (ones
that you may buy prebuilt and with preinstalled software) are usually a
combination of a standard form factor (such a mATX) with some type of
proprietary design (usually in the front panel switches and it’s
cabling) and buying a new case for these types of motherboards can be
tricky. Some branded systems also use lesser used form factors such as
NLX and LPX (which employee riser cards for the expansion slots) and
finding replacement cases for these type of systems can be a very
difficult and pricey endeavor.
A smaller system may be desirable
where space is tight, but larger form factor cases provide more room for
multiple drives and other peripherals, and a smaller motherboard may be
better suited to a larger case in a system such as this.
may go along with form factor in many respects, but even while
considering cases of the same form factor, there can be variations in
size in a few respects. Areas where size can vary are in overall
dimensions, the number of exposed 5.25″ and 3.5″ bays, and the number of
ATX cases obviously need to be large enough to
hold an ATX motherboard; some are just large enough, while others seem
cavernous in comparison. If a case needs to fit under a low shelf, or
between items of a certain width, it is important to choose an
appropriately sized case. Cases come in two basic configurations when
it comes to their size and shape, either desktop or tower. Desktop
cases are wider than they are tall and are oriented so the motherboard
lays flat, while tower cases have the motherboard standing upright, and
come in three basic heights… mini tower, mid tower, and full tower.
Tower cases are more common these days, and currently the only style in
the Computer Geeks case inventory.
The number of exposed drive
bays is generally in direct proportion to the overall size of the case. A
higher number of exposed 5.25″ bays may be desirable for those with
more than one DVD or CD drive, removable drive racks, and fan
controllers. Exposed 3.5″ bays are generally occupied by floppy drives,
Zip drives, fan controllers, and things like this 9-in-1 Card Reader,
and in most cases you may get one or two of these bays, maximum. This
case is very similar in appearance to this other one, but they have one
difference that may prove to be a huge factor. They both have four
exposed 5.25″ bays, but one has two exposed 3.5″ bays while the other
only has one. If a user had a floppy drive and the 9-in-1 card reader,
they would either have to choose to install only one, or use an adaptor
and take up one of their 5.25″ bays.
Internal bays are generally
reserved for hard drives, and systems with multiple drives require the
necessary space. So, if a user decided he really wanted a yellow
colored case, but needed room for five hard drives, he would be forced
to choose this one (5 internal drive bays) over this one (4 internal
Cooling is a critical feature to
consider when selecting a computer case. High end systems can generate a
good deal of heat, and the case needs to be adequately cooled to keep
the system running and stable.
The basic configuration for case
cooling involves having one intake fan on the lower portion of the front
surface, and one exhaust fan higher up on the rear surface. This
allows cooler air to be drawn in, passed over the various heat
generating components, and exhausted out the back. There are many other
cooling configurations available that may provide improvements in terms
of cooling performance and noise.
One way to decrease noise, and
perhaps move more air, is for a case to use 120mm (4″) fans instead of
the usual 80mm (3″) fans, as larger fans don’t need to spin as fast to
push the same volume of air. This A-Top Z-Alien utilizes a 120mm
exhaust fan that also features another key feature to good cooling. The
fan grill is very open, meaning that there will be minimal resistance
to air flow and reduced noise as the air rushes past it. Many fan
grills are made from perforating the case’s sheet metal, and they do not
provide enough open area for good airflow.
Another approach to
better cooling is to throw more fans at the heat. This Matrix case adds
another fan to the side panel which will draw cool air in right on top
of the processor and video card, two of the hotter items in a system.
Other cases will add an exhaust fan to the top of the case, which pushes
the heat out just like a chimney.
No matter the approach, cooling
is one area that needs close consideration when it comes to cases
intended for today’s high powered systems.
4. Installation Features
a system into a case can be a time consuming affair, which can become
annoying to those who find themselves in a continuous cycle of
upgrading. Many cases now include convenient features to make
installation much simpler, and far less time consuming
these convenient installation features include a removable motherboard
tray, removable drive cages, tool-less expansion card mounts, tool-less
side panels, and tool-less drive rail systems. Being able to remove the
motherboard tray and drive cage makes it easier to work on those
specific areas in the open, and having a tool-less system for mounting
drives or cards means there is no need for screws or a screw driver.
Definitely time savers!
Although the listing on the Computer Geeks
site does not specify it, this X-Blade ATX case features both a
removable drive cage and tool-less drive rail system, according to this
5. Convenience Items
It is not enough for a case to
house a computer system any more, it now needs to multi-task. Having
regularly used connections on the front or top of the case is one common
convenience feature that many people look for. Cases such as this
A-Top Z-Alien model let users forget about the annoyance of reaching
around the back of their case to plug things in, as USB, Firewire,
headphone and microphone jacks are located on the top.
are available that take convenience to another level by including
clocks, digital thermometers that monitor specific components, and fan
controllers to help maintain a healthy balance between noise and cooling
A few years ago cases only came in
one color and one basic style… plain beige boxes. If you’re nostalgic
for the olden days of computer cases, Computer Geeks still has one for
sale in this style, the KG-200. But cases now come in styles from mild
to wild, and in a whole rainbow of colors. Some have large windows in
the side panel to show off the case’s insides, some include special
lighting effects, and some have appearances that might scare the kids.
At this point there seems to be few limits in case design, but there are
always classically styled cases in updated color schemes for those who
want something modern looking, but nothing too intense.
7. Power Supply
cases are sold with a power supply included, but this power supply
might not be the correct one for the system to be installed inside of
it. An adequate power supply needs to be chosen to meet the demands of
the system, and this may very well mean buying an additional power
supply to replace the one included, or selecting a different case with a
more appropriately sized power supply.
For example, someone may
decide their high end gaming system would go well in this black ATX
case, but the included 300W power supply may not be strong enough for a
top notch graphics card, multiple drives, water cooling, and other power
hungry peripherals that might be installed.
are many factors that go into selecting an adequate case for a computer
system, including the seven mentioned above. What may wind up being
the most important factor was not discussed, but can hopefully be
addressed by balancing the importance of these factors… price.
Computer cases can cost anywhere from several dollars to several hundred
dollars, meaning that a tight budget may decide which of the other
features is really all that important.