For many PC builders, especially first-timers, the case isn’t often of prime concern. It might not be the most exciting component of your new build, but it’s definitely important. The right case for your unique selection of components can make or break your overall PC experience. It can also determine how much you can customize your build in the future. This tutorial offers a series of tips for choosing the right case for your PC build.
Have an old laptop laying around the house? Salvage some parts before getting rid of it.
Brand and Budget
When it comes to a PC case, the brand and budget should be your primary concern. While there are many options, all are not reliable. Some manufacturers will cut corners with the build quality or performance to undercut the competition. It is always best to stick to the more reputable brands to avoid any issues.
When it comes to budget, there’s no need to spend a ton of cash on your PC case. Simply go with a popular brand, such as Lian Li, Corsair, Cooler Master, Phanteks, Fractal Design, be quiet!, NZXT, or similar. You can easily find great options within your budget from these brands.
Compatibility With Your Components
When selecting components for a new build, it’s natural to gravitate toward the latest RTX graphics card or newest generation processor from AMD or Intel. Yet, you don’t want to find yourself in a position where your components aren’t compatible with the case.
Hence, it’s worth spending some time to make sure your case can physically accommodate the parts you intend to put inside it. If you’re in the process of researching parts for your build, check out our list of the best custom PC builder websites.
Motherboards can come in different sizes, namely:
- ATX – Standard ATX boards measure 12 x 9.6 inches (305 x 244 mm), are spacious and have additional features.
- Extended ATX or eATX – Measuring 12 x 13 inches (305 x 330 mm), eATX offers even more PCIe lanes and RAM slots than ATX.
- Micro-ATX or mATX – Compact 9.6 x 9.6 inches (244 x 244 mm) boards for smaller cases.
- Mini-ITX – 6.7 x 6.7 inch (170 x 170 mm) boards for ultra-compact cases.
Depending on the size of the motherboard you’ve selected, the choice of the case can differ. PC cases typically come in three sizes: Full Tower, Mid Tower, and Mini Tower (or mini-ITX.)
Both a Full Tower and Mid Tower case can fit any of the four standard motherboard sizes, though the mid tower case has a reduction in overall dimension. A Mini Tower case can only fit a mini-ITX motherboard. Even a micro-ATX board cannot fit.
Over the years, graphics cards have been getting beefier and demanding more space inside cases.
Several large graphics cards with two- or three-slot coolers can extend up to 5.9 inches (150 mm) in width. This is the specification you should be most concerned with. While graphics card lengths can go up to 12.6 to 13 inches (320-330 mm), most Mid Tower and Full Tower cases can accommodate these lengths.
The width of your graphics card should be well within the clearance limit of the case you’re planning to buy. Even budget cases offer clearance of up to 6.7 to 7.1 inches (170-180 mm) for graphics cards.
CPU Air Cooler
Another aspect of your PC case that’s extremely important is the CPU clearance it offers. If you’re planning to cool your processor with an air cooler with a massive heatsink, you’ll need to check whether there’s enough room for it.
Most modern cases will offer up to 6.7 – 7.1 inches (170-180 mm) of CPU cooler clearance. There are some cases from Cooler Master, Corsair, and Phanteks that go beyond this, allowing coolers up to 7.8 inches (200 mm) to be accommodated easily.
Tip: learn how to pick the best CPU cooler for your PC by checking out our guide.
All-in-one or AIO liquid coolers are getting increasingly popular among PC builders, especially for modern CPUs that run “hot.” AIO coolers come with radiators that are mounted either behind the front or beneath the top of your case. Check your case spec sheet to ensure it has the necessary space required to mount 9.4 inche / 240 mm, 11 inche / 280 mm, or 14 inch / 360 mm radiators, depending on your AIO model.
A huge part of a case’s performance is how well it manages airflow inside it, allowing components like the CPU, graphics card, and storage drives to cool themselves properly.
Airflow is determined by how much air intake is available to your case, how efficiently it can push hot air out, and how spacious its internals are. If you’re building a high-end gaming or productivity build, you’ll probably need the most airflow you can get.
Cases that have a mesh at the front, top, or side can allow more cool air inside than those without a mesh.
In addition, you may want to look for cases that ship with built-in case fans. This will not only save you some money but also reduce the hassle of installing fans. Your case should also have a few slots where you can install additional case fans if you wish.
Are you building a PC for Linux? Here’s a list of tips you should take into consideration.
PC cases can get noticeably loud under load, and the added noise can get annoying quickly. You can check the Gamers Nexus channel for their excellent thermals and noise comparison between dozens of cases to help you pick the best for you.
For those of us who are building systems for the long run, choosing a case that allows upgrades in the future is a must.
You might want to upgrade your graphics card a year or two down the line or swap out your processor for a new one that requires a larger AIO cooler. Adding additional storage drives would require extra mounting slots or trays.
Such upgrades are a natural part of every PC’s lifecycle and preparing for them would save you money and headaches in the future. You should try to narrow it down to a case that offers the most flexibility in your chosen budget.
- SSD bays and HDD trays behind the side panels or at the top of the PSU shroud offer a clean way of adding more storage to your system.
- Compatibility with larger radiators at the front or top can allow you to cool higher-end chips when you eventually upgrade.
- Upgrading from a micro-ATX to an ATX board can be easy if your case already supports ATX motherboards.
On the hunt for a good CPU for gaming? Check out our list and you could find one (or more) worthy of your attention.
We want our PCs to look good. Spending hundreds or thousands of dollars and countless hours on building a PC would not feel nearly as good if your PC didn’t look the part.
RGB and Visuals
RGB lighting can transform a simple case into a fully decked-out beauty that you can show off to your friends. With cases that come with ARGB fans preinstalled, you can sync your case lighting with that of the rest of your components to create a uniform look that you can’t stop admiring.
You can even color-coordinate your case color with that of your graphics card and CPU cooler, create an all-white build, or simply go for cases that can audition for the next Transformers movie.
Cases that come with tempered glass side panels let you peek inside your PC and actually look at all the RGB goodness you’ve created.
With everything that’s going on inside your case, there are bound to be a bunch of cables in every direction. Without routing and tying your cables properly, achieving a clean-looking build is nearly impossible.
Good cases come with ample cable management features, such as:
- Hooks and loops to tie cables together at a common point
- Rubber grommets to route cables through
- Clearance behind the motherboard to stash some cables
- Modular parts to add/remove according to your needs
- PSU shroud to hide the inevitable jungle of PSU cables
Cable management is tough to perfect for first-time builders, but the right case will let you do a half-decent job of it.
If you’re planning to game or do video editing work on your PC, you may want to get acquainted with VRAM. Learn how to check and increase VRAM.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is a big or small PC case better?
It depends on your needs. If you aren’t a heavy user, a Mini Tower will be a great option for you. If all you want is ample airflow and cooling to go with your high-end build, a Mid Tower (and above) will usually hit the sweet spot.
How many fans should a PC case have?
The bare minimum for the number of case fans is two: one working as intake and the other as exhaust. Modern mid-range cases come preinstalled with at least two to three fans. A good configuration is three fans working as intake at the front and one or two working as exhaust, either at the back or top. You can refer to our guide on the best fan configuration for a deeper discussion on case airflow.
Which should I choose: micro ATX or ATX ?
mATX boards offer many of the features of standard ATX boards, like multiple PCIe and RAM slots, but ATX boards boast better cooling capabilities and aesthetics. The choice depends on your budget and your case preference. mATX boards can be ideal for builders on a budget or those looking for a low-footprint PC tower.
Image credit: Unsplash. All original photos by Tanveer Singh.
Our latest tutorials delivered straight to your inbox