How to buy the per­fect PC case

PC cases come in all shapes, sizes, and fea­tures—know which one is right for your needs.

PCWorld (USA) - - Here’s How - BY BRAD CHA­COS

No mat­ter whether you treat your com­puter as the cen­ter­piece of your home of­fice or just stuff it un­der your desk, buy­ing the right PC case mat­ters.

At a min­i­mum, you want to pick a PC case that’s the right size for your needs and has room for all your hard­ware and USB de­vices. But some PC cases of­fer much, much more. Spa­cious in­nards, lower tem­per­a­tures, muf­fled sound, ex­ten­sive wa­ter-cool­ing sup­port, and fancy-schmancy tem­pered glass pan­els or RGB light­ing are just the tip of the ice­berg. Here’s a guide to buy­ing a PC case that’s per­fect for you. This is just the first step in your DIY jour­ney; be sure to check out Pc­world’s guide to build­ing a PC ( go. pc­, too.


Be­fore any­thing else, de­cide what size case you need. There are three ma­jor case sizes: Full tower, mid-tower, and mini-itx.

Full-tower and mid-tower cases both fit stan­dard ATX moth­er­boards—by far the most com­mon motherboard size out there. Both can also fit smaller mi­cro-atx moth­er­boards. Ex­act sizing varies from case to case, but most mid-tow­ers run up to roughly 18 inches high and 8 or so inches wide. Mid-tower PCS are prob­a­bly the most com­mon form fac­tor and have enough room to fit sys­tems with a closed-loop CPU cooler, a cou­ple of graph­ics cards, and a lot of stor­age.

Full-tower cases are mas­sive. They of­ten mea­sure more than 20 inches in height and are longer and deeper than mid-tower cases, which makes them ideal if you’re one of the rare peo­ple us­ing a mas­sive Ex­tended-atx motherboard. (Asus’ X399 moth­er­boards for AMD Thread­rip­per chips ( go.pc­ are EATX.)

Also con­sider a full-tower case if you plan on load­ing up your rig with ex­ten­sive (or cus­tom) wa­ter-cool­ing, stor­age ga­lore, or 3- and 4-way graph­ics card setups. Full-tower cases of­ten sup­port more fans and 5.25-inch drive bays as well. And the ex­tra el­bow room sure is nice dur­ing build­ing.

MINI-ITX cases are the po­lar op­po­site of full-tower PC cases, built for diminutive mini-itx moth­er­boards ( go.pc­ mitx). Some of these can be won­drously small and even fit in­side home theater cab­i­nets, but the tight quar­ters can cre­ate com­pat­i­bil­ity is­sues with some hard­ware. Don’t ex­pect to use liq­uid-cool­ing or a big honk­ing CPU cooler in most mini-itx cases. Some mini-itx cases don’t sup­port full-length graph­ics cards, ei­ther; con­firm the max­i­mum length be­fore you buy. Fi­nally, there isn’t much room for ex­tra hard­ware in these space-con­strained chas­sis, so you’ll be lim­ited to fairly ba­sic sys­tem con­fig­u­ra­tions. They’re great for schlep­ping to LAN par­ties, though!

Some­times you’ll see “mini-tower” cases, which slot be­tween mini-itx and mid-tower in size to ac­com­mo­date mi­cro-atx moth­er­boards. They’re rarer than the oth­ers.


Once you’ve de­cided how big of a PC case you need, the next step is fig­ur­ing out your budget.

If you’re spend­ing $50 or less, you’re prob­a­bly go­ing to wind up with a bare­bones, non­de­script case with few ex­tra fea­tures. These cases will cover the ba­sics but don’t of­fer much more. Try to pick one that has two fans, one in the front of the case and an­other in the rear, for max­i­mized air-flow, which helps cool­ing. You won’t al­ways find the op­tion in this price range, though.

One of the best budget PC cases I’ve built in is Deep­cool’s Tesser­act ($52 on Amazon, go.pc­ This af­ford­able mid-tower has de­cent el­bow room, the afore­men­tioned duo of case fans, and plenty of drive bays—though it won’t fix ex­tra-long graph­ics cards like the beastly Asus Strix. That’s solid for the price. We’ll talk about more rec­om­men­da­tions to­ward the end of the ar­ti­cle.

Things open up in the $50 to $150 price range, which has seen a lot of ad­vance­ment over the past few years. You’ll find a lot of vari­ance in both de­sign and con­struc­tion in the midrange. As al­ways, be sure to check mea­sure­ments to en­sure your de­sired PC case can fit all your hard­ware, but you’ll also want to keep an eye on ex­tra fea­tures. They’re a lot more com­mon in this price range, es­pe­cially as you move up in cost.

Fea­tures purely come down to per­sonal pref­er­ence or specifics needed for your build. Some cases are built with more fans for higher per­for­mance; oth­ers fo­cus on silent de­sign. Some, like the Cor­sair Car­bide Clear 400C ($90 on Amazon, go.pc­world. com/400c) we used in Pc­world’s all-pur­pose Ryzen 5 1600X build ( go.pc­world. com/160x), even elim­i­nate 5.25-inch drive bays com­pletely for bet­ter air­flow. You’ll start to find wa­ter­cool­ing com­pat­i­bil­ity worked into some cases in this price range, along with bet­ter ca­ble man­age­ment de­tails, tool-less de­sign, and aes­thetic niceties like RGB light­ing or tem­pered-glass

side pan­els. We’ll get into fea­ture de­tails shortly, but around $100 is the sweet spot for price-top­er­for­mance when it comes to buy­ing a PC case.

Once you ex­tend be­yond $150 or so, you should ex­pect a PC case that ex­cels in both per­for­mance and acous­tics, and one that comes with con­nec­tiv­ity op­tions and handy fea­tures ga­lore. Some of them are huge; this is where you’ll find most full-tower cases. Build ma­te­ri­als tend to be swankier in high-end cases, with alu­minum and tem­pered glass be­ing much more com­mon than in budget and mid-range cases.

You’ll also find wild con­cept cases like the mo­tor­ized In Win H-tower ( go.pc­ wint), which opens like a flower (video above), or the rac­ing car-es­que Cougar Con­quer ($350 on Newegg, go.pc­world. com/newe). Be mind­ful when you’re buy­ing a PC case that dou­bles as a funky flag­ship, though. They of­ten­times sac­ri­fice func­tion­al­ity for their ex­otic forms.


Make sure you like the look of the PC case you’re buy­ing! You’re go­ing to be star­ing at it for years to come, so this is not a su­per­fi­cial con­sid­er­a­tion. Ev­ery on­line re­tailer shows PC cases from mul­ti­ple an­gles on their store pages, so there’s no ex­cuse for buy­ing ugly.

PC cases come in all sorts of col­ors, ma­te­ri­als, and de­signs. If you don’t want to spend time neat­en­ing up your in­te­rior ca­bling, pass on cases with a side win­dow.


Aside from the ba­sic di­men­sions and price, fea­ture sup­port is the big­gest dif­fer­en­tia­tor when you’re buy­ing a PC case. The more you spend on your case, the more good­ies you’ll re­ceive. Here’s a quick run­down of many of the fea­tures you’ll find in mod­ern PC cases, start­ing with prac­ti­cal ex­tras be­fore delv­ing

into nice-to-haves that, well, are nice to have. Drive bays and SSD mount­ing points: As we’ve men­tioned a cou­ple of times be­fore, make sure a PC case has enough 2.5-inch and 3.5-inch drive bays to house your stor­age drives. Some cases in­clude mount­ing points for SSD on the rear of the motherboard tray, too. And if you need a 5.25-inch bay in the front of your PC to house an op­ti­cal drive, fan con­troller, or what­ever, con­firm your case in­cludes that. A num­ber of cases have been ditch­ing 5.25-inch bays to im­prove air­flow from the front-side fan(s)—most no­tably sev­eral Cor­sair cases.

Tool-less de­sign: In ye olden days, prac­ti­cally ev­ery­thing in a PC case re­quired a Phillips screw­driver. No more. Tool-less de­sign is nearly uni­ver­sal in mid-range and high-end cases, with thumb screws for in­ter­nal fas­ten­ing and twist-on, snap-on, or oth­er­wise tool-free mech­a­nisms in drive bays.

Ca­ble man­age­ment: Look for a case with cut-outs in the motherboard tray, which al­low you to route your ca­bling through the rear of your case. Out of sight, out of mind. Budget PC cases tend to have sim­ple gi­ant holes punched in the motherboard tray, while mid-range op­tions fre­quently in­clude rub­ber grom­mets in the holes to tidy things up even more. Some cases in­clude tie-off points or even wire cov­ers be­hind the motherboard tray to keep your ca­bling clean.

CPU cooler cut-away: Speak­ing of the motherboard tray, some nicer PC cases in­clude large cut-outs in the sec­tion be­hind your pro­ces­sor, which let you re­place your PC’S CPU or CPU cooler with­out rip­ping out your en­tire motherboard. It’s not a fea­ture you’re likely to need of­ten, but if you do, it’s a god­send.

Front-panel con­nec­tiv­ity: If you’ve got a lot of ex­ter­nal de­vices, check out the front-panel con­nec­tiv­ity of the PC case. Even cheap cases have a cou­ple of USB-A Type 2.0 ports in the front. Some will in­clude USB-A Type 3, USB-C, and even fan or RGB light­ing

con­trollers. You’ll of­ten find front-panel au­dio jacks as well, though we’d al­ways rec­om­mend plug­ging your head­set di­rectly into the au­dio jack on your motherboard’s rear I/O shield.

Fans and air­flow: The more fans you have in your PC, the bet­ter your air­flow is likely to be. At the very least, you want two fans for op­ti­mal air­flow—an in­take in the front and an out­ward-blow­ing fan in the rear. Some budget PC cases in­clude only a sin­gle fan, and your PC’S tem­per­a­tures and per­for­mance will suf­fer for it. Even if they aren’t pop­u­lated, many cases in­clude ad­di­tional fan mounts that al­low you to up­grade your cool­ing later. As men­tioned be­fore, some cases are ditch­ing 5.25-inch drive bays to re­move air­flow ob­struc­tions for the front fans, though you ob­vi­ously wouldn’t want a case like that if you needed one of those bays.

Dust fil­ters: Keep­ing your PC clean is im­por­tant. A com­puter clogged with dust and pet hair and to­bacco gunk is a com­puter that runs hot and throt­tles more of­ten. Dust fil­ters keep most of that de­bris from ever reach­ing your fans, much less your pre­cious in­ter­nal hard­ware.

Sound-damp­en­ing: Sound­proof cases keep your rig run­ning quiet, of­ten by us­ing sound­damp­en­ing ma­te­ri­als in­side the pan­els of your PC. Those ma­te­ri­als keep noise in but also tend to im­pede air­flow, so sound­proof cases of­ten hit some­what higher tem­per­a­tures than stan­dard cases. Nicer sound­proof cases like the Frac­tal De­sign De­fine S ($80 on Newegg) man­age to stay silent while also op­ti­miz­ing for air­flow by in­clud­ing large 140mm fans spin­ning at low (and hence quiet) speeds.

At the very least, you want two fans for op­ti­mal air­flow—an in­take in the front and an out­ward-blow­ing fan in the rear.

Wa­ter-cool­ing sup­port: The rise of sealed all-in-one cool­ers have made liq­uid-cool­ing more pop­u­lar than ever. If you plan to wa­ter­cool your PC, pay fine at­ten­tion to the sup­port pro­vided by your case. You prob­a­bly won’t be able to use liq­uid-cool­ing what­so­ever in most mini-itx cases, and many mid-tower cases only sup­port up to 240mm ra­di­a­tors— and place­ment of that liq­uid-cool­ing ra­di­a­tor may be lim­ited to only the top or bot­tom of the case, depend­ing on the case’s di­men­sions.

If you want a beefy 360mm ra­di­a­tor, you’ll of­ten need to step up to a full tower case, though un­usu­ally large mid-tow­ers like the Phanteks Enthoo Evolv Tem­pered Glass ($190 on Amazon, go.pc­ can some­times squeeze them in as well. Some pricier cases also have large swatches of in­te­rior space ded­i­cated to liq­uid-cool­ing reser­voirs for cus­tom loops.

Tem­pered-glass pan­els: Many newer PC cases in­clude pan­els con­sist­ing en­tirely of tem­pered glass, pre­sent­ing an un­fet­tered look at your PC’S in­ner hard­ware. It’s gor­geous, but brit­tle—han­dle with care! You’ll start to find tem­pered-glass op­tions around the $100 range.

In­te­grated light­ing: Cus­tom­iz­a­ble RGB light­ing is 2017’s big­gest craze in com­puter hard­ware, and that in­cludes PC cases. You ei­ther love RGB or you hate RGB. Ei­ther way, it’s easy to find cases that meet your aes­thetic tastes.


We don’t do many for­mal PC case reviews at Pc­world, but we’re con­stantly build­ing com­put­ers in all sorts of rigs. Here are some of our fa­vorites in each price point.


Cooler Master Elite 130: Like all budget PC cases, the Cooler Master Elite 130 ($50 on Amazon, go.pc­ isn’t fancy. But this tiny mini-itx case is a com­mon sight at LAN par­ties thanks to its af­ford­able price and easy-to-carry de­sign. It’s also com­pat­i­ble with 120mm CPU liq­uid­cool­ers and graph­ics cards up to 13.5 inches long.

Deep­cool Tesser­act: The afore­men­tioned Deep­cool Tesser­act ($52 on Amazon,

go.pc­ is a de­cent-sized mid-tower with two fans, sturdy-enough de­sign, and all sorts of drive bays. It’ll fit any graph­ics card you throw at it ex­cept for mon­sters like the Asus Strix GTX 1080 ($570 on Amazon, go.pc­


Cor­sair Car­bide 270R: The no-frills Cor­sair Car­bide 270R ($70 on Amazon, go.pc­world. com/270r) suc­ceeds in get­ting out of your way. It’s dead-sim­ple to work with, in­cludes ca­ble man­age­ment op­tions you won’t of­ten find in budget cases, and the per­for­mance you get for the price is solid. Some no­table ex­tra touches in­clude a power sup­ply shroud to hide un­sightly ca­bles, and the abil­ity to fit a 360mm liq­uid-cool­ing ra­di­a­tor in the front, a 240mm ra­di­a­tor up top, and a 120mm ra­di­a­tor in the rear.

Frac­tal De­sign De­fine C: The Frac­tal De­sign De­fine C ($90 on Newegg, go.pc­ sup­ports the same ex­ten­sive liq­uid­cool­ing sup­port, as like Cor­sair’s Car­bide se­ries it dumps tra­di­tional 5.25-inch bays in the front to im­prove cool­ing. (It also ditches all but two 3.5-inch drive bays, which may give some folks pause.) This case up­holds Frac­tal’s rep­u­ta­tion for well-built, easy-to-use hard­ware—and it’s built for si­lence, with sound-damp­en­ing ma­te­rial in­side and noise-block­ing vent cov­ers. Just don’t try to use a mas­sively long graph­ics card in the tiny De­fine C.

Cor­sair Car­bide Clear 400C: I’ve used the Cor­sair Car­bide Clear 400C ($100 on Amazon, go.pc­ in sev­eral builds thanks to its clean de­sign. The case has an in­cred­i­bly small foot­print for a mid-tower, but re­mov­able hard drive cages and the lack of 5.25-inch bays in­side give the Cor­sair 400C a ton of el­bow room in­side. Heck, I even man­aged to cram the wa­ter-cooled Radeon Fury X and a Ryzen 7 1800X ($429 on Amazon, go.pc­ with a

gi­gan­tic 240mm EKWB liq­uid-cooler in­side this thing ( go.pc­ The PSU shroud and latch-opened side panel are just ic­ing on the cake.

NZXT S340 Elite: The NZXT S340 Elite ($95 on Amazon, go.pc­ shows off ev­ery­thing with its mas­sive tem­pered glass side panel, but helps you keep things clean in­side thanks to abun­dant hard­ware space and ca­ble man­age­ment fea­tures. Other niceties in­clude an all-steel con­struc­tion, and HDMI and USB 3.0 ports on the front panel for easy us­age with VR head­sets.


Cor­sair Crys­tal 570X RGB: Pc­world’s Full Nerd pod­cast named the Cor­sair 570X ($180 at go.pc­ the best PC case of 2016 ( go.pc­, and it’s easy to see why. Rather than hav­ing a sim­ple see-through panel, al­most ev­ery edge of this beau­ti­ful beast—the top, front, and side pan­els—con­sist of tem­pered glass. That sleek look is augmented by a trio of front-side fans with cus­tom­iz­a­ble RGB light­ing that can be tweaked us­ing a con­troller on the top of the case. Tool-less de­sign and a roomy in­te­rior make build­ing in­side the Cor­sair 570X just as dreamy as star­ing at it.

Phanteks Enthoo Evolv ATX Tem­pered Glass: The home of my own per­sonal rig, the Phanteks Enthoo Evolv ATX Tem­pered Glass ($190 on Amazon, go.pc­ is a lux­u­ri­ous case built from alu­minum and tem­pered glass, high­lighted by cus­tom­iz­a­ble RGB ac­cents on the front panel. The clean ex­te­rior hides hard drive cages and power sup­ply alike, and the com­pa­ra­bly mas­sive Enthoo Evolv has am­ple room even for mul­ti­ple graph­ics card setups. Cool­ing’s a pri­or­ity, with an off­set ra­di­a­tor bracket, reser­voir mount­ing lo­ca­tions, and even a PWM fan hub. You’ll need it: The solid front panel of the case doesn’t help air flow eas­ily into the case, though the trio of in­cluded front-side fans still man­age to keep things cool.

Full-tower PCS are big.

The lack of 5.25-inch drive bays let you cram a lot of pow­er­ful hard­ware in­side the Cor­sair Car­bide 400C.

This case has a side win­dow but I took off its whole side panel for this pic­ture.

High-end cases (like this Phanteks Enthoo Elite, go.pc­ phee) of­fer much more ad­vanced front-panel con­nec­tiv­ity.

Let there be light. Or not. It’s up to you!

The Cor­sair Car­bide 270R.

The Cor­sair 570X.

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