Even so, your computer’s case is very important. If you’re thinking about building a new computer, or upgrading an old one, your first thought shouldn’t be “what’s the fastest processor I can afford?” Instead, it should be “what kind of case do I need?”
The case you buy will determine the size of your computer, the hardware you can stuff inside, the cooling you can provide to components and the noise your computer will generate.
So with that said, let’s geek out about computer cases for a while.
My! What A Big Case You Have!
Obviously, the size of the case you use determines how large your computer will end up being. That’s obvious, right? Yet I’ve sometimes had friends buy a case that was entirely wrong for their needs simply based on size. Get friendly with a tape measure! There are no real size standards in the case business (at least not in regards to external dimensions), and “eye-balling” it won’t do.
With that out of the way, let’s talk about something a bit more subtle – the inside dimensions of a case. Although cases with larger external dimensions do tend to have more space inside as well, the way that space is configured will have a big impact on the type of system you can build.
Here are some questions you should ask about the internal space of any computer case.
- What motherboard formats are supported? (Mini-ITX, MicroATX and ATX are the most common).
- Does it have enough internal and external drive mounts to hold all of my stuff?
- If you have a solid state drive, does the case have a mount that will accept it?
- How many fans can be installed, and how large are they?
- Will my video card fit, and is there room for future upgrades?
- Will my CPU cooler fit, and is there room for future upgrades?
The first four questions are easy to answer based off the publicly available specifications. The latter two however are tricky because these measurements are usually not addressed in publicly available specifications. I suggest that you delve into the reviews of the case online and take a look at user reviews. You may not find exact measurements but you will probably find someone who installed (or tried to install) the same hardware you have.
Keep Your Cool
Having proper cooling for your computer is essential. Note however that when I say “proper” I don’t mean building a system that polar bear cubs could hibernate in (as cute as that would be).
Ask yourself – what kind of system will be in this case? If you’re constructing a family computer that will be used to watch YouTube videos and send e-mails you don’t need much. One intake fan and one exhaust fan will be fine.
On the other hand, you will need much better cooling if you’re going to use your system to play recently released games or generate 3D renderings for the next Pixar film. If this sounds more like you, I suggest taking look at cases that offer an additional intake fan and, if possible, a second exhaust fan either on the rear of the case or the top.
If you’re not sure what category you fall into, here’s my suggestion. If your video card is more than six inches long, consider yourself in the second group. If you have a quad core processor and you absolutely need it to get stuff done, consider yourself in the second group.
Also keep in mind that bigger cases usually cool better than smaller ones. Having your hard drives getting friendly with your video card and your optical drive getting friendly with your CPU cooler will increase temperatures.
Agh! That Noise!
One of the greatest side-effects of increased hardware efficiency has been a general reduction in the overall noise. Remember those huge room-size computers in the 50’s and 60’s? Man, those things made a racket! Alright, I wasn’t born then – but I did watch a show about them on the History Channel.
The point is that many personal computers are quiet these days. You may, as a result, be unhappy if you end up with a case that telegraphs your computer’s every action straight to your skull. Thankfully, there are some things you can look for in a case that will help reduce noise.
Let’s talk fans first. Fans spin, and as they spin they make noise. More fans will generally make more noise than few fans. Smaller fans also generally make more noise than larger fans (this is counter-intutive for some – the reason for this is that a small fan has to spin faster than a large fan to generate the same airflow). If you care about noise you should look for cases with only a couple of large fans.
Also be on the lookout for features that reduce hard drive noise. Mechanical drives can make a lot of rackets, particularly if they’re screwed directly to the case frame. Look for a case that has rubber hard drive mounts. Also look for cases that provide sound insulation. These are relatively rare, and they’re usually not the best for cooling, but they’re fine for family PCs and they will make your computer whisper quiet.
Computer cases may not be cool, but they’re kind of a big deal. Even the least geeky among us can understand why its bad to have a computer that sounds like a jet engine and overheats when you try to play a game. These tips should help steer you towards the right case, but if you have any other tips that you feel are important please let us know in the comments.