Xoxide Resource Center: Buy PC Cases

How to Buy a Computer Case

Author: Dave Melchiore

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Case Size | Case Material | Final Considerations

So the time has come to build a new PC, and you already have a good idea of how you want it to perform. Perhaps you already know exactly what components you are going to put in your case, but what about the case itself? If you need help sifting through the myriad choices available to computer builders, this article will be of benefit to you. After you have read the article, exploit the information you have gleaned by checking out Xoxide.com’s vast selection of PC Cases.

Case Size

The first thing to consider when selecting a case is size. How much room do you have for this computer? If space is not a limiting factor, go with a full tower case, because it will provide the best cooling and most room for upgrades. If you must fit the computer into a smaller space, a mid-tower ATX case will do nicely, because they were designed exactly for that purpose. If you want a tower case but have very little room, a mini-tower case will suit you. Finally, if you need to store your computer horizontally (underneath the monitor, perhaps), a desktop case is the best choice. You can shop at Xoxide.com for all computer cases.

Average Case Dimensions
  Height Width Depth
Full Tower Cases 24" 8" 18"
Mid Tower Cases 18" 7.5" 19"
Mini Tower 14" 7" 15"
Small Form Factor Cases 9" 10" 14"
Desktop/HTPC Cases 6" 17" 16.5"

Once you have determined what size best suits your needs, you must take into consideration the size of the motherboard you have selected. If you select a Mini Tower case, you will need a motherboard which is micro-ATX compatible. Conversely, if you selected a full ATX motherboard, a mini tower case will probably not be able to fit it. Make sure the motherboard and case you purchase are compatible size-wise; it would be a real bummer to have all of your parts arrive one day, and just as you’re about to start putting your computer together you discover that your motherboard doesn’t fit in your case.

Motherboard Fitting Chart
  Extended ATX ATX Micro-ATX
Full Tower Cases Yes Yes Yes
Mid Tower Cases Maybe Yes Yes
Mini Tower No Maybe Yes
Small Form Factor Cases No No Yes
Desktop/HTPC Cases No Maybe Yes

Case Specifications

When choosing case size, space confines are not the only considerations which need to be made. Different size cases can hold different numbers of components. A full tower ATX case usually has two or three external 3.5” bays (for floppy drives and some fan controllers), between 3 and 6 internal 3.5” bays (for hard drives), and usually 5 or 6 external 5.25” bays (for CD drives, DVD drives, fan controllers, etc.). Naturally, this is the type of case you would want if maximum upgradeability is a concern. A mid-tower ATX case usually has two external 3.5” bays, four 5.25” bays, and between two and four internal 3.5” bays. A mini-tower case usually has between one and two external 3.5” bays, between one and two 5.25” bays, and between two and four internal 3.5” bays. A small form factor case usually has two 5.25" bays, zero or one external 3.5" bay, and two internal 3.5" bays. A desktop case usually has two external 3.5” bays, two 5.25” bays, and between one and three internal 3.5” bays. Make sure you take into consideration the amount of expansion room you will need when choosing a case.

Drive Bays Chart
  External 5.25" External 3.5" Internal 3.5"
Full Tower Cases 5+ 2-3 3-6
Mid Tower Cases 4 2 2-4
Mini Tower 2 1-2 2-4
Small Form Factor Cases 2 0-1 2
Desktop/HTPC Cases 2 2 1-3

Case Material

Now that you have a size picked out, what about the materials? The three most common materials for case construction are steel, aluminum, and acrylic. Steel is the most common, because it is inexpensive and strong. Aluminum is more expensive than steel, but looks better (in most people’s opinions) and conducts/transfers heat more effectively, leading to cooler case temperatures and longer component life. Acrylic is designed for extreme case modders due to its transparency and relative cutting ease. Acrylic will not cool as well as either aluminum or steel because acrylic is a thermal insulator, meaning it does not conduct heat very well.

Case Materials
  Thermal Conductivity Aesthetic Appeal Cost
Steel Cases Moderate Low Low
Aluminum Cases High Moderate High
Acrylic Cases Low High Moderate

Final Considerations

Now you have a size, motherboard configuration, and material picked out, there are a number of other things to keep in mind when selecting a case. Make sure to note whether the case comes with a power supply of adequate wattage and quality to power your system. The power supply is the most important component in your computer; it is recommended that a standalone power supply is purchased from a reputable manufacturer regardless of whether the case contains a power supply or not. Most Computer Power Supplies are inexpensive and cheaply built, and will not be adequate for a high-end computer or one which is being overclocked. In addition, you will need to pick a case which will meet your Computer Cooling needs. This subject is gone into more in-depth in our Computer Cooling Article; just remember to pick a case with adequate room for fans of the proper size and position. Finally, if you are planning on water-cooling your computer, a full-tower case is recommended because the extra room will be needed for the reservoir and radiator.
Now you know all that you need to select the right case for your situation. When you’re ready, browse our huge selection of over 300 Computer Cases or use our Xoxide Advanced Case Search to find exactly what you are looking for.

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