Monday, 31 August 2009

How to find the Best Custom Computer Cases

Welcome to building computers for beginners. The first step when considering building your own computer is to find the best computer case for your requirements.

The computer case is a much more important hardware component than most beginners to computer building would imagine. They are now available in numerous computer form factors, colours, styles, shapes, materials and custom designs. Computer cases are also referred to by several names and descriptions often defined by their specifications and intended use. Computer cases are also called known by the following terms:- PC case, chassis, box, enclosure, housing, cabinet and base unit.

An entire technological language of pre-fixes has emerged to describe and differentiate between types and sizes of desktop computer cases, towers and chassis. Firstly, the computer form factor defines the physical dimensions of the computer system's components. Standard form factors ensure that hardware components are interchangeable amongst competing manufacturers. There are hundreds of different computer standard form factors but the most widely used for desktop computers is ATX which stands for Advanced Technology Extended. If you are intending building your own gaming computer an ATX (large) computer case would provide the best cooling options. As stated these are big computer cases and have a lot of room inside making the build slightly easier. Home or business computers are suited to smaller Micro ATX computer cases (but you can also use a large ATX computer case).

Standard Form Factors

• ATX - Advanced Technology Extended
• Micro ATX and EmbATX
• Mini ITX
• Nano ITX
• Pico ITX
• Micro BTX or uBTX
• WTX (Workstations)

The internal workings of a desktop computer may be interesting to some people but for most of us it is just a lot of cables and circuit boards with a few LED's. A popular trend in computer cases has been the introduction of transparent cases. Although considered an unusual case they do offer some practical benefits because it is possible to see whether cooling fans are working properly. Computer cases are often differentiated by a descriptive prefix (or suffix) to indicate the type of design, material and colour of the box. The days of dull grey and beige computer towers with bland appearances have long gone. The most popular colours of computer case are Black, White, Silver, Pink, Red, Blue and transparent (or with clear panels). Another popular trend amongst custom computer builders is the introduction of personalised case badges, stickers and decals. There is also a growing market in modified (aka modded) PC cases.

There are plenty of computer case manufactures making the choice of selecting one much more difficult. Some of the names are well known for certain types of case such as gaming or budget cases for home and business machines. I've compiled a list of some of the most popular brands of computer chassis.

• Xcase
• Xblade
• Asus
• Gigabyte
• Arianet
• Lian Li
• Nexus
• Thermaltake
• Coolermaster
• Zalman
• Antec
• 3ADL
• Silverstone

It is important to find the right computer case for the computer system that you are building. If you are building a desktop computer for a girl they might like it in pastel colour (maybe pink - but probably best to ask them first).

What is the Best Computer Case?

It is dependent on whether aesthetics (the way it looks) is an important factor. When computers are built to be sold by retailers they need to look good even though this does not affect their performance or reliability. Most people make a purchase based on the physical appearance of the system. This stands to reason because given a situation where two identical computer systems are for sale side by side. One of them is dented, scratched and has a poor build quality the perspective buyer is likely to select the other one. However having a clean appearance does not guarantee good performance or reliability. A computer that has a good appearance on the outside suggests that it has been assembled correctly by a competent computer builder. In other words if you want to build computers to sell they have to be of a very high standard of build quality.

Not all computer enthusiasts are looking for a silent or quiet computer case but most people put noise suppression high on their list. It is more important to try and find a case that has good cooling performance without the addition of expensive water pumps and coolants. When building a computer slide-out hard disk bays make the process much easier and quicker. This style of case is also better suited to builds that use large graphic cards because often the centre bay can be removed making more space inside the case.

Look for the position of the I/O user connection interface for USB and SATA II, firewire, mic jack, and headphone jack etc on the computer case. Sometimes these are positioned on the top, rear or on the front.

The defining factor will always be the price because no matter what type of computer you are building the case will have to fit in with your budget.

Rackmount Computer Cases

As a beginner to computer building you may come across the term Rackmount Case on your travels. These cases are a specially designed form factor for computer servers that are fitted into a rack (hence the name Rackmount).

I/O Panel for Motherboard

On the back of most desktop computers there is a panel of interfaces where you can connect all of your devices. Motherboards that comply with the same form factors do not have the same arrangement of ports and connections. To ensure compatibility cases have a pop-out I/O panel on the back. Simply press out the generic panel and replace it with the I/O panel supplied with the motherboard (making sure it is the right way up and facing outwards).

I hope this has been a useful post for anyone finding it difficult to find the right computer case for their first custom build. Now that you have found the ideal computer case for your self build project read my next post about finding the best motherboard

Its time to start putting this thing together!

Marvin Africa


  1. Hi Marvin -

    Thanks for the informative post. I'm a beginner looking to build a computer for fun and home use. Looking for a simply no-frills case - what do you think about this? Thanks again!

  2. Hello PhD,
    It looks like a reasonably good value computer case but there are some things to consider. ATX means it will be a large case - which makes it easier to build (especially if you have big hands) and also allows for good airflow around the components.

    I know that gamers like coolermaster computer cases because they have mesh panels that keep internal components cool. In my experience the panels do not always align perfectly and have poor noise suppression. [Some people are funny about excessive computer noise - but I'm not one of them]

    The reviews of this case are generally favourable but it has been stated that the drive bays are difficult to configure. I would investigate this further because all drives need to be fixed securely in the computer case.

    I think that it would be a good idea to find a list of comparable computer cases in your price range and select the best (or most popular) of the bunch.

    Good luck with your computer building, I hope that it all goes to plan.


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