Heavy Metal Armor – An Introduction to Cases

Greetings everyone! Since I’ve been mesmerized by the NZXT Phantom 410 a lot lately (it’s the case I’ve chosen for my next PC’s concept, and I can’t wait), and also the Corsair 760T, to some extent, I’ve decided that I’ll write about cases today. So, as you should’ve known, the case is like a desktop’s armor, or, if you are like me, dress. Princess gown, even. With that being said, contrary to most other components, a case’s looks may very well be one of its main characteristics, so don’t be shy to choose a case that looks beautiful to you, as long as it’s from a reputable brand. However, like all other electronics, looks are not the only thing to consider when buying a case, as there are many other aspects that make a case special, too!

Sizes and Form Factors


The first thing to look at in a case is perhaps whether it’ll fit your motherboard’s form factor. I’ve gone over this in my blog post about motherboards, so i’m gonna copy-paste the info here:

  • Mini-ITX: The smallest common PC motherboard form factor, for mini PCs.
  • mATX: The micro-ATX is the smallest motherboard form factor for a normal PC. Mini-tower cases can fit these motherboards.
  • ATX: The standard form factor for mid-tower cases and above. Most cases that support ATX will also support mATX.
  • E-ATX: Stands for Extended ATX. This form factor is larger than ATX and is meant for full-tower cases and above. However, some larger mid-tower cases can also fit these boards. Most cases that support E-ATX will also support ATX and mATX.
  • SSI-CEB and SSI-EEB: Standard multi-CPU motherboard form factors for mini-servers and workstations. The SSI-EEB is larger than the SSI-CEB, but most cases will opt for it anyway, which will also result in most SSI-EEB-compatible cases to support SSI-CEB boards. These boards will also normally support mATX, ATX and E-ATX.

As you can see, each form factor also corresponds to a certain case size standard, which are:

  • Mini-ITX cases can only fit mini-ITX boards and nothing else. They are the most compact kind of cases, but they are further divided into two styles: the cube-style cases and the tower cases.
The BitFenix Prodigy, a cool cube-style Mini-ITX case from BitFenix. Image courtesy Hardware.info
The BitFenix Prodigy, a cool cube-style Mini-ITX case from BitFenix.
  • Mini Tower cases can fit mini-ITX and mATX boards, but normally won’t support ATX boards and above. Although they are quite rare in the 1st world now, they can still be seen commonly in poorer countries, such as my own.
The BitFenix Pandora, a rare Mini-Tower in the serious PC building world, and also my favorite mini-tower case. Although it has a mini-tower form, it has mid-tower features... and price. Oh, the logo on this particular case is actually a mini display, and thus can be changed. Neat, huh?
The BitFenix Pandora, a rare Mini-Tower in the serious PC building world, and also my favorite mini-tower case. Although it has a mini-tower form, it has mid-tower features… and price. Oh, the logo on this particular case is actually a mini display, and thus can be changed. Neat, huh? (Image courtesy eteknik)
  • Mid-Tower cases are the medium size, which can support ATX boards and below. Some mid-tower cases can also support E-ATX or SSI-EEB, though these are rarer and also a bit bigger than other mid-tower cases. However, despite their technical compatibility, mid-tower cases usually won’t leave much space after you’ve installed an ATX board (or above) in it. (For example, your PSU will overlap your motherboard, instead of having an area of its own)
The NZXT Phantom 410, my favorite mid-tower case, and also the case I'm drooling for.
The NZXT Phantom 410, my favorite mid-tower case, and also the case I’m drooling for. (Image courtesy dailytech)
  • Full Tower cases can support all kinds of boards, and will usually also leave ample space for customization.
The Corsair 760T, my favorite full-tower case, and also my dream case. It's also a rare case with a full-frame window, if not the only case of the kind.
The Corsair 760T, my favorite full-tower case, and also my dream case. It’s also a rare case with a full-frame window, if not the only case of the kind. (Image courtesy bit-tech.net)
  • There are also cases larger than Full Tower, but they don’t have a consistent name. Some brands call them Ultra Tower cases, some call them Full Tower+ cases, others call them Super Tower cases, etc. These cases are normally reserved for extreme builders with tons of custom water cooling.
The CaseLabs Magnum TX10, quite possibly the largest PC case to date.
The CaseLabs Magnum TX10, quite possibly the largest PC case to date. (Image courtesy CaseLabs Forums)

Cooling Capabilities


This may surprise you if you are new to this field, but a case is not merely a container. Its cooling capabilities are also very important for a serious builder, let’s see how:

  • First, the case provides the appropriate fan mounts and water cooling outlets to install the cooling appliances, such as the case fans or radiators. There are three types of fan mounts: 120mm fan mounts for… 120mm fans, 140mm fan mounts and 200mm fan mounts. Not only the size, but the number of the fan mounts on a case is also crucial if you want to stably and efficiently cool your system. As for water cooling outlets, there are only one common type of them, and most mid-tower cases and above have them nowadays, so you shouldn’t worry too much. However, older or low-end mini-tower cases may not have them.
The CoolerMaster HAF X is a rare case with 2 200mm fan mounts at the top, one of which has a pre-installed fan. It's also one of the meshiest cases out there! (Image courtesy bit-tech.net
The CoolerMaster HAF X is a rare case with 2 200mm fan mounts at the top, one of which has a pre-installed fan. It’s also one of the meshiest cases out there! (Image courtesy bit-tech.net
  • Coolers’ clearance is also important. This is closely related to the size and width of the case, since that’ll decide how thick of an air cooler (waterblocks are often pretty thin, thinner than the stock cooler, even, so you won’t have to worry too much about them) you can install, or whether you can install such things as a RAM cooler (yes, they exist, too). You should also research how thick of a radiator can your case supports before it touches the RAM modules (or perhaps even other parts of the computer, if you plan install the radiator somewhere other than the top).
If you have a smaller case, you may not be able to install large air coolers like this Phanteks PH-TC14PE.
If you have a smaller case, you may not be able to install large air coolers like this Phanteks PH-TC14PE.
  • Aside from the location of the fan mounts, the case’s structure itself, especially its location of meshes, can also affect the temperature of the components, since it helps shape the airflow through the case. The dust filters on a case are also important, in regards to their quality and modularity (how many dust filters you can easily take out for cleaning), since they help block dust from entering the case, reducing temperature while making it cleaner. However, some low-end cases may not even have dust filters.
In-Win is mostly known for their
In-Win is mostly known for their “Open-Air” chassis, such as this H-Frame. The “king-size” version of this case is also currently one of the most expensive cases on the face of the Earth! (Image courtesy xtremehardware.com)

Customizability


However, a case’s most important aspect for a builder is not cooling, maybe not even aesthetics, but customizability, the ability to upgrade and customize the inner components easily.

  • First, the case’s number of drive bays are crucial. There are two main types of drive bays:
    • The 3.5-inch drive bays are for installing regular-size (3.5-inch) HDDs and, since most of them have already been designed to also support 2.5-inch drives nowadays, also SSDs and laptop (2.5-inch) HDDs.
    • The 5.25-inch drive bays are for installing ODDs (Optical Disk Drives, also commonly known as “CD drives”), or other case accessories such as a 5.25-inch bay radiator, a fan controller, or the controller for the NZXT HUE LED kit. Most 3.5-inch HDDs that are enclosed in HDD heatsinks must also be installed in a 5.25-inch bay.

      The Lamptron CW611-B, a 5.25-inch bay fan controller that can also control water-cooling pumps.
      The Lamptron CW611-B, a 5.25-inch bay fan controller that can also control water-cooling pumps. (Image courtesy Lamptron)
    • There are also 2.5-inch drive bays for SSDs and laptop HDDs only, but they are quite rare on desktops. You can find them on some mini-ITX cases though, or really serious cases that offer as many bays as possible.
With 5 5.25
With 5 5.25″ bays, 6 3.5″ bays, and 6 other 2.5″ bays, the Phanteks Enthoo Primo is one of the cases that can hold the most drives. (Image courtesy Hardware.info)
  • Next, the case’s size is also of utmost importance. A bigger case means more space to move your hand around and also more space to install irregular components (Corsair Link modules, internal fan controllers, LED strips, cathode lights, etc.)
Mr. JayzTwoCents' Skunkworks. Building such a complicated water-cooling system with large extra radiators is a common reason for considering a large case.
Mr. JayzTwoCents’ Skunkworks. Building such a complicated water-cooling system with large extra radiators is a common reason for considering a large case.
  • Afterwards, the case’s mounting systems. Most decent cases should be tool-less in and out nowadays, which means you won’t need a screwdriver in order to work with the drive bays or most of its screws, though you can always use one if you want to. Some cases even have a window with a latch, which you can open like a car’s door! However, the main distinction lies in the quality of the tool-less system, its sturdiness and ease of use. Plus, some low-end cases may still not be tool-less.
Aside from the Corsair 760T (featured on the... featured pic), its successor, the Corsair 780T, also has a window with a latch. I personally don't like this one as much as the 760T, though. (Image courtesy Hexus)
Aside from the Corsair 760T (featured on the… featured pic), its successor, the Corsair 780T, also has a window with a latch. I personally don’t like this one as much as the 760T, though. (Image courtesy Hexus)
  • Then, we should look at the case’s support for cable management. A good case should have many cable outlets built in the most appropriate parts of the case’s interior for you to bring the cables to the other side of the case comfortably, then have a lot of space on the “cable chamber” (at the other side of the case, preferably 2.5-3cm thick at least) for you to be able to close the case comfortably without breaking anything. In most cases, the bigger and more complicated the build, the more cables there will be, so this is of utmost importance to serious builders.
The Corsair 900D, one of the most prestigious builder cases, have an equally good cable management system with a large cable chamber.
The Corsair 900D, one of the most prestigious builder cases, have an equally good cable management system with a large cable chamber. (Image courtesy Overclockers.co.uk)
  • And lastly, some cases also have built-in accessories such as HDD docks, fan controllers, or even a customizable RGB LED kit!
NZXT's Phantom series is known for its built-in NZXT HUE LED Kit on the higher-end models. This is the largest case in that series, the Phantom 820.
NZXT’s Phantom series is known for its built-in NZXT HUE LED Kit on the higher-end models. This is the largest case in that series, the Phantom 820. (Image courtesy bit-tech.net)
  • You can also consider a case with a window, in order to monitor your system’s components to see if there’s any damage or irregularities, admire their beauty, and put all those LEDs to work!
Having such a large window, like on the Corsair 760T, is very good for lightshows like this. This certain fellow even put some anime figures INSIDE the PC, for good measure. (Image courtesy Youtube)
Having such a large window, like on the Corsair 760T, is very good for lightshows like this. This certain fellow even put some anime figures INSIDE the PC, for good measure. (Image courtesy Youtube)
  • Needless to say, the case’s build quality and materials are extremely important, too. After all, you wouldn’t like an armor to be easy to break!
  • This is not a major point, but CoolerMaster also offers a fully modular case in the name of MasterCase 5! Please take a look, if you have the time.

Some Cases Brands Worth Considering


  • Corsair is one of my two personal favorite case brands. Their cases offer very high-quality materials with either a refined look (for the Obsidian series) or a beautiful-but-not-so-aggressive look (for the Graphite series and some other cases). They are also known to have ample space (especially for the hi-end Obsidian cases) and high customizability.
  • NZXT is my other favorite case brand. Their cases once again offer very high customizability with a futuristic but elegant look. However, they also use plastic in some of their case designs, but it’s only used for aesthetic parts and shouldn’t degrade the overall structure.
  • Contrary to the aggressive looks of most gaming cases, or the futuristic looks of NZXT and Corsair, Phanteks cases offer equally high customizability (if not more so) with extremely rigid materials inside a cool industrial look. Your PCs will truly look like the data factories they are!
  • In-Win may just be the most creative cases company out there, and maybe even one of the most creative PC components companies of all time! Most of their serious cases are quite exotic with a lot of bells and whistles (I mean, they even had a case that, sorry, freaking TRANSFORMS!) However, I must say that those cases are mostly for show, though, and the really exotic ones are also VERY expensive!
  • Want some really, REALLY serious cases? CaseLabs should be your go-to destination. They make GIGANTIC cases for the most extreme of builders, and they can do a lot of case mods, too. That being said, they are in no way cheap, though. Their cases also go with an industrial style, perhaps even more so than Phanteks!
  • BitFenix is another good case manufacturer with a simple, elegant look on most of their cases. I really like their Pandora cases, in particular. (…Seriously though, most PC components and peripherals with “Pandora” in their name tend to be good. I don’t know why)
  • Not my personal cup of tea, but apparently many people found Fractal Design‘s simple, professional-looking cases highly alluring. Their cases also boast silent operation, though of course I haven’t got the chance to test this personally.

And that’s all for my blog post about cases! The case contributes most of your PC’s appearance, so I hope you’ll choose yours wisely and I also wish to see some of your case choices! Well then, see you again, and happy building, everyone.

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