Long gone are the days of dull beige rectangles. Nowadays, computer cases come in various shapes, sizes, colors, and designs and with much better features than ever before. Computer gaming can create a tremendous amount of heat as rendering graphics works that processor harder, over clocking creates even more so keeping that processor cool is extremely important if you don’t want to turn it into a paper weight. Many case manufacturers now integrate system or CPU cooling features right into the case. Most come with at least one system fan of 80mm and as big as 120mm for cooling with options to add as much as 5 fans. Problem with fans is the noise.
Water cooled systems, like the radiator on your car, are gaining popularity as a computer geeks alternative to cooling with noisy fans. Water cooling computer cases is a noiseless way of keeping that CPU and GPU cool and tells everyone you're on the leading edge of case modding. As more exciting products like cooling fans with LED, artistic case wraps, bright neon lights and cathode tubes get introduced into the market, modifying and upgrading computer cases will continue to gain popularity. What these breakthrough innovations mean to you is simple—better choices and better technology. Even still there are some things to keep in mind when selecting a case. There’s nothing worse than cutting yourself on a sharp case edge or not being able to put a fan in the front bezel because no mounting holes exist.
- Size (Tower, Mid-tower or Mini ATX) Aluminum or steel or acrylic (aluminum dissipates heat better)
- Room for upgrades
- Pull out motherboard tray
- Slide out component trays
- Power Supply
Cases have 3 basic categories of sizes with minor subcategories of each. Servers are usually housed in the largest of cases, the tower. These cases normally come with their own rolling cart and have upwards of 10 drive bays or more. Unless you really plan on running a web or network server there is no need for a home user or gamer to own that type of case. But, that’s your own choice, after all the more case to mod the better, right?
Mid-tower cases are the size most home users have and are the most popular size of cases. About the size of a large brief case, a case this size is perfectly adequate for the majority of gamers and home users. A step down from the tower size case, this case usually has 3 – 5 drive bays plenty of cooling options and most custom computer cases now come with an acrylic side window to see the “guts” of your madness. As monitors have become sleeker and less of a space hog, so to have computer cases.
Micro or mini ATX cases have the smallest footprint of all the cases, about the size of a large shoe box. These are great space savers and compliment the décor of a living room much better than a large custom tower. However, you have to then consider the downsizing of all the components including the motherboard. A “mini” requires a micro ATX motherboard which won’t fit in a regular mid-ATX case. Cooling is limited to usually only one large 120mm fan and you will only have room for 1 hard drive, 1 CD or DVD drive and if lucky a floppy drive. You’ll be pretty hard pressed customizing these cases due to the size. One consideration would be using these in a home network and server configuration. Have your server tucked away in a closet with a Zalman water cooler and use these minis in your kitchen or office as workstations.
Aluminum or Steel Most cases are made of stamped steel painted beige or black and have a simple plastic bezel slapped on the front. If you consider yourself a real “modder” you better step up to an aluminum case. Aluminum is much lighter than steel, has a nicer finish, dissipates heat much better and won’t corrode. Lian Li has made a name for itself making all aluminum cases as well as Antec.
Want to see all those cool aluminum RAM heat spreaders on that 1GB of Corsair memory you just installed? Get an all acrylic case then. Made entirely of clear acrylic sheets these cases are gaining popularity and really provide a unique look — literally —into the world of case modding. These cases come in clear acrylic or UV reactive acrylic. When selecting this type of case not all are created equal. You can’t weld acrylic so most are either glued or bolted together. Stay away from glued cases if the epoxy is not mixed just right the seam can break in only a few weeks of use. Look for acrylic cases that have reinforced corners with some type of metal bracket or brace, not just butted together with screws. Look for acrylic cases that are pre-assembled, after all you’ve got cool components to install that are frustrating enough you don’t need the headaches of case assembly 101.
Room for Upgrades Will this new case give you enough space options for the continual advancement of your computing addiction? Micro ATX cases are cute, don’t take up a lot of space and stylish but not the choice of a hardcore gamer. A full tower you can just about hide a small child inside but unless you run your own network, is the largess really worth it? Most mid-tower ATX cases provide ample room for upgrades as well as full customization for water cooling or other system cooling.
Pull Out Motherboard Tray Theres nothing worse than trying to fit a tiny screw in between two capacitors with big fingers inside a 6” or 8” deep case. …it’s a pain. A removable mother board tray is like Tylenol to a headache. There is some space consideration with a pull out tray but is well worth it if you’re the type that plays around with a new motherboard every few months.
Slide Out Components Tray Being able to easily access your hard drives, CD and DVD drives makes modding all that more fun and headache free. With slide out component housing you can add your component to the housing first before popping it into the rail housing. This saves your fingers from trying to manipulate that DVD burner into the top rail when you already installed the PSU, not to mention get those tiny case screws inserted into the rail to fasten the drive to it! Not all cases offer this feature but if you’re in the market for a new case try to find one that does. Your fingers will love you for it!
Power Supply Computers suck some pretty good juice. Then you wan’a run those 8 UV reactive fans, 4 cathode tubes and a 2 million candle power search lamp just to tick off your neighbors! You can’t use that little electric shaver power supply for that kind of rig. Serious modders know that your PC components are only as cool as the quality and quantity of power supplied to them. You can pick up a no-name psu with clear acrylic and pretty LEDs from Xoxide or Newegg for maybe less than $10 but is it worth it in the end? It’s not if frys your $3000 rig. Power supplies are one thing you better put your money into and not go white box or generic brand. Stick to names like Antec, Enermax, Thermaltake and Raidmax have quality products at fair prices. Another item to consider is Intel P4 and AMD k7/k8 compatibility as well as the ability to supply power to the new serial ATA drives. Power supplies can last a long time, maybe you change over to an AMD 64 rig from a P4 at some time in your next half-life. Have power supply, will carry, no need to buy a new one.
Cooling Rendering graphics found in all computer games can work a pc hard increasing the heat created by the video GPU, the CPU, memory and chipset as well as the power supply. Even more so if you over clock. If you demand performance you better keep that stuff cool. Fans are the most common source of cooling in fact most cases include a fan or two as part of the package. Fans come a three standard sizes from 80mm, 90mm and 120mm. There are all kinds of different variations of these like a basic ball-bearing fan and things like brush-less fans. Fans also come in different colors utilizing small LEDs installed in the acrylic to give a very cool lighted effect. UV reactive fans glow a certain color when exposed to UV light which is common in many case mods today. ATX 2.01 specifications require the PSU to exhaust hot are out the back of the PSU thus drawing the hot system air up and out via the supplied PSU fan. Keep that in mind when adding fans to your system. You can get pretty decent cooling by adding just 1 more 80mm intake fan to the front of the case. As this fan sucks air into the bottom third of the case but not up, the PSU sucks that cooler air up and over the motherboard and CPU and then out the back of the PSU, provided you have a two-fan PSU.
With all the amazing features that are available today and those that are on the way, everyone will now be able to make their computer fantasies come true by making the most incredible computer cases the world has ever seen- or at least your friends have ever seen. As a result, computer cases will no longer be mundane rectangles. Instead they will be transformed into works of art based on the extraordinary imagination of their creators. As long as people embrace casemodding, rules will be broken, boundaries will be crossed, and the unimaginable will become possible.
© Copyright 2005 Greg S. Wirth, All Rights Reserved.
Greg S. Wirth writes articles on computer cases, case design, power supplies and case modding. A certified IT specialist he builds & mods his own PCs as well as others and is webmaster of http://www.cool-computer-case.com