Building a PC is now more accessible than ever. There are many ways to find compatible parts, and a quality rig can last longer than any console. As someone who, primarily, has been a console-based gamer for most of my run, I understand the perception that building a PC is intimidating or complex—so much so that I've gamed on consoles because I think they're as close to "plug-and-play" as is possible today. Luckily, however, building a PC is not as difficult as you might think; the hard part is doing the research and figuring out what you want from your machine. With a little bit of know-how, you'll come to see the connections between different parts are straightforward. In this guide, we'll take a closer look at cases, specifically.
There's a lot more that goes into choosing the right PC case than what you see on the surface. Sure, aesthetics play a role, and we'll consider different kinds of cases later, but your PC case needs to do more than just look good. It houses your different components, so naturally the first thing we need to confirm is its ability to accommodate all your parts.
While it doesn’t have to be the first part you buy, deciding on a case early will make it easier to plan your build. For example, one of the first and most important factors you should consider is the size of your motherboard. PC Part Picker is a great resource to help plan your build and determine the compatibility of a case based on your motherboard selection.
However, there are other points you might want to consider before deciding on a case. For starters, your case's design and layout will have a huge effect on airflow and your cooling setup. For example, you might find it challenging to get a water-cooling setup up and running in a small form factor case. Some cases can physically accommodate up to a certain radiator size, too, so if you're planning on using an AIO cooler, it might not pan out. Good airflow is also one of the most important things to pay attention to when choosing a case. Your components (especially your CPU and GPU) will suffer without it and eventually overheat and possibly lead to other problems. Thankfully, you don't have to break the bank on a case with good airflow. Some cases like this 4000D Airflow Mid-Tower Case, from Corsair, even come with fans right out of the box, so they're worth considering if you want to free up your budget elsewhere.
If you have a use for them, drive bays are also something to look out for in a case. Although NVME SSDs are more popular than ever, traditional storage bays can still be an affordable alternative to adding a ton of storage if need be. You should also pay attention to the front panel I/O options baked into the case. While most of the ports will come from your motherboard, a few USB ports on the front or top of your machine are always useful to have.
Regardless of the physical layout of the case, another element to consider is cable management. Different manufacturers have different approaches to cable management, and some do it better than others. Cable tie-downs and cutouts can help reduce clutter and make your build look a whole lot neater. If you're the kind of person who wants to see little to no exposed cables, some manufacturers, like MSI, even make special cases like the MAC PANO M100R PZ Mid-Tower Case that support back-connect motherboards.
Of course, aesthetics play a huge part in case selection, but since that's pretty subjective, we won't dive too deeply into that topic. Regardless of the look you want for your build, there is a lot of variety in design from popular manufacturers like Lian Li, NZXT, or Fractal Design. One of the most popular design elements of the last few years is tempered glass sides. Some cases even feature them on multiple sides, like this O11 Mini-Tower Case from Lian Li. Other cases combine different materials, like this mid-tower case with wood accents from Fractal Design. Cases like this look great and seeing your build in action when you're done is pretty rewarding.
Now that we have a better understanding of some of the key features we might want in a case, let's look at some of the more common types you're likely to encounter.
Mini-ITX and Mini-Tower Cases
If you're not completely up to speed on how PC case sizes are determined, they're designed to be compatible with standardized motherboard sizes, usually indicated as ITX, ATX, or EATX. Mini-ITX and Mini-Tower cases fall on the smaller side of the spectrum. For the purposes of this guide, we won’t get too far into these, since they're not the most approachable builds for beginners. They're quite small and cramped to build in and some cases might have unique caveats.
They do feature some of the most unique designs, however, like this Terra case from Fractal Design or the Computer-1 Mini Tower Case from teenage engineering. Most Mini-Tower cases usually support Micro-ATX and Mini-ATX motherboards, but you might find the occasional mini-tower case that can support a full-sized ATX board like the O11 case from Lian Li mentioned earlier. These smaller cases look great and are the way to go if you're looking to save a little desk space, but make sure your components fit! GPUs are only getting bigger so you can run into difficulties if you're unsure about the measurements.
Mid-Tower and Full-Tower Cases
For most people, mid-tower cases offer the most flexibility. You really can't go wrong with a mid-tower, especially since you can always scale up or down as you get a clearer idea of the other components that will go inside. These cases usually accommodate ATX boards, which are the most widely available and have plenty of room for other components. You'll also have plenty of options to choose from with mid-tower cases. Also, since they're inherently larger, airflow won't be nearly as much of a problem for these cases.
Full-tower cases are huge. Most full towers can accommodate any kind of board, including extended ATX (EATX), with room to spare. Some full towers like this absolutely behemoth-sized Obsidian Series 1000D case can even support two completely different systems running concurrently. This one is set up to run an E-ATX and Mini-ITX system. If you're wondering why anyone would ever need to do that, it’s designed to game and stream from one enclosure with no compromises. If you have the room, these cases are widely available, but for most beginners it's probably a bit over the top unless you're an enthusiast looking to build an absolute monster of a PC.
Whether you're looking for something a bit more subtle and understated or aiming for the fully RGB-kitted-out fish tank aesthetic, it’s hard to go wrong when choosing a case. Most cases are pretty accessible for beginners, and with a bit of pre-planning, it’s easy to find the right one for you. Having a mental checklist, whether it's for a small form factor or expandable storage slots, will also make your search much easier. I highly encourage you to do your own research and seek out videos of other people building in a case in which you might be interested, too. Not only will it give you a sense of the entire building process, but you’ll also be able to reference it once you're finally ready to start putting yours together.
With a better understanding of some of the above factors, you should have no problem finding the right case for your build. For those willing to put in a bit of time, piecing together your PC part by part can be worthwhile in the end. Not only will you save money, but you’ll also have a more granular understanding of how the components work together.
Let us know how your building journey is going in the Comments section, below!