This digital age is the perfect time to really personalize your personal computer. Gone are the days when all CPUs look alike, and with all the designs and aesthetic modifications available, you’re bound to find a chassis that will suit your taste and perhaps, your room’s interior design. But more than a fashion statement, the CPU case is the backbone upon which you’re going to build your PC. Getting the right case type, size and features is even more important if you’re planning to assemble a computer from scratch, and the surest way to do it is to know your choices from the inside out.
Types of Cases
This type was the standard during the late 80’s to mid 90’s. The most common setup is to put the monitor on top of the CPU itself, making it the ideal chassis for workstations with limited space. The only drawback is its obscurity. Since manufacturers are focused on producing tower cases, desktop types are left underdeveloped, so that in the long run, it’ll be harder to find a model that has enough bays and slots to hold all the necessary pieces and still provide enough room for upgrades and drive expansions.
Most CPU boxes today are tower or vertical types. It has no real edge over the desktop format, but since it’s more popular these days, companies have tailored it to have several subtypes that will cater to certain niches. First, there’s the full tower case, the largest of the subtypes. It usually stands at 22” and has about 6 or more drive bays. Computers being groomed for high-end gaming, critical data storage or other memory-intensive functions are best housed in a full-tower because it can accomodate more drives and still provide enough space for ventilation and sophisticated cooling systems. Mid-towers are slightly smaller than full tower cases (roughly 20” with 2-4 drive bays). They comprise the bulk of all the CPU boxes in use and in the market today because most PC owners are either casual users or gamers who won’t benefit from too much or too little space for storage expansion. Finally, mini-towers have one to two external bays and a height of no more than 16”. Because of its size, this subtype is the ideal choice for users who require only the most basic functions from a PC and have a limited working space.
Home Theater PC Type
Though it houses the usual PC components and stands horizontally like the desktop type, the home theater PC (HTPC) format has enough features to be considered an entirely different category. It has an additional interface for playback and LCD screen that resembles a DVD/VCD/BluRay disc player more than a regular CPU.
Motherboard Form Factors
In this field, remember that a case can accomodate other motherboard sizes smaller than the one it’s built for. However, it may or may not be able to hold the larger ones.
FlexATX, MicroATX, MiniATX
With dimensions 9” x 7.5”, 9.6” x 9.6”, and 11.2” x 8.2”, respectively, the flex-, micro- and miniATX are designed to fit the smallest CPU cases like the mini-tower type. These motherboard sizes usually have room for only two RAM slots, a PCI-E 16x slot and four to six SATA ports and are valued more for their compact size rather than their performance.
The ATX is the most common motherboard size being used today. Its measurements, 12” x 9.6” are big enough to hold mid- to high-end features like four/six RAM slots, at least six SATA slots, two graphic card slots and effective cooling mechanism.
EATX and EEATX
It may have the same width as the ATX, but the extended ATX (EATX) format is longer by 86mm. The enhanced extended ATX, meanwhile, is even wider than the EATX by 42mm. And since they’re both larger, they’re more capable of accomodating more performance-boosting features such as PCIE ports for graphic cards, SATA controllers and audio cards. Consequently, they can only fit in the largest of CPU cases.
Number of bays
The two drive bay form factors supported by most boxes are the 5.25” and the 3.5”. They are further classified as external or internal drive bays depending on whether or not you can see them without opening the case. External bays also hold drives that can usually read storage devices such as CDs, DVDs or memory cards so they really need to be in a place where they can be opened from the outside.If you need to install 2.5” HDD SATA drives, you may need to purchase mounting brackets for them to fit in 3.5” drive bays. The number of drive bays you’ll need will depend on your purpose. In the latter part of this guide, you’ll see the recommended number of drives for different types of users.
Cases can be made either of aluminum, steel or acrylic. Aluminum boxes, being lighter and more efficient in dissipating heat, is naturally more expensive than their steel and acrylic counterparts and are more apt for use in high-performance PCs. The average case can support two fans at different locations: an 80-90mm cooling at the front side and a 120mm fan or more than one 90mm fan at the rear. However, larger cases allow you to install additional fans for better ventilation. Just bear in mind that larger fans make less noise, so the bigger the fan a case can support, the better.
Some CPU cases may come with a power supply unit. The thing with this type of promo is that, most likely, the PSU provided have the right specs to serve your purpose. For example, an ATX/microATX mid-tower, may be packaged with a 250-300W power supply which is enough to power a low- to mid-end PC while an ATX full tower may come with a 400 watt- or higher PSU.
What you’re looking for in this area is convenience. Front or top panel ports offer an easy way for you to connect peripherals via USB, firewire, and other input/output docks without having to reach for the back of the CPU. If you’re planning to put the CPU on the same level or higher than the monitor, then you’ll benefit from a front panel port, but if you’re going to place it on the floor, you’ll be better off with a top panel type.
Some cases offer more convenience at an extra cost. “Toolless” types are those that don’t need screwdrivers to assemble because they use hooks instead of screws. There are also those called “quiet” PC cases because they support efficient cooling systems that doesn’t create too much noise.
How to choose a CPU case
If you’re an average home user, an ATX/microATX, mid- or mini-tower with at least two 5.25” external drive bays, and at least two 3.5” internal drive bays will already be sufficient. If instead, you’re building a HTPC/Media Server CPU, then an ATX/microATX desktop/HTPC type will come in handy for as along as it has two or more 5.25” external drive bays, at least two 3.5” internal drive bays and 1-2 cooling fans. For gaming and other memory-intensive functions, you’ll need a case that will accomodate future expansions and has ample ventilation and cooling system. An aluminum ATX full tower is an obvious choice, with side air ducts, at least two cooling fans, and a minimum of five 5.25” external as well as 3.5” internal bays.