Monday, July 22

PC Builder – Choosing a PC Case

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Although they might not have seen the sort of massive changes most other PC components, your choice of case for your build is now much wider than it was just a few years ago. From simple black boxes, to LED-lit windowed showcases, there is a case style out there for everyone. But choosing a case should be about more than just looks. Quality and features vary greatly, and getting this key component right can mean the difference between a good and a great first build.

Making Your Choice

As with any purchase, there are several things you need to consider before you choose a case. Get things wrong here can mean a difficult build, or additional expense later.

Choice 1 – Case Size

Unless you have a very specific function planned for your PC (media Box or portable), it is best to choose the size based on the hardware you want to fit inside. For most first time builders, a Mid Tower probably the best mix of size, budget and range of styles available. If your initial build is a stepping stone to a gaming rig later, you might want to think about getting a E-ATX case from the start. You can read more about the different case sizes available on the next page.

Choice 2 – Build Budget

If you are on a tight budget with this build, you are probably going to get better value for money with a mATX case. You can expect to pay anything from £25 to £300 ($30 – $350) for a mATX case, depending on brand, quality and features. You really don’t need to spend a fortune, with very good quality starter cases available from around £40 ($45). You can expect to pay closer to £100 ($115) for a half-decent E-ATX case, and double that for a high-spec one. Our advice is to go for a cheaper big-name case (Thermaltake, Coolermaster, Corsair, Antec, etc.,) rather than a flashier one from a lesser known brand.

Choice 3 – Case Style

This is very much a personal choice. Some builders will like the windowed, vented and LED-lit gamer-style cases, others will prefer the understated black box style. There are cases in almost every style imaginable, but just make sure that you don’t choose style over substance. If a case is cheap but seems to have a lot of external design elements, it could well be that the quality on the inside is lacking. Our Thermaltake Core V31 is a nice mix of understated and modern gamer, with a window to show off the inside, a sleek mesh front and great build quality. All for just £40 ($45).

Choice 4 – Case Features

Although this should probably be higher up the list, we have found that it usually isn’t. It is very easy to find two very similarly priced (and externally styled) cases, which differ hugely in the more technical features they provide. A good case should, in our opinion, include at least two 120mm or 140mm fans, a usable front panel with USB, audio, etc., should be made mainly of metal (and be careful that the metal isn’t wafer thin), and ideally should be tool-less, with removable drive bays.

Case and PSU

As you browse the online stores for a PC case that suits your needs and wants, you will likely see cases which come with a PSU. These can seem like good value, but our advice is to be wary. Cases that are bundled with a power supply usually fall more into the budget category, as do the power supply’s which are thrown in. You can shave your budget slightly by buying like this, but just be cautious, and check the spec of each before you buy.

PC Case Sizes

There are several different case sizes available, from Mini ITX to Full Tower. Styles and sizes vary within these form factors, but certain rules always apply.

Full Tower (E-ATX)

Full Tower, or Extended ATX, cases are generally larger than the standard ATX cases, and almost always the most expensive off-the-shelf cases you can buy. E-ATX cases are mostly designed to be gaming or server cases, with lots of room inside for massive graphics cards (some high end GFX cards are up to 30cm long), water cooling radiators and case fans. Full Tower cases usually have more expansion slots at the back, at least two (and up to four) front fans, and a side-panel window. These large cases are normally only suitable for E-ATX and ATX motherboards.

Midi Tower (ATX)

Midi Tower or Mid Tower were originally known simply as Tower or ATX cases, but since the arrival of E-ATX, the more descriptive name is used to show that they are between full and mini towers. Mid Tower cases are where you will find the most choice, and probably the best value for money. You can spend a little or a lot, and as long as you choose carefully, still get a case perfect for your build. ATX cases will usually accept ATX, Mini ATX and Micro ATX motherboards, but it is worth double-checking before purchase. Our case is a midi tower.

Micro ATX

Micro ATX, which are often labelled as mATX or Cube cases, are perfect for those with a lack of space, and who don’t need to fit high end GFX cards, water cooling, etc. Just as with any other type of case, mATX cases are available in a range of styles, and at a range of prices. Smaller doesn’t need to mean cheaper and less innovative. Building a PC with an mATX case takes a bit more planning than the previous two sizes we have discussed. Most graphics cards that will fit in an ATX or E-ATX case, without you having to think about it, won’t fit in many mATX case. The same applies to large CPU coolers.

Mini ITX

The smallest of the four main case form factors, ITX or Mini ITX are most often cubes, but you can also find some that are like mini tower cases. These allow for very compact builds, for media PC’s, and often include features which allow them to be moved around easily (carrying handles, etc.) You will have to use a special ITX motherboard with this type of case, but you should be able to fit a mid-sized graphics card into many of them. The ITX form factor is a fairly recent addition to the PC case ranges, and because they are quite specialist, your choice of styles will be slightly more limited that with more common sizes.

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Russ has been immersed in the world of technology since talking his way into a computer journalism job 25 years ago. If it is shiny, complicated and has LED's and a screen, he will want to master it.

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