Computer Hardware

How to Choose a Good Computer Case & Fans

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The computer Case

computer case fan chassis RGB LED
source: wikimedia, Mikael92320, Mod Quad SLI 2, CC BY-SA 3.0

The computer case is the recipient of all the internal components of your computer. It also allows you a physical interface to interact with the internal devices in a few ways.

A good case will make your life much easier when you build your computer, during maintenance, upgrades and even for easy operations day-to-day.

Have a look at our article on assembling all your computer components together if you want to learn how to build your own dream computer yourself.  But if you prefer, you can also have it assembled for you in a local computer shop, from the parts you pick yourself.

 

Finding A Good Case

A good case is more important than you would think at first glance.  It is often overlooked until the moment of assembly or upgrade, moment after which its shortfalls become apparent. Your choice in computer case will have a great impact on many aspects of your computer.  Here are the aspects to think about:

  • Cable Management
  • Front Panel Interface
  • The choice of motherboard size
  • Airflow
  • Ventilation options
    • The size of the CPU fan possible
    • The number of chassis fans possible
  • The type of PSU
  • The dimensions of the hard drives or SSD
  • Future upgradeability / expansions

 

 

What to Look For?

Make sure to select your motherboard, CPU and CPU fan first, before you decide on your case type.  You choice is usually between a mid-sized ATX or full-size ATX tower, which are the two standards.

 

1. Size Factor

Of course, the most obvious thing to consider in a computer case is the size factor.  But, it is not as obvious when shopping online, because you don't see a common reference point.  Here are the different categories available:

  • Full ATX (big case)
  • Mid ATX (standard)
  • Mini ATX
  • Micro ATX
  • Custom Sized

 

red computer case LED water cooling
source: pxhere

Mid-ATX

The mid-ATX is the smaller and most common version of desktop towers that you see in standard cubicle offices.  The small mid-ATX are for office computer that do not require serious computing power.  They are usually a one-time build that will never be seriously upgraded or overclocked.  They are however, perfect for home usage, even for a 3D computer graphics, as long as there is adequate ventilation.

 

Full ATX

The full ATX towers are the size of computer you see in multimedia workstations and film studios.  They offer better airflow and allow for more drives to be connected inside, with an easier cable management.  If there are frequent hardware changes to be made to the computer, or if it's for overclocking, this is the way to go.  The full-ATX will also allow more possibilities for future expansions and let you install almost any sized CPU fan, recommended for serious overclocking.   Recommended only if you're a computer enthusiast.

 

2. Air Flow

Choose a case that can fit as many fans as you can.  You will need at least 3x 120mm or 200mm fans, in addition to the CPU fan.  Ideally, the case needs to have 4 mesh areas in your case for best airflow.

  • On the front (intake)
  • On the side, where the CPU is (intake)
  • On top of the case (exhaust)
  • In the back (exhaust)

Sometimes, cases come with fans pre-installed and others don't.  Make sure you check beforehand and purchase the remainder.  Most of the default fans are usually located in the back.  The most common exhaust fans configurations are 2x 80mm fans, but we recommend better.  See the section on chassis fans.  Learn more about airflow management at howtogeek.com

 

3. Drive Bays

The number of drives bays is a factor of the case size.  Full ATX can hold 3 optical drives, 5 hard drives and one or two SSD, while mid-ATX can usually hold 2 optical drives and 4 hard drives or SSDs.

Additionally, try to find a case with removable hard drive trays, so that you don't need to change 4 screws every time you move a hard drive.  Also, it is more convenient if the hard drive bays are facing the side of the computer, for easier removal.

 

4. Cable Management

A good case will have multiple holes, well placed inside of it to allow you to pass the different wires you need.  In all cases, tie wraps are your best friend when installing all the wiring in your computer.  They are often included in good quality cases, as well as all the wiring you need for the front panel connections.

It's better if the power supply unit (PSU) is not included in the case already, so you can choose the specifications you like.

 

5. Brands

Here are the good computer case brands we recommend you:

  • Cooler Master (our recommendation)
  • Thermaltake (very good too)
  • Corsair (specialty cases)
  • Antec (most common, very wide range of cases)

 

6. Price

You can expect to pay between 75$ to 150$ for a good ATX computer case, but you can find decent ones at around 50$

computer case specifications summary chart

Recommendations

Value

Value

Recommended

Extra

Render Farms Options

A render farm is a collection of computers dedicated for image-processing for 3D productions.  You can build yourselft a small render farm at home with a few old computers or XBOX connected via LAN to your network router.  Render farms are usually built with high-end dual-Xeon processors, in a blade form factor.  The blade is a specially designed thin computer case, made to be stacked inside a rack-mount by the dozen and cooled externally.

There are many aspects to take into consideration when building a computing farm, most notably the power efficiency, consumption and return on investment.  But if you're building a mini home-render farm, you could try going the way of the micro-ATX case size.  Just make sure to choose your motherboard, fans, PSU and drives accordingly.

For example, you could use a few 'shuttle mini-tower' with decent CPUs to make a farm.  We recommend decent lower-than-average components instead of top-of-the-line, to make it a much more afforbable performance-to-price ratio.  This will maximize your investment and the nmber of boxes you can buy.   However, watch out how much computers you can plug in a single AC outlet.  It is usually 15 Amps, or around 1 800 Watts at 120V in North America.

 


 

Chassis Fans

computer Case exhaust Fans back
source: pexels

Fans can be placed in 4 different areas inside a computer case, but the rear fan is the minimum requirement on all machines, even the cheaper ones.  You can also have fans on the side or the front, pushing air in, and on top, pushing air out.

Intakes

  • front
  • CPU side

Exhausts

  • back
  • top

 

The airflow direction is very important when installing those fans, you can't just have all fans blowing air in or all fans blowing air out, it has to be a push-pull system.  The front and sides are air intakes, but the top and back are outflows.

You can find out more about airflow at howtogeek.com.

 

 

What to Look For?

Most good cases, already come preinstalled with at least 2 or 3 fans of 120mm or more, which is ideal, even for modest overclocking and 3D renderings.  Try to find the biggest fans supported by the computer case, and as many as it will allow.  This will provide the best airflow and maximize your rendering performances.   Also try with minimum noise inside the case.

 

Air Flow

The most important aspect of a fan is it's airflow, measured in Cubic Feets per Minute (CFM).   This factor includes everything to consider, from the design, to the number of blades, to the RPM.  You simply have to find a fan with as much CFM as possible (above 30 CFM is good).

 

RPM

Like CPU fans, the number of Revolutions per Minute (RPM) is important, but as long as is doesn't impact noise production.  Otherwise, it's better to increase the fan size, than to try and find a faster fan, in the quest for better airflow.

 

Noise (db)

Try to find a chassis fan that is as quiet as possible, measured in decibel (db). For reference, here are the common noise level references.  You can find out more about it here.

  • 35 db: Quiet Room
  • 40 db: Noticeably distracting sound
  • 45 db: Radio in the Background

 

Brands

Reliability is a factor of the brand.  Look for fans of known brands that will provide both reliability and quietness.  Our recommendations are the same as for the case manufacturers, because they often make both of similar quality.  But remember that fans are not always included with the computer cases.  Check your case specifications and complement the rest to maximise what your case will allow.

  • Cooler Master
  • Thermaltake
  • Noctua

 

Variable Fan Control

If your fan supports variable throttling (usually in 4 pins power connectors), then this will be a good asset to control the components' temperature. In that cas, you should then use a software to customize your fan speed and control it automatically.    Most good motherboard will come with on such a program (ex. asus fan xpert).

Most computer components dont usually fair well over 50 degrees celcius, except for some CPU that can go to 60 and some GPU that can go up to 90.  Check the specific specs on your components to adjust speedfan accordingly.

 

Speed Fan

If not included with your motherboard, case or cpu fan, you can use the slightly antiquated and somewhat 'rough on the edges'  speed fan which is completely free, but also somewhat complicated to setup safely without knowledge.  Beware that this is an expert tool, that is very powerful and may risk frying your components if setup incorrectly.  Take the time to experiment with it, and watch it closely during peak computer use, to adjust it's behavior if needed.

SpeedFan: http://download.cnet.com/SpeedFan/3000-2094_4-10067444.html

Recommendations

Value

1x 120 mm Fan

Recommended

1x 120mm Fan

Recommended

1x 200mm Fan

Colorful

3x 120mm RGB

 


Go to the 'computer hardware' table of contents:

Computer Key

Guide on Finding the Optimal Computer Components


 

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