For any computer enthusiast out there, building your own PC is one of the most exciting things you can undertake. Carefully picking out each component, making sure the specs offer the best value for your needs and exploring the latest advancements in technology are some of my favourite parts of the endeavour. In the grand scheme of things, the choice of case might seem a bit underwhelming in comparison. Luckily, the wide variety of cool designs available nowadays makes it a lot more exciting than what it was when I first built a computer.
In reality, there is more to the selection of a case than just the looks. First of all, modern components vary in size and you’ll need to consider that in your choice. Also, depending on the intended use, cooling might be a very important aspect to think about. Many cases are compatible with or even offer clever features to prevent overheating. Let’s take a look at all these aspects in more depth.
Case size: an important factor
Unless you are building a compact PC for travelling or for a cramped environment, you most likely won’t start your build with the case. In fact, at this point, you probably already decided on most of the components and you have a good idea which motherboard you’re going to use. This makes the size pretty straightforward: you’ll need a housing that can accommodate it. They come in three different sizes: ATX, micro-ATX and mini-ITX. Conveniently, cases refer to these form factors and will state their compatibility. You’ll also run into more general terms such as Full Tower and Mid Tower. Both of these will be suitable for full-sized ATX motherboards.
If you plan on building a monster machine with multiple graphic cards and drives, it’s better to go with a larger housing so that everything fits properly. You’ll also want some better airflow and cooling possibilities, but more on that later. On the other hand, if you are considering building a mini-PC, you’ll need to make sure your motherboard matches the case and that all of your chosen components are compatible. Don’t forget to consider the size of your power supply.
Depending on your needs, make sure you consider the port placement on the case. For example, a headphone output located on the back might be an annoying location for a tight set up in an office. Also, think about the ports and slots you might want to use or need. In the case of USB, make sure you have access to the appropriate specification.
There are other slots you might want to consider. For example, most of my machines have an SD card reader and I use it constantly. This makes transferring photos and videos a breeze and I couldn’t live without it. Less common slots can even come handy: you might find yourself missing a compact flash reader one day!
Cooling for the Power Hungry Machines
For those that seek to really push their machine to high performance standards, it’s very important to consider cooling. This will help everything run smoothly and avoid overheating. This will also increase your components’ lifespan and eliminates the risk of even more serious problems such as a desktop fire.
The most common way of cooling your components is with fans. Intake fans will grab the cooler air outside the enclosure while the exhaust fans blows out the warmer air out of the case. A bigger housing means you’ll be able to install a few of these in different configurations, mitigating the heat emitted by your components. Another advantage of going for a larger size is that there will be more space between the parts, reducing the heat buildup in general.
For those of you that intend to overclock your CPU and GPU(s), you should carefully consider your cooling and possibly invest in liquid-based options. While you can probably get away with a certain amount of overclocking with a basic setup, you’ll extend your component lifespan and greatly reduce any fire hazard. This, again, requires some planning and additional space in your case.
If you plan on having a humbler machine of a small form factor, it’s wise to make sure that the front, back, and side panels have grill-like openings. Since you probably won’t have enough room to install multiple fans, you’ll need all the help you can get. The small openings increase the air flow and will contribute to keeping the components as cool as possible.
Bells and Whistles
When I built my first PC, I had a really nice greyish box that matched my black and white printer. Since then, things have been greatly refined and it’s beautiful to see all the possibilities. Extra accessories such as glass panels, LED lights, coloured cables and fans can really make your machine stand out. Some computer enthusiasts even include favourite pop culture figurines and art into their housing. You’re already taking the time to build a PC, so make sure you add some flair to make it your own.
If you decide to go with a transparent panel to expose the inside, I recommend you explore cable management. This will really tidy things up and won’t give anyone anxiety when they peek inside. A lot of modern cases have strategic holes to thread your wires in a neat and organized fashion. Some extra space behind the motherboard can also help conceal some of the cabling.
There are many cases that come with integrated RGB lighting. If you have a colour preference, make sure the hue can be adjusted. If not, you’ll be better served by adding the lights by yourself. This is a great way of customizing your machine and having something to your taste.
Case selection is pretty straightforward, but it’s still a lot of fun since it’s the main way to make your computer unique. The main thing to remember is that your components have to fit. Once that is settled, it’ll be up to you to determine your intended use and cooling needs, as well as esthetic preferences.