If you’ve built your own PC in the past, you know that having the right PC case can make or break the whole process. It’s not just a question of fitting the parts inside—it’s easy enough to match up the motherboard size, count the bays, and make sure the chassis has the front-panel ports you want. It’s the small stuff that separates a good PC case from one that makes your build easy—or even makes it sing. That can be intangibles like cable-routing features, or the position of the power supply or the drive bays relative to the other parts. It can be the look; the case defines the identity of your PC.
Also, a PC case may be rated to accept a given motherboard—ATX, MicroATX, and so on—but that’s no indication that you’ll have enough room inside to build a system with ease. Clearances around the edges of the board may be tight, cable cutaways for routing wires behind the board may be scarce or ill-placed, and you may need to sacrifice drive bays to accommodate long video cards. Here’s what to know when assessing PC cases.
The PC Chassis In 2020: Trends and Changes
In our experience, tower cases tend to alleviate many of the space-related ails when building a PC, and it’s not rocket science why: They’re simply bigger.
Most offer adequate room for cable routing and long video cards, and they should have room for enough drives, given today’s per-drive capacities, to satisfy most needs short of a server’s. If you have the room for one, a tower is an ideal platform for a new PC build or as a case upgrade for an existing system that’s running out of room inside for drives or card expansion.
As 5.25-inch bays go away, we expect the really large towers to fall slowly out of favor with many buyers who aren’t doing elaborate modding or liquid cooling. Another reason why: limitations to video-card SLI that emerged in 2016. With its 10-series “Pascal” video cards, Nvidia put the official kibosh on multiple-video-card configurations of more than two cards. One of the big reasons high-end builders would opt for a large PC case is to host multiple video cards in an Nvidia SLI or AMD CrossFireX array. With Nvidia’s “Pascal” GTX and newer “Turing” RTX cards currently the toast of the video-card world, more moderate-size towers would seem to be in the offing nowadays.
Pros: Spacious and easy to build in. Convenient PSU mounting system. Four aRGB fans pre-installed. Four tempered glass panels.
Cons: Could use an extra pass-through slot at the bottom of the case. A little light on cable-management functionality.
Bottom Line: With a near-perfect design and feature set, ADATA’s heavy-on-the-glass XPG Battlecruiser is an excellent ATX mid-tower case from a new player in the chassis game.
Pros: Brilliant ARGB LED intake fans. Gorgeous tempered-glass panels. Built-in controller rescues non-ARGB motherboards. Multiple options for placing liquid-cooling gear. Sturdy construction.
Cons: Many motherboards lack ARGB headers. Manual is light on written instructions.
Bottom Line: Cooler Master’s brilliant ARGB fans find an excellent showcase in the MasterBox MB530P chassis, a top-notch PC-case pick that sports tempered-glass panels on three sides for a spectacular builder’s foundation.
Pros: Excellent build quality, nearly all in metal. A motion sensor lights up the front USB ports. Big 200mm fans push lots of air.
Cons: No rear exhaust fan. Rear storage mount is tricky to run cables to, and a few storage mounts are awkwardly placed. Vertical card mounting possible, but riser is added-cost hardware.
Bottom Line: Cooler Master’s MasterCase SL600M is hardy and provides excellent airflow for advanced PC builds. This is a winning case for shoppers looking for solid construction, component visibility through glass, and vertical airflow.
Pros: Attractive glass-and-aluminum design. Versatile interior with plenty of cable-routing options.
Cons: No optical-drive options. Room for just two 3.5-inch drives. No LED fans or interior lights included. Glass sides require extra caution when building or cleaning.
Bottom Line: The aluminum-and-glass 805 is an attractive, versatile chassis that can be a stunning showpiece for your PC parts if you’re meticulous with cable routing. Caveats: no optical drive, and take care when handling the glass sides, especially if you have a glass desk or a stone floor.
Pros: Tempered glass windows. Integrated RGB light controller. Supports vertical mounting of the graphics card. Has a one-touch overclocking button.
Cons: No tool-less installation amenities. Tons of EVGA branding. Installing a graphics card vertically can be tricky.
Bottom Line: The DG-77 is a handsome (albeit highly EVGA-branded) mid-tower chassis with some unusual premium features: an integrated RGB light controller, and a one-touch overclocking button.
Pros: Loads of fan/radiator mount options. Sturdy tempered-glass side panel. Built-in nine-fan hub. Multiple intake-fan filters.
Cons: Bulky power supplies can’t slide in sideways. A touch pricey for the feature set. Vertical-mount video card riser not included standard. Nifty front-panel texture, but front fans aren’t lit to highlight it.
Bottom Line: Anyone can appreciate the Fractal Design Meshify S2’s roomy design and quality materials, but experienced DIY hounds will adore this PC case for its massive cooling support and build-friendly features.
Pros: Elegant, minimalist design, with glass on two sides. Three included fans, two of them 140mm RGB ones. Included fan and RGB control module, which works with NZXT software.
Cons: Drive mounting requires screws. Light on USB ports (just two) but requires two USB headers. A bit pricey for the feature set.
Bottom Line: NZXT’s latest tempered-glass chassis, the H510 Elite, is a nifty ATX midtower with glass on two sides, stark aesthetics, and a tasteful helping of RGB. Just a couple of design quibbles keep it from stardom.
Pros: Rock-solid construction. Roomy interior. RGB LED lighting. Tempered-glass side panel. Removable fan filters. Cable-management support.
Cons: Lacks front panel USB Type-C. Side panel is prone to fingerprints.
Bottom Line: If RGB lighting, a glass side panel, and massive water-cooling support are all key to your next PC build, SilverStone’s full-tower Primera PM01-RGB chassis will be a big win. (Plus, you can buy it with a unicorn on the side.)
Pros: Dazzling RGB fan lighting. Classy tempered-glass sides. Big, removable fan filters. Easy to work in. Compatible with ATX, EATX, and MicroATX boards.
Cons: A little too roomy for many builds. Flimsy door over front ports. Fan and case lights controllable only via bundled remote, not software.
Bottom Line: The Lian Li Alpha 550W is a highly versatile and flashy tempered-glass case, though its price, size, and lighting will appeal only to DIY-ers looking for lots of pre-wired bling and space for an expansive build.
As for air-cooling, how many fans are included in the case and how many you can install are two different things entirely. In most tower chassis, you will get at least a couple of pre-installed fans; additional ones are cheap, so we wouldn’t make the fan count a deal breaker. (If you’re doing liquid cooling, you may need to remove some of the installed fans, anyway, to make room for the radiator hardware you need to mount.) That said, be mindful of the sizes of fans that are included and supported; replacements for nonstandard sizes like the 200mm whoppers used in some really big towers are harder to come by than the more standard 120mm and 140mm.