Guide to Buying a Good Computer Case
In this article I will not address the power supply, even though it is included with most cases. My assumption in this article is that either your case has no power supply or its included power supply is adequate. Power supplies require their own separate article.
The following are features that help with airflow, noise, and other key performance issues that arise in computers.
> 120mm fans, rather than 80mm fans. The larger a fan, the less noise it makes when blowing out the same amount of air. Just look at your ceiling fan. It creates more airflow than any fan in your computer, but makes almost no noise. A 120mm fan in the back of your case will provide superior airflow out of the case with minimal noise.
> Side air vent(s). A few years ago cases were introduced that had a vent in the side of the case, directly above the CPU. These vents provide fresh, cool air from outside directly to the CPU, which allows it to stay significantly cooler, and the CPU fan also stays significantly quieter. If you think about a case without a side vent for the CPU, air comes in through the front, past your hard drives (some of the hottest components in a computer), then through most of the hot inside of the computer before reaching the CPU. By then the air cooling the CPU is only a little cooler than the CPU itself. If you know your physics, you know that heat transfers faster when the temperature difference is the highest. The inside of your case is usually 10-15oC hotter than room temperature, so the less of your case the air has to travel through the better. Newer cases come with a vent for your graphics card as well, and the same rules apply there.
> Removable back expansion slot covers, not the kind you have to break off. Once you break off a slot on the back, it’ll stay broken off, even if you take out the card that was there, so if you take out a card in one of those cases there’s a hole at the back of your case; this will screw up the airflow in your case. When the airflow gets more turbulent, your fans are less effective.
> Rubber grommets for screws. When components vibrate they cause vibrations in the screws holding them to the case, which in turn vibrate against the case and create really annoying vibration noises. Try and find a case where you have a rubber grommet in place between the screw and the case itself, which will absorb almost all the vibrations.
> This isn’t really a feature, but get the smallest case that fits your requirements. Fan performance is measured in CFM, or cubic feet per minute. So the less air your case has inside it, the faster all of it can be pushed out of the case, replacing it with new, room-temperature air. If you get a full tower case, you’ll need multiple fans to achieve an air exchange rate as high as a single fan in a mini tower. And, as we all know, more fans mean more noise.
The following have no direct impact on performance, but they’re still case features nonetheless.
> Obviously, try and find a case that looks nice. Most cases don’t look so bad that you’d want to hide them from guests, but there are definitely some out there. A standard look is really the best, but if you must go with something that looks unique make sure it’s unique in a good way.
> Lighting effects from the case or its fans, if you like it. Lights illuminate the area around the case, and a lot of people like the effect. You don’t really lose anything by puttting lights in your case; even if your case doesn’t have any lights, you can buy light sticks that plug into your power supply, so it’s not a big deal either way.
> Tool-less installation. In some computer cases, the only time you’d need to go get a screwdriver is if you are replacing the motherboard. Tool-less installation is always less of a hassle and usually faster than installing parts with screws (plus there aren’t any screws to lose).
> Dull edges inside the case. Sharp edges can easily cut you if you’re not careful. Make sure all edges in the case are rolled over so there’s as little a chance as possible of being cut by them.
> Front USB slots, and audio/1394 ports if you need them, are very useful. It keeps you from having to find a slot at the back. They’re especially useful for using a USB flash drive, updating your MP3 player’s songs, etc.
> A window in the side panel could be a good or bad thing. If you like seeing the inside of your case, cable clutter and all, go for it. But if it doesn’t matter to you, the plastic window will cause vibration noise, and it also won’t block noise as well as a steel or aluminum panel.
Things to Avoid
The following are things that will actually hurt the performance of your computer.
> A side fan. It looks great on paper, right? I mean, how can having another fan not be good for your computer? Let’s consider the two scenarios. If the fan is blowing air into the case from the side, it disrupts the smooth front-to-back airflow that’s already there. And if it’s sucking air out, it’s taking air away from the CPU, which means the CPU fan has to work harder to get the same amount of air to the CPU. Neither of these is better than what you already have without a side fan.
> Air filters on any vents in the case. While they keep dust out of the computer, they also make it harder for air to come in and go out of the case. This either causes your fans to spin faster or your case temperature to go up, neither of which is good. You’re better off opening up the case once a month and using a vaccuum cleaner to clean out the dust (don’t worry, it’s not harmful at all as long as you don’t knock anything loose – I do it all the time).