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Case Study: A look at what makes a good computer case.

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PostPosted: Sat Apr 30, 2011 9:43 pm Post subject: No icon Case Study: A look at what makes a good computer case. Reply with quote

  Computer cases are one of those things people are either very passionate about, or could care less. Gamers, such as ourselves, tend to fall in the first category. While much of the thought that goes into a case is purely aesthetic, there are some important points that should be covered. in the article below, I will attempt to cover both the artistic and the technical aspects of a good computer case.

A word on bling
 While it is important to buy a case you will like looking at for a couple years, it is equally important that you do not sacrifice what's important in the name of blinky lights and shiny knobs. The case section of my store and places like Newegg are chock full of hundreds of case choices, many of which are designed and made with style in mind. With many of these cases, the only good thing you can say about them is that they are pretty... to some. Cases that pile on tons of plastic may appeal to some folks, but plastic is a terrible case material as plastic does NOT conduct heat away very well at all. in most cases, it traps heat. This is not to say plastic is totally evil and to be avoided at all costs. It just means stay away from cheap cases that are more plastic than metal. Another pitfall of cheap "pretty" cases are the included fans. Cheap fans all have one thing in common. They are LOUD! No one wants to sit next to a rig that sounds like it belongs at an airport. The other fan issue with cheap cases is the lack of fans at all. A cheap case may fit your budget, but if you have to add $30 or more in fans, you likely didn't save much. Not to mention if the noise of the fans they do give you is so loud, you have to replace them.  Yet another pitfall of cheap cases are sharp edges. Most makers of cheap cases don't take the time and expense of rolling the edges of the interior parts. I got 6 stitches in my left pinky finger about 7 years ago from a cheap case. Let me tall ya folks, blood and motherboards do NOT mix.

It's Tool-less Baby!
  A feature in many gamer and enthusiast cases is tool-less construction. The use of thumb screws, levers and latches of all sorts have replaced traditional screws for everything from the side panels to drives and add-in cards. Like everything else in computers some are better than others. This is why it is so important to look at the case in a store when possible and when it's not, to look at good pictures and read reviews. I have done builds in cheap so called tool-less cases that were so bad, I had to strip out or throw away the tool-less garbage and revert to traditional screws. Done right however, tool-less construction can make a build into a great experience.

Cool Man!
  It goes without saying that the most important aspect of a computer case is it's ability to cool and keep cool, all the expensive parts you put into it. A case that doesn't have enough fans or the ability to add them is a useless case. In the old days, a front intake and a rear exhaust fan were standard and more than enough. now, with the advent of super fast, and hot, CPUs and video cards, it is an absolute must to keep them as cool as possible. In the old days, the standard fan size was 80mm. These days it's 120mm. Not to mention that 140mm and even 200mm+ fans are common. In addition to the front and rear fans, many cases come with top and side fans or the ability to add them.

  I am going to go off the path a moment here and talk a little more about fans since fans and cases tend to go hand in hand. The two main aspects of a fan is moving air and doing it as quietly as possible. That being said, the larger the fan, the slower it can spin and move the same amount of air as a smaller fan.  This is measured in CFM, or Cubic Feet per Minute.  The sound is measured in decibels. take sound claims by fan makers with a grain of salt. Some will measure the sound of their fans from across the room instead of right next to the machine where you will be sitting!. All that being said, I have yet to find a cheap fan that moves enough air and been quiet. Now back to cases and cooling!

  Aluminum has become very popular among computer case makers. They like to tell you that they use Aluminum because it is a better conductor of heat and aids in overall cooling and that it is lighter and therefore easier to carry to LAN parties and such.  While it is true that Aluminum is a better conductor of heat than the traditional steel, it is a VERY marginal difference where the case is concerned. In most cases, there difference between steel and aluminum is less than 1 degree Celsius. And while Aluminum is lighter than steel, it is also easier to bend and flex. If you go to a lot of LAN parties and plan on carrying your case a lot, it may be a wise idea to consider aluminum, otherwise it is a very low priority. Incidentally, case makers like Aluminum not because it conducts heat better but because it conducts profits higher.

It's a management thing!
  Equally as important as cooling, is how the case aids in and handles the ability to mange cables. This also has a direct impact on cooling because if your cables are a nest in the middle of your case it severely affects cooling.  Even some expensive cases leave you nowhere to hide or tie cables to keep them out of the way. This subject is near and dear to my heart as cable management is one of my greatest skills. When looking at a case and determining it's worth in cable management one of the most important features is how much room is there between the motherboard tray and the case side. You will never put a bunch of cables behind the motherboard tray, the best place to hide them, AND get the side back on if there is a 1/4" of space to do it in. Also, a good case will have tie down  notches or  stand-offs to use cable ties to keep all those cables neat. Another nice feature in good cases these days that pertains to cable management is the use of cut-outs to run cables through to behind the motherboard and even nicer is if they include rubber grommets on the cut-outs to make it look even neater.

It's a growth market!
  One of the things many people fail to consider when buying a case, is the future. Sure that cool new case may be perfect now, but will it be sufficient for any future upgrades you might happen to do? A good case with room to grow in can last through 1 or more upgrades or rebuilds. It sucks when you want to upgrade and you have to add a new case to the cost just because you didn't think of it when you bought the case in the first place.  Another nice feature in good cases these days that helps with growth is the addition of cut-outs behind the motherboard opposite the CPU socket so that if you upgrade to a CPU cooler that requires the use of a backplate as most of them do, you don't have to remove the motherboard to do it. Always keep one eye on the future when choosing a case. This holds true with most computer parts.

Final thoughts
  Even though aesthetics and style are very important to me I never make it my first consideration. It is too easy to get attached to a nice looking case just to find out that it fails on important technical points. For me Cooling and cable management are the most important features of any case. Fortunately, when you narrow down the choices to the ones that cover the technical needs, you are usually left with quite a few choices that are plenty pleasing to the eye. Never, ever, sacrifice the technical in favor of style. It will always come back to bite you in the ass. Thanks for taking the time to read my article. below I am listing some of the better cases on the market today.

Coolermaster HAF series (High Air Flow)
HAF 932

Corsair Obsidian series
Obsidian 800D
Obsidian 700D
Obsidian 600T
Obsidian 650D
Obsidian 600T (White)

NZXT Phantom series
Black, White or Red depending on taste

Antec Lanboy series
Blue, red or Yellow depending on taste.

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PostPosted: Wed May 04, 2011 6:33 am Post subject: No icon Re: Case Study: A look at what makes a good computer case. Reply with quote

My case (no pun) bigger is better! I like lots of wires and things that tick on fans while playing games drives me nuts full tower or nothing !!!

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