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How to buy the perfect PC case

PC cases come in all shapes, sizes, and features—know which one is right for your needs.

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CPU cooler cut-away: Speaking of the motherboard tray, some nicer PC cases include large cut-outs in the section behind your processor, which let you replace your PC’s CPU or CPU cooler without ripping out your entire motherboard. It’s not a feature you’re likely to need often, but if you do, it’s a godsend.

Front-panel connectivity: If you’ve got a lot of external devices, check out the front-panel connectivity of the PC case. Even cheap cases have a couple of USB-A Type 2.0 ports in the front. Many modern cases include USB-A Type 3, USB-C, and even fan or RGB lighting controllers as table stakes. You’ll often find front-panel audio jacks as well, though we’d always recommend plugging your headset directly into the audio jack on your motherboard’s rear I/O shield.

dsc01355 Brad Chacos

High-end cases (like this Phanteks Enthoo Elite) offer much more advanced front-panel connectivity.

Fans and airflow: The more fans you have in your PC, the better your airflow is likely to be. At the very least, you want two fans for optimal airflow—an intake in the front and an outward-blowing fan in the rear. Some budget PC cases include only a single fan, and your PC’s temperatures and performance will suffer for it. Even if they aren’t populated, many cases include additional fan mounts that allow you to upgrade your cooling later. As mentioned before, some cases are ditching 5.25-inch drive bays to remove airflow obstructions for the front fans, though you obviously wouldn’t want a case like that if you needed one of those bays.

Also pay attention to what’s in front of those fans. Tempered glass and stoic metal front panels are all the rage these days, but those pretty designs can hinder airflow if they’re not designed properly. The Silverstone RL06 ($110 on Amazon) skips those obstructions, placing protective mesh in front of not one but three 120mm intake fans for superb airflow and thus, lower system temperatures than its rivals.

Dust filters: Keeping your PC clean is important. A computer clogged with dust and pet hair and tobacco gunk is a computer that runs hot and throttles more often. Dust filters keep most of that debris from ever reaching your fans, much less your precious internal hardware. But be sure to configure your fans for positive air pressure to keep dust from being sucked in through the unoccupied vents in your chassis.

Sound-dampening: Soundproof cases keep your rig running quiet, often by using sound-dampening materials inside the panels of your PC. Those materials keep noise in but also tend to impede airflow, so soundproof cases often hit somewhat higher temperatures than standard cases. Some nicer soundproof cases manage to stay silent while also optimizing for airflow by including large 140mm fans spinning at low (and hence quiet) speeds.

Water-cooling support: The rise of sealed all-in-one coolers have made liquid-cooling more popular than ever. If you plan to water-cool your PC, pay fine attention to the support provided by your case. You probably won’t be able to use liquid-cooling whatsoever in most mini-ITX cases, and many mid-tower cases only support up to 240mm radiators—and placement of that liquid-cooling radiator may be limited to only the top or bottom of the case, depending on the case’s dimensions.

If you want a beefy 360mm radiator, you’ll often need to step up to a full tower case, though unusually large mid-towers can sometimes squeeze them in as well. Some pricier cases also have large swatches of interior space dedicated to liquid-cooling reservoirs for custom loops.

Tempered-glass panels: Many newer PC cases include panels consisting entirely of tempered glass, presenting an unfettered look at your PC’s inner hardware, albeit at the cost of air flow. It’s gorgeous, but brittle—handle with care! You’ll start to find tempered-glass options around the $70 range, though they’re more common around $100.

PAX Hardware - Razer IDG / Hayden Dingman

Let there be light. Or not. It’s up to you!

Integrated lighting: Customizable RGB lighting is 2018’s biggest craze in computer hardware, and that includes PC cases. You either love RGB or you hate RGB. Either way, it’s easy to find cases that meet your aesthetic tastes. You can even watch us build an RGB PC—that was fun!

Our favorite PC cases

We don’t do many formal PC case reviews at PCWorld, but we’re constantly building PCs in all sorts of rigs. Here are some of our favorites in each price point. (Note that the U.S. tariffs on Chinese products have resulted in price increases of about $10 to $25 per case.)

Best budget PC cases

Silverstone Sugo SG13: Like all budget PC cases, the Silverstone Sugo SG13 ($80 on Amazon) isn’t fancy. But this tiny mini-ITX case is perfect for LAN parties (and cramped desks) thanks to its affordable price and easy-to-carry design. Silverstone provides plenty of ventilation for improved airflow—a crucial feature in such a tiny PC—and despite its small size, the Sugo SG13 can accommodate a full-sized power supply, a 140mm closed-loop CPU liquid-cooler, and graphics cards up to 10.5-inches in length. We used it in our build of a mini-ITX Ryzen gaming PC with a discrete GPU.

silverstone sugo sg13 Silverstone

Deepcool Tesseract: The aforementioned Deepcool Tesseract ($50 on Newegg) is a decent-sized mid-tower with two fans, sturdy-enough design, and all sorts of drive bays. It’ll fit any graphics card you throw at it except for monsters like the Asus ROG Strix GTX 2080 Ti ($1,300 on Amazon).

Best mid-range PC cases

h500i black red primary NZXT

NZXT H510 Elite: NZXT launched the H510 Elite ($150 on Amazon) in July 2019, and as the name implies, it’s a more blinged-out variant of the excellent NZXT H500i. Highlight features include a Smart Device v2 controller and front USB-C 3.1 port, but it also mixes two 140mm RGB front fans, more tempered glass, and a little extra maneuvering room in the minimalist design. Of course, it still features the tempered glass panel and sublime cable management features that made us fall in love with its predecessor.

Phanteks Eclipse P400A: We tend to like Phanteks cases, and the Phanteks Eclipse P400A ($70 on Newegg) earned the 2019 Case of the Year award from Gamers Nexus thanks to its outstanding airflow, excellent temperatures, and solid overall design for a case that costs well under $100. The current trend towards better airflow and cooling is nothing but a good thing in our book after years of suffocating case design that sacrificed performance for prettiness. 

Fractal Design Meshify C: The Fractal Design Meshify C ($90 on Newegg), our Full Nerd podcast’s best case of 2017, is basically the superb Fractal Design Define C with extensive mesh paneling to improve airflow. And like Corsair’s Carbide series, it dumps traditional 5.25-inch bays in the front, both to improve airflow and to offer more extensive liquid-cooling options. (It also ditches all but two 3.5-inch drive bays, which may give some folks pause.) This case upholds Fractal’s reputation for well-built, easy-to-use hardware. Just don’t try to use a massively long graphics card in the teeny-tiny Define C.

Best high-end PC cases

Be Quiet! Silent Base 601: Not everybody wants tempered glass panels, RGB lighting, and borderline obnoxious levels of bling. If that’s you, consider the Be Quiet! Silent Base 601 ($139 on Newegg). Its earned high praise from Gamers Nexus and Tom’s Hardware for its easy building nature, solid feature list, and silent design—though the focus on minimizing acoustics results in slightly higher operating temperatures than cases that optimize around airflow.

corsair 570x Corsair

The Corsair 570X

Corsair Crystal 570X RGB: PCWorld’s Full Nerd podcast named the Corsair 570X ($180 on Corsair) the best PC case of 2016, and it’s easy to see why. Rather than having a simple see-through panel, almost every edge of this beautiful beast—the top, front, and side panels—consist of tempered glass. That sleek look is augmented by a trio of front-side fans with customizable RGB lighting that can be tweaked using a controller on the top of the case. Tool-less design and a roomy interior make building inside the Corsair 570X just as dreamy as staring at it.

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