Today, we’re going to help you buy the best gaming PC cases for 2020.
2018 was a long year, but it showed us plenty of superb chassis’s and PC builds. To start off 2020 properly, especially if you’re making a new PC build, you should start with one of our gaming PC builds.
Each and every one of these has been thoroughly vetted and verified for a high-quality build and enjoyable building experience. Regardless of your budget or needs, you’ll find the right computer case for you here.
Best Gaming PC Cases For 2020
|Cases||Form Factor||Dimensions||Color Options||Price|
|Thermaltake Core V71||ATX Full Tower||22.05 x 9.06 x 22.95 inches||Black||Check Price|
|NZXT H510i||ATX Mid Tower||16.85 x 8.27 x 18.11 inches||Black, Black/Red, White/Black|
2 RGB LED strips included
|Thermaltake Gore G3||ATX Slim Tower||17.9 x 14.6 x 5.5 inches||Black||Check Price|
|Phanteks EVOLV mATX TG||Micro ATX Mini Tower||15.7 x 9.1 x 17.8 inches||Gray, Silver, Black||Check Price|
|InWin 301 Black Tempered Glass||Micro ATX Mini Tower||14.6 x 7.4 x 14.3 inches||Black, White||Check Price|
|NZXT H210i||ITX Mid Tower||14.65 x 8.27 x 13.74 inches||White/Black, Black/Red, Black;|
1 RGB LED strip included
|Cooler Master MasterCase H100||Mini ITX Cube||12.28 x 8.5 x 11.85 inches||Black||Check Price|
|InWin 309||ATX Mid Tower||21.8 x 9.4 x 19.7 inches||Black|
RGB array front panel
|Phanteks Eclipse P400S||ATX Mid Tower||18.5 x 8.3 x 18.3 inches||Black, White, Black/White, Black/Red, Gray|
1 RGB LED strip included
|Thermaltake P1||ITX Mid Tower||15 x 13.1 x 16.6 inches||Black, Red, Snow||Check Price|
|Fractal Design Meshify C White||ATX Mid Tower||8.35 x 15.55 x 17.32 inches||White, Black||Check Price|
|Thermaltake A500||ATX Mid Tower||20.1 x 9.3 x 22 inches||Silver||Check Price|
Best Full Tower ATX Case – Thermaltake Core V71
First up is our pick for best Full Tower ATX Case, the Thermaltake Core V71. This is a no-holds-barred Full Tower ATX case offering support for custom loop liquid cooling, extended ATX motherboard configurations, and a ton of drives and expansion. This is a towering beast of a chassis, and just one look at it will tell you that much.
If you’re worried about cooling this behemoth, don’t be. It comes pre-packaged with 3 200mm intake fans installed, and 1 140mm exhaust fan installed. Unless you want to deck out with RGB or are really picky about your case fans, you got a stellar cooling setup out of the box here, no extra work required from you.
For aesthetics purposes, you also have a tempered glass side panel and vertical GPU mounting. The tempered glass side panel will allow you to show off whatever is inside of your PC perfectly, and the vertical GPU mounting is just icing on the cake.
For all the expandability and cooling performance you could ever want, it’s pretty tough to beat the Thermaltake Core V71. It’s an enthusiast favorite for a reason.
- A ton of included fans
- Huge size can account for custom loop systems, a ton of drives, extended ATX configurations, and etc
- Tempered glass panel shows off everything inside
- Ample. spacious internals make building a breeze
- Stellar airflow
- Fairly expensive
- Fairly heavy, especially with a full-fat system inside
- Blue LED fans may be a downside if you don’t like blue LEDs
While this is a great case, there are a few downsides worth mentioning. First and foremost, the price. While this is far from the most expensive case on the market it’s still going to run you nearly $200. If you’re on a particularly tight or limited budget, then that cost maybe a little bit too much for your wallet to bear.
The other issues with this case mostly boil down to the nature of it being a Full Tower ATX case- namely, it being large and heavy. These downsides come with the territory, though- what did you expect?
On a final and nitpicky note, the fans may actually be a problem for some users. Don’t get us wrong: it’s awesome that they’re pre-installed and provide such great airflow out of the box, but blue LEDs may be an undesired aesthetic for the person building in this case. Unfortunately, your only option, if you don’t like blue LEDs, is to replace the fans entirely.
We think it’d be better if Thermaltake allowed the option to order the case with RGB fans, or without colored fans at all. For most people, though, this shouldn’t be a major issue.
Best Mid Tower ATX Case – NZXT H510i
The NZXT H510i is the latest upgrade to NZXT’s excellent line of Mid Tower ATX cases, and there are quite a few improvements on display here when compared to the previous-gen counterpart.
Even disregarding the previous generation of NZXT cases, though, the H510i is a stellar chassis in its own right! NZXT has been a leader in case manufacturing for years now, and their expertise continues to shine in nearly every case they manufacture.
If your priority in a PC case is its aesthetics, then NZXT has you covered. NZXT has cornered the market in slick, minimalistic PC case aesthetics. NZXT cases are essentially perfect-looking rectangles made to show off the lighting and hardware that you have inside. They aren’t trying to show off their own branding: they’re trying to show off your PC.
And show off they do.
A tempered glass side panel offers a clean look inside at all your components, with the PSU and cables concealed from sight. Included RGB lighting strips let you illuminate the inside in any way that you want to complement your PC aesthetic, and you have multiple two-color schemes to choose from for the outside chassis.
You also vertical GPU mounting, which is becoming increasingly more popular among case manufacturer. You’ll need to bring your own riser, though.
Also, there’s a USB 3.1 Gen2 Type-C port on the front panel, finally replacing the 2.0 ports used by older NZXT cases! Good job, guys. NZXT’s CAM and HUE software has also improved over the years, but at the time of writing still has a buggy implementation with 3rd Gen Ryzen CPUs. (Specifically, lighting tied to CPU temperature/status.)
- Great aesthetics, included RGB
- Plenty of customization options
- Stellar build quality
- Vertical GPU mounting, new Type-C port, improved CAM and HUE software
- Two included exhaust fans, but…
- No intake fans? Best to move one of the included fans to the front for intake
- CAM and HUE Software still a bit buggy, but not much moreso than competing options
The only real problems we have with this case are minor nitpicks. For the features on offer, the barely-above-$100 price at the time of writing seems fairly reasonable. The configuration of both included case fans as exhaust fans seems a little bit weird to us, though, and is an odd decision not reflected by previous versions of NZXT cases.
The CAM and HUE Software is as flawed as always, but for basic case lighting functionality, it should still do its job just fine. If you’re using Ryzen, though, just don’t expect to do things like real-time lighting based on CPU temps.
Smallest ATX Case – Thermaltake Core G3
Lucky for you, someone out there is thinking of you. Meet the Thermaltake Core G3, which is the smallest full ATX chassis that we were able to find on the market.
This is a slim full ATX chassis with a perforated metal front panel, room for full-size GPU mounting, and a massive side panel window that you can use to show off everything inside. If you’re really crazy, you can even fit a small custom loop setup in here, though we doubt that is at all practical or sensible for most users.
Instead, this is essentially a chassis for experienced PC gamers who don’t mind a lengthy build process. You want all the customization you can get out of an ATX form factor, and you also want the portability that comes with a more space-efficient case.. If that sounds like you, then this is the case for you.
- Huge side panel window
- Enough room for full-sized GPUs
- Plenty of room for fans/radiators
- The full ATX experience, but slim
- Very cramped to build in, especially for newcomers
- Non-tempered glass side panel
- Aside from form factor, not much in the way of actual extras
The only real issues we have with this case are the fact that it isn’t using a TG side panel…and that this is a really bad case for a new builder to build in.
Even if you aren’t doing the utterly psycho custom loop installation displayed in one of its product images, a chassis like this is going to be fairly difficult to build in. You don’t have extra room in any direction with a full-sized ATX motherboard. Also, you’ll need to buy an SFX PSU for this one.
Best Micro ATX Case – Phanteks EVOLV mATX TG Edition
Phanteks never ceases to impress.
This is the Phanteks EVOLV mATX, and on first glance, you can already tell: this baby is quality. It has slick, dual tempered glass side panels and is covered by aluminum on every other surface. You also have Silver and Black customization options, if the default “Antracite Gray” color scheme doesn’t appeal to you.
Even from the first glance, you already know you’re in for something good…but what about the rest of the case?
Well, a peek at the internals bodes well. Despite being a Micro ATX case, the internals are pretty spacious, and there is plenty of room for cable management. You also have a dedicated compartment for the PSU and its cables, which is nice, since the PSU is usually the biggest perpetrator of poor cable management.
You also have RGB illumination, like with the NZXT case listed above, which is a nice touch.
If you want stellar build quality in a smaller size, then the Phanteks EVOLV mATX is the right case for you, especially if you’re a liquid cooling enthusiast.
- Fair price for features on offer
- Stellar build quality
- Very friendly to first-time builders and experienced builders alike
- Great for liquid cooling
- Limited airflow on top and front makes it less ideal for air-only systems
Where the catch comes in is if you…aren’t a fan of liquid cooling.
The airflow is…decent. The top panel doesn’t allow for much air to escape, so your best airflow configurations will generally be fairly horizontal. Liquid cooling configurations that require less raw airflow than air coolers may be ideal, too, since the solid metal aluminum front panel will limit airflow a bit.
This is a fairly premium case, and with a premium case comes the expectation of premium components and cooling. If you want the best possible airflow in a case, this isn’t necessarily the right pick for you- but if you want the most premium Micro ATX case there is out there, this should satisfy you.
Smallest Micro ATX Case – InWin 301 Black Tempered Glass
If what you want is the smallest Micro ATX case, congratulations: the InWin 301 is exactly that, no question.
Despite its tower orientation, this is actually by far the smallest micro ATX case we’ve been able to find. It’s ridiculously compact, but still has plenty of clearance for full-sized GPUs or decent-sized air coolers. It even has tempered glass, which is perfect for showing off the hardware you have chugging inside of it!
InWin may not be as well-known as other big manufacturers on this list, but the release of the 301 proved beyond any doubt that they have the mettle to compete with them. You can even opt for a Type-C version (the 301C) for a little extra money…if you need Type-C.
- The smallest Micro ATX case we could find
- Great build quality and tempered glass takes the aesthetic to the next level
- Good pricing
- Good I/O- Type-C support is also available on the 301C
- 330mm GPU clearance and 160mm CPU cooler clearance
- Limited cooling options- two intake fans or radiator as an intake are the only options for the front, with only one fan slot on the back
- No cable management compartment or routing of any kind, though a PSU compartment is here
However…the cooling is a bit lackluster. If you opt for a radiator, you’re going to have to mount it up front and lose out on intake fans. (You can still use a radiator as an intake, but it will be circulating warm air through your case, depending on your temps.)
Even without a radiator, you’re limited to only 3 120mm fans total, and the case doesn’t ship with any. This is to be expected in a case at this size and price range, but it’s still pretty disappointing.
The big issue plaguing this case, however, is the complete lack of cable management. There is no cable management compartment to speak of, so if you want truly clean presentation you’ll need to make liberal use of electrical tape and zip-ties.
Best Mini ITX Case – NZXT H210i
The NZXT H210i is the smallest case from NZXT’s newest line, and our top pick for best Mini ITX case.
Like the NZXT H200i before it, the NZXT H210i is a stellar example of aesthetic simplicity and compact size. You get a full tempered glass side panel that shows off the internals, complemented with a single included RGB LED strip.
Upgrades over the previous H200i include the addition of USB 3.1 Gen 2 support, including a USB-C port on the front panel of the case. This is particularly useful for those who want to connect a modern smartphone or other USB-C devices to their PC.
Unlike the larger NZXT H21-series cases, however, you don’t get to enjoy the benefits of vertical GPU mounting here. Since this is a Mini ITX chassis, you simply don’t have the clearance necessary for a vertical GPU mounting solution.
This is ultimately a minor downside, though. You still have plenty of room for horizontally-mounted GPUs- enough for average full-length reference design cards. You also have two included 120 mm fans on intake and exhaust duty, providing a proper airflow solution out of the box…unlike certain other cases on the market.
- Fair pricing for features
- RGB lighting
- 2 included fans
- Spacious enough to be builder-friendly, small enough to be aesthetically pleasing
- Great aesthetics and build quality
- Only one RGB LED strip included
- No vertical GPU mounting
- CAM and HUE Software has limited Ryzen compatibilty
The catches here are mainly down to the case’s form factor and shared traits with its older brother up on this list.
The case has room for up to 4 RGB LED strips, but only 1 is included, despite this case retailing at a similar price to its larger counterparts. In our opinion, this is a bit of a con.
While a lack of vertical GPU mounting is also a downgrade compared to the other NZXT cases, it’s an understandable downside when the smaller form factor is considered.
The last issue boils down to the CAM and HUE software used by NZXT, which still has limited compatibility with 3rd Gen Ryzen systems- at least, it does if you want your RGB lighting to be tied to your GPU status.
Best Computer Case With Handle – Cooler Master MasterCase H100
If you want the most portable case you can find, and don’t need to slap a full ATX motherboard into it, this is the pick for you. The Cooler Master MasterCase H100 is the best PC case with a handle that’s currently available on the market. (If Bitfenix would ever update the Prodigy, that might change.)
The MasterCase H100 is an ITX case with a cube-esque shape, a built-in handle on its top panel, and a huge 200mm RGB intake fan. If you’re looking for a fashionable and compact ITX case, this is definitely one of our top picks. (Specifically with portability in mind- our best overall ITX case is still the H210 listed above.)
Its aesthetics, cooling, and compactness are all there. It’s priced pretty well, too- so what’s the catch?
- Fair price
- Large fan for intake included
- RGB fan
- Built-in handle for portability
- Enough room for a 210mm GPU and ATX PSU
- Form factor means a difficult installation process
- Limited room for extra drives or longer GPUs
- No tempered glass side panel
The catch is, this case comes with a lot of problems that can’t be avoided.
Its focus on being a compact and portable case comes at the cost of beginner-friendly building experience. If you want a lot of hard drives, this especially isn’t the case for you- SSDs are the way to go, especially in a hotter, confined space like this one.
You’ll need to either make compromises or spend more in order to get the performance you’re looking for out of a system like this. That’s the rule when it comes to making computers smaller, after all.
But if you don’t mind those downsides, then you should be very happy with what you get here.
Best Tempered Glass RGB Case – InWin 309
If you’ve ever wanted a truly gaudy case showing off the best of tempered glass and RGB, chances are you’ve looked toward Corsair. As much as we like Corsair, though, this year has seen the entry of a powerful rival: the InWin 309.
The InWin 309 is an ATX Mid Tower case with a whopping 144 built-in RGB lights, each of which can be individually controlled. Want to put PAC-Man on your case? You can do it with the RGB lights on the front panel.
Even with the RGB aside, you have surprisingly beautiful Tempered Glass and spacious internals to work with. It also includes 3 top-intake fans and 1 exhaust fan, which are also enabled with RGB. (The solid front panel not being the intake makes sense here: after all, it’s pretty much become a full-blown lighting system!
If you want a truly large, beautiful case that turns your PC into one half tech exhibition and one half art display, the InWin 309 is what you’re looking for.
- Full RGB lighting with over 140 individually-controllable LEDs and 4 RGB fans
- Large, spacious internals for an easy building process and great expansion capabilities
- Truly premium build quality and aesthetics
- Fairly high price
- Unconventional airflow setup
- Somewhat heavy, even for a Mid Tower case
The biggest catch with the InWin 309 boils down to its price, which is a whopping $250. For the innovation seen here, it makes a kind of sense: RGB cases are already more expensive in general, so it makes sense that the best RGB case would take it the farthest. Even so, $250 can be a tough number for many to cough down, and we wouldn’t blame you for being one of them.
There’s also the case of the air intake, which is handled through vents cut open into the back of the top panel, through which the 3 included intake fans pull air. It seems to work fairly well for most users, but we may recommend getting a stronger exhaust fan, just in case.
Also, it’s heavy. About ten pounds heavier than the average case in this price range. That likely has something to do with the RGB front panel, though- and as long as you aren’t moving it around much, shouldn’t bother you. We have better cases for that.
Best Case For Under $100 – Phanteks Eclipse P400S
We spent a lot of time looking for the best case under $100, and after a lot of careful deliberation, we decided upon the Phanteks Eclipse P400S.
In addition to its solid pricing, it also boasts great build quality and a tempered glass window. It’s actually one of our top picks for tempered glass PC cases, too!
The Eclipse P400S is a mid-tower case with a ton of color options, built-in RGB lighting (subtly emanating from the bottom of the case), and a builder-friendly interior. The cable management inside this case is fantastic, as is the dedicated PSU compartment and plentiful drive mounting options.
The customization available in this case also makes it possible to install your own liquid cooling setup, should you decide to remove an optional HDD cage. For the purists out there who don’t want to even touch an AIO liquid cooler if they can avoid it, this case may actually be what you’re looking for.
- Great build quality, tempered glass window
- Great pricing
- Plentiful color options and tempered glass side panel
- RGB lighting built into the case
- Two fans included
- 395mm GPU clearance and 160mm CPU cooler clearance
- Slightly limited airflow
Truthfully, we weren’t able to find many issues with this case. It’s built well, it’s priced well, and it’s a joy to build in.
However…the front panel isn’t as great at letting in air as it could be. This means for exclusively air-cooling setups, your temps are going to be just a little bit hotter, thanks to slightly poorer airflow. This isn’t a massive issue, but it does make us think you should opt for a liquid cooling setup to help alleviate that issue- this case definitely has the room.
Best Open Air PC Case – Thermaltake P1
This one is for the real heroes out there, who want to go open-air with their PC setup.
Don’t let the mini ITX motherboard compatibility fool you: this isn’t a small case. It’s actually built with huge custom loop liquid cooler setups in mind. This is the case for someone who wants to show off their hardware from every possible angle, as a proud display for their battlestation.
The Thermaltake P1 is the best open air PC case we were able to find, and just a few looks at completed builds with it can show you why. However, it’s still an open air case, and that’s where we need to elaborate…
- Superb airflow (no surprises there)
- Plentiful room for larger cooling setups, including custom loops
- 170mm CPU cooler clearance and 380mm GPU clearance
- Open air, so it doesn’t really protect your hardware from dust or particulate for extended periods of time
- The case is fairly hefty and large for an ITX motherboard
- Cable routing and building isn’t easy
This isn’t a case built for practicality. This is a vanity object, for the true exhibitionists out there. Only those who prioritize showing off above all else will crown this the best PC case of 2020, but even then there are still some downsides you need to take into account.
First of all, the obvious. This is an open air case, so unless you have a miraculously clean room, dust and lint and all kinds of little particulates are going to find their way into your system. There’s nothing stopping them. Expect to spend a lot more time cleaning your PC than you would otherwise, especially if you want to maintain the clean aesthetic on offer here.
This case is also fairly large and hefty for an ITX build. If you want ITX for the case of a small PC build, go with the InWin 301- this isn’t the chassis you’re looking for.
That being said…as long as you understand who this case is made for (a very specific kind of enthusiast, or a tech reviewer who needs a test bench), we aren’t going to push you away from it. This is genuinely the best open-air case on the market, and as long as you’re ready to tackle the issues that present, we highly recommend it.
Best Airflow Case – Fractal Design Meshify C White
The Meshify C White retails just above or just under $100, depending on when you’re buying it. That’s a fairly good price for a case of this caliber, especially if airflow is your primary concern, because…
Simply put, this is the best airflow case that we were able to find on the market, bar none. We pored through review after review, data-sheet after data-sheet, and at the end of it all, we simply had to concede that the best airflow you’re going to get comes at just around $100.
This is a crowning achievement for Fractal Design, and easily one of our favorite mid tower Micro ATX cases on the market. In addition to the superb airflow, you also have pretty decent clearance for your GPU and CPU cooler.
Even though this case’s goal is arguably pure performance, it doesn’t slack in the looks department, either. A tempered glass side panel gives a clean look inside the case, and the white chassis combined with black mesh results in a very pleasing overall aesthetic.
- Superb airflow- the best we’ve been able to find, in fact
- Plentiful cooling options, allowing for multiple radiators or a ton of fans
- 315 mm GPU clearance and 172mm CPU cooler clearance
- Tempered glass side panel
- Fairly good pricing
- Nothing in the way of extra features
Truth be told…there really aren’t many issues we can raise with this case. If your criteria for best PC case for 2020 is which has the least problems…this one might just be it. It’s just that good.
There aren’t really any extras, though, like RGB fans or Type-C. Honestly, though, none of these things are necessary for a superb gaming PC case.
Best Watercooling Case – Thermaltake A500
Last but not least, let’s take a look at our new top pick for best watercooling case- the Thermaltake A500.
Before we dive too deep into it, we want to clarify what we mean by best watercooling case. We’re referring specifically to users who may want to install a custom loop liquid cooling system inside their PC, which we think this one is great for.
Standard closed-loop/AIO setups should be fine in most, if not all of the other cases on this list- especially the larger ATX towers. Those will work fine in here too, but we think this one is best for custom liquid cooling.
It’s fairly modular, and includes the ability to remove just about everything to suit your needs. This DMD (Dismantlable Modular Design, according to Thermtaltake’s marketing) is what makes it our top choice for custom loop liquid cooling, especially if you don’t plan on running a massive HDD RAID array.
You also have 3 120 mm fans included, with 2 on intake and 1 on exhaust duty. It’s a given at this price point, but it’s still nice to have.
You have tempered glass side panels and aluminum front and top panels as well, giving this build a great deal of aesthetic cleanliness and quality sturdiness. The TG side panels are on hinged doors, too, which means you don’t need to carefully screw them in or anything.
There isn’t any built-in RGB, but we still think this case looks and feels superb. It being a Mid Tower without sacrificing any liquid cooling capabilities is also great, too- thanks for the modular design, Thermaltake.
- Modular design enables the cooling setup of your dreams
- Supports vertical GPU mounting
- Aluminum and tempered glass construction- stellar build quality and aesthetics
- 3 included fans!
- Fairly expensive- one of the most expensive on our list
The only real downside with this one is the price. At the time of writing, it retails for under $250 USD. If you’re an enthusiast who wants to make a truly gorgeous custom loop PC build, then that probably won’t matter to you…but it’s still worth mentioning. Some cheaper ATX cases will also be water-cooling friendly, like the aforementioned NZXT H510i.
Case size is defined in relativity to motherboard size, so we’re going to need to explain motherboard sizes in this section.
Of note is that motherboard size has no bearing on things like USB ports or gaming performance. In the latter case, a motherboard chipset can only influence gaming performance if it enables overclocking capabilities- otherwise, it doesn’t matter.
ATX is considered the “default” size for motherboards and is still the go-to solution for those who need lots of expansion.
The primary benefit of an ATX motherboard is the addition of more PCI slots, which can be used for graphics cards, sound cards, and other expansion cards. ATX motherboards also tend to have 4 RAM slots, which is especially useful for those who want to run 16GB or 32GB RAM configurations.
Micro ATX is, as the name implies, a smaller version of ATX. While ATX has two, sometimes three PCI Express lanes (mainly for multiple graphics cards), Micro ATX cuts this down to two at maximum, and a few regular PCI slots for other expansion cards.
Some Micro ATX motherboards may also cut down RAM slots to 2 (instead of ATX’s standard 4), making quad-channel RAM configurations impossible. For those who want to stuff their builds full of RAM, this is a notable downside…but many Micro ATX motherboards still manage to have 4 RAM slots regardless. This does come at a cost, though, especially if you’re using a larger CPU cooler.
Mini ITX is the smallest mainstream motherboard form factor. (And no, there’s no “regular” ITX that’s larger than Mini ITX. There are smaller, specialized ITX form factors used by laptops and mobile devices, though.)
Mini ITX’s most severe compromise is, once more, in PCI slots. Your typical ITX motherboard will have a single PCI Express slot and a single standard PCI slot, resulting in the least room for expansion. Some motherboard manufacturers will embed Bluetooth and Wi-Fi capabilities into the motherboard to nullify these downsides, however.
ITX motherboards will almost always cut down RAM slots to 2. While Micro ATX has some boards that also do this, most don’t- every Mini ITX board we’ve been able to find does cut down on RAM, though. Thanks to the smaller size, this can still conflict with large air coolers as well.
Provided you can build around the limitations of Mini ITX, you’ll likely enjoy the benefits of its smaller form factor, especially if you select one of the smaller cases we’ve listed in this article.
Aside from the sizes we listed above, there are a few more that you might spot out in the wild:
- Extended ATX – Even larger than standard ATX, usually adds even more PCI Express slots. May even add support for dual CPU configurations.
- BTX – Intended to replace ATX, but failed. Most popular for workstations and prebuilt PCs manufactured in the early 2000s.
Besides Extended ATX, none of the rest of these are actually relevant to PC building in 2020. For that reason, we recommend sticking to ATX, M-ATX, and M-ITX…unless you really want Extended ATX, though you’ll need to get a compatible full tower for that.
How To Pick Your Case
Once you understand how sizes work (read the above section if you don’t), you’re better equipped to find the right case for your needs. However, there are still a few points worth clarifying.
Case Sizes and Suitable Motherboards
- Full Tower – ATX, sometimes E-ATX. Micro ATX will usually also be compatible, as well as Mini ITX.
- Mid Tower – ATX, Micro ATX, and Mini ITX.
- Mini Tower – Micro ATX and Mini ITX, though some will only support ITX.
- Desktop – Micro ATX and Mini ITX, though some smaller cases will only support ITX.
- HTPC – Sometimes Micro ATX, but usually Mini ITX.
Your case and motherboard size selection go pretty hand-in-hand, so it’s best to decide what overall size you want before selecting either. If you don’t need to run a multi-GPU config, we recommend Micro ATX and a matching Mid or Mini Tower.
If you don’t plan on using much extra expansion, or just want as small a PC as possible, ITX and its compatible form factors are your best bets.
Consider a Mid or Full Tower with a matching ATX motherboard if you want to use expansion to its fullest, or run a multi-drive RAID setup.
Past these basic size and compatibility considerations, there are other things to take into account.
Cooling Options and Airflow
Another important aspect to take into consideration is cooling.
In the context of PC cases, cooling refers to fans, radiators, and overall airflow. These are all interconnected, but we’ll start with fans first.
When it comes to case fans, you have two main options: 120mm fans, and 140mm fans. Generally speaking, larger fans push more air, but also tend to be slightly louder.
On occasion, you may also see 200mm or 230mm case fans- these are most commonly bundled with the case itself, and not purchased by the end user. These larger fans are typically employed in smaller cube cases in order to maximize airflow without stuffing two whole 120mm or 140mm fans into the chassis.
Other important measurements to keep in mind with fans are CFM, RPM, and dB.
- CFM is Cubic Feet Per Minute and serves as a measure of raw airflow.
- RPM is Rotations Per Minute and refers to fan speed- the faster it spins, the more air it pushes and the more noise it generates.
- Finally, dB is decibels- the amount of noise the fan makes. Many people like buying case fans from the likes of Noctua and be Quiet! since their fans tend to be…well, quiet.
As you may be able to deduce, fans have the greatest effect on overall airflow. To maximize airflow in most cases, you typically want at least two intake fans mounted on the front of the case, and at least one (preferably two) exhaust fans mounted on the rear end/rear-top of the case. The exact nature of this configuration can change on a case-by-case basis, though.
Radiators come into play with a liquid CPU cooler setup. Your typical radiator will be 240mm in length and have 2 120mm fans attached. These are generally mounted on the top of the case, but some smaller cases may offer a front-mounted radiator setup instead. As long as your radiator fans aren’t pushing in the opposite direction of your intake fans, front-mounting a radiator shouldn’t be an issue at all.
When it comes to airflow, most of it boils down to having a sensible fan configuration that pushes air through the case in one direction. The size of your case and the options it offers can have a pretty big impact here, especially when you’re using a Micro ATX or Mini ITX case.
We’ve vetted all of our cases for this article for good airflow, but if you end up buying a different case of your own volition, make sure it can account for these basic needs. Additionally, make sure it can actually bring in air- as pretty as cases like the Cooler Master Q300P are, decisions like an acrylic front panel result in pretty poor airflow.
When buying cases, you may notice that some offer side panel windows. Whether you want these or not is mostly up to personal preference and budget, but there are meaningful differences that we should discuss here.
A case without a side panel window of any kind may have slightly poorer airflow if the side panel doesn’t offer some kind of ventilation. These tend to be a bit cheaper overall than windowed options, but offer no real practical benefits or major downsides.
Acrylic windows are the most popular you’ll see, offering a modest degree of transparency for looking inside at your build. These should be marginally better for cooling than having no window whatsoever (since they aren’t as dense), especially if they are also ventilated.
Acrylic windows, however, have a tendency to scratch much more easily and are much more opaque than your typical tempered glass setup. For this reason, acrylic case windows have fallen out of popularity.
Tempered glass is the most popular side panel option, but also the most expensive by a considerable margin.
Cooling-wise, tempered glass doesn’t really have an impact one way or another…as long as proper ventilation exists elsewhere in the system. Tempered glass front panels are quite popular, for instance, but tend to protrude ever-so-slightly from the case so that air can make its way in to the intake fans.
As far as side panels go, tempered glass is as good as it gets. It doesn’t scratch as easily as acrylic and it’s gorgeous…but it is much more fragile. Not quite as fragile as your typical glass, but still enough that a drop from standing height on a hard surface would probably devastate your chassis.
As long as you aren’t in the business of regularly dropping your hardware, though, tempered glass should be just fine.
Builder friendliness is a bit harder to quantify, but here are some general rules to go by:
- The smaller the case, the harder cable management, cooler installation, and driver installation become.
- Dedicated compartments of the case for the PSU, cable management, or both are a great bonus.
- If there are no cable management routing holes to speak of, you’re going to have a bad time.
- Drive bay tools and hot-swap bays both serve to make the building process easier.
- Bonus points for dedicated 2.5-inch drive slots (for SSDs). Without these, you may have to opt for adapters or just taping your SSD down somewhere.
A good rule of thumb here, especially if you’re a new builder, is to take a look at the reviews and see what people say about the building process. If a case looks intimidating to build in, you probably shouldn’t buy it.
Front Panel I/O
If you’re buying a case, chances are you’ll want extra I/O for your convenience.
We recommend sticking with cases that offer USB 3.0 ports as a minimum acceptable baseline. USB 3.0 has been around since 2008, and in the decade or so since many devices have been utilizing its faster transfer speeds. If you own a modern smartphone, you may also be interested in cases that offer 3.0 Type-C ports, since many phones have been opting for that connector.
Other common case I/O includes a power button, a reset button, and a few jacks for headphone audio and microphone audio. While the latter two are also offered by most motherboards, the former two are a pretty vital feature for any modern chassis to have.
Aside from everything we listed above, some cases may boast miscellaneous extra features.
The most popular of these extra features is RGB lighting- typically through RGB fans or RGB light strips built into the cases themselves. This is a purely aesthetic flair, but one that the aesthetically-minded will desire.
Other features include things like handles. A handle on a Micro ATX or Mini ITX case, for instance, can greatly improve its portability and serve as a vital feature for those who bring their PCs to LAN parties or other events frequently.
In general, extra features are just that- extra- and shouldn’t be the main reason why you buy a certain case. Make sure that build quality, capacity, and airflow are up to par, first.
Will my GPU fit?
In most of the cases we’ve listed above, yes…as long as your GPU is of standard length.
To determine for yourself whether or not your GPU will fit, however, you’ll want to find its length measurement in millimeters. Once you have its length, compare it to the GPU clearance spec that your case has…in this article, we’ve done the work for you and have all the GPU clearance specs listed in the Pros/Cons of each Case Review.
Will my cooler fit?
Air coolers rely on large heatsinks and fans for maximum efficiency…at least, aftermarket ones do. Your stock coolers with AMD and Intel processors will both tend to be small enough to fit in even ITX cases, Intel’s especially. But if you’re serious about cooling performance, you’ll want to buy your own aftermarket air cooler or liquid cooler.
With this in mind, Micro ATX and Mini ITX cases typically tend to slim down. When a case is slim, it won’t have as much room for the large heatsinks characteristic of great air coolers…the Corsair Crystal 280X that we’ve listed, for instance, doesn’t have room for the fan-favorite Cooler Master 212 EVO air cooler.
The smaller the case, the less likely your air cooler will fit. In these scenarios, you’ll want to verify the length of your cooler and the clearance the case offers for CPU coolers, which we’ve listed in the Pros/Cons of the reviews above.
Do I need liquid cooling?
No, but you may want it.
The main benefits of liquid cooling are a quieter system, lower temperatures, and much less space taken up. Radiators will take up a fan slot or two in your case, but that’s about it- the part that attaches directly to your CPU is fairly low-profile. (This is in the case of closed-loop or AIO coolers- if you’re building your own liquid cooling setup, it won’t be quite as efficient on space.)
With the smaller cases on this list, like the Corsair Crystal or InWin 301, you may want to opt for liquid cooling. This offers additional visual flair to your build while helping it stay quieter and cooler, which is great for low-profile PCs.