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What Should I Look For In A Case?

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October 25, 2006 7:58:46 PM

Hey guys,

Like everyone else on these forums, I will be building a new machine soon and I need to find a good case (and PSU but i'll get to that later). I am looking to spend a max of $100 on my case (I might be willing to go as high as $110).

The deal is, when I built my first machine, I didn't really know what to look for, and as a result I got a case that I thought would be alright, but it had poor cooling/airflow. So, I am wondering what exactly should I look for in a case?

Here is what I know so far:
1)It should be big to accomodate parts and airflow (so I would probably need a full atx tower)
2)It should be aestheticly pleasing since I am going to see it every day for years
3)It should possibly come with a nice PSU (although it might be better to buy a PSU seperately)

What I am not sure of is what makes for a good case design in terms of spaciousness and airflow. Furthermore, what manufacturers have a good reputation for their cases and yet still have a good pricerange? Any help would be greatly appreciated.

-Zorak

P.S. If you want to make PSU suggestions and need to know what my power requirements are, just say so and I'll post my preliminary parts list for this machine.

More about : case

October 25, 2006 9:34:23 PM

Quote:
1)It should be big to accomodate parts and airflow (so I would probably need a full atx tower)

This is more of a preference thing then anything.
Yes sometimes people have parts (like massive watter cooling systems) that need big cases and bigger cases are a little easier to work in, but they do not offer much of a cooling advantage over a properly built ATX mid tower.

Quote:
2)It should be aestheticly pleasing since I am going to see it every day for years.
Yes it should be aesthetically pleasing, but also there are many good looking cases that make far to much noise, have cooling issues, or quality controal issues and maybe all 3. Go for quality over aesthetics.

Quote:
3)It should possibly come with a nice PSU (although it might be better to buy a PSU seperately)
In most cases I would avoid cases with provided psu's. But Antec sonata and NSK6500 are great case psu combo's for inexpensive systems.

For better cooling with lower noise look for cases that only use 120mm fans, If you want a case thats easy to work with look for cases that have removable motherboard trays. Also look for cases that do not have complaints of sharp edges. Aluminum offers no cooling advantage over steel, cost's more and is prone to resonance with fans and drives, but is far lighter and looks better.

The cases I personally like are
Antec P180 (note this is NOT a easy case to wire, but it has great cooling at low noise levels. When I build a new computer It will be in this case)
GIGABYTE 3D AURORA (costly and over budget but has great cooling and size wise is in between mid and full tower.)
Lian-Li (for higher end)
Coolermaster (makes some very good low end cases along with some great higher end cases.)
October 25, 2006 9:47:47 PM

when i was refering to aesthetics I just meant that I don't want it to be a total eyesore. I actually prefer more simple designs to flashy things. And of course, since I am studying to be an engineer I value function over form so I must say that we are very much in agreement on that point.

As for the included PSUs, you think that I should just avoid them alltogether or are there some Antec cases that come with poor quality PSUs? I had heard previously that Antec is a pretty good PSU manufacturer so I just wanted a little bit of clarity on that point.

Thanks for your help so far guys :D 

-Zorak
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October 25, 2006 10:17:17 PM

As a general rule, yes avoid psu's that come with cases unless you know its from a quality manufacture.

As for the looks at around 100 bucks finding a case thats has both a good layout and thats still aesthetically pleasing should not be that hard. But there are situations like the Cooler Master Wave Master where it is a great looking case (heck it's one of my personal favorite cases) but it has quite poor cooling and made to much noise. But I would still buy one for a case moding project but also I have a dermal and a plan to fix the cooling issues in that case.

But Cooler Master overall is a quality case manufacture

And Antec does not sell total junk psu's but the psu in the Sonata II is really just a good mid quality psu thats more then enough for most systems . But the Antec P150 has a Antec Neo he power supply and thats one of Antec's higherend psu's. Its unfortunate but this is decidedly one of those function over forum cases.
October 25, 2006 10:36:51 PM

Just look on reviewer's sites for case reviews, overclocker boards are a good bet. Coolermaster is a highly touted brand. Here's some other vendors/cases:

Aerocool
NZXT
Aspire (Apevia)
Raidmax
Lian Li
FrozenCPU
ThermalTake
Antec

. . . easiest way, just google "computer cases" then look around. Read the reviews, and when you spot a case you like, google it and try to read more than one review (that's a good idea for any part, really :p  )

- A tower will give the best cooling (generally) as long as you've got enough case fans. Rule of thumb is: Smaller the fan = more noise it makes. Mid-towers are fine, just have to be more concerned its got proper cooling (and room for cooling solutions)

If you're going Tower, try to get aluminum. Otherwise, its gonna be heavy.

- Removable mobo tray is a great plus

- Yup, avoid those including PSU's. Best to get one without & pick a quality PSU elsewhere.

- Toolless interiors: really your preference. Why are so many afraid to pick up a screwdriver? Sheesh. Me, I'd prefer regular (not tooless) cases, when I have a choice.

Just got a new system, and finally chose the Coolermaster 300 Tower (the reviews & removable mobo tray sold me). I was giving the Aerocool ExtremEngine 3T a hard look, though, loved that huge side fan they employed. You might look at it, it retails for around $100.
October 26, 2006 2:21:11 AM

Would it be any cheaper to get a steel case as opposed to aluminum? As far as the weight is concerned, its not a big deal since I probably won't move it around to much (maybe an occasional lan party w/ friends). I really appreciate the input that I have received. Thanks.

-Zorak
October 26, 2006 3:07:04 AM

Steel is generally cheaper, but then your cheapest cases are going to be steel. Aluminum doesn't add much to the cost of a quality case, but aluminum cases tend to have finished internal edges so you don't end up cutting yourself.

.8mm aluminum can feel a little flimsy but should be fine (my Thermaltake Eclipse DV uses this, it gets better once the rig is built) and is lighter. You can get aluminum in 1mm and 1.2mm which will be more rigid (your case lid won't feel so much like a baking tray) but will be heavier, and possibly cost more. Unless you plan on hauling the case around a lot, don't worry about steel vs. aluminum.

As others have said, avoid included PSUs. If you like the case and it includes a PSU (and it isn't one of the uncommon good ones) then buy it anyway and get a PSU anyway. Then ditch that included PSU when you do the build. Your components and time simply cost too much to risk on some cheapo PSU.
October 26, 2006 3:30:34 AM

Steel cases tend to cost less but the Cooler Master Mystique looks cool also these aluminum cases are in your price range.

Lian-Li PC70 (120mm fans non removable motherboard tray)
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.asp?Item=N82E16811112068
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.asp?Item=N82E16811112099

Lain-Li PC60 (80mm fans removable motherboard tray)
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.asp?Item=N82E16811112022
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.asp?Item=N82E16811112025

And if you want to be different. (120mm fans also)
Lain-Li G50 Actually I think this case is kinda cool.

Only warning again is they could have resonance issues but I think these cases might be exactly what you were looking for. Oh and for rubber fan silencers, look at smaller vender's like frozencpu or jab-tech to save on shipping. And if you feel like doing a mod you could build a you own harddrive suspension system to help eliminate the vibration caused by your harddrives.
October 26, 2006 4:43:16 PM

When you refer to "resonance issues" what exactly do you mean by that? Is that to say that the fans will cause the entire case to vibrate and it will be loud? And do you know what the best way to mitigate this is? Also, when a case has large 120mm fans, will the noise level be untolerable or is that a relatively minor issue? Since I will be putting this machine in a room that has fairly sound absorbing surfaces (i.e. curtains and carpets) do you think that would only be a minor issue? I don't have the money or the experience to go with water cooling so I'd rather stick with fans, but by the same token, I'd rather not have my computer sound like an F-22 raptor that has just turned on its afterburners any time i power it up.

This is probably the most help I've ever gotten on any forum before so I would just like to thank everyone who has been kind enough to take the time to give me assistance.

-Zorak
October 26, 2006 5:28:00 PM

I'll throw out a couple of thoughts from someone who recently built his first machine, and has done a ton of research. There are much more knowledgeable people on here that have already given great advice, just wanted to give you another perspective.

For the record, I used the Antec P160 case and have been extremely pleased so far. A couple of things that I thought of while reading the posts before mine in no particular order. B/c we don't know what you're putting into the case, some of these thought may not apply.

- definitely look for something that has rolled edges inside. I believe I would have ended up with quite a few cuts if the edges weren't rolled.

- One way to help with case noise from fans is to use rubber mounts. The fan that comes with the Antec case has, what I can best describe as, rubber screws. If you can't find those, maybe you can get some rubber rings to put between the case and fan to absorb some of the vibration of the fan.

- Along with that: This may be fairly standard these days, but my case had rubber dampeners around the screw holes on my hard drive mounts, again to help absorb any vibration from the HDD. Nice little feature.

- I'll second the comment about having a front intake and rear exhaust fans. Creates nice airflow over components keeping things cool.

- I found my motherboard tray extremely nice to have. B/c it was my first time, I had a little bit of a hard time getting the MB mounted, largely due to my paranoia about frying something or breaking something. I would have been 10 times worse without the tray.

- Lastly, consider other little random things like placement of power buttons, audio jacks, USB/firewire ports, etc. Some cases put these behind doors, some have them on top, some on bottom, etc. One reason I like my case is the USB ports on the front are on the top front of the case. I use a USB headset for gaming all the time and its easier to plug in/unplug there and cord management is easier. I also didn't want to deal with a door when I was getting to drives or plugs so I stayed away from that.

Best of luck deciding on a case.
October 26, 2006 6:52:23 PM

Basically every moving part (fans drives ect.) causes some kind of vibration, in heavy steal cases this is usually not as much of a problem. But aluminum is quite a bit lighter then steel, so its is more prone to picking up the vibration's of the moving parts and viberation=noise. (Yes my explanation sucks but its more the general idea)

And on noise levels 120mm fans are actually the best fans for lowering noise levels they push much more air at a lower rotation speed then 80mm fans. 80mm fans have a higher rotation speed, make a higher pitched noise, case more vibration and over all more noise compared to a 120mm fan pushing the same amount of air.

Basically esanders09 said almost everything I was going to say about noise dampening, the only thing I can add is (this would be extremely easy in one of those Lain-li's) Is suspending your harddives.
Really good (cheep to do) example, admitadly I would attach it to the case floor also.
http://www.silentpcreview.com/article109-page1.html

Is vibration dampening 100% needed, nope but it is something that should be taken into consideration to have the best possible build quality, heck it could end up being better then allot of professional builds.
And I'm kinda guessing your last case made to much noise, or it looked cool when you bough it and then you grew up.

Also if your worried about your color of your drives not matching up with your case.
http://www.frozencpu.com/cat/l3/g1/c143/s440/list/p1/Cases-Drive_Bay_Covers-Stick-On_Bezels-Page1.htm
Other noise dampening stuff.
http://www.jab-tech.com/Noise-dampening-c-209.html

And a link about folding IED cables for better looks/airflow ( Its the same technique used by the big name professional builders.)
http://www.thetechzone.com/?m=show&id=126&page=1
October 26, 2006 7:11:20 PM

Il_palazzo,

That was a very nice touch adding those links; I am sure they will come in handy! (adding the link about color missmatch was also a nice idea)

I suppose to start out I could just mount everything normally and if the noise gets to be too loud I could suspend my hard drives as you suggested.

As for my current case, up to a certain extent you are correct. It isn't terribly noisy and when I picked it, I went for something that was relatively cheap and that included a couple of fans and a power supply. But of course at the time I wasn't quite as experienced as I am now (I am learning more and more every day).

In any case, I noticed that this thread has already had more than 500 views, so it is my hope that it will serve as a useful guide to people besides me. Admittedly I created this threat to find help for my specific problem with the intent of learning enough about cases to make an informed decision myself. If other people can benefit from the general advice given here as well, so much the better.

Cheers, fellow computer enthusiasts!

-Zorak
October 26, 2006 7:37:09 PM

Lian-Li makes the best cases, but they're quite expensive. Also, not everyone likes the styling. The cheapest Lian-Li's come in at about $70-80; you should have a good choice for ~$100.

You might also want to look into Cooler Master, Thermaltake, and Silverstone (might be out of your price range).
October 26, 2006 8:00:28 PM

If you are looking for a case and PSU on a budget and want a simple design that isn't too loud and has decent cooling I would try the Antec Sonata 2:

http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.asp?Item=N82E1681...

- costs $100
- has 120mm rear exhaust (tri speed)
- space for 120mm intake (have to buy one, about $10)
- is designed to be quiet
- comes with an antec 450W psu, reliable and more than enough for average build
- looks nice (if you like simple cases)

**Note** I own one of these, so I am a little biased.
October 26, 2006 9:58:19 PM

I am still trying to learn about PSUs at this point, but I wonder if 450 watts will really be enough for my new system. As it stands right now my system consists of the following new components:

ASRock 939Dual motherboard
AMD 64 X2 4600+
nVidia 7900GT (don't know which manufacturer yet) NO SLI !!
1GB DDR400
maybe a DVD burner but i don't know yet

I am going to reuse these parts:
Maxtor Diamond10 250 GB SATA drive
Western Digital 7200RPM 40 GB IDE drive

I might consider buying another SATA drive and retire my IDE drive so I'd like to make sure i have enough room to upgrade in the future
I read a guide about how to calculat how much power you think you will need and they advised adding about 1/3rd of the power you calculate on top of the calculated value to be certain you will have enough power. In my case I calculated somewhere around 450 watts (using an online calculator) and then adding an extra 1/3 brings me to a whopping 600 watts! That seems like a bit much, so I wonder whether I did the calculation correctly? Thanks.

-Zorak
October 26, 2006 10:35:29 PM

I calculated your necessary power here:

http://www.extreme.outervision.com/PSUEngine

and with a few educated guesses, I got 299W. So even if you want to add 30%, thats only 400W. Generally, you need to worry more about how much power your video card requires and how much power your PSU supplies on its 12v rail (where the power for the video card comes from).

According to silentpc review the Antec 450W smartpower has 2 12v rails putting out 180W each, so as long as your video card doesn't need more than 180W, you should be fine.

Review: http://www.silentpcreview.com/article260-page1.html
Anonymous
a b ) Power supply
October 26, 2006 11:13:41 PM

I concur, at 99.99 on newegg, you can't go wrong with the sonata II, roomy, pretty silent, decent PSU with a Fan that only spins when it gets warm.

Overall great case, a few sharp edges and the glossy black gets stained easyly but other than that good case for the value.

Oh and that CPU air duck needs to be thrown in the garbage within the first 10 seconds
October 26, 2006 11:35:35 PM

Full Tower: TT Armor 8003
Mid Tower: Antec 500
October 26, 2006 11:38:38 PM

A good 450w PSU would work for that system but here is part of the trick to shopping for powersupply's.

Compare this cheep 430w Thermal Take PSU
Vs.
My current (pricey) Seasonic 430w psu.

TT
+3.3V@20A, +5V@30A, +12V@18A, -5V@0.5A, -12V@0.8A, +5VSB@2A

Seasonic.
+3.3V@30A, +5V@30A, +12V1@14A, +12V2@15A, -12V@0.8A, +5VSB@2A

Notice the +12v
The thermaltake can only make 18A (most likely sustained power)
Where as the SeaSonic can make 14A+15A=29A (and this is sustained power)

Now this is not a fair fight as the SeaSonic is basically almost 3x the price, but this is why you don't look purely the advertised wattage you should also look at its the +12v rail ratings. Higher efficiency is also a good thing to look for, less power waisted+less heat produced=equals quieter operation.

But a yes a good 450w PSU would work here but you should consider a 500w PSU just for a little more overhead. Basically plan on budgeting in 60-100 bucks for a quality powersupply.

Frankly I really dislike companies that mislead customers and power supply's seem to be very a popular item to do this on, Powersupply's are one of the parts you really need to read the fine print on.
Basically you get what you pay for.

----------------

Now onto Graphics cards. (thankfully not nearly as hard)
The 7900GT is a good card, I would of told you to consider a ATI x1900xt but unfortunately all the cheep ones are now gone.

But when choosing a manufacture warranty wise I would go with BFG or EVGA, but really any more all manufactures cards all basically equal. And also when you get your mail in rebate back consider buying a 3ed party cooler since the Nvidia reference cooler is noisy and overall just sucks.
Zalman and Arctic cooling make very good and quite gfx card coolers.
October 27, 2006 1:07:52 AM

yeah actually as far as graphics cards are concerned I was originally an ATI fan, but seeing as how I have become a Linux user, I don't like them anymore. The reason for this being that ATI support for Linux ROYALLY BLOWS and traditionally nVidia support is better, so I want to get a card that will do well in both Linux AND Windows (for when I am playing my games).

I did have a fairly good experience with my radeon 9600xt under windows and if ATI would only get their act together I'd be inclined to go with them again. Oh well.

-Zorak
October 27, 2006 8:46:22 AM

I use Lian Li

Once you have a Lian Li you dont have to look for another PC case again.
Also Lian Li will redefine the meaning of quality for you..
October 27, 2006 3:55:34 PM

In response to wun91:

That sounds like a pretty bold claim, care to elaborate on why this is true?


-Zorak
October 27, 2006 7:32:01 PM

as far as the case goes... i think you should give CoolerMaster a good look.

I really like many of their case designs.


http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.asp?Item=N82E1681...

Centurion 5 $45 (61ish shipped) still leaving you $50 or so towards the PSU to come in about your stated budget.

maybe something like this (yeah it would slightly over) but this PSU seems to be giving much bang for the buck

http://www.newegg.com/Product/CustratingReview.asp?item...

INWIN IP-P460 (active PFC (YAY!!!!) dual 12V rails SLI support if you need it down the road)

+3.3@30A,+5V@32A,+12V1@16A,+12V2@16A,-12V@0.6A,+5VSB@2.5A

effeciency +75% not quite as good as the seasonics for example but

the closest seasonic in specs to the inwin is $119.99 blowing your whole budget and leaving you sans case

http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.asp?Item=N82E1681...

S12-500

+3.3V@30A, +5V@30A, +12V1@17A, +12V2@16A, -12V@0.8A, +5VSB@2A
!