Four Full Tower Cases From $150 To $600

Conclusion

Let’s go one case at a time.

The ABS Canyon 695 is the Maybach in a roundup between the 745i, S550, and A8. All of these cases are nice, sure. But the Canyon is the one to grab when opulence is a way of life. Shoot, we’ve built entire systems—fast systems, even—for the price you’ll pay for a bare Canyon 695. Check out our $625 System Builder Marathon if you want proof. Build quality is flawless thanks to Lian-Li’s expertise with aluminum. Weight remains low as well, since there’s no steel to be found. It’s the quietest enclosure in our roundup. And the case didn’t perform poorly in our thermal tests, though it did run warmer than the boxes designed for more free-flowing circulation. Side-mounted 5.25” drive bays were a design decision we wouldn’t have made, and it was a shame that our PC Power and Cooling PSU wouldn’t fit. Also, the backplane-based storage subsystem may keep you from deploying SSDs or WD VelociRaptor hard drives, so careful there as well.

Antec’s Twelve Hundred is more of a benchmark with which to evaluate our other cases here. It isn’t as beautiful as ABS’ Canyon, and my back will tell you that it’s significantly heavier. We did have a couple of nitpicks on the design. For example, installing a hard drive requires popping off both side panels, removing eight thumb screws, screwing in the drive, and putting it all back together again. Also, you’ll want a power supply with an 8-pin +12 V cable able to reach the top of the motherboard on its own—our barely made the stretch and Antec doesn’t include an extension like other vendors. But otherwise, the Twelve Hundred is a fairly simple enclosure able to house a lot of hardware at a very reasonable price. It was one of the louder cases we tested (likely a result of the free-flowing design), but it also managed to place second in our thermal testing, just after the Cooler Master HAF.

Priced similarly to the Twelve Hundred, Cooler Master’s HAF 932 and the Antec chassis are our real head-to-head contenders here. The two cases share a lot of design philosophy. Mainly, open panels plus large fans should equal cool, yet quiet, running. In most cases, that’d be true. But add a couple of Radeon HD 4870s idling at 80 degrees C, and you’re suddenly looking at a couple of components able to foil the non-insulated chassis design. As such, the HAF 932 registered the loudest at load and second-loudest at idle. It also delivered the most compelling temps, though. We like that Cooler Master’s case can take an eATX motherboard, includes smart accessories like a power supply cable extension, and tool-free hard drive trays.

Right smack dab in the middle, from acoustic performance to price to thermal performance, is Thermaltake’s Spedo with the Advanced Package. Decidedly more aggressive in design versus the Cooler Master or Antec boxes, the Spedo includes some very cool innovation. Right at the top of our list would be the side panel fan, which gets its power from two contacts built into the chassis itself. The Advanced Thermal Chamber 3 concept is inventive as well, taking its cues from automotive engine bays. However, we’d hesitate to say the bundle of plastic parts warranted an extra $50 over the Twelve Hundred and HAF 932. Thermaltake’s cable management system, on the other hand, is incredibly cool, and it did a great job of cleaning up the case’s interior.

Overall

The real battle here is happening between Antec, Cooler Master, and Thermaltake. ABS is in a league of its own. If you can afford to pay $600 for a case without a power supply that doesn’t include a complete water cooling kit, there’s really no competition. The design, construction, and quality of the Canyon 695 are unparalleled by any other case here.

But at a more palatable price range from $150 to $200, we’re faced with three strong contenders. All of them prominently feature big fans and lots of circulation, but Cooler Master’s HAF 932 has to be our favorite for its strong design, easy installation and aggressive price.

The Antec Twelve Hundred is quite close, being an overall quieter case that requires a little more work to put together.

Thermaltake’s Spedo is close as well. We did have a little trouble with thin metal at the bottom of the case warping during shipping, which complicated power supply installation. However, the enclosure’s cable management and innovative side-panel fan were welcome differentiators in a market where it’s difficult to stand apart. More attractive right now would probably be the Spedo without the Advanced package, which is selling online for $139 after a $30 mail-in-rebate. Those significant savings drastically alter the case’s value versus some of the other offerings here.

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71 comments
    Your comment
  • Proximon
    Thank you Chris, another very useful article. Not enough case comparisons around, as I'm sure you realized.
    I'll be sure to add the HAF to my recommendation list. I hadn't before because I thought all the extra holes would hinder cooling more than help. The hole in the MB tray sounds especially useful.
    I would have liked to see on of the Cosmos cases included, although I suspect they are simply quieter but hotter.
    6
  • malveaux
    Nice article.

    Though, I'm curious. 40db+ isn't whisper quiet. That's freak'n loud. What's up with calling it whisper quiet?
    5
  • Pei-chen
    The three cheaper cases are powerhouses but too big and overkill for most people including gamers. I think the Antec's Three Hundred ($60 a few weeks ago on Newegg) suits the need for most people. 750w PSU are usually enough for SLI/Crossfire so 1000w+ aren't needed.
    -1
  • malveaux
    I'm curious when they will start releaseing more cases that have more depth, so that they have more room for today's much larger videocard solutions.
    0
  • kubes
    Ya I agree that case designers should consider making them have more depth. With this in mind though i'm sure vidoe card manufactors will only make their card even longer however.
    2
  • Anonymous
    Lian Li has plenty of depth, and otherwise just huge (PC-A70).
    0
  • antiacid
    Good article. Now it gives a procedure and template to test other cases as well. It'd be great to have a review of cases which could be "best of" a certain category (cooling, noise, ease of use, weight, etc). It would be even nicer if the results were put in bullet point form and were setup in a table like the ones used in hdd/video card tables. That would make it a lot easier to compare everything.
    1
  • avatar_raq
    I do believe that all the cases available in the market these days are poorly designed especially when it comes to air flow. You may notice that front fans, rear fans, buttom, side and top panel fans -when combined- cause turbulence in air flow that reduces the overall air flow. That's why I buy a cheap $25 case and modded myself!!!
    I have so many innovations regarding case designs that I hope someone buys them and excutes them in reality!!
    -1
  • avatar_raq
    Here is one of my ideas...
    To put it plainly: air needs to be moved in one direction, preferably from down-upwards, since hot air tends to go upward by nature and the hottest part of any system (that's the GFX cards) is located at the lower part..Hence a PSU mounted at the upper part of the case (with its 120-140mm fan), with another 120mm top-panel exhaust fan and two 120mm buttom intake fans will be by far more efficient than all the available cases. To achieve this efficincy I close any other holes (even the ones the manufacturer meant for ventilation) so the air enters the case only from the buttom fans where I put dust filters to minimize dust inside my case. Furthermore I use a case with long "legs" to minimize inhalation of the dust at my desk's surface.
    To minimize noise: I use
    1.low RPM silent fans.
    2.rubber washers between the fans and the case to minimize vibration noise.
    3.cover all the interior surfaces with a layer of an insulator, that can be as simple as sponge!!!
    4.even design external air ducts that divert the exhausted air (which carries the interior noise) to the back.
    -1
  • avatar_raq
    Fortunately many aftermarket CPU and GPU coolers helped me. They can be installed in a way that the fan moves the air upwards. There is evidence that the setup I suggested above reduces -though marginally- the power consumed by the CPU and GPU fans to reach thier designated rpm and increases the lifetime of these fans, since instead of meeting resistance, the one directional air flow helps them.
    -1
  • malveaux
    Heya,

    I'm curious about putting sinulation in a case. I'd love to see measurments of noise levels in a case with just random sponges in the case versus not.Heya,

    I'm curious about putting insulation in a case. I'd love to see measurments of noise levels in a case with just random sponges in the case versus not, and other solutions. Personally, I don't like lights and other stuff in the case, I don't look at my case, I look at my display. Reducing the case's obvious footprint and pressence is a nice thing. Less noise would be wonderful (especially since I use mine as a HTPC too). I've always been a fan of the blow hole (top fan to draw hot air out). Sealing up a case to reduce all holes to just air flow from bottom to top, with insulation of some kind to reduce noise would be a great project to try.

    Again, I'd love to see some noise and temp measurements! To the forum? Got some ways to measure it?

    Cheers,
    -1
  • avatar_raq
    Believe it or not the setup I mentioned keeps my E6750 (overclocked from 2.66ghz 1.23v to 3.8ghz 1.44v) under 55 c under full load (hours of dual prime 95) in a very hot room that lacks a cooling system(temps:40 to 50 c !!). (Don't be smart with me, we lack electrical power in my country and private small-groups generators are the only reason I can be online!!)

    I don't have the means to measure the noise level but I can tell you -though subjectively- it is very quiet when using all the mentioned steps. In the end I wish someone with enough resources (like the guys at Tom's) tests my project and give the whole world accurate objective measures and compare them to the available cases..Even the high end ones.
    -2
  • avatar_raq
    In my last post I forgot to add that I use vertically-oriented Zalman CNPS 9500 LED as a CPU cooler.
    -2
  • kamkal
    600$ for a case? hahahahaha

    almost spit out my drink when i saw the price tag
    1
  • kelfen
    They should make an article on water cooling for the i7!
    -1
  • cangelini
    Getting there. Gotta remember that i7 is still new, so there aren't a ton of options available yet.
    -1
  • Shadow703793
    Good write up. But should have increased the # of cases and droped the range to a max of $350-400.
    2
  • cangelini
    Shadow703793Good write up. But should have increased the # of cases and droped the range to a max of $350-400.


    Shadow,
    Kept the number lower so I could spend more time with the cases involved--takes a deceptively long time to build each system up, test it, etc. The ABS case is actually the one that set the whole roundup off--it was a struggle finding enclosures that could compete. I think we'd all love to have that thing, but the price is just prohibitive. Even still, very nice to look at.
    -1
  • ccintron
    Wow, those are four hideously UGLY cases... I'll stick with the Cooler Master Cosmos series.
    1
  • Anonymous
    Okay I'll bite:

    1.low RPM silent fans.
    2.rubber washers between the fans and the case to minimize vibration noise.

    Okay, these 2 ideas are pretty well established. Although personally i have doubts about #2 really making a difference.

    3.cover all the interior surfaces with a layer of an insulator, that can be as simple as sponge!!!

    Right, but it can also be as simple as extreme fire and inhalation hazard. Make sure what you are using doesn't burn easily.

    4.even design external air ducts that divert the exhausted air (which carries the interior noise) to the back.

    This may seem like a good idea on the surface, but by restricting the air flow (you build additional pressure in the outlet) you might actually be increasing fan noise and heat buildup.

    High legs are a good idea to prevent dust (i have this problem as well) but can be dangerous for someone who has the case on a carpet or other uneven surface, since it increases the chances of the case tipping over.
    -1