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One In 15: Picking An Overall Winner

The Final Five: Gaming Cases Between $80 And $120, Rounded-Up
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We've seen a leader emerge from each of our five-way comparisons. But a competition between 15 cases must yield one overall winner—or so we hope. Here is how they all finish in terms of average cooling performance:

The above chart is sorted by the average of both CPU and GPU temperature, with the top three cases exhibiting similar cooling performance. The NZXT Phantom 410 did a better job of cooling the GPU area, while the SilverStone Kublai KL04 and Antec Eleven Hundred pushed more air past the CPU.

Antec’s quiet Solo II topped our noise suppression chart, but at such high temperatures that we were forced to expand the scale of our thermal performance chart. Roughly equivalent in noise suppression, the Storm Enforcer, Kublai KL04, and Phantom 410 appear to be better options for building quiet gaming systems.

Combining excellent cooling and good noise suppression, the NZXT Phantom 410 tops our comparison of temperature-to-noise.

We limited our five-way comparisons to prices between $80 and $120 because that was what it took to qualify for our round-up. Since we began, however, a few of these cases dropped below $80. So, we updated our final chart to reflect actual, current prices.

Corsair’s 300R did not impress at the manufacturer-suggested price of $80, but that price recently dropped to $65 at Directron. Cooler Master’s Storm Enforcer similarly dropped to $72 at Walmart’s online store. Normalizing those two prices at the $80 minimum causes them to drop down to 10% and 15% over-average value. Strictly following the review guidelines, NZXT’s Phantom 410 comes out on top.

Using the mid-budget gaming market as our standard, the next three cases to appear on the value chart exhibit sub-standard quality. We don't see another chassis exhibiting the quality we expected in this segment until we reach Antec’s mid-pack Eleven Hundred.

A drop to $81 at Mwave puts NZXT’s Phantom 410 into its current high-value position, though it already received our accolades for high quality. Leading the entire field in both cooling and acoustic efficiency, this lower price sees the Phantom 410 finish ahead of its competition in value as well. Market leadership is the key qualification for our highest award and honor, the Best of Tom’s Hardware recognition.

If you need a different drive configuration, require different dimensions, prefer a different style, or simply despise external bay doors (like me), then fear not. The second-place Cooler Master Storm Enforcer, SilverStone Kublai KL04, and Antec Eleven Hundred perform admirably as well and are excellent values.

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  • 4 Hide
    idroid , August 29, 2012 4:39 AM
    Hell yeah!!! NZXT Phantom 410 FTW!!
  • 4 Hide
    idroid , August 29, 2012 4:40 AM
    Toms should do a review on high-end cases featuring EXTREME watercooling.
  • 1 Hide
    dudewitbow , August 29, 2012 5:12 AM
    idroidToms should do a review on high-end cases featuring EXTREME watercooling.


    the only tiny problem at the most part i see in that is that it would be slightly harder to test thermal efficiency, since its being cooled by water, rather than air + hsf so in a wc build, the thermal ratings will be extremely close.
  • 0 Hide
    jupiter optimus maximus , August 29, 2012 5:44 AM
    now try to find the best micro-atx case...
  • 5 Hide
    amuffin , August 29, 2012 6:01 AM
    The Antec Solo II is not a case meant for gaming.
  • -1 Hide
    back_by_demand , August 29, 2012 6:10 AM
    It would be nice to see a left-sided window case listing, there are definate advantages to a left sided window / upside down mobo config
  • 0 Hide
    iknowhowtofixit , August 29, 2012 6:23 AM
    But, but, but.... The Phantom 410 is sooooo ugly...
  • 5 Hide
    Crashman , August 29, 2012 6:45 AM
    amuffinThe Antec Solo II is not a case meant for gaming.
    Well...Antec sent it anyway. Along with the Eleven Hundred. So they evidently had a plan.
    back_by_demandIt would be nice to see a left-sided window case listing, there are definate advantages to a left sided window / upside down mobo config
    Did you know that the reason many manufacturers abandoned the upside-down case was because some motherboard heat pipes supposedly didn't work right in that configuration?
    iknowhowtofixitBut, but, but.... The Phantom 410 is sooooo ugly...
    Eye of the beholder :) 

  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , August 29, 2012 8:16 AM
    The Solo II would probably have done a little better with your LGA2011 / GTX580 setup, if Antec included at least one front intake fan. Any chance of a [quick, informal] re-test with an added intake fan or two? :) 
  • -1 Hide
    antemon , August 29, 2012 9:34 AM
    as
  • 0 Hide
    antemon , August 29, 2012 9:40 AM
    I'm a fan of smaller cases

    I have a qx-2000 case from aerocool. it's a nightmare for cable management and upgrading partsm but I like it

    can toms also do an in-depth article on smaller cases?

    particularly, I want a similar case as the qx-2000 but the PSU is mounted at the bottom so that adding items inside woundnt be too much of a chore.

    thermaltake armor a30 looks awesome, but still has a top mounted PSU
  • -1 Hide
    ojas , August 29, 2012 12:47 PM
    HAF 912 (preferably the Advanced model) is also a great case. Maybe include it in a round-up some day, if you can...
  • 1 Hide
    grokem , August 29, 2012 1:45 PM
    I really appreciate seeing each of these cases setup in the same way with pro/cons pointed out. Really well done quick review of the cases.

    My only complaint is that instead of the title "Gaming Cases Between $80 And $120" I would have titled the article "Overclock-able ATX Gaming/File Server Cases". I'm not sure why a gaming rig needs to be a 20" tower with room for seven drives and seven expansion slots these days. There are two large camps of gamers; those that overclock and those that don't.

    For either camp, mATX is the best board to choose these days. Also, no gamer needs 2-9 external 5.25" bays unless they are also building a file server with hat swappable drives. They make file server cases for that. I think everyone appreciates lots of 3.5" and 2.5" internal bays but they should be optional and cooling and noise should always be the primary concern.

    For the overclockers, these cases are sized but for those that don't intend to overclock a review of mATX cases would be a lot more what the common gamer is looking at these days. In the recent builder challenge, most of the rigs came with Core-i5 CPUs because the extra CPU power of the i7 didn't really help with the benchmarks that much. The graphics card was where all the bang for the buck in gaming is. Using that same logic, a lot of gamers are not overclocking their CPU because of the cost and hassle as well a reduced component life. More than ever I think you have have a true top tier gaming rig and not overclock anything in it.
  • -2 Hide
    Sakkura , August 29, 2012 1:51 PM
    This makes me pretty happy about the Cooler Master Storm Enforcer I've invested in. It's not as butt-ugly as the NZXT Phantom 410 and scores very close to it in value and efficiency.

    I think CM, Antec and SilverStone are going to be pretty sadface about getting those tiny "perform admirably as well and are excellent values" words at the end instead of a big, fat award badge.

    Excellent series of articles anyway. Extremely useful to have such a wide selection of cases compared. Case selection IMO tends to be one of the tougher things when putting a build together, it's usually harder to compare cases than CPUs or graphics cards.
  • -1 Hide
    jaquith , August 29, 2012 1:55 PM
    Very nice Article! :)  By now you've got to be numb of building.

    Interesting you had the 400R and not the $115~$120 -$15 MIR Corsair 500R.

    Cases must have good cable management, features, airflow, and quality -- beyond that it's a Beauty is in the Eyes of the Beholder.

    Just a thought on your grid you might want to add e.g. 1. Front Ports, 2. Side Panel Cable Management, 3. USB 3.0 (20-pin/pass-through)
  • 2 Hide
    Crashman , August 29, 2012 2:00 PM
    jaquithVery nice Article! By now you've got to be numb of building.Interesting you had the 400R and not the $115~$120 -$15 MIR Corsair 500R.Cases must have good cable management, features, airflow, and quality -- beyond that it's a Beauty is in the Eyes of the Beholder.Just a thought on your grid you might want to add e.g. 1. Front Ports, 2. Side Panel Cable Management, 3. USB 3.0 (20-pin/pass-through)
    #3 doesn't make a difference, because the ground rules mentioned in part one and linked in parts 2 and 3 say that nobody could participate unless they included 20-pin.

    Without adding that restriction, Tom's Hardware would have gotten at least twice as many cases at just one per manufacturer, and four times as many cases with this series' "twofer" plan.

    As a motherboard editor, I can't recommend anything that doesn't have 20-pin. So as a case editor, I can't recommend anything that doesn't support recommended motherboards. Yeh, I'm a little...well anyway, you did know that without this editor we might still be waiting for a front-panel connector standard, right?
  • -1 Hide
    jaquith , August 29, 2012 2:18 PM
    RE: #2 ; one of the cases, searched them all first, showed a USB 3.0 pass-through and then I looked at the case's page (your Article) looking for the 20-pin. Admittedly I haven't read all of your article. Hmm...I think many MFG's haven't gotten your MEMO. In the last day or so I ran across some case, I think an Antec, that ships with 3 USB 3.0 ports with x2 20-pins -- so odd stuff is still out there being produced.

    Many of the Corsair lines need a 'Version 1.1' with standardized USB 3.0 20 pins, Front Ports, and the 800D with SATA3.

    Anyway thanks again :) 
  • -1 Hide
    halcyon , August 29, 2012 3:05 PM
    The Antec and Corsair appear to be the most attractive in my opinion with this cleaner and more sophisticated approach. I'm considering moving my PC from its 800D to a 500R
  • -2 Hide
    rohitbaran , August 29, 2012 3:41 PM
    What about CM690?
  • -1 Hide
    Anonymous , August 29, 2012 4:12 PM
    As an owner of the 400R, I'm surprised Tom's didn't mention how easy it is to mount an H100 cooler in the case. (with tons of room I might add, no need for anything custom) The 400R is very subtle also. No crazy angles, good looks, and the ability to turn off the included LED lights.

    The H100 alone is why I bought this case over others. Although it doesn't take the overall win, I'm very glad to see it gets the 2012 approval. Makes me feel like I did good on my purchase. :) 
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