Computer cases still get plenty of attention from both industry and consumers. Other PC product areas are steadily shrinking, but new brands of computer cases still regularly appear. The result is that you still see innovation in this area. Especially brands that cost a bit more truly give you your money’s worth. We tested 11 cases on build quality, noise production, and their ability to get rid of hot air.
When you put a five-year-old computer case next to a recent model, you have to conclude that case manufacturers do their best to keep on developing and improving a rather basic product. We see improvements such as more user friendly and silent mounting systems for internal storage, simplified installation thanks to openings in the motherboard plate, and more space in general.
Other enhancements include improved cable storage, connections on the front panel, standard fan controllers, and space for water coolers (including radiator) and other coolers. The material used is not just 0.9 mm thick steel anymore. We now also see composite materials, and the use of dampening materials, foam, aluminium, and rubber-like plastic.
Additionally, we’ve noticed that the finishing inside the case has improved. The sharp edges are gone, holes are nicely rounded and covered in rubber, and the boring grey or off-white on the inside has been replaced by black.
If you are planning on assembling a serious high-end system, then it is advisable to not go for the cheapest case you can find, as cooling will be very important. Modern components may run more efficiently than ever, if you put them together in one case, they are more power-hungry than ever before. This means more heat that the case needs to dispose of. There are significant differences in how well cases do this. The “hottest” computer case is more than 16 degrees warmer than the “coolest” one when the fans are blowing at full blast.
Every computer has heat sources that cause the temperature to rise when there is insufficient ventilation. The main heat sources are the CPU and the video card. Depending on the processor, it can easily produce 90 to 100 watts of heat. With new high-end processors this can go all the way up to 130 watts. If you overclock your processor, then the amount of heat produced can be even higher.
The second heat source is the video card. A modern high-end card such as the GeForce GTX 580 has a maximum power usage of 244 watts, and a GTX 590 can use up to 265 watts. A decent processor and video card can therefore easily use 300 to 350 watts, most of which is converted into heat. Add the motherboard, the hard drive, and an optical drive into the mix, and the 400-watt mark isn’t far off.
The cooling capacity is of course related to the number of case fans and how fast they turn. This differs quite a bit from fan to fan. As this test shows, more cooling capacity inevitably means more noise. It therefore makes sense to pick a computer case that’s appropriate for your intended use. A mid-range system has lower requirements than a high-end system with a top-of-the-line CPU and dual video cards. That is why we extensively test both a case's ability to get rid of waste heat, and the noise they make while doing so.