Computer Chassis

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The first thing to consider when selecting a computer chassis is size. How much room do you have for this computer? If space is not a limiting factor, go with a full tower case, because it will provide the best cooling and most room for upgrades. If you must fit the computer into a smaller space, a mid-tower ATX case will do nicely, because they were designed exactly for that purpose. If you want a tower case but have very little room, a mini-tower case will suit you. Finally, if you need to store your computer horizontally (underneath the monitor, perhaps), a desktop case is the best choice.

Average Case Dimensions
HeightWidthDepth
Full Tower Cases24″8″18″
Mid Tower Cases18″7.5″19″
Mini Tower14″7″15″
Small Form Factor Cases9″10″14″
Desktop/HTPC Cases6″17″16.5″

Once you have determined what size best suits your needs, you must take into consideration the size of the motherboard you have selected. If you select a Mini Tower case, you will need a motherboard which is micro-ATX compatible. Conversely, if you selected a full ATX motherboard, a mini tower case will probably not be able to fit it. Make sure the motherboard and case you purchase are compatible size-wise.

Motherboard Fitting Chart
Extended ATXATXMicro-ATX
Full Tower CasesYesYesYes
Mid Tower CasesMaybeYesYes
Mini TowerNoMaybeYes
Small Form Factor CasesNoNoYes
Desktop/HTPC CasesNoMaybeYes

 

Case Specifications

When choosing case size, space confines are not the only considerations which need to be made. Different size cases can hold different numbers of components. A full tower ATX case usually has two or three external 3.5” bays (for floppy drives and some fan controllers), between 3 and 6 internal 3.5” bays (for hard drives), and usually 5 or 6 external 5.25” bays (for CD drives, DVD drives, fan controllers, etc.). Naturally, this is the type of case you would want if maximum upgradeability is a concern. A mid-tower ATX case usually has two external 3.5” bays, four 5.25” bays, and between two and four internal 3.5” bays. A mini-tower case usually has between one and two external 3.5” bays, between one and two 5.25” bays, and between two and four internal 3.5” bays. A small form factor case usually has two 5.25″ bays, zero or one external 3.5″ bay, and two internal 3.5″ bays. A desktop case usually has two external 3.5” bays, two 5.25” bays, and between one and three internal 3.5” bays. Make sure you take into consideration the amount of expansion room you will need when choosing a case.

Drive Bays Chart
External 5.25″External 3.5″Internal 3.5″
Full Tower Cases5+2-33-6
Mid Tower Cases422-4
Mini Tower21-22-4
Small Form Factor Cases20-12
Desktop/HTPC Cases221-3

 

Case Material

Now that you have a size picked out, what about the materials? The three most common materials for case construction are steel, aluminum, and acrylic. Steel is the most common, because it is inexpensive and strong. Aluminum is more expensive than steel, but looks better (in most people’s opinions) and conducts/transfers heat more effectively, leading to cooler case temperatures and longer component life. Acrylic is designed for extreme case modders due to its transparency and relative cutting ease. Acrylic will not cool as well as either aluminum or steel because acrylic is a thermal insulator, meaning it does not conduct heat very well.

Case Materials
Thermal ConductivityAesthetic AppealCost
Steel CasesModerateLowLow
Aluminum CasesHighModerateHigh
Acrylic CasesLowHighModerate