This sponsored post was made possible through Antec’s support. All opinions expressed in this post are the author’s personal view.
More often than not the PC case is overlooked during a system build. So much time and money are spent selecting the best components you can afford that the budget tends to run a bit short. The last thing you want to do is install these beautiful, shiny new parts into something that just works. Choosing the best case can really make the whole building experience a joy where the wrong one can cause nothing but headaches. We’re going to run through some of the biggest pitfalls to avoid and case features that will make your life easier. A good case can span more than one system, a great case could be around for many years. In the end, spending money wisely now can save you money in the future!
Size Matters: Full, Mid-Tower or SFF?
The first consideration when building a PC is size. The size of your system is key when choosing components since it will affect the motherboard, GPU, PSU, and cooling choices. Sizes vary from SFF (small form factor) to Full Tower chassis much of your choice depends on your use since each has its strengths and weaknesses. The SFF PCs are ideal in small places and many can be found as HTPCs but they are also very restrictive on your choice of components. The Full Tower, on the other hand, opens up your options and having your parts fit isn’t really much of a concern. They’re big and roomy, ample space for custom water cooling, tons of space for storage making them ideal for home servers, video editing, and distributed computing where the system runs 24/7 and needs the room to breathe. Since the vast majority of gaming systems or PCs, in general, are built in a Mid-Tower ATX case that’s going to be our focus here. That said even in the Mid-Tower arena certain sizes are critical for accommodating certain components.
Regardless of case size, you need to verify that all your components are going to fit properly. This is easily broken down into a list starting with the motherboard. Motherboards come in standard sizes from mini-iTX to EATX and your case choice needs to accommodate this. Component and cooling clearance is next. You need to verify that your graphics card and cooling are going to physically fit and not interfere with each other all this info should be available in the specifications for your components and the case you are considering. Last but not least, storage. You should know how much storage you need and the type of storage you’re going to use. If you need four HDDs then your new case needs to be able to hold them. Antec has added some nice visual aids in their product descriptions that make this very easy. At a glance, you can find all the main components, dimensions, and placements you will need for an informed decision.
Design and Aesthetics
Now that we know we’re looking for a mid-tower case we need to decide on a style. What do we want the system to look like? There are so many options these days! You could stick to something more traditional with function and silence in mind like the Antec P101 Silent with full metal/insulated side panels for an understated, elegant look. Then there’s the alternative, you could let your creative side show and take advantage of the tempered glass side panel and lighting options you can find in something like the Antec DA-601.
Bling: RGB Lighting
When it comes to RGB LED case lighting there are a few things to keep in mind, expansion, control, and compatibility. If your case is going to be part of the theme it’s very convenient to be able to control it and your components with one central piece of software. All the major motherboard manufacturers have their own proprietary software for controlling the onboard RGB LEDs as well as compatible peripherals like keyboards, mice, and cases. Antec has taken all the guesswork out on this front since their new Dark series cases are compatible with ASUS AURA, MSI Mystic Light, GIGABYTE RGB Fusion, and ASRock’s Polychrome RGB control software.
As RGB LED technology has evolved to offer the end user ever increasing control of their lighting, addressable RGB LEDs have emerged extending control from the entire strip down to the individual LED. This amount of control unleashes endless possibilites for accent lighting but can also make things difficult to manage. Antec’s answer to this, a built-in ARGB/Fan controller which can be found on their DA601 and DP501 mid-tower cases. It not only centralizes ARGB control with the push of a button it also makes installation much easier.
At this point, we’re still not ready to decide on a case. They type of cooling plays a significant role in PC case selection whether it’s air cooling or liquid they both require attention.
Liquid cooling is ever increasing in popularity since the advent of all-in-one (AIO) or closed-loop (CLC) coolers. These new self-contained liquid coolers are much easier to install than traditional water cooling systems and for the most part maintenance free. They have eliminated many of the complications involved in planning since the pump, reservoir, tubing, and radiator are already preassembled and ready to mount in your case right out of the box. The biggest consideration if going the AIO route is the size of the radiator and placement. These coolers come in a variety of sizes the most common would be 120 mm, 240 mm, and 360 mm which Antec carries as well as 280 mm and monstrous 480 mm varieties.
Whichever size you decide on, the most important consideration is whether it’s going to fit in the case you’re eyeing up. Micro ATX cases are very limited in size, take the Antec DP301M which is limited to a maximum radiator size of 280 mm in the front position or a 120 AIO in the rear. Mid-tower cases offer more choices than mATX which is why we went that route. Even then not all mid-tower cases are the same size so radiator accommodation isn’t the same either. The DA601 and DP501 are very similar but there is a slight size difference between the two. This is where close attention to the specifications is mandatory. Antec does a great job spelling out all the important dimensions in their specification lists including the maximum graphics card length which can affect front-mounted radiators. They also offer convenient visual aids for verifying radiator compatibility at a glance as you can see below:
Air cooling for the CPU is still the most popular, likely because installation is fairly quick and easy, it’s very affordable, and no risk of leakage which could damage your expensive components. The choice of cooler will depend on a couple of factors, it needs to be able to handle the TDP of the CPU it’s going to be cooling and also needs to fit between the motherboard and the side panel of the case. Since the focus is on gaming, we can assume it’s going to be a somewhat powerful CPU which will carry a higher TDP even more so if you intend to overclock. Higher TPD CPUs will typically need a larger cooler in this case we need to pay close attention to the cooler’s height. This is where the specifications of the case come in to play again. Having detailed specs when making your purchase decision is vital and Antec does a very good job here again as all of their cases list a maximum cooler height.
One often overlooked convenience, does the case have a good sized cut-out behind the CPU? This cut-out serves a double duty first it allows additional airflow over the back of the motherboard. More importantly, it allows access to the back of the CPU socket. This is convenient in that at any time in the future if you decide to upgrade your CPU or the cooler the mounting is visible and open. This will allow you to remove the cooler without tearing the whole system apart to remove the motherboard saving a lot of time and headache.
Air Flow and Filtration
Whether you opt for air or liquid cooling having good air flow through the case is imperative. Every component in your system generates heat which needs to be evacuated and exchanged for fresh cooler air. Without this airflow, the heat will build up which can cause system instability or even premature hardware failure. The easiest way to set up airflow is just following Mother Nature’s lead and let the laws of physics do their thing. Bringing fresh cool air into the case from the front/bottom and exhausting through the top/rear of the case works the best. You’ll find most cases have preinstalled fans but typically only one in the front and one in the rear of the case. This is OK but not ideal, using only two fans will require them to run faster which creates more noise. So it’s best to find a case that will accommodate additional fans allowing them to run slower and quieter while moving more air. These additional fans can even be incorporated into the theme of the build or be part of the light show with the Prizm fan that comes preinstalled in some of the Antec cases.
When it comes to filters, some believe that they restrict air flow. This is true to some extent but they also help keep the interior of your PC clean. For those individuals with pets in the home, filters are pretty much mandatory. Dust and pet hair will clog your GPU and CPU coolers and if left unchecked will cause your hardware to overheat forcing system shutdowns and possibly even permanent damage to the hardware. So it’s better, in this case, to be proactive and keep the dust and hair from getting in in the first place.
If you do choose to go with filters on your case they need to be effective but they also need to be easy to access for cleaning or the job may get put off. These days things are much easier with magnetic filters which simply pull off but there are also ones that slide in and out. The front panel filters are typically the hardest to access so look for a case with easier access here to speed things up and reduce the time investment of your regular cleaning. Here are some examples of filters found on some of the new Antec cases:
Neat and Tidy
Now that you know what features you want in your new case we should look at “fit and finish” as well as making the process easier. One thing that can drastically affect the look and performance of a system is cable routing. Keeping things nice and tidy doesn’t only improve the aesthetics of the build but will also improve the airflow over your components. By keeping the cables tucked away out of sight this opens up the main compartment allowing the cool fresh air brought into the case to flow freely and unrestricted which removes more heat and helps prevent “dead zones” where heat can accumulate.
When choosing a case this should be kept in mind. Things to look for are multiple cutouts in the tray with nice smooth edges and anchoring points for cable ties. One other feature which makes this easy is a power supply shroud which keeps all the connections out of sight. Looking at the pictures of the Antec DA601 below you can picture the actual routing of the cables. After the PSU is installed all the cables can come out through the large opening in the tray and be routed up along the back out of sight. You’ll also notice multiple cutouts that run along the edge of the motherboard with proper placement for power and data connections as well as multiple anchoring points to keep everything secure.
One more thing to mention is this final section since it has to do with keeping things tidy is storage placement. In the good old days, storage was contained in a large rack that covered the entire front of the case. This made cable management a bit of a challenge and also impeded the airflow coming from the fans mounted in the front of the case. Storage options have changed greatly in the last few years and also have become much more affordable. This has made SSDs a very popular choice and because of their size, they are much easier to install. As you can see in the picture above they can be secured to the back of the motherboard tray improving airflow and keeping them out of sight. If you’re using traditional HDDs as large capacity storage tool-less trays are a great option which makes installation or swapping them quick and easy. It also allows them to be stored out of sight like the ones below.
Ready to Go
You should be armed with all the information you need to make an informed decision when it comes to selecting the right case for your build. Paying attention to some of the details can really improve your build experience and add to that proud moment of finishing your very first build! Now don’t be shy come on over to Overclocker’s Forums and show off that new build. We’re always happy to see what people have come up with and if you’re experiencing difficulties we have some sharp minds that are always willing to lend a hand or offer some advice.
Good Luck and thanks for reading.
– Shawn Jennings (Johan45)