Case Basics & Recommendations

Cases|Damping | Reference|Recommended
Viewing page 5 of 6 pages. Previous 1 2 3 4 5 6 Next

RECOMMENDED CASES

PRODUCTS CHANGE, often without notice. The information provided here is accurate at time of posting, but there is no way to guarantee that the samples we review are exactly the same as the ones you buy. There are just too many variables. Manufacturers often change or discontinue products, and change model names without notice. For a bigger sampling, please check the SPCR Forums for comments by owners/users.

There are many size / form categories, too many to divide up into sections of their own:

  • Mid-tower for ATX or larger motherboards: This is the common choice for gamers, power users, workstations, etc. Usually at least 17" tall, wider than a standard optical drive, and >17" deep. ATX12V power supply support is standard.
  • MicroATX towers: Among ready-made PCs from major brands, this has become the predominant size / shape in recent years. For a vast majority, the funtionality, features and performance available in MicroATX motherboards is far more than adequate. Many silent PC enthusiasts increasingly embrace the microATX form factor for the combination of modest cost, size, and high performance. Typical size is 15" x 15" x 8" but some come much smaller, and much bigger as well. ATX12V power supply support is most common, but smaller PSU form factors are sometimes used..
  • Small Form Factor, Ultra SFF: The breadbox or shoebox style case popularized by Shuttle and many others is no longer predominant, although it is still with us. The range of sizes is far broader now, with CPU energy efficiency improved so greatly over the past few years. The biggest is nearly as big as a MATX tower, but the smallest are barely a liter, perhaps 20 times smaller. Small SFX12V or similar PSUs are sometimes used, as are external AC/DC adapters with internal DC/DC conversion boards. Mini-ITX is a commonly used motherboard form factor. Thin mini-ITX has become the defacto standard for AIO computers (which have the motherboard built into the pack of a panel monitor); Thin mITX is also used in many fanless heatsink cases.
  • HTPC: These are essentially horizonally configured versions of mid-tower ATX cases. Typically 17~18" wide, >7" tall, and >15" deep. They support ATX motherboards and ATX12V PSUs, and often, large powerful video cards as well.
  • Smaller HTPC: This category basically describes anything that is smaller than the large HTPC case with the width being greater than the height (ie, a horizontally-placed case). At the large end of the scale, it can be as wide and deep as the large HTPC case, but usually shorter (say 5" or less), and most often don't support motherboards bigger than MATX. Tiny Intel NUC and mITX systems have become widely adopted for media PC use as well.

In view of the multiple categories, to keep things simple, the recommended cases are divided into three broad groups: Vertical (taller than wide, or tower style), Horizontal (generally HTPC), and Small (~20 liters or smaller). The small category's maximum size definition is a bit arbitrary; it happens to be the size of the Fractal Design Node 304, a shoebox style case bigger than most. This case, incidentally, is only a liter or two smaller than the Lian Li PC-Q18 and SilverStone DS380, which end up in the vertical cases category.

RANKING

There are two ranks: Recommended and Editor's Choice. Cases ranked as Editor's Choice are "best in class" (meaning size and shape) for the various parameters we consider most important: Low impedance vents and good airflow design, high build quality, good quality fans, good value, useful features (more or less in that order). Any products on the lists here are recommended: Recommended for low noise, good performance on the other parameters, and good value.

Measurements within a couple of decibels or degrees of each other in our case review tests don't necessarily translate to real user differences. So many other factors come into play: The ambient noise and temperature, the particular components in the case, typical usage patterns of the operator, etc. The fine differentiations we can make under our lab test conditions aren't necessarily perceived in real use by typical users. Hence, the finely-graded numeric ranking in earlier recommended lists were not always useful.

Now, when a product is an Editor's Choice, you know that it's exceptional in most of the parameters that we consider important. Finding one that's "perfect" or "ideal" should not be critical because you will get similar results with many of them. If it is important to choose a product that's "ideal" for you, we encourage you to read all the relevant reviews carefully and use your own judgement.

  • The listed Date indicates when the model was added to the list.
  • Order of listing: The products are ordered by increasing size, from top to bottom

Many cases are often supplied with a power supply; the PSU is not considered here unless it is very quiet or proprietary and integral to the case. Prices are not provided as they are subject to great market fluctuations.

Common Sense Notes: Smaller cases work best with lower power systems. Cooling potential improves with case volume, assuming proportionate venting. For best quiet cooling of a hot powerful gaming system, choose a large case with good ventilation. Keep in mind that we have not (and cannot) test every case, as there are hundreds, if not thousands; this is a short list of the best cases we've tested. Other similar cases may offer similar results for quiet/silent computing, but we cannot vouch for them; remember that perfection is often in the details.

RECOMMENDED VERTICAL CASES
Make / Model
size / form
Comments
SilverStone RVZ01
14 liters
mITX
Very small slim mini-ITX case that does a surpringly good job of keeping a gaming system cool. Not ideal for a super-silent PC, however. SFX power supply is used to minimize size. It can be used horizontally but cools far better vertically. (Sept 2014)
Lian Li PC-Q18
21 liters
mITX
Small mini-ITX case in tall breadbox form with space for six 3.5" HDDs (4 in hotswap bays), 14cm intake & exhaust fans, good cooling overall, ATX power supply mount, easy pop-off panels, and subdued real brushed aluminum appeal. A near-perfect mini-server case capable of being no louder than the hard drives it houses. Best for lower power rigs. (Sept 2014)
SilverStone DS380
21.6 liters
mITX
Almost the same size as the Lian Li PC-Q18 but with 8 hotswap 3.5" bays, the DS380 isn't quite as refined as other Silverstone cases. Recommended for SOHO server use even though the noise level isn't quite as low as the Lian Li; the 8 hotswap bays in such a small package is unmatched except in big brand NAS boxes. Best for lower power rigs. (Sept 2014)
Antec NSK3480
25 liters
mATX
Refresh of NSK3300: Small micro-ATX tower case with two thermal zones and an 80 Plus Bronze EarthWatts 380W PSU. It's tight to work in, but right out of the box, it's pretty quiet and has some nice features. The PSU fan could be quieter. Best for lower power rigs. Nov 2007. (Still available in market, Sept 2014)
SilverStone TJ08
29 liters
mATX
Small steel micro-ATX tower case with aluminum facia and 120mm fans in/out, with ATX PSU capability. It's a winning combination, even though the panels are a touch on the flimsy side and the front vent gives too direct a sound path to the user. Reviewed as part of system from Puget Custom Computers. Best for lower power rigs. Aug 2006. (Marked "Legacy" product at Silverstonetek.com but still available in market, Sept 2014.)
SilverStone TJ08E
30.2 liters
mATX
Externally similar to the TJ08, but very different inside, the TJ08E features upside-down motherboard mounting, which puts the CPU below the graphics card, with the right panel becoming the main access. A big 18cm front intake fan is unusual & dictates cooling in the case. (Sept 2014)
Antec Solo II
40 liters
ATX
Updated version of Solo/P150 introduced in 2011 with fewer external drive bays and just two elastic suspensions for HDDs (the latter still unique, afaik, for a production case). It remains a classic for silent computing, with high build quality, sturdy steel chassis, and now, a top vent for the top mounted PSU, which makes it fanless-PSU-friendly. Thermally, the Solo II outperforms the Cooler Master Silencio 550 and NZXT H2 in convincing fashion. It goes go toe-to-toe with the Fractal Define R3, perhaps exceeding it by virtue of its hard drive suspension system. (Sept 2014)
Cooler Master Silencio 550
48 liters
ATX
Modestly priced quiet ATX mid-tower, built to price, best with cooler components. Part of CM's Silencio line, which includes higher-end 650 models. (Sept 2014)
Fractal Design Define R3 (R4)
48 liters
ATX
The 2011 Gen 2 of the Define R2, which was paean to the Antec P180 series, a bit smaller and more cheaply/lightly built, with some clever variations, and not w/o some weaknesses. The R3 remains a versatile value ATX case for silencers at a good price for the features and performance, with a few minor improvements over the R2. 2012's Define R4 follows the same path; the main change is 14cm instead of 12 cm fans, resulting in +1" width and increase to 55 liters, with improved overall airflow/cooling. (Sept 2014)
Silverstone Fortress FT01
51 liters
large ATX
The FT01 is the closest case in Silverstone's lineup to the Antec P180 series, with one major difference: It is made entirely of aluminum,. A single U-shaped piece of thick aluminum forms the top, front and bottom. It's designed for positive pressure airflow, with two 18cm fans blowing in and one 12cm fan blowing out. Thermally and acoustically, the Fortress does a fine job. April 2010. (Still available in market, Sept 2014!)
Antec P183 (V.3)
55 liters
ATX
Latest version of the industry's first case designed specifically for quiet operation, the iconic P180, co-designed with SPCR founder Mike Chin. Still a major contender despite many copycats over the years, the P183 retains the unique features of the original — sound-damped multilayer panels, full front door, top exhaust fan, separate chambers for PSU and main components, HDD damped mounting, wide open fan grills — with improved airflow and cable management. April 2010. (Sept 2014: Now V.3 with minor upgrades for USB3.0, 2.5" drive, etc)
Corsair Obsidian 550D
58 liters
ATX
Well thought-out with good attention to detail in a large case designed to house powerful components. Quiet fans, sound damping pads, some clever features for a nice balance between low noise and good cooling. (Sept 2014)
Antec Twelve Hundred Gaming Case
62 liters
ATX
It's a big modern gamer's case where airflow is the name of the game: A 200mm fan atop, five 120mm fans supplied, and room for two more, including one on the side. Sturdy, heavy, 12 drive bays, modular fan-equipped sub-bays for HDDs, bottom mounted PSU, and support for the big straight-flow 120mm fan CP-series PSUs unique to Antec. Despite all the fans or maybe because of them all, the 1200 can be made to run pretty quietly even with a hot gaming system. April 2010. (Available as V.3, Sept 2014)
Silverstone Raven RV05
64 liters
large ATX
The Raven Five is smaller than the RV02 whose design it most closely resembles. No EATX boarc support and much reduced space for HDDs, in recognition of their obvious non-necessity for gamers, make the difference. Very similar thermal/acoustic results to FT02, still our champ in this class. (Sept 2014)
Silverstone Fortress FT02

65 liters
large ATX

 

Like its functional mate, the Raven RV02, the FT02 is huge, with support for ATX boards up to 12"x11". The extra volume is mostly in its depth (front to back), rather than height, as is the norm. Three bottom mounted 180mm intake fans blow up across the 90-degree rotated board, which puts the I/O panel on the top. Unique 4.5mm aluminum unibody frame and 0.8mm steel body combine for good solidity, though the sheer size of the panels means there's still some flex. Overall noise and cooling are excellent, especially with demanding, hot components. It's essentially a quiet, classy gamer's case. April 2010. (Still available in market, Sept 2014.)
Antec P280
68 liters
large ATX
Bigger yet lighter and as sturdy as the P183 but without the separate thermal zones, this large case offers good performance with both low and high power configurations. Excellent cable management, damped side panels, fan filters, etc. (Sept 2014)
Silverstone Raven RV02
69 liters
large ATX
The Raven Two is even bigger than its functional mate, the FT02, due mostly to the extra space taken up by the molded plastic that takes the place of the aluminum skins on the FT02. While the appearance may be a bit comic bookish, functionally, it is the same case as the FT02, and equally good as a quiet gaming case. The original Raven RV01 can be recommended as an alternative if you need the latter's support for EATX (12x12") boards. April 2010. (Still available in market, Sept 2014.)
Fractal Design Arc XL
73 liters
large ATX
Oversized clean design case delivers excellent performance. Lots of water cooling options, 140 mm fan placements with filters everywhere, built-in (limited) fan speed controller. Fits just about anything inside, with four 5.25" bays, eight 3.5" bays, nine expansion slots, E-ATX and XL-ATX motherboard support, and effectively limitless heatsink and video card compatibility. The internal chassis appears identical to Define XL, a larger version of Define R4. (Sept 2014)

*

HORIZONTAL CASES
Make / Model
size / form
Overall / Comments
Streacom FC8 EVO
6 Liters
mini-ITX
Small all-aluminum fanless heatsink case looks good, works well with up to 65W TDP CPUs. Room for two 3.5" HDDs and slim optical drive. (Sept 2014)
Silverstone ML05 / ML06
7 Liters
mini-ITX
Attractive mirror-faced, really small HTPC case taking advantage of small SFX PSU. Best to avoid 3.5" HDD; use side mounted 2.5" drives instead, and leave area above CPU cooler for better airflow. ML06 is the brush aluminum facia version of the same case. (Sept 2014)
Streacom FC5
8.8 Liters
mATX
Well dimensioned low profile fanless heatsink case looks good and works well with up to 65W TDP CPUs. Room for up to three 3.5" HDDs if mITX board is used. (Sept 2014)
HDPLEX H5
8.8 liters
mATX
Nicely built low profile fanless heatsink case with impressively thick facia, not too deep for most AV cabinets, unlike bigger H10. Smaller H3 is even better dimensioned but no longer available. Works well for up to 75W TDP CPUs. Priced well for such a product. (Sept 2014)
Silverstone GD05 / GD04

21.5 liters
mATX
Deceptively small case offers 17.6" width to match most AV equipment but shallow 13" depth to fit typical AV/TV cabinet shelves. Three quiet 120mm fans in a positive pressure design provide excellent cooling. Meant for ATX12V PSU, which draws air from outside the case via bottom vent. Exceptional cooling at very low noise levels, even with fairly hot components. Fairly sturdy, good value. April 2010. (Still available in market, Sept 2014)
Silverstone GD01 and LC17 HTPC
31 liters
ATX
The smallest full ATX cases for HTPC on our list, these earlier models show their age with smaller 92mm and 80mm fans rather than the preferred 120mm size fans. Still, with very little modifications, these sturdy steel chassis can be run quietly and fairly cool with the right combination of components, and they exhibit the sensible layout and subdued aluminum facia typical of Silverstone cases. Nov 2007. (Still available in market, Sept 2014... but newly released ~27 liter GD09 and GD10 look poised to completely replace these. Review coming soon.)
Antec Fusion Remote Max

38 liters
ATX
Large implementation of Antec's successful Fusion/NSK2400 case with room and airflow to handle the largest video cards. Antec's 120mm tri-cool fans are not as quiet as they could be, but replacement is trivial. Very sturdy steel chassis with aluminum front bezel, Liquid Crystal Display (LCD), built-in IR receiver and volume control. April 2010. (Still available in market, Sept 2014)

*

SMALL CASES
Make / Model
size / form
Overall / Comments
Logic Supply ML300/320
1 liter
NUC
Excellent execution of fanless case for Intel NUC with room for 2.5" drive. Good cooling under normal loads, an easy choice for commercial or industrial applications in tight, poorly ventilated spaces and minimum maintenance or for a silent media PC. Sept 2014.
Akasa Tesla H
1.7 liters
NUC
Fanless "heatsink case" for Intel NUC with room for two 2.5" drives. It cools well enough and provides good functionality without loss of any external ports. Sept 2014.
Akasa Euler
7 liters
Thin mini-ITX
Fanless "heatsink case" for Thin mini-ITX with room for one 2.5" drive cools well enough for upto 55W TDP CPU. Fit & finish isn't tops but with external 120W AC/DC adapter, is priced well. Sept 2014.
Apex MI-008
8.6 liters
mini-ITX
A cheap and cheerful, smaller than typical Shuttle breadbox case with room for a standard optical drive, two 3.5" drive bays, and a surprisingly quiet 250W SFX power supply. The $40 street price buys you a decent looking case that can take a simple 120mm fan addition for a cool and quiet SFF PC. (Still in the market, Sept 2014)
NCASE M1
12.6 liters
mini-ITX
Amateur enthusiast-designed, crowd-funded & built by Lian Li, the NCASE M1 is a modern web community success story. This svelt stylish aluminum mini tower handles 3 x 3.5 inch drives, a triple-slot graphics card, a reasonably large CPU heatsink, a single/dual radiator watercooling unit, and up to four 120 mm fans. When packed with gaming components, noise level rises more than we'd like due to the need to move air quickly through the tight space, but only the Silverstone RV01 gets close to this size while handling a gaming card. Pricey, and getting hold of one is a big challenge. Sept 2014.
Silverstone Sugo SG07
14.6 liters
mini-ITX
Innovative gaming-oriented Mini-ITX case with 18cm top fan and front mounted 600W ATX PSU allows use of graphics card up to 12.2" long. With judicious component selection, it can stay quiet and cool at moderate loads. The main noise limitation at full load will be the cooler on the graphics card. August 2010 (Still available in market, Sept 2014)
Fractal Design Node 304
19.6 liters
mini-ITX
Cleverly designed breadbox style case can hold up to six 3.5" HDDs and remain pretty quiet. Ideal for use as a HTPC or Home Server, this model is a huge improvement from previous Array Mini ITX Case. Good value. Real competitors here are Lian Li PC-Q18 and SilverStone DS380, which end up in the vertical cases category due to marginally large size. (Sept 2014)

Retired recommended cases are on the following page. They are retired usually when no longer available.

* * *

Discuss this article in the Forums



Previous 1 2 3 4 5 6 Next

Reference|Recommended - Article Index
Help support this site, buy from one of our affiliate retailers!
Search: