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. The volume range is defined as 40~60 liters. Anything bigger has to be considered "Large ATX".
  • 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. Silenc PC enthusiasts increasingly embrace the microATX case/system for the combination of modest cost and size, and high performance/value. Typical size is 15" x 15" x 8", most often about 30 liters or smaller volume, but some come much smaller. 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, which is >20 times smaller. Small <300W SFX12V or similar PSUs are sometimes used, as are external AC/DC adapters with internal DC/DC conversion boards.
  • HTPC: These are essentially horizonally configured versions of min-tower ATX cases. Typically 17~18" wide, 6~7" tall, and around 15" deep. They support ATX motherboards and ATX12V PSUs, and often, large powerful video cards as well. They are usually 20~40 liters but low profile ones can be much smaller and a few are bigger. Our preference is for cases that are neither too tall (say over 7") or too deep (deeper than ~16", and shelves on TV stands to support them as well as the cables that protrude further become harder to find).
  • 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.

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 (17 liters or smaller). The small category's maximum size definition is a bit arbitrary; it happens to be the size of the Antec Aria, a shoebox style case that is bigger than most, which are typically under 12 liters.

RANKING

There are two ranks: Recommended and Editor's Choice. In previous iterations of this list, cases were ranked numerically on two scales of 1-10 for noise and airflow. Now, the fine gradations have been put aside in preference for broader groupings. 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 airflow design, high build quality, good quality fans, good value, useful features (more or less in that order). Products that are recommended are just that: Recommended for low noise, good performance on the other parameters, and good value.

The rationale for the broader groupings is as follows:

Measurements within a couple of decibels or degrees of each other in our 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. A case ranked 9 in the old list might perform identically to one rated 8, or even 7, depending on components and conditions. The fine differentiations we made under our lab test conditions could not necessarily be perceived in real use by typical users. Hence, those ranking 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 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.

Note: Newly added products are in a box of different color than others in its class.

TOWER CASES
Make / Model
size / form
Comments
Antec NSK3480
25 liters
mATX
Refresh of NSK3300: Small micro-ATX tower case with two thermal zones and an 80 Plus high efficiency 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. Nov 2007.
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. Aug 2006.
SilverStone Temjin TJ08-E
30 liters
mATX
Small steel case with aluminum facia like the TJ08, but upside-down motherboard mounting with some unique features (including front 18cm fan) and modular design. The best of the small mATX cases to house a more powerful system. Feb 2012.
Fractal Design Define Mini
40 liters
mATX
Much bigger than the other mATX cases above, it is the size of a classic ATX mid-tower. The design is derived from the large R3, with a removable (and rotatable) hard drive cage that allows for a long graphics card. It provides good quiet cooling for a higher-powered system on a mATX platform. Feb 2012.
Coolermaster Sileo 500
41 liters
ATX
A classic look and good airflow design, aluminum facia over steel chassis, sound damping on inner panel surfaces: These are some of the things that makes the Sileo 500 stand out a bit. The thin panels aren't awe-inspriing, and the drive bay mix leans too much to optical drives but the case comes with two decently quiet 120mm and manages to be pretty quiet with a mid-power system. Modest sub-$100 price makes it worthwhile. April 2010.
Antec Solo 2
41 liters
ATX
Refresh of an old SPCR favorite sturdy steel classic ATX mid-tower, Solo II brings many expected upgrades like a motherboard tray cutout, USB 3.0 (with a proper internal 20-pin header) and enough design tweaks to retain the appeal of the original. The PSU remains in the top back corner, but access to it is improved. HDD elastic suspension mounting still remains, as well as room for a long video card. Feb 2012.
Fractal Design Define R3
48 liters
ATX
A paean to the Antec P180 series, a bit smaller and more cheaply/lightly built, with some clever variations, and not w/o some weaknesses, most notably fans that can't be quieted quite enough with the built in speed controller. Provides more airflow and better cooling than budget or smaller low noise cases for just a bit more money. Feb 2012.
Cooler Master Silencio 550
48 liters
ATX
Another budget take on a classic silent case. It's a modestly sized sleek solid tower with a pair of low speed fans, full-size front door, acoustic foam on the side panels, and a handy hard drive docking bay. $80~100 price is not bad, either. February 2012.
Silverstone Fortress FT01
51 liters
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, and a single U-shaped unibody piece of quite 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. Both thermally and acoustically, the Fortress does a fine job with a hot demanding system. April 2010.
NZXT H2
53 liters
ATX
A modern, silent-optimized case with some great features including "wireless" front fan mounting, solid construction, heavy panels and front door for soundproofing, and numerous other useful features including a built-in 4-fan controller. The only real issue is a choked intake, which could lead to overheating (and high fan speed/noise) with a hot video card, but there is a simple DIY fix. At around $100, it seems a bargain. Feb 2012.
Antec P183
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.
Antec Twelve Hundred Gaming Case
62 liters
Large 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.
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.
Antec P280
68 liters
Large ATX
A new case based on the long-lived P180 series different enough to merit a new first digit, the P280 is a modern, more gaming-oriented case than its predecessors with more room for bigger, hotter components. In/egress is improved, along with overall airflow, and many modern features, but the signature composite plastic/alunimum sound-damped panels have been replaced by simpler steel panels with heavy plastic damping pads, as in the Solo. Gone too is the separated chamber for the bottom PSU; in this age of 120mm fan PSUs, that was something of a function anacronism in the P180 series. Feb 2012.
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.
In Win Dragon Rider
78 liters
Large ATX
Big tower case designed for high powered systems. It's big, bold, and sports plenty of ventilation with fans on both side panels, including a 22 cm monster. Good choice for a hot enthusiast/gaming system, it also offers solid construction with lots of nice little details. February 2012.
Coolermaster Cosmos II
~150 liters
Huge ATX
The biggest case ever reviewed here, the Cosmos II is meant for an extravagantly outfitted gaming PC. For such a system, its acoustic qualities are fine, and the cooling is good, though not exceptional. It has just about every feature you can think of in a case, including massive hinged side covers, and a good 3-speed controller for up to 8 fans. February 2012.

*

HORIZONTAL CASES
Make / Model
size / form
Overall / Comments
HDPLEX H3.SODD
6 liters
mITX
This case achieves its low volume with its very low 60mm profile. Heatpipes clamped to the CPU and the external side heatsinks eliminate the need for fans, and various fanless power supply options are offered. Sexy high-end AV allure, functional, and small enough. A great media PC platform, even with the dearth of USB and other front expansion ports. Feb 2012. (Also appears in small cases listing.)
Moneual MonCaso 301

19 liters
mATX
Low profile heavy steel chassis and stylish, solid aluminum facia with iMon VFD; designed for use with ATX12V PSU and micro-ATX board. This excellent HTPC case probably drew little attention because the review sample housed a poor motherboard/system, but it is the most robust case of its size/style we've come across. The fan grills could be a bit more open but it's a minor quibble. The 16" depth calls for a deep shelf. April 2010.
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, despite relatively thin sheet metal. good value. April 2010.
Antec NSK2480/Fusion
26 liters
mATX
Well dimensioned case excellent airflow for all components within. High potential for quiet system. SU380 power supply included with NSK2400 is efficient and quiet, but not as quiet as NeoHE models. Fusion is high-end, aluminum front panel / VFD, 430W PSU version of the same case. Nov 2007: Refreshed with EarthWatts higher efficiency 80 Plus power supplies.
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.
Moneual MonCaso
33 Liters
ATX
Big, very expensive, horizonal case with very good airflow in open layout, 7" front panel touch-screen LCD and remote. Standard (poor) HDD mounting, noisy stock fans, but still very good potental for low noise. If you can accept the size and the price. Nov 2007.
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.

*

SMALL CASES
Make / Model
size / form
Overall / Comments
Morex T1610 fanless case
1.2 liters
mini-ITX
The smallest mini-ITX case available to DIY builders, the T1610 is built to fit only one product, the Intel D945GSEJT Atom board that was reviewed with the case. It has room only for a single 2.5" drive, which becomes the only source of noise, because the case uses conduction to cool the CPU, with power from a 60W Seasonic AC/DC brick. It's possible other motherboards will be made with the same I/O layout to fit the case, or that the case will be modified to accept different board models.
HDPLEX H3.SODD
6 liters
mITX
This case achieves its low volume with its very low 60mm profile. Heatpipes clamped to the CPU and the external side heatsinks eliminate the need for fans, and various fanless power supply options are offered. Sexy high-end AV allure, functional, and small enough. A great media PC platform, even with the dearth of USB and other front expansion ports. Feb 2012. (Also appears in horizontal cases listing.)
Antec ISK 300-65
7 liters
mini-ITX
Antec's smallest case is half the height of a typical breadbox style SFF case, features an external 65W power adapter with internal DC/DC converter, and comes fitted with a single 80mm fan, with room for one more. There is space for a slim optical drive and two 2.5" drives. Atom and VIA mini-ITX boards work very quietly in this case; with the right combination of cooling devices, a 45W TDP processor can run quietly too.
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 $50 street price buys you a decent looking case that can take a simple 120mm fan mod for a cool and quiet SFF PC.
Silverstone Sugo SG05/06
11 liters
mini-ITX
Mini-ITX cases with a twist: They can house a gaming system with a midrange graphics card. Modest noise in these diminutive "classic" breadbox style cases when fitted with the right combination of components. The PSU fan can ramp up in speed under high load with hot components, but the 120mm intake fan can help. April 2010
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
Lian Li PC-Q08
21.3 liters
mini-ITX
Unusual breadbox style case looks smaller than its 21 liters due to eye-appealing dimensions. It can hold a whopping six 3.5" HDDs, possibly a couple more with minor mods. All aluminum construction does not hurt its acoustics, and vibration is easily damped (as shown in our review). It takes a standard ATX PSU! Great home server box (as shown in our SFF Home Server Build Guide). Sept 2010.

Retired recommended cases on the following page.

* * *

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: