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 Post subject: Aluminum vs Steel Case Smackdown
PostPosted: Fri Jul 17, 2009 5:54 am 
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Hey SPCR!

I'm starting this topic to see what the seasoned computer veterans think about case material. recently, I came across some nice Lian Li cases that interested me for my next build. However, every case I've ever owned has been steel..not for a particular reason. I dont really do lan parties, and I'm sorta gym rat, so the heavyness doesn't bother me (and the sturdyness is pretty welcome).

That said, I understand that Aluminum conducts heat better, and although the motherboard is on standoffs, I feel like an aluminum case would just out preform any steel case in the heat dispersion department.

What say you?

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Last edited by RoGuE on Fri Jul 17, 2009 1:54 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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PostPosted: Fri Jul 17, 2009 6:08 am 
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Aluminium cases conducting heat better is myth. The warm air inside the case do not warm up case anyway.

Only real difference is that aluminium is prone vibration noises and rattling more than steel case.

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PostPosted: Fri Jul 17, 2009 6:09 am 
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This subject has been debated here many times over the years, extensively and "vigourously" :). From my recollection the general upshot is:

- the heat conduction thing is a red herring. The bulk of cooling in a typical configuration is by moving air using fans, not by conduction through the case.
- best-of-breed aluminium cases tend to be less rigid than best-of-breed steel cases, with all the implications for transmission of vibration. Some folks here have built silent systems with Al cases, but I think generally they need more work (damping/mass loading that sort of thing). That said though this may be less an issue in a modern PC with an SSD rather than an HD.


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PostPosted: Fri Jul 17, 2009 7:00 am 
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Oh, no, not this again. Batten down the hatches, folks. We're in for a bit of a storm... in an aluminium cup.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Fri Jul 17, 2009 7:48 am 
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Based on your opinions, (thanks for the posts btw) it seems like the rigidity and mass of a steel case is beating the potentially better conductance of Aluminum. With that rigidity and mass comes better sound-proofing properties, and that's what we're all about.

But I gotta say, I think you guys are short-changing aluminums increased heat transfer properties. As an engineer at a power supply company, I see the affects of good support materials like extruded aluminum. We NEVER use steel to attach boards to, even when they are on standoffs, because heat DOEs acumulate on the board and wants to flow away from the source. Aluminum conducts FAR better than steel, but I've never been able to quantify this fact on an actual PC. It would be a sweet experiment actually...

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PostPosted: Fri Jul 17, 2009 8:00 am 
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Aluminium does conduct heat quite well. Air, on the other hand, conducts quite badly.

Heat transfer from components and heatsinks, through air, across the width of the case, and into the aluminium case is negligible. You might have a case for the distance between back of motherboard and the tray/right side of the case, but the current design goes to lengths to keep the heat on the opposite side of the board.

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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Fri Jul 17, 2009 8:05 am 
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thejamppa wrote:
Aluminium cases conducting heat better is myth. The warm air inside the case do not warm up case anyway.

Only real difference is that aluminium is prone vibration noises and rattling more than steel case.

Tell that to my WHS. It's in a SLK3000B and the top part of the case does indeed get warm. However, it is in a closet, and all the temps are perfectly fine. Not that it aids in cooling at all, like I believe you were trying to say.

The fact that aluminum's low density makes it appealing for LANparty-ers, makes it bad for silence, as others have said. It's not just that it's lighter, it's that it's also more expensive than steel and manufacturers try to use as little as possible, forsaking rigidity and mass. Even if it is stiff enough, it's often too lightweight to absorb any vibrations from other components, and resonates louder than steel.

Bottom line, don't buy aluminum for "better cooling", buy it because it looks better and you don't mind the rattling.

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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Fri Jul 17, 2009 8:24 am 
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RoGuE, I'm sure there are worthy merits to aluminium cases, perhaps even from a cooling point of view. I speak as a layman, not as an engineer, so you can make of my comments what you will. I'm here to learn and discuss general user issues rather than the inner workings of everything. There are others better based to do that.

But as a visitor to SPCR for several years and a recent contributor to the forums, I have learnt a few things about the alu. vs steel debate:
1. it never ceases to come up as a discussion.
2. it can get quite heated and emotional.
3. it has been discussed to the brink of death over the years, but keeps resurfacing.
4. most people here have concluded that steel is better from a silencing point of view and that fans and airflow can more than adequately handle the cooling side of things.
5. the owner and editor of this site appears to be sick of this seemingly unending debate and doesn't take too kindly to continued heated discussions on the matter.

As you are a new contributor to the forums, I think it's fine that you brought this topic up to help you with your proposed build, but I thought I should give you some background on this debate. Keep asking, keep learning, keep discussing. It's what keeps the forums alive.

But statements like:
RoGuE wrote:
I feel like an aluminum case would just out preform any steel case in the heat dispersion department.
might attract the ire from many an SPCR veteran. Don't say I didn't warn you. :)


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Fri Jul 17, 2009 8:56 am 
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Shamgar wrote:
the owner and editor of this site appears to be sick of this seemingly unending debate and doesn't take too kindly to continued heated discussions on the matter.


I'm sorry for the duplicate thread then..I guess I'm too new and should have searched deeper into the old threads.

Can an admin please delete this thread? I dont wanna continue a debate here..I just wanted to know more about the topic.

That said..


I think there seems to be more or less a consensus here..Aluminum may have better heat transfer properties, but they arn't good enough to justify it over a steel case with better rigidity and acoustic properties.

Thanks for all your input,

admins feel free to delete if you think this tread is already covered in the archives.

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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Fri Jul 17, 2009 9:31 am 
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RoGuE, don't feel bad :). It's just that a lot of people here feel quite strongly on this matter, and after a while, I think they just get tired of repeating themselves.

As I said, there's nothing wrong with asking and learning new things here. There is a heap of knowledge to be gleaned on the forums going back several years and I understand that sometimes it's a lot easier to start a new topic than to dig through hundreds of old threads.

If you go through the General Gallery forum, you'll notice that there are several people who favour aluminium builds, especially for their lightness and attractive appearance, and for something different than your typical steel so-and-so. With some added effort, alu cases can house a quiet and cool system as good as most steel cases. If you are set on an alu case over steel, don't let the old debate of which material is better get in your way of getting the case you like. Just know the pros and cons of each and look past the emotion and you'll find the gear that best suits your requirements.

BTW I personally don't see a need to delete this thread. There was no cross-posting or offensive comments made.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Fri Jul 17, 2009 12:14 pm 
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The case material is one part of it -- but the other half is build quality of said case.

When I spend $39 on a cheap Alu case im not going to expect it to last very long ( when/if it does i'll be grateful), and i'll be willing to put up with issues when using it.

On the other hand when I drop $300 into an all Steel case, I expect it to be of really good build quality and have almost zero issues and if some come up, a trip to the manufacturers RMA page is in order.
-- Note I havent seen or heard of any cheap steel cases.


As for cooling and/or noise: Im of the opinion there arent any noisy cases, only noisy components. Granted the heavier, sturdier built cases make less work for the system builder when it comes to making things quiet - but you still can make the flimsy cases quiet.
For traditional air-cooling - I dont think it matters what your case is made out of, so long as you can get the hot air out & the cool air in.

For NON-traditional cooling like mounting heatpipes directly to the case wall material - Alu could have some advantages. But most of us here dont do those kind of mods (although im sure 1 or 2 have at least tried).


IMO - in the end it all boils down to WHY are you looking at the case material?
For me, its build quality, steel cases tend be much better quality. My 1st steel case 8 years old and shows no signs of needing replacement in the near future. the Alu case before that lasted about 1 year before the front bezel broke completely in half and then later one of the sides got bent.

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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Fri Jul 17, 2009 12:26 pm 
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nutball wrote:
That said though this may be less an issue in a modern PC with an SSD rather than an HD.
Regardless of case material hard mounting is always noisy... unless case is made of real "steel" (something you can't bend with just your hands) instead of thin sheets.
So there should be always insulation between case structure and HDDs and don't "die hard" silencers mount HDDs elastically in any case?
Fans are other vibration source but there are also other mounting methods than screws... and if particular fan happens to be heavily vibrating why would there be any reason for tolerating it? After all acoustically bad fan would be thrown to trashcan without further thinking and replaced with quiet fan.


Steel is no doubt acoustically better per similar volume of used material but lightness can be corrected (unlike lacking features/wrong design) through use of bitumen/vinyl mats which in addition to plain mass also give additional thickness to panel.
More interesting question would be which can give better acoustics/vibration resistance per weight, plain steel sheet or aluminum with damping?
After very sturdy steel framed but acoustically plain sucking open design CM Stacker I ended to Lian Li A71 in last year because of other cases lacking wanted features (no more thousand and one holes etc) and enough space/device bays. When lifting it out from box slight loose in top edge attaching of side panels (~1.1mm thick) gave nice well rattling first impression but after lining sides with combination mat that rattling disappeared completely without doing anything to that slight loose. With thorough lining of rest of the case weight was still just ~12kg. I don't see any way for similar size steel case with door to weight much less than 5kg more while plain thin metal sheets still being more rattling when tapped.

But for "drop parts in" quiet PC use I would never recommend aluminum case... and neither normal steel case. That's what Antec P-serie is for with its multilayer panels.

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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Fri Jul 17, 2009 1:54 pm 
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EsaT wrote:
So there should be always insulation between case structure and HDDs and don't "die hard" silencers mount HDDs elastically in any case?
Fans are other vibration source but there are also other mounting methods than screws... and if particular fan happens to be heavily vibrating why would there be any reason for tolerating it? After all acoustically bad fan would be thrown to trashcan without further thinking and replaced with quiet fan.


I was thinking the same thing..


Well, although I made this thread not aware there was long debates on this in the past..I'm happy I did..because it sounds like steel is what I want.

See, for my next build I'm going for ultimate silence, high performance (and hot) parts, and great cable management + custom sound proofing. The way I see it, with enough planning, who says you can't have your cake and eat it too? (silent gaming rig)

Thanks for all the replies..and feel free to keep them comin. Although i'm pretty sure now that steel is what I'm lookin for.

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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Fri Jul 17, 2009 4:04 pm 
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my 2p..

having had a high end lian li case made of 2mm aluminum, the engineering is fantastic but not quiet, fans above 700rpm tend to make a lot of resonance even when soft mounted,and you have to suspend the drives or you get grumbling case noise.

If you want aluminum I recon the Lancool range is the way to go as the steel chassis with external alu is a nice mix. I will never go full aluminum again and I would rate myself a quiet pc person not a silent one.

Aluminum looks great but my stock Antec Mini P180 is leagues above what I ever got from my lian li despite the fact that most people on this forum would not consider the Mini P180 a quiet case.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Fri Jul 17, 2009 5:45 pm 
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Aluminium for case material because it better conducts heat is really not an issue.

People have built cases with materials like aluminium, steel, stone, and wood.

The temperatures won't differ much from one another if the airflow through the case is "enough" (enough being max 600 RPM).

A case is just a case. The only things that matter (as far as material is concerned) are:
* weight (LAN parties - you would attract some attention with a stone case but ohh my back)
* stiffness (steel or again, stone)

Wood cases, if built properly, do look very attractive and there are no cons to it, provided the material is dense enough. The temps won't be affected, at least none which you could ever measure.
The case's function is not to conduct heat, the heatsinks will do that, and the fans get rid of this heat.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Sat Jul 18, 2009 5:32 am 
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RoGuE wrote:
Shamgar wrote:
the owner and editor of this site appears to be sick of this seemingly unending debate and doesn't take too kindly to continued heated discussions on the matter.


I'm sorry for the duplicate thread then..I guess I'm too new and should have searched deeper into the old threads.

Can an admin please delete this thread?


No, but I'll lock it. That way it's available in the <search> results the next times someone else thinks they've happened upon the Holy Grail. :)

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