A PC case with RGB lights and liquid cooling inside.
Syafiq Adnan/Shutterstock.com

When building a PC, the case is usually an afterthought. People pick a CPU, GPU, a good motherboard, RAM, a PSU, maybe a liquid cooler—and, with whatever budget is left, pick up a case. But your PC’s case deserves more thought than that. Here are five important things to bear in mind.

Case Size

A micro-ATX case with two RGB fans in the front and a glass panel side.
The Corsair Crystal Series 280X Micro-ATX case.

This one is easy and obvious, but it still shouldn’t be overlooked. The first thing to consider is the sizing of your PC case. There are several distinct sizes for PC cases that include a full tower, a mid-tower, and smaller cases for mini-ITX and micro-ATX motherboards.

The vast majority of PC builders go with a mid-tower since they aren’t too large, are widely available, and are built for standard ATX motherboards. A mid-tower can also fit smaller motherboards, but that can start to look a little awkward depending on the case.

Full towers are much larger and fit the extended-ATX motherboards. Hardcore hobbyists with extensive experience looking for room to fit custom parts or a ton of components will usually opt for these cases.

Finally, the mini-ITX and micro-ATX cases are all about diminutive PCs that need to fit into a small space such as a living room’s entertainment center, and they can be frustratingly difficult to deal with if you get parts that don’t fit.

If this is your first time building a PC, then stick with a mid-tower, which will help you stay within your budget while still offering a wide range of choices.

A Solid Mid-Tower Case

Phanteks Eclipse P400A Mid-Tower Case

Most PC builders pick a mid-tower case, and this one by Phanteks is a solid, inexpensive option.

Cooling

The internals of a gaming PC with RBG LEDs.
A PC with liquid cooling. Alberto Garcia Guillen/Shutterstock

Not all PC cases are built with the same ability to move air around. It all depends on the size of the case, the number of fans, and whether there are enough strategically placed vents.

Your case should have at least two fans (many cases also come with some stock fans included.) One fan should be for intake to get fresher air into the case, and one for exhaust to move the hot stuff out.

Vents are also a consideration to bring more air in passively or in a spot where you can put extra fans. Some come with filters, which is a great help to prevent your PC from getting too furry with dust.

RELATED: When Should You Buy an Aftermarket CPU Cooler?

All of this is about helping to keep the case cool. Most people will do fine simply looking for the attributes mentioned above. If, however, you are looking to create an overclocking monster or you live in a particularly warm location then it’s well worth checking out case reviews to see which cases perform best for cooling.

A Popular Choice

Noctua NH-D15 CPU Cooler

This CPU cooler is a popular choice, but it's very large.

Cable Management

Close up of rubber grommets in a Phanteks case.
The rubber grommets in the Phanteks Enthoo Pro case.

Cables are one of the biggest pains of any PC build. They are annoying, frustrating, and they look terrible if you don’t plan where you want them to run. Most cases come with some cable management features, and some are better than others.

Ideally, you want features that help the cables easily disappear from the front of the case such as cutouts or grommets, as well as some rear cable runs and tie-downs. A shroud for the power supply is also ideal to keep things looking cleaner, although some PC builders don’t like them.

A Case With Grommets

Phanteks Enthoo Pro

This case features rounded grommets to help route cables and wires.

The Front Panel

A PC case front panel with six USB ports.
The front panel on the Corsair Obsidian Series 1000D PC case.

PC cases have a lot of variance when it comes to the front panel. This is where you usually have a headphone jack, perhaps a mic jack, some USB ports, and other types of connectivity. You can find cases that simply have two USB ports like the NZXT H510 or cases with a much larger number of ports like Corsair’s Obsidian Series 1000D.

What you want here really depends on your needs, and how many devices you plan on using that need easy access to USB ports. As for the front-panel headphone jacks, these are largely garbage, since case makers run the connecting wires the length of case. That means they can pick up all kinds of interference running past the motherboard before the sound gets to your ears. You’re far better off using a headphone jack on the motherboard, or a dedicated audio device like a sound card or external DAC.

Lots of Ports

Corsair Obsidian Series 1000D Super-Tower Case

This impressive case features a total of six USB ports on its front panel.

Drive Bays

Old 3.5-inch hard drives are not the best choice for your primary drive (that honor belongs to M.2 NVMe drives.) These old clunkers are still fantastic for data storage, and since they are so cheap, you can easily add a few terabytes of storage to your PC relatively cheaply.

Nearly all PC cases come with drive bays to house them, but depending on how many drives you plan on putting in your PC you may need a case with extra bays. Also don’t forget about a case that’s sporting mount points for 2.5-inch SSDs.

Clearance and Length

A long Zotac graphics card with three fans and RGB lighting.
The 324mm long Zotac Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Super Amp Extreme was a challenge to fit in smaller cases.

Although PC building is mostly about “plug-and-play” universal compatibility, there are some situations where some components simply won’t work in a specific case. This has to do with the clearance height of higher-end components.

Aftermarket air CPU coolers, for example, are often huge chunky things that may not fit in some cases. The same goes for higher-end specialty graphics cards that can be longer than the average graphics card, requiring more room. Before purchasing any of these, you want to be sure they will fit in your chosen case.

Also related are all-in-one liquid cooling systems that come ready-made for installation. AIOs typically only need to take up space where you can hang extra fans. If you have that kind of space then you should be set for an AIO. However, you need to check to be sure that the size and amount of fans are supported by the case.

Don’t Make Your Case an Afterthought

A PC case shouldn’t be your first consideration when building a new PC, but it should be more than just an afterthought. A poorly designed case can ruin your PC building experience, make upgrades harder, and might even lower the overall performance of your rig. These issues are easily avoidable with just a little extra attention to detail.

RELATED: Where You Should Splurge When Building a PC (and Where You Shouldn't)

Ian Paul Ian Paul
Ian Paul is a freelance writer with over a decade of experiencing writing about tech. In addition to writing for How-To Geek, he regularly contributes to PCWorld as a critic, feature writer, reporter, deal hunter, and columnist. His work has also appeared online at The Washington Post, ABC News, MSNBC, Reuters, Macworld, Yahoo Tech, Tech.co, TechHive, The Huffington Post, and Lifewire. His articles are regularly syndicated across numerous IDG sites including CIO, Computerworld, GameStar, Macworld UK, Tech Advisor, and TechConnect.
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