Just in case

Suds McSoapdish
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The joys of building your own PC, those were the days. Sure, powerful laptops and stylish, compact netbooks have stolen some of the venerable desktop’s thunder, but it’s still the one and only choice for both true hobbyists and users who want genuine control over what their machines do. After all, other solutions entail going for a pre-set package with only a modicum of customization, but with a DIY desktop, well, there’s an entire ocean of components and options out there.

Nice vents, lots of room - a good case

Case in point

The chassis, or case, is the external personification of your desktop, and as such, many users put form before function when choosing one, hoping to make an aesthetic impression. However, a case is first and foremost a practical choice, since it determines what goes into the rig and just how far and deep you can take it.

The main considerations to keep in mind when thinking of cases, beyond the superficialities of what they look like, are:

Size and form factor – the first thing to contemplate, and really depends on the kind of motherboard you’re going with, as well as what you’re going to use the desktop for. Most people should be fine with ATX and micro ATX, some could benefit from the slightly more expansive extended ATX, while smaller form factors provide good service to folks who travel with their desktop, for whatever reason. There are also the bigger tower form factors, including full tower, midtower, mini tower and a few others. The bigger the case, the more expandability does it afford, and the better the cooling potential. Cramming a lot of hardware into a small case, even if possible, is generally not a good idea.

Some cases are veritable shape shifters, like the TA-F1 from ASUS, which qualifies as both an ATX and microATX body. These are good value if you want to swap motherboards at some point or are not sure which internals to go with.

Expandability – this refers to the number of drive bays, expansion slots, and input/output connections the case supports, includes or can carry. For most uses, ATX form factors should suffice as modern cases are quite generous in what they can accommodate. 

Take it to your leaders

Take me to your leaders

Cooling –  even humble desktop PCs generate a lot more heat than your average laptop, so cooling is a must prerogative. Look for cases that have ample grates and meshes, and make sure they either come with or allow you to install as many fans as possible. On top of component fans such as those that come with your power supply, a good case ought to have a front intake, a rear exhaust, and one more intake on the side. Two side intakes would be better, but of course there’s uber-gearheads who speak of back pressure and airflow blockages, so you never know for sure. Experimentation is the heart of PC building, which has led to the relatively recent trend of adding top-mounted intakes and exhausts on cases.

At any flow rate, good air is one of the key perks to getting a desktop, so make the most of it and don’t settle for monolithic solutions with nary a vent in sight.

Workmanship – here we refer to construction quality and materials, namely the “bezel”, a word I to this day suspect PC builders borrowed from the wrong industry, but that could just be me. While time tells with many cases, it’s often easy to spot the ones using cheap alloys and materials because they’re all too pliable and tactile. Conversely, many cheap cases are strong but unnecessarily heavy. Quality ones combine the best of both worlds. All-aluminum cases are highly regarded for their thermal qualities and balanced weight-to-strength profile,

The cheap stuff with the weak construction material also makes for a tougher DIY experience, because put a screw the wrong way in and it either won’t come out or the entire drill point is lost to deformation. Anecdotes like that can really ruin what’s an altogether fun experience.

Assembly – desktop cases can be a chore to work on if they insist on having one screw too many for you to lose somewhere. And personally, Suds has cut himself many a time on sharp-edged abominations that were essentially tetanus traps. Caution, all jokes aside, this is still a problem with the cheaper variety of case, so look for rounded or “safety” edges whenever possible, particularly when dealing with internal mounts and brackets.

This may be more of a workmanship issue, but it typically only manifests when putting the thing together – cheap cases suffer from flaky paint jobs that start crumbling around angles, connection points and screw holes. A good case has sturdy paint that lasts.

Many cases even go for so-called screwless designs that minimize or outright eliminate the need for screws, but then purists will tell you the downside is tensile strength and reduced integrity. That could be true, really depends on the rigors of use you intend to put your hapless desktop through. Good cases also reduce the need for tooled assembly, and don’t have awkward angles inside that make it frustrating to fit components. This isn’t easy to check for just looking at products, so make sure to get a closer inspection before buying whenever possible.

Tower of power

Desktop PCs and building them are like comfort food you know may not be good for the figure but is singularly satisfying. Sure, you stay away for long periods at a time and sustain yourself on gourmet laptops and smarthpones, but sooner or later it’ll be desktop mania time all over again. So excuse me, the craving has landed.

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