When you're outfitting a new computer, it can be tempting to just buy the cheapest no-name case you can find, slap your new parts into it, and call it a day. While that might have been a valid choice in ye olde beige days - heck, early Dream Machine builds didn't even list the case - it's not one we'd recommend today.
Enthusiast components today put out a lot of heat, and if that heat isn't dealt with, your rig's lifespan and performance will suffer.
That doesn't mean you have to spend an arm and a leg on your chassis, though you certainly can. This month, we round up eight cases, from the budget to the extreme, to see how they measure up to the task of holding your precious modern components.
CM Storm Enforcer Good Looks, Lots o' Features, Low Price
Our initial impression of the Cooler Master Storm Enforcer wasn't great. Though the case is only $US90, we can't help but feel wary running our hands over a lightweight plastic front panel. It's just instinct.
But after spending some time with the Enforcer, we actually came away impressed-mostly. The Enforcer comes with two USB 2.0 ports and two USB 3.0 ports - with an internal header, which is uncommon at this price point. Other welcome details: a removable dust filter, four toolless optical bays, six toolless hard drive bays, two 2.5-inch bays, seven standard PCI expansion slots plus an extra one suitable for a fan or light controller, and a large CPU-cooler backplane cutout.
The Enforcer looks a little bland until it powers up and the 20cm front fan lights up its red LED, which contrasts well with the case's black trim. The Enforcer also comes stock with a 12cm exhaust fan, and includes additional mounting holes up top. The inside of the chassis feels roomy enough, and you can remove the top hard drive cage to accommodate longer graphics cards. For $US90 you get a solid mid-tower that's spacious and offers a broad range of cooling options, and looks good doing so.
USB 3.0 with internal header; lots of cooling options, removable cages
Plastic front panel; Very simple appearance
BitFenix Shinobi Window A Rarity: Inexpensive and Also Good-Looking
BitFenix's Shinobi Window manages to pack a whole lotta class into its miniscule frame. At 8.1 inches wide, 18.1 inches high, and 19.3 inches deep, the Shinobi Window is firmly in mid-tower territory. It's made of steel and is painted matte black inside and out, with BitFenix's smooth, rubberised SofTouch coating running up the front and top panel. The left-side panel includes a dark plastic window with a 12cm fan mount (fan sold separately) and the case comes with one filtered 12cm front fan (another is optional) and one 12cm rear exhaust fan. The top panel can hold two 12cm or 14cm fans (not included).
The Shinobi accommodates ATX, microATX, and Mini-ITX mobos, and the tray has four cutouts for cable routing. It has seven PCI expansion slots and can take videocards up to 12.2 inches. It has three 5.25-inch bays, one of which includes an adaptor for external 3.5-inch or internal 2.5-inch drive mounting.
The eight hard drive mounts are toolless. Due to the lack of stock fans and cramped inner quarters, the Shinobi's temperatures ran among the highest in our roundup in the thermal tests, but slapping a few more fans into it will improve that.
For $US70, it's a classy-looking and surprisingly capacious case, and a hell of a deal.
Great looks; surprisingly capacious
Lack of fans mean high internal temps
Silverstone Raven RV03 Can We Skip the Gold Trim Next Year?
Silverstone's latest Raven is the third in the series best known for its rotated motherboard configuration, which puts the I/O backplane at the top of the chassis. The PSU mounts at the bottom-front of the case, and the entire mobo setup is cooled from below, using two upward-blowing 18cm fans.
The Raven tallies some impressive numbers: There's room for eight PCI slots, four 3.5-inch hard drive mounts, two 2.5-inch bays behind the motherboard tray, and eight 5.25-inch bays. The spacious interior can fit a 12.2-inch GPU with ease. Thanks to four cable-routing cutouts, a cleanly wired build is easy. And the two 18cm filtered intake fans gave the RV03 the best air-cooling temperatures of any case in our roundup, including the premium ones.
We're not sure how we feel about the RV03's exterior, though. Last year's Raven RV02 had a similar superhero-themed look, but was all black. This Raven has two gold stripes running up the front of the chassis, which strikes us as a bit tacky.
Overall, the Silverstone Raven RV03 is a solid case, and gets points for ingenuity. It may look a little garish and feel a little plasticky, but it's roomy, features a stunning amount of ports and slots, and offers a crazy-organized build and great cooling.
Stunningly organised build; tons of slots and ports; very roomy; good cooling
Lots and lots of plastic; tacky colour scheme
Antec Six Hundred V2 Looks and Feels Like It Should Cost Less
The Antec Six Hundred V2 retails for $US80. At that price, it's competing with Bit Fenix's Shinobi and CM's Storm Enforcer - and losing. The interior is unpainted and everything feels flimsy, from the just-pull-till-it-comes-loose optical drive bezels to the just-bend-till-it-snaps-off PCI slot covers, of which there are seven. Nothing, literally nothing, is toolless, either, so get that screwdriver handy.
The Six Hundred V2 comes with two fans: a 20cm top fan and a 12cm exhaust fan. The case has room for two front 12cm intakes. There is a window on the left-side panel, with a 12cm fan mounting, and also, curiously, a dark window above the optical drive bays so you can… well, look at your optical drive? These confusing cosmetic choices are all over the V2.
The Six Hundred V2 has room for six HDD and three ODD trays, and can accommodate GPUs up to 11.5 inches, so no dual-Radeon cards for you.
We were able to utilise the two cable-routing cutouts to tidy things up a bit. The front-loaded, hotswap 2.5-inch caddy is also kind of a cool addition. But ultimately, the cheap build quality, abundance of garish plastic trim, and lack of stock fans make this a hard sell.
Inexpensive; decent stock cooling for the price range; 2.5-inch caddy
Nothing is toolless; curious design choices; cramped
Fractal Arc Midi Super Simple - And That's OK With Us
The Fractal Arc Midi, part of Fractal's gaming-oriented Arc series, is a mid-tower steel chassis lined with mesh on the front and top panel. The surrounding front panel is made of matte plastic, though the plastic has a nice, brushed texture surface.
The Arc Midi has two standard USB 2.0 ports, a single USB 3.0 port (with an internal header), and standard power and audio jacks. Almost every aspect of the case, from the two optical drive bays to the hard drive cages to the seven PCI slots (plus one, for use with the included fan controller) is attached via thumbscrews. The Arc includes three fans: a 14cm front fan, a 14cm exhaust fan, and a 14cm top fan. Removing the top mesh panel (with removable dust filter) exposes two additional mounts for 12cm fans or a 240mm radiator.
Building into the Arc Midi is a cinch, thanks to plenty of room and three large, rubber-grommeted cutouts for cable organisation, and two smaller cutouts in the top-left of the motherboard tray. Three 14cm fans rendered the Arc Midi's cooling performance among the best of the mid-towers we tested. This case might be simple, but simple can be good.
Simple build; decent looking; organised
Plastic front panel; no toolless enclosures
Corsair 650D Sleek, Refined, Beautiful. Stay Classy, Corsair
We don't like to make recommendations right off the bat - part of the fun of reading these reviews (we'd imagine) comes from the buildup (ha!). But the Corsair 650D blew us away in pretty much every category.
For the 650D, Corsair took the guts of its 600T mid-tower chassis and married them with the looks of its Obsidian-series full-towers, a move customers (and we) have been requesting for years. The steel chassis features a very pretty brushed-aluminum front panel with a removable mesh fan filter and a push-down rectangular panel giving you quick access to three USB 2.0 and two USB 3.0 ports, as well as the two standard audio jacks.
Brushed aluminium makes just about anything look sleeker.
The chassis, which is painted matte black throughout, comes stock with one 20cm top fan, a 20cm front fan, and a 14cm exhaust fan-though you aren't confined to that particular fan setup, as there are mounting holes up top for two 12cm or 14cm fans, or a 240mm radiator if liquid-cooling is your cup of tea (or liquid nitro, whatever). Also up top: a sliding panel revealing a drop-down SATA dock.
The 650D, like its spiritual antecedents the 800D and 700D, seems to go out of its way to remind you that simple is better. The four optical drive bays and the six 3.5-inch drive trays are toolless, and both three-tray hard drive bays are removable. The plastic latching mechanisms within the cages threw us off a little at first, though we found them to be easy to use once we started building. The hard drive trays, in particular, had the perfect amount of flexibility without feeling cheap.
The eight rubber-grommeted cutouts make clean case wiring a snap.
Our test build with the 650D was an absolute breeze. The steel side panels pop right off using a set of latches, and we had no problem comfortably seating 12.2-inch GPUs. The eight available PCI expansion slots are the only slots in the case that aren't toolless. Cable routing was a snap, utilising the 650D's eight rubber-grommeted cutouts, including a handy cutout in the top-left of the case for 8-pin ATX power connecter cables (case manufacturers take note: this is rapidly becoming commonplace). And worry not, you'll be able to ogle your highly organised innards thanks to a nice, big window on the left panel.
The motherboard tray, which supports ATX and microATX, is plenty big and features a huge backplate cutout. Corsair's 650D is an elegant, refined and extremely accessible case that is easy on the eyes and the wallet. For $US200, you get a case that's technologically up to snuff, while being classy and sleek, to boot. The only things we could ask for are side intake fans-our test build got a little warm inside.
She's a beaut; nice stock cooling; entertains lots of cooling options
PCI slots aren't toolless; could use side fans
Thermaltake Level 10 GT Uglier, But Better Than the Original
Thermaltake's original Level 10 chassis was a remarkable collaboration with BMW DesignWorks in which the companies fundamentally restructured the PC chassis into a series of isolated compartments suspended from a central load-bearing wall. It was stunning, cost $US800, and wasn't actually that practical to use. With the Level 10 GT, Thermaltake has taken the basic look of the Level 10, slapped it onto a more standard full-tower frame, and slashed $US500 from the asking price. The end result isn't quite as sleek as its progenitor from an aesthetic perspective, but far outstrips the original in ease of use and practicality, and is not without a certain sci-fi flair of its own.
At 11.1 inches wide by 23 inches high and 23.2 inches deep, and weighing 13kg empty, the Level 10 GT is a hefty case. The case's frame and right-side panel are made of black-painted steel, and the right side has a ridge with a handle cribbed directly from the Level 10, although it's not part of the central pillar as on the Level 10. The front panel is made of plastic and contains four mesh 5.25-inch optical bezels and one 3.5-inch external-drive bay. The optical drive bays are toolless, with the latching mechanisms on the right side of the bays.
Like a skyscraper from a sci-fi flick, the Level 10 GT has a certain gaudy charm.
The left-side panel is where the action is. The rear two-thirds comprise a hinged-door panel that locks with a barrel lock, featuring a 20cm color-shifting fan (with directional shutters like a car's heating vents) on the bottom and a clear plastic window on top. The front third of the panel is devoted to drive trays: five slide-out plastic 3.5-inch trays (with 2.5-inch mounting holes, as well) mimic the solid-aluminum drive trays of the original Level 10, but feature hotswap SATA pass-throughs, prewired with a five-head SATA power cable.
The 20cm color-shift intake fan on the side panel is matched by another on the front panel, as well as a 20cm color-shift top exhaust fan (which can be replaced by a 240mm radiator) and a 12cm rear exhaust fan. All intake fans, as well as the PSU intake, feature slide-out dust filters.
The Level 10 GT includes two USB 2.0 ports and audio jacks on the front of the right pillar, with two USB 3.0 ports, fan controls, and one eSATA port above the optical bays.
Inside, the Level 10 GT is almost conventional, with plenty of routing options.
The Level 10 GT features a much easier install process than its predecessor-almost on par with the Corsair 800D. Its motherboard tray includes eight rubber-grommeted cable-routing cutouts, plus a large CPU backplane cutout. It has eight PCI expansion slots and supports ATX, microATX and E-ATX motherboards. The motherboard compartment is sufficiently spacious to make installation of even the bulkiest systems a breeze, and the case easily accommodates 12.2-inch GPUs.
Thanks to its plethora of fans and capacious motherboard compartment, the Level 10 GT's thermal performance was the second-best of any case in this roundup, bested (only slightly) by the Silverstone TJ11, which retails at $US600.
If you admired the original Level 10 but couldn't stomach its asking price or performance compromises, you'll find the Level 10 GT more to your liking. It's less sleek and, well, design-y, but in every other aspect it's the superior case.
Easy install; interesting design; great cooling
Still expensive; garish design isn't for everyone
Silverstone Temjin TJ11 The Luxury Sports Car of Computer Chassis
From the moment you first see it, it's clear that the Temjin TJ11 is Silverstone's balls-to-the-wall attempt to create the best chassis money can buy. Silverstone packs in virtually every trick in its arsenal-from the mid-chassis air-intake duct found in previous Temjin cases to the unibody aluminium frame of the Fortress FT02 to the rotated motherboard tray first seen in the Raven RV01. The result is massive, possibly overengineered and awesome.
At 25 inches tall, the Temjin TJ11 is a monster.
At 9 inches wide by 25 inches high and 25 inches deep, the TJ11 is a full inch deeper and higher than the Corsair 800D, itself one of the largest chassis we've ever tested. Like all recent Silverstone cases, the motherboard is rotated 90 degrees, so the I/O plate and PCI slots point up. Unlike the Raven RV03, though, the motherboard tray is along the left-side panel, with the case window on the right panel. The TJ11 has a "dual unibody" frame-the front, bottom and top panels are all a single piece of aluminium, with the rest of the case also made of aluminium, except for the removable motherboard tray and the mid-case fan brackets, which are steel. There isn't a rivet to be found on the case; it's all screws all the way, to the delight of any modder.
The TJ11 is separated into two main compartments. The lower compartment contains two three-bay hard drive cages. Each bay has its own 12cm fan, so the hard drives are thermally isolated from the rest of the case, and each HDD tray has its own hotswap backplate. The case can also accommodate two power supplies or one redundant server PSU.
The drive trays remove to accommodate a radiator up to 480mm. Between the bottom and top compartments are two mid-case air ducts that feed cool air to the two filtered 18cm intake fans at the bottom of the motherboard compartment.
The motherboard compartment is generously apportioned, with room for ATX, microATX, SSI CEB server boards, and even XL ATX boards like the Gigabyte G1.Assassin. The case has nine 5.25-inch drive bays-plenty of room for multiple water-cooling reservoirs, fan controllers, and more. Three optional SSD mounting brackets attach to the left side of the optical drive bays.
We've chided Silverstone for taking few risks with its Temjin lineup. Never again.
The I/O backplate contains nine PCI expansion slots and can accommodate quad-SLI or CrossFireX setups with the removal of a bracket. All the front-panel cables (two USB 3.0 via a pass-through, two USB 2.0, two audio cables, and two power buttons-one on top and one on the front) and connectors are routed to the bottom of the motherboard for easy cable management. Plenty of cable-routing cutouts mean that it's easy to construct a beautiful rig in the TJ11.
The case's two 18cm fans are quite loud at full bore, but the TJ11's thermal performance was the best of any case in our roundup. This is an all-around fantastic case, with superb performance, plenty of features, and beautiful attention to detail. It's obvious Silverstone has spared no expense in crafting the ultimate premium chassis. It's easy to spend more money on less case (see: Thermaltake Level 10, ABS Canyon 695), but it's also easy to spend less than half of the price on a case that's more than half as good, if you follow us. Nobody needs a $US600 case. But if you're made of money and want to spend it on a great case, the TJ11 is our choice.
Incredible build quality and attention to detail; great thermal performance; jaw-dropping looks; highly moddable
Ungodly expensive; fans loud at full blast.
Making A Positive ID A Prime Suspect Emerges In Each Price Category
For a lineup like this one, which features cases of all shapes, sizes and prices, there's no sense in declaring a single standout. How can a $US70 budget mid-tower ever hope to compete with a $US600 machined-aluminum behemoth, and vice versa? Thus, we evaluated each case on its own merits to see how it stacked up at its own price point and niche. With that in mind, here are our conclusions.
Budget Badass Four of the eight cases in our lineup are mid-tower cases between $US70 and $US110 - enough for a mini-roundup of their own. But despite their similar sizes and prices, there's enough variety to distinguish each of them. The Fractal Arc Midi's less-is-more interior impressed us with its cooling prowess, ease of installation, and good looks. Both the CM Storm Enforcer and the Antec Six Hundred V2 offered decent cooling performance, as well, though, between the two, we much prefer the Cooler Master for its superior build quality. We liked the build quality and soft-touch exterior of the BitFenix Shinobi quite a bit, but its dearth of stock fans meant it ran hotter than the others. At $US70, though, it's a good choice for less-demanding hardware.
Midrange Master The battle between our two midrange cases was tough. Corsair's 650D is everything we've come to expect from that company's cases-stylish, simple-looking, and a joy to build into. Yes, it was trounced in our thermal test by the Silverstone Raven RV03, which takes full advantage of Silverstone's rotated motherboard configuration and the ease of cooling that allows, but we still have to give the nod to Corsair. After all, it offers plenty of options for more fans.
The Kingpin We'll close with our ultra-luxe cases. Both Thermaltake's Level 10 GT and Silverstone's TJ11 performed well in our thermal testing, though for their asking prices they'd better. Thermaltake's Level 10 GT isn't exactly the soul of minimalist design, but if that sort of chunky sci-fi motif is your thing, you'll appreciate its cooling prowess, ease of building, and Level 10 styling. Silverstone's TJ11, on the other hand, strikes a balance between restrained minimalism and extreme overengineering. If you need 30 pounds of aluminium that stand over 2 feet high, and you want a case that unquestionably looks and feels luxurious while having plenty of room for as many top-tier parts as you can fit into your shopping cart, and you have $US600 to spend, you'll like the TJ11. It's overkill for the vast majority of people. But so's an Aston Martin.
Best scores are marked with an asterisk*. CPU temperatures are averages of four cores; GPU temperatures are averages of two cores. Our test bed consists of an Intel Core i5-750 overclocked to 3.2GHz on an Asus P7P55D Premium board with a two-fan Prolimatech Armageddon CPU cooler, GTX 590 dual-GPU videocard, 300GB Western Digital VelociRaptor hard drive, and 850W Thermaltake Toughpower PSU.
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