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Computer Cases

Let’s face it, a good looking computer case can attract about as much attention to your computer...
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Let’s face it, a good looking computer case can attract about as much attention to
your computer as a body kit on a nice sports car can. Not only does a little research get
you a good looking case, but it can get you a case with a well thought out design which
can help with many other performance aspects of your system. There are two main
features that go into a good computer case; internal component placement and external
looks and body design.

Body design starts with the material that the case itself is manufactured from. You
can get a lot of decent looking cases for unbelievably low prices these days. The only
downside to these cases is the fact that they are typically made out of an aluminum frame
and aluminum side panels. If you’re building a low-budget computer then these are
certainly a great way to go, don’t get me wrong! However, for those wanting to build a
better quality computer or something more high-end, you will want to stay away from the
aluminum casing. Due to the thinness of aluminum it unfortunately does not make a good
insulator against sound. All the moving components inside your computer like hard
drives and lots of fans will be much easier to hear from the outside of an aluminum case.
This does not always make a relaxing computing environment to be subjected to these
annoying noises. Going to a steel case will not only give you a much sturdier design, it
will also give you with a much quieter case. The thickness of the steel will help to
dampen all those loud and annoying internal whines that come from a typical computer;
resulting in a more comfortable computing environment. Of course, the extra thickness
will also give you a much stronger case as well.

The appearance of your computer case will really be a personal decision that you
need to make. You can get a plain beige case or go for a more stylistic painted case,
perhaps even with a hi-gloss finish. A lot of gamers and modders are really into the cases
with plexi-glass or plastic windows on the side. These cases look sweet and will let you
show off the internals of your machine, and perhaps you'll even add a little lighting to the
inside for some special effects. Little do most people know, but a window can be really
beneficial for the day-to-day home user as well. Most people forget that the inside of a
computer can be a lot like the inside of a vacuum, with the fans sucking in any loose dirt
or dust around the case. All this builds up inside and can eventually lead to the fans on
critical components failing if they aren’t kept clean. Keeping an eye on these fans and the
general cleanliness inside the case becomes something that’s effortless if you just need to
look through a window as opposed to taking the sides off the computer case. A handy
accessory to consider to help combat the dirt issue is a fan filter. These attach to the front
of your case’s fans and will help to filter out a lot of dust and dirt before it can enter the
case. However, don’t forget to clean these because a clogged fan filter can completely
restrict air flow for your computer, where as a dirty fan may only lessen the airflow!

Another of those outside factors you’ll want to be careful to watch out for is the
number of internal drive bays. Although most home users may only have a DVD burner
and possibly a card reader, more advanced computer users may have any number of
accessories and hardware pieces in these bays. Many cases still use the traditional style of
giving you so many 5.25” bays and usually one or two 3.5” bays on the front of the case.
However, a lot of case manufacturers are starting to make case designs where the front of
the case is entirely 5.25” drive bays with adapters that can be placed in to accommodate
3.5” devices. Being modular like this allows you to place not only hard drives and fans
where you’d like them, but you can also install a great number of components in all these
bays, even multi-bay components, without worrying about loosing room for critical
things like DVD burners. To keep these drive bays hidden, many cases these days will
have a door integrated into the front. If you're installing protruding devices in these bays,
like fan controllers, you'll want to make sure that there will be enough clearance between
the door and the front of the bay to accommodate any knobs or switches. Also, make sure
this door opens the right way for the desk you're sitting at! A lot of case doors only open
one way, typically left side hinge, and if your case is on the wrong side of you, you could
have a bit of a reach to access components. Some manufacturers have finally realized this
problem and are starting to make reversible door hinge systems.

Moving inside now, the first issue you'll want to tackle here is component
cooling. For most modern systems, a good intake and exhaust fan should be all you really
need, in addition to the power supply fan. I always recommend that these be 120mm fans
if possible. This will allow maximum airflow into and out of the case while maintaining a
much quieter operation than smaller fans. If you're building a top of the line system or
will be stressing your system a lot with over-clocking or extreme gaming, then you may
want to look into extra case fans as well. Some cases offer a fan in the side door located
near your PCI(e) slots and some will even have top exhaust fans to pull the extra heat
from the inside top of the case (being as heat rises).

Most moderately priced cases these days will have an almost entirely tool-free
internal design. This will allow you to mount your hard drives, 5.25” bay devices and
PCI(e) slot components without even having to pick up a screwdriver. As good as these
tool-free designs have gotten, you will still need to install the power supply and
motherboard using a little turn of the screwdriver.

Usually in the category of more expensive cases, you'll find a lot of manufacturers
toying around with heat flow in a case. Some cases are re-arranged inside, with the power
supply at the bottom and a hard drive rack beside it, often with a couple of fans to draw
heat out of this “chambered” area. The same goes above, with the CPU area sometimes
being a separate “chamber” of the case which is also cooled on its own, usually without
the heat of nearby hard drives and your power supply interfering.

Also, for those looking to spend a little more on a case, you'll find models like the
Silverstone KL-01, which features a built-in hot-swappable hard drive rack! There's also
the assortment of cases that cater to the media center designers. These cases typically
have a large VFD display built into them that works together with an included remote to
give you better control of your media in a living room setting. Looking for an even more
extreme media case? Some media center cases actually have a full 7”+ touch screen LCD
display integrated in the front of them! While on the topic, if you are one of those people
who's planning on building an HTPC (Home Theater PC) then you may want to look into
cases that are designed for that purpose. These cases are commonly the desktop style (flat
instead of vertical). This way they will fit nicely into a component rack with the rest of
your home theater equipment!

There you have it everyone, a new sense of insight into that steel box your
computer resides within! Next time you're out computer case shopping, remember some
of the things from this article and apply them. It won't only help you get the best you can
for your money but it will also leave you with a case you're happy with and that suites
your computer best for performance.

Written for TestFreaks by: Steve Blackwell


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