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What Are Computer Cases?

By R. Kayne
Updated May 16, 2024
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Computer cases hold the components that make up a computer system, minus the monitor, mouse and keyboard which are separate. Cases come in many sizes and models to suit any build, with options for convenience and customization.

There are two basic, traditional styles of computer cases: the desktop and the tower. Desktop cases are flat, box-shaped cases with varying heights of about eight inches (~20 cm), designed to literally sit on top of the desk, giving the model its name. People who use desktop computer cases often place their monitors on top of the case to save space. Tower cases are essentially desktop cases tipped up on one side, making them tall, deep, but narrow cases. Towers are commonly placed below the desk.

A desktop case opens by lifting the top off, which takes with it the left and right sides of the case. The computer’s motherboard is installed on the bottom of the case, with hard drives installed in bays. The front of the desktop case can accommodate one or more DVD/CD players, a floppy disk drive, advanced sound card interface, and any other device made for a computer bay. Most of the ports are at the rear of the case, though some computer cases feature connectivity for front USB, Firewire, microphone and headphone ports.

Tower cases are designed to save space, usually taking up residence on the floor by the feet or just to the right in a cubbyhole present on many modern computer desks, designed for this purpose. A tower case opens by sliding away one or both sides, or by lifting away the top together with both sides, depending on the model. The motherboard is mounted vertically inside, with front bays filling the face of the tower. Ports are again located in the rear of the case, with some models accommodating front ports, as previously described, for USB, audio and other types of connectivity.

Because towers save space, they quickly became more popular than desktop cases, which can be difficult to find, comparatively speaking. Towers are also popular because they can be modified or customized easily. Many tower cases feature an acrylic window in the side of the case, allowing geeks to admire the hardware within. LED lights might frame the inside of the window, or shine from internal fans or from the power supply unit (PSU). Internal cabling might also be brightly colored.

Computer cases are available for do-it-yourselfers who want to build a computer from the components up. It’s best to choose your motherboard before deciding on a case, as the size of the motherboard will dictate which models you can choose from. A mini-tower might not accommodate all motherboards, for example. If you plan to install a fanless video card, check for clearance, as these cards often have deep, grated, aluminum cooling systems that won’t clear very narrow towers.

Once you know which size case you need, consider how many front bays it has and if the number fits your needs. It’s always wise to leave room for expansion. Also look for front ports. While many cases have front USB ports, not all have front Firewire connectivity. Check to see if audio ports are available too, as you won’t want to fish around the rear of the case to plug headphones in, or to get a line out for recording material off of your computer.

Some computer cases come with a power supply already installed, but this might not be the best choice, as the PSU might not meet your needs. If you want a case with a built-in PSU, make sure you have already chosen all of your components and are aware of the total wattage and efficiency you require of the PSU. It is sometimes a better idea to buy a bare case and get the PSU last. Also check to see what kind of fans the case comes with. Larger fans move more air and ball bearing fans are quieter.

Finally, consider the way the case opens. It is usually inconvenient to have to lift off the top of a tower, as there is rarely room above it without pulling the tower out from under the desk. A slide-away side is usually more convenient.

Computer cases range in price from just $20 US Dollars (USD) to over $100 USD for fancier models. Bear in mind that a bigger case won’t take up that much more room, while providing a lot more inner real estate to be able to install components and move around. A larger case is also more flexible and future proof. Shop before buying. Computer cases are available everywhere computer components are sold.

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Discussion Comments

By everetra — On May 14, 2011

@MrMoody - If you really want cool cases and don’t mind the mind-blowing designs, consider the Thermaltake computer cases. These systems are very popular with gamers who are also concerned with case heat. The designs are very modular and edgy and everything kind of hangs off of a central backbone. It’s not unlike anything you’ve ever seen before.

I hear one of their first models was built in cooperation with BMW. They take designs to a whole new level, but the designs are practical too, making it easy to plug and play and swap components as you need to.

By MrMoody — On May 12, 2011

I’ve looked into the desktop models for computer cases. I like their space-saving design on the desktop. One thing that I noticed however is that because they’re so small, they tend to get hotter than their tower counterparts. All computers generate heat, but with the desktop models the heat is confined in a smaller space.

Cool computer cases are important for me because I do a lot of heavy graphics programming which is computer intensive. It may not make much of a difference if you have plenty of fans and thermal insulation, but it’s kind of a deal breaker for me at the moment.

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