What Is a Computer Tower?

Phil Shepley

A computer tower, also known as a computer case, is the enclosure that holds many components of a personal or office desktop computer. Towers can come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, and they can be made from a wide range of materials, including steel, plastic, and aluminum. Sizes range from small mini-towers to medium sized mid-towers and all the way up to full-size towers, depending on what the computer is being used for and how powerful it is.

A computer tower is usually built around the motherboard it houses.
A computer tower is usually built around the motherboard it houses.

There are several computer components that can be commonly found in the tower of a home or office computer: the motherboard, hard drive, power supply, and any optical drives or floppy drives, as well as other parts. The locations of these components within the computer tower is usually dependent upon the size or shape of the tower itself, but they are also typically found in the same places in most computers for the sake of convenience. For example, the CD, DVD or floppy drives can usually be found in the front for easy access, while the power supply is usually located in the back to keep the cords out of the way.

Some models of computers, referred to as all-in-one, do not have a computer tower, but rather build components in with the monitor.
Some models of computers, referred to as all-in-one, do not have a computer tower, but rather build components in with the monitor.

A computer tower can also contain many built-in features that work with the components inside. The most obvious of these is that it needs to have a power button embedded somewhere to turn the computer on and off, but there can also be buttons and knobs used to control fans and other components. It can also contain USB, FireWire®, and other types of ports that connect to the motherboard, as well as a variety of lights and sensors to tell the computer user information such as internal temperature and processor speeds.

The tower houses all of the necessary hardware components in a computer, like the CPU, motherboard, RAM, hard drives and more.
The tower houses all of the necessary hardware components in a computer, like the CPU, motherboard, RAM, hard drives and more.

Typically, a tower is designed specifically around the type, or form factor, of motherboard that it is housing. The main types of form factors are called ATX and microATX, the latter of which is much more compact. In some models of home computers known as all-in-one computers, the tower and components are built in with the monitor, making them even more compact than a typical desktop computer.

Most computer towers are rectangular in shape.
Most computer towers are rectangular in shape.

The shape of the typical computer tower is rectangular, and more generic versions will usually come in beige or black. This, however, has become less common as many more options are available for a more unique look, and shoppers can now buy a computer in many different colors, shapes, and sizes. Of course, the larger a tower is, the more components a user will be able to fit inside. In a practice known as case modding, some people even customize their machine so that it is completely unique. A tower that has been modified in this fashion can have any number of lights, fans, artwork, see-through walls, internal cooling systems, or other unique attributes that are limited only by the owner’s imagination.

A computer tower commonly houses a hard drive.
A computer tower commonly houses a hard drive.

What is a Computer Tower Called?

Shortly after the IBM PC ignited the personal computer boom in the early eighties, users began to turn the horizontal case on its side to create a makeshift tower. Nearly four decades later, PCs with the tower form factor remain the choice for hundreds of millions of users. Practicality drives the popularity of tower PCs. Towers tuck neatly under desks, allow users their choice of monitors and provide a path for upgrades. If you are considering the purchase of a tower PC, it is worthwhile to learn the names and capabilities of the three most popular form factors.

Mini-Towers

If you want to handle basic computing needs, a mini-tower may be all you need. Standing 12 to 15 inches high, these units work well for dorm rooms or small apartments. A mini-tower has little room for expansion, so consider your future needs with care before buying.

Mid-Sized Towers

Often called compact towers, PCs with the mid-sized form factor are the most popular among users with their just-right blend of size, computing power and expandability. Mid-sized towers usually measure 16 to 21 inches high, but some makers opt for a shorter case with extra width.

Full Towers

Standing up to 25 inches high, full towers make for highly capable computers. Easily able to accommodate multiple video cards and a half-dozen disk drives, these are the machines of choice for gamers and other power users. With their high capacity, full towers are also well-suited for demanding server duties.

How Much Is a Computer Tower?

Prices for tower computers range from hundred-dollar units to $50,000 multi-processor video workstations. The most popular form factors fall in these price ranges:

Mini-Towers: $125 will get you a mini-tower with four gigabytes of memory, a DVD drive and a 250-gigabyte spinning hard drive. This entry-level machine may struggle to run the latest operating systems. Spending $225 yields a more capable mini-tower with twice the memory and a 1-terabyte hard drive.

Mid-Size Towers: Prices for this form factor typically range from $250 to $750. As with mini-towers, units in the bottom price range scrimp on memory and storage. A $350 mid-size tower typically comes with 16GB of memory and a 1TB spinning disk drive. Spending $100 more gains a solid-state hard drive for a noticeable performance boost. Beyond running Windows 11 or the latest Linux distributions, these upper-range machines can handle basic video editing and serve as mid-grade gaming platforms.

Full Towers: This form factor begins at $600 and ranges into thousands of dollars for units packed with memory, storage, Blu-Ray drives and high-end graphics cards. An $800 full tower typically features 16GB of memory, an SSD and a graphics card with at least 2GB of memory. Specialized gaming towers start at $800 and come equipped with extensive cooling for twin high-memory graphics cards.

How to Get Rid of an Old Computer Tower

If you own a tower computer that no longer serves your needs, you have three responsible options: Selling, donation or recycling. Before taking any of these paths, you need to wipe all sensitive information stored on the machine’s drives. Simply deleting your files merely conceals your data. To practice sound cybersecurity, you must overwrite the disk with zeroes. Windows users can perform this task with these steps:

  1. Copy all of your data to another computer or external storage drive.
  2. Type “Reset this PC” in the Start Menu search field.
  3. In the Recovery window, click the Get Started button.
  4. In the Reset PC window, select Remove Everything and then click the Next button.
  5. Under the Additional Headings section, select Change Settings.
  6. In the Choose Settings section, set the Data Erasure slider to “On.”
  7. Click the Confirm button.

While this process will take several hours, the result is a ready-to-configure computer for the next user. If you do not sell your computer or pass it to a friend or family member, consider a local donation. Schools, churches and community centers often need computers.

If you own an outdated tower, avoid pitching the unit into a dumpster. Computers contain numerous toxic materials that should not end up in your local landfill. Instead, choose a recycling option:

  • National Retailers: Some big-box electronic stores offer drop-off services for computer recycling. Check the retailer’s website for the availability of this service. Apple Stores accept all Apple-manufactured gear for recycling.
  • Goodwill Stores: This organization is well into its second decade of recycling computers.
  • Electronics Recyclers: Large cities may have a specialized electronics recycler; check the company’s website for drop-off policies.
A computer tower must have a power button located somewhere to turn on the computer.
A computer tower must have a power button located somewhere to turn on the computer.

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Discussion Comments

WalrusTusk

@gameaddicted - I bet yours is a gaming computer tower, hmm? Just a guess. I like custom computer towers, too, because you get to decide what goes into them. Plus CPU's that are already put together like Dell or Macs just seem like a lot of waste and they are kind of middle of the road. No model will ever have the full upgrades or top of the line everything, know what I mean?

gameaddicted

@Pimiento - I really like the aluminum computer towers that are out there. They feel really modern. I think the best part is that you can find towers that have different slots and can put your own computer together. I find that it is way more efficient to do that and add your own parts like a computer tower fan or motherboard and you're good to go.

Pimiento

The computer tower is also often referred to as a CPU or "Central Processing Unit." There are a lot of different choices when it comes to cases, though I think a black computer tower fits in with everything.

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