How to Choose the Best PC Case for Your Build (2020)

written by jacob tuwiner Jacob Tuwiner

You’ve got a powerhouse CPU, a monstrous graphics card, plenty of supercharged RAM and more storage than you know what to do with.

Now it’s time to house those components in a bad ass case — otherwise, they’ll be no good.

Okay, you could probably build a wall mounted PC without a case, but that’s another story.

We’re taking a look at the best PC cases for the money in 2020 (hey, that rhymes!)

Let’s dive in:

How do I Choose a PC Case?

Here’s what you need to consider when choosing a PC gaming case:

  • Size
  • Form Factor
  • Cooling Support
  • Hard Drive Bays
  • Airflow
  • Cable Management
  • Sound Proofing
  • Modularity
  • Aesthetics
  • Budget

With that in mind, let’s talk about each one in a bit more detail:

Size & Form Factor

different size cases diagram

Source: Computer Case Lab

First up, we have the size and form factor of your case. These go hand in hand, which is why we’re discussing them both at the same time.

Your case’s form factor has a tremendous impact on the components you can use in your build.

The three main case form factors are ATX, Micro ATX, and Mini ITX, but those names primarily refer to the type of motherboard it can house.

ATX motherboards are the largest of the three, followed by Micro ATX and Mini ITX, respectively.

ATX cases are generally larger, while Mini ITX cases tend to be a bit smaller, but that’s not always the case.

For example, some cases are smaller in physical dimension but can still house a full-size ATX case. Check out our guide on the smallest ATX cases for more examples.

The size of your case will also have a big effect on the other components you can include, such as your graphics card, CPU cooler, hard drives, optical drives, case fans, etc.

cool case

Source: Gamers Nexus

For example, if you want to overclock your CPU like a boss, you’re gonna need a water cooling unit and a bunch of fans — or at the very least, a pretty beefy air cooler.

And if your case is too small, it may not accommodate a water cooling radiator or enough fans to get the job done.

Another example is hard drive storage space.

If you want a ton of hot swappable hard drives in your PC, or an optical drive, you’ll need to make sure the case is big enough to fit them.

Quick Tip

Hot swapping hard drives is incredibly convenient, whether you're building a NAS or a regular gaming PC.

We have a full guide on hot swappable PC cases that you can check out by clicking that link.

Now back to the guide!

A lot of case manufacturers are removing optical drive bays (5.25”) from their cases altogether as physical discs become more obsolete.

That being said, there may be some instances where you’d need an optical drive, and a water cooler, and 8 drives. If that’s the case, you’ll need a large, spacious case with enough room to accommodate your components.

And that’s not even taking cable management into account, which we’ll get to further down the page.

Lastly, your case needs to be big enough for your GPU — the last thing you want is a GPU that won’t fit in your case.

After ordering the parts for my first gaming PC, I was beyond hyped to put the thing together and smash 1080p ultra settings. Unfortunately, my components had other plans.

Everything was assembled but the GPU, the last part of my building process. But to my dismay, it was an inch too long and wouldn’t fit in my case without getting caught on the hard drive bays, which couldn’t be removed.

Luckily, sites like PC Part Picker will show you the maximum supported GPU length of any case on the market. I recommend leaving at least a few inches of breathing room, just to be safe.

Smaller cases also tend to be harder to work with, since there’s less wiggle room to work with. If you’re a new builder, sticking to a standard, mid-tower ATX case is a good idea.

However, the decision is yours — it’s your PC, and you can do whatever you want with it.

Cooling Support & Included Fans

airflow-diagram

Source: EVGA

TLDR: Some cases come with a bunch of fans pre-installed, and others come with jack squat. Also, many cases have the option to add your own fans, of varying sizes. Check the case’s fan configuration before buying to make sure your parts receive optimal airflow and remain cool during intense use.

As we touched on above, you should consider your case’s cooling support before buying.

Plan on water cooling?

Make sure your case can fit an adequately sized water cooler and radiator fan. Most premium cases will support 120mm and 240mm radiators, but not all of them.

Radiator support aside, you also need to think about how many fans you can mount inside the case.

I have 3 fans in my PC build: two intake fans, and an exhaust fan. There’s a lot of debate online about the optimal cooling setup.

The answer?

It depends. If you’re not doing anything crazy with your PC like running 8 hard drives, four graphics cards, and an overclocked CPU, having a few fans in almost any configuration will be fine.

case fans

Source: Computer Case Lab

Especially if you leave the stock fans in your case (assuming it’s a good case) you’ll be fine. But you can always add more case fans if your case supports it.

For example, many cases will come with a certain number of fans included, with the option of adding 3-5 more yourself.

While we’re on that note, let’s discuss included fans.

Some cases come with more fans than you’ll know what to do with, while others don’t come with any fans at all. If you’re not comfortable with configuring fans properly, it’s best to buy a case with them pre-installed for you. It’ll make your life way easier.

Hard Drive Bays

hard drive bays

Adding storage to your PC is (obviously) essential if you, oh I don’t know, plan on using your PC.

I don’t want to discuss mechanical hard drives versus solid state drives or NVME drives — that’s a separate discussion for a separate article.

What you need to know now, however, is your case has a maximum number of supported drives.

In addition, there are three different types of drive bays:

  • 5.25”
  • 3.25”
  • 2.5”

5.25” drive bays are primarily used for optical drives, and are becoming less common as the years pass.

3.25” bays are standard for mechanical hard drives, and pretty much every case on the market will come with (at least) a few of them.

2.5” drive bays are primarily used for solid state drives, but a lot of SSDs come with adapters that allow you to install your SSD in a 3.5” drive bay.

If you want a ton of storage, opt for a case with more drive bays, but know there may be less space for other components as a result.

Quick Tip

Some cases have more storage than others. If you're interested in building a traditional gaming PC, you probably won't need a crazy amount of storage.

On the other hand, building a NAS system is going to require a special case with plenty of storage support.

We've created a list of the best NAS cases on the market for your NAS PC build. Click the link to check it out!

Airflow

case airflow diagram

Source: How to Geek

Your case’s airflow is another big one — most cases nowadays have decent airflow, but you should still read the reviews beforehand to double check.

Make sure you have positive airflow (more air is coming in than going out) to ensure your components stay nice and cool.

There are several ways to configure your case’s airflow, but that’s a topic for another post.

For a full guide on airflow, click here.

Cable Management

example of good cable management

Source: Mocha_Bean on Reddit

Despite popular belief, your case’s cable management actually doesn’t have a huge impact on airflow.

That’s not to say you should forget about cable management altogether — obviously a well cable managed rig is going to have better cooling than a jumbled mess. That means a healthier environment for your components, and a longer lasting PC overall.

Cable management is more important from an aesthetic standpoint. Considering most cases on the market have a side-panel window, it’d be a shame if your rig looked like a jumbled turd because you didn’t properly manage your cables.

Different cases have varying levels of cable management solutions. My first case didn’t have much room behind the back panel for cables, so I ended up having to stuff them all inside my case.

Even with my semi-modular power supply, it didn’t look pretty. In addition, there weren’t many grommets for cables in the right places, so routing my cables was a pain in the ass.

Next time I buy a case (and this is my advice for you too) I’d read up on the case’s cable management options.

You should consider how much space is behind the panel, how easy it is to manage cables, and where your grommets are located.

For more information on cable management and whether or not it matters, click that link to check out our full guide.

We also have a page about the best cases for cable management if you want to check that out as well.

Sound Proofing

sound-proofing

Source: Linus Tech Tips

Some cases are louder than others, and to be fair, this is largely dependent on the fans. Companies like Be Quiet! Are made to operate silently, whereas other companies don’t seem to give a damn about how loud their fans are.

For starters, buy fans that aren’t too loud. You can read reviews about the case fans noise levels, and many manufacturers will disclose how loud the case fans are by dB. However, it’s hard to trust their numbers, since they’re incentivized to lower them.

If you’re hellbent on choosing a case but its stock fans are loud, you can always buy new, quiet fans and replace the stock fans.

You also want to consider how sound proof the case is. Some crappy cases don’t contain sound well at all, while others are designed purposely with sound proof materials.

Modularity

modular case

Source: Pinterest

As mentioned previously, many cases are doing away with 5.25” drive bays altogether to make room for other components.

This way, small ATX and Micro ATX cases can still fit large graphics cards.

Luckily, many higher end cases are modular, meaning you can install or uninstall certain components as you please.

Want to add an optical drive? No problem. Want to add a tri-fan GPU that’ll bump into your drive bays? No problem, just remove it.

Modularity isn’t a necessity, but it’s certainly a nice luxury to have as it helps to futureproof your build. (Although, according to Moore’s Law, is it even possible to future proof?)

Aesthetics

This one doesn’t have much to do with the functionality of your case, but if you’re like most enthusiasts, you want your case to look badass.

RGB lighting and sick designs won’t impact performance, but it’ll definitely make you feel a lot cooler.

After all, you’re investing a lot of time and money into your build, so you might as well be proud to see it sitting atop your desk in all its glory.

Cases come in all different shapes, sizes, colors, etc. I personally like minimalistic designs with some nice lights and a tempered glass side panel window, but this one’s totally up to you.

By the way, most cases have a side panel window on the left side panel. This assumes you’ll have your PC to the right of your setup so you can peer into the window and see your components.

But if you have limited desk space and want a PC with a side panel window on the right, check out our guide about inverted PC cases. It’ll show you some of the coolest inverted PC cases with right side panel windows.

Budget

Lastly, we have a budget. To be completely honest, there’s no sense in spending more than $100 for a budget build, and you can usually get away with the sub $60 price point.

However, enthusiast builders who are investing a large chunk of change into their builds will probably want the best case they can get their hands on, which can run north of $150-$200, or more in some cases (no pun intended.)

Don’t spend a ridiculous amount of money on your case, but don’t skimp out on it either. I’ll typically spend 5-10% of my budget on the case, depending on the grade of the build.

Are PC Cases Important?

Cases aren’t going to have a tremendous impact on your performance — spending $300 on your case isn’t necessarily going to help you crush 1440p Ultra settings, for example. But it will have an impact on your cooling performance, and which components you can house, which do impact performance. Not to mention the aesthetics of your build.

In short, PC cases have a bigger impact on the looks of your build than its performance, but that doesn’t mean you should overlook your case.

Is a Bigger PC Case Better?

If you’re planning on hauling your PC case around for LAN parties, a bigger case is obviously a bad idea. But if you want to house multiple GPUs in your case, or you’re planning on having a dual chamber PC setup, a bigger case is definitely better.

Again, it really depends on your needs. Larger cases tend to be more expensive, as do smaller cases. Mid tower cases are the most common and therefore, the most reasonably priced (on average).

However, if you don’t want a big and bulky monstrosity sitting on your desk, you can opt for a small ATX case or even a super small Micro ATX case.

Are Bigger Fans Better?

Bigger fans can push more air at a time, even when spinning at a lower RPM. I’d say in general, bigger fans are usually better, but that’s not to say you can’t get by with a standard 120mm fan.

Why Are PC Cases so Big?

First of all, not all cases are big, but large cases are designed to house more components. Some enthusiasts like to use multiple GPUs in an SLI or Crossfire configuration, use 8+ hard drives and install massive cooling rigs. You need a big case with enough room to house everything. Bigger cases also boost your ego a bit too, but that’s another story.

How Many PC Fans Do You Need?

The answer to this question depends on how hot your PC will be, which is determined by the components you’re using. AMD is known to run hotter than Intel, but this will also be affected by whether or not you’re overclocking, how many drives you have, how many GPUs, etc.

In addition, you should consider cable management, the power of your fans, how well your case distributes airflow, the size of your fans, etc.

Generally you can’t go wrong with 3-5 fans, depending on their size and how hot your PC will be.

You can test the internal temperature of your PC with computer software and a thermometer, and adjust the amount of fans and their speed to achieve an optimal temperature of 40-45 degrees celsius ambient.

Are PC Cases Universal?

Generally speaking, a case that supports a large ATX motherboard will also support Micro ATX and Mini ITX, but that’s not always the case (again, no pun intended…)

Double check the case’s specifications before buying to make sure your motherboard is compatible.

Should I Get a Mid or Full Tower Case?

Most people will be fine with a standard ATX mid-tower case. I’ve used one my entire life without any issues, nor have I felt the need to upgrade.

Enthusiast builders that want to stuff their rig with a million high-end components and water coolers might need a full tower case to house everything, but that’s about it.

From a functionalist perspective, full tower cases are only necessary if you have a ton of crap to put inside. Otherwise, it’s more of a looks type of deal. Totally up to you.

Top 3 Best PC Cases

Now let’s take a look at the best PC cases for the money:

Pros
  • Compact
  • Supports E-ATX
  • Several dust filters
  • Awesome side panel window
Cons
  • No optical drive bays
  • No fan controller
Type
ATX
Airflow
Great
Design
Good
Window
Yes
Spacious
Great
Noise
Quiet

If you’re in the market for a minimalistic ATX case, you really can’t go wrong with the 400C from Corsair. This thing is sleek, refined, sturdy, and damn good-looking.

Featuring a nice side panel window and plenty of room for your components (despite its small size), it’s great for a mid-range build.

Although it doesn’t have a ton of RGB lights or crazy fans, the 400C is still sure to impress.

It’s definitely more focused on functionality than looks, but you can deck it out with RGB lighting if you wish.

Corsair is one of my favorite companies, and their cases are probably one of the biggest reasons why that is.

If you’re in the market for a 400C, check this case out. Click here for our full review of the 400C.

Pros
  • Durable steel construction
  • RGB digital fan controller
  • Tempered glass side panel
Cons
  • A bit pricey
  • Heavy
Type
Micro-ATX
Airflow
Great
Design
Great
Window
Yes
Spacious
Great
Noise
Quiet

If you weren’t expecting the NZXT H400i on this list, you must’ve been living under a rock for the past year or so. If you’re looking for the best of the best, the lord of lords, the top of the line, then this is the Micro ATX case for you.

The greatness doesn’t stop at looks for the H400i, as its features set it apart from all other Micro ATX cases. The H400i is built for custom and AIO water cooling, includes superb cooling and noise reduction, and even comes with an RGB “CAM Powered Smart Device” fan controller for your stylish RGB setup.

Pros
  • Dual-chamber design
  • Cool temperatures
  • Spacious interior
  • Cable management
  • Design
Cons
  • USB 3.0 cable length
  • No fancy LED lighting
Type
ATX
Airflow
Great
Design
Great
Window
Yes
Spacious
Good
Noise
Silent

Corsair manages to pull off such a small yet spacious interior with their awesome dual-chamber design.

It’s an ATX Cube chassis, meaning the motherboard, CPU and GPU were compartmentalized from the rest of the build, and the components that don’t require active cooling are moved to the back of the case.

The Air 540 is almost small enough to pass as a micro atx case - it’d probably be mistaken for one by the untrained eye (click here for our guide on the smallest micro atx cases.)

This way, airflow isn’t wasted on the parts that don’t really need it – definitely a cool design by Corsair.

Both chambers streamline airflow to provide the best possible cooling solution. On top of the compartmentalized interior, Corsair has also left room for water cooling compatibility and HDD bays.

Despite being a small ATX case, the Carbide Air 540 is very well designed.

Its two compartments keep cables and components neat and tidy, which promotes airflow, thus keeping the entire rig looking good and staying cool.

The case is mostly constructed of steel on the inside, but Corsair decided to use ABS plastic and steel mesh to give the cube ATX case a unique and good-looking style.

Conclusion

Just like trying to think of a good name, picking the right case is pretty tough.

There are a lot of options but what makes it even more challenging is the huge mix of information on the web.

Hopefully using the guide above, you now understand that it comes down to a matter of preference.

I’d first determine the kind of performance you’re looking for, and the parts you need to acheive that performance will become clear.

At that point, you’ll know your budget, and can decide on a case that fits your budget, components, and most importantly, your style.