If you are a PC gamer, you know that a big part of the hobby is the act of designing and building your PC. Whether you do the work yourself or pay a company to build a gaming PC for you, the end result is the same. You get to choose exactly what combination of components will make up your pride and joy.

While the world of computer gaming is shifting somewhat towards gaming laptops, when it comes to the best bang per buck and outright performance, nothing beats a desktop machine. The best CPUs and GPUs reside in desktop systems, where they can get all the power and cooling they need. But those components need to live somewhere, and that’s why picking the right gaming chassis is very important indeed. From determining how well your cooling works to dictating what components you can actually fit in there, your chassis represents a pretty big decision. So let’s look at the key considerations you need to look at when planning out your gaming rig.

Design

Should the look of the case really be at the top of the list? Well, that really depends on how much you value aesthetics. However, PC gamers tend to be a breed apart. Console gamers have little choice when it comes to how their gaming machines look, but you can choose something that goes with your personality and sense of beauty, or simply something that matches your home or gaming environment. A gaming PC can be a real work of art, so don’t dismiss this aspect of buying a case.

I’d make the argument that you should shortlist your cases based on looks first and only then explore more technical considerations. There’s little point in getting a brilliant case that you hate to look at!

Size

Gaming cases come in a wide variety of sizes. One defining feature of each case is the motherboard size that it can accomodate. The ATX standard is the most common, and you can think of these as “full-size” boards. The most serious gaming motherboards are going to conform to the ATX size specs. From here we can go smaller, looking at micro and mini ATX. These smaller boards are usually compatible with larger cases, but if a case only supports smaller ATX standards it obviously won’t take bigger boards.

Mini-ITX gaming PCs are also a thing now. I should know, because my current gaming PC uses a mini-ITX motherboard and case. The main difference here between the various sizes is how many expansion slots you get, as well as features. With a mini-ITX board, you get only one slot for graphics cards and two for RAM. You may not get as many USB ports or fancy add-ons such as discrete sound hardware.

If you’re only looking to build a powerful single-GPU gaming PC without custom water cooling, ITX cases offer quite a lot of style and space saving. Then again, if you want to build a multi-GPU monster with drives coming out of the wazoo and enough fans to hover independently, a full ATX case is the way to go.

Portability

The golden age of the LAN party seems to have faded, and most people simply play their multiplayer games online from home. So the ease with which you can move the case from one place to another may not be at the forefront of your mind. On top of this, people who are dedicated to the LAN scene might simply opt for a gaming laptop, which means they don’t have to worry about lugging along all the peripherals.

Still, if you plan to move your computer around on a regular basis, consider if the chassis in question comes with handles or some other kind of feature that makes moving it easier. Size is obviously also a factor here. ITX computers are obviously the easiest to move around.

Dust Filtering

Dust is the eternal enemy of computer performance. Air has to be sucked into the system, where it cools components and then it get expelled again. Most modern cases offer some sort of dust filtering solution. The main air intakes should all have removable filters that can either be washed or easily replaced if they wear out. A case with good dust filters will save you the hassle of taking the whole computer apart more often than strictly needed.

Airflow

Airflow is a super-contentious topic among pc gamers, and for good reason. There’s no consensus as to what constitutes the best design. Some people say positive air pressure is the best, since it keeps out dust, others say negative air pressure is best for cooling. That’s just the tip of the iceberg.

When looking to buy a case, you should pay attention to how the airflow design works. Personally, I like cases where hot components such as the power supply has its own isolated airflow path. Likewise, a clear path for the GPU is also crucial. If you’re looking at a multi-GPU setup this can be tricky, since the second or third cards may need dedicated fans.

Cooling expansion is also something you need to think about. Can you add more fans later? Can you swap out existing fans for larger, quieter versions? The topic of case airflow really deserves its own article, but for our purposes here what matters is that you have it on your list of things to think about carefully before making a purchase.

corsair case

Water Cooling Support

Linking up with the topic of airflow above, we have to talk about water cooling. In the early days of water cooling, it was an incredibly niche pursuit. Since no water cooling hardware existed, people repurposed car and aquarium components to come up with their own solutions.

In case you don’t know, water cooling uses a loop of fluid pumped through a water block attached to the component you want to cool, which is then cycled through a radiator. Usually the radiator has a fan which forces air over the radiator fins.
Water cooling became popular because it was quiet and very efficient at cooling hot components, which attracted overclockers. These days custom loops are still relatively rare, but closed “all-in-one” water coolers are pretty much mainstream now. The big difference is that these AIO coolers don’t have a separate reservoir or pump; it’s all integrated into the block and reservoir.

If you want to use watercooling, you need to take into account whether a given case has the right support. Most modern gaming cases will support AIO water coolers. This simply involves providing rails where you can mount the radiators. Radiator mountings are usually sized in increments of 120mm, to reflect the 120mm fans that are used with them. So a single fan radiator will take up 120mm, two fans will be 240, and so on. Smaller cases usually have 240mm of rail space. It’s usually the CPU alone that gets an AIO cooler, but some higher end GPUs now come with an AIO installed out of the box. If you’ll be using an AIO cooler with both CPU and GPU, make sure the case in question will actually accommodate both radiators.

If we’re moving into the custom water cooling world, the considerations are very different. Cases that are designed for custom water cooling should have a dedicated space for the pumps and reservoirs. There should also be ports for all piping and wiring, so that you can set it all up neatly. Of course, I don’t recommend that you do custom water cooling yourself if you don’t already know all of this. This is about your desire to move to custom water cooling one day. This means buying a case now that can be upgraded with it, rather than having to rebuild the whole thing.

Toolless or Not?

I still have numerous scars on my hands from the dark ages of computer building. Rough, sharp edges and slippery screw heads have contributed to plenty of pain over the years. Cheap cases can still be like this, but most modern gaming cases are carefully designed to be friendly to your hands and make maintenance and building much easier. I always prefer cases that have a toolless design – cases that mainly use clips and thumb screws to secure everything. It’s a personal preference, but I think most people will agree with the overall convenience of this approach.

Cable Management

As with water cooling readiness, it’s worth paying attention to cable management features in a case. All those components are connected using cables and you can’t just let them go where they want. Not only does it look unattractive, it affects airflow and can cause severe dust buildup. Modern cases usually have hooks, ports, and hidden channels for cables; these allow an incredibly clean and attractive interior.

PSU Personalization

Cheaper cases may come with a power supply unit included. This might seem like a good deal, but unless you can identify the brand and model of that supply, you are unlikely to get something worth owning. The PSU is one of the most important components in a gaming PC. If it dies, it can take other components with it. If it can’t provide stable power, you can end up with poor performance or stability. It’s generally better to buy your PSU separately, getting the best unit for your budget.

I Rest My Case

Wow, for something as seemingly simple as a gaming rig chassis, there sure are a lot of things to think about. The good news is that you can’t really fundamentally screw up getting a case. As long as all your parts will fit, you’ll be OK in principle. Then again, you have to stare at and work with that case for years, perhaps over multiple internal upgrades, so clearly it’s well worth putting some time into choosing the right one!