Buying a new computer can be an expensive ordeal. When you go to a big box retailer or manufacturer, you often pay for components you don’t need or get overcharged for the ones you do. The best solution is to build your own computer. What most people don’t realize is it’s actually surprisingly easy to do. To help you design your next computer, or just to become familiar with what to look for, WorldStart is doing a 10-part series on the components you’ll need to build your own computer.
In each part, I’ll offer recommendations on the components discussed. I’ll recommend parts to accommodate those both looking for value and those looking for high performance. Since manufacturers are always updating styles and features, your final decision should be based on your own judgment, aided by the knowledge you gain from these articles. You know what you want from your PC, I’m here to help you design it.
Part 1: The Case
The case does not get as much attention as the rest of the parts of the computer during the building process, but a good case is worth its considerable weight in gold. The case serves not only as the mounting point for all of your hardware, but needs to keep the components cool and fit the style you prefer. Choosing a case is simple if you know the terminology.
Size is broken down into a few categories and should match the size of your motherboard. When picking the size of the case, keep in mind the total number of hard drives and CD/DVD drives you want. Remember to measure the area where you plan to put your computer, as the larger cases can be quite tall. Don’t forget about cooling; smaller cases have less room for processor cooling fans or larger graphics cards.
Cases are sized to fit motherboards in three different sizes:
- MiniITX – Smallest and usually reserved for media center/ultra small PCs.
- MicroATX – Bigger then Mini-ITX but still compact. Popular among very small PC builds, but requires very careful planning for size and limited cooling.
- ATX – The most popular standard offering comes in versions all the way from smaller desktop to mid-size to full-size towers. The larger the case, the more room for cooling and components.
Cooling is the second concern after finding the right size. Cooling is dictated not only by the size of the case, but by the number and size of the fans in the case. When looking at a case pay, attention to both the number of fans supported and the number included. Some cheaper cases will not include fans for all slots. The larger the fans, the quieter they will run. It’s generally considered better to have at least three fans to properly ventilate your case.
Ports and Connectors are the tertiary concern, but probably the one you’ll notice most in day-to-day use. Some cases will have built-in USB or audio ports which connect to special header connectors on the motherboard. When selecting a case, it’s a good idea to write down the ports so you can select a motherboard with the needed headers.
Appearance is the final major aspect to consider, but keep in mind that you could be looking at that computer for many, many years. LED lighting, see-through side panels and attractive styling should all be taken into account. Most retailers will have pictures of the case with lighting and side views. Make an effort to picture the case in your home or office and think about whether it will fit in.
Budget Case – COOLER MASTER HAF Series RC-912 – $49.99
This case offers a combination of standard features found on most budget cases along with some attractive premium features. The premium features include: large cut-outs for custom CPU coolers, cable routing slots, two internal bays for 2.5″ SSDs and mounting points for up to four case fans (though only two come included). The case is well designed and should offer room for most builds.
Premium Case – Antec Performance One Series P183 V3 – $139.99
Like any premium case, the feature list is long and includes dedicated cable management slots and liquid cooling ports, large cut-out for custom CPU coolers, removable hard drive trays and dual-chamber heat break design. The P183 is special because of its focus on acoustic performance. It includes sound-proofing, making it a very quiet and unassuming case. If you want to put together a high-powered machine, but keep it from looking like a sci-fi set piece or sounding like a jet engine, this is the case for you.