We’ve tested five best-selling cases for under £100 for noise, cooling performance and build quality: here are the 5 best PC cases we’ve tried.
PC cases come in all shapes, sizes and prices, from small and lightweight budget models costing less than £20 to mirrored-glass covered monsters for £1,000. But for your average home PC, there are many options available for under £100. We’ve grabbed five of the best-sellers to see how they compare.
We’ll be testing each for its design, build quality, ease of use, features, expandability options, customisation, and water-cooling options, air-cooling performance and noise levels, so you can get the most complete picture possible about what you’re buying.
Before we embark on the testing, however, here are some things you should consider when you’re next out shopping for a PC case.
In order to make building PCs a viable endeavour, the PC market uses a number of set standards for component size, shape and case design to ensure that everything fits together properly. These are called form factors, and the typical home PC options are ATX, micro-ATX, mini-ITX and E-ATX.
ATX is the classic PC size, with a motherboard that’s up to 305 x 244mm in size and includes around five expansion slots. These also use your classic large power supply and a case that’s around 50 x 50 x 20cm. If you’re simply after the best bang for buck then a standard ATX system is the best option.
If size is a concern then micro-ATX may better suit your needs. It cuts down the motherboard size to 244mm square, and the expansion slots to two or three. Otherwise, it’s identical to ATX, so cases tend to be only slightly smaller.
If you’re really after a compact system then mini-ITX is the way to go. Motherboards have only one expansion slot – so if you install a graphics card then you can’t install anything else; but they’re tiny – up to 170mm square.
Cases for mini-ITX motherboards are often then only able to accommodate a smaller PSU, such as the SFU standard, so be sure to double-check when buying.
Meanwhile E-ATX, or extended-ATX, is a longer version of ATX and is reserved mainly for only the fanciest of systems. The motherboards can be up to 305 x 330mm, with the cases being correspondingly larger.
CASE SIZES AND SHAPE
Didn’t we just cover case size? Well, yes, largely we did, but within the confines of the form-factor standards there are also a number of different case styles and sizes that still fall into that category.
So, for instance, there are so-called full-tower and midi-tower types. These are your classic upright PC cases, with midi being smaller and offering a more basic set of features. Full towers are larger – sometimes able to fit E-ATX motherboards – and with extra cooling options such as multiple water-cooling radiator mountings.
The other classic is the desktop-style case, which essentially flips the ATX tower over on its side. These are the old-school cases you used to have on desks with the monitor sat atop.
Corsair’s 750D, 540D and 250D are full tower, cube and mini-ITX cases respectively
Then are also cube-style cases that, instead of having the power supply and hard drives arranged around the edges of the motherboard in one large space, these components can be found on top of or behind the motherboard. This allows the height and depth of the case to be reduced but the width to expand – thus the cube name.
Various smaller sizes – micro-ATX and mini-ITX – are available in all sorts of shapes and sizes, but tend to be grouped together on shopping sites.
Finally, there are the more specialist types such as HTPCs (home-theatre PCs), which are very low-profile cases designed to be fit inside TV cabinets alongside Blu-ray players and games consoles.
The relentless demand of consumers means that you’ll be hard-pushed to find a truly badly made case these days, so long as you stick with a known brand name.
You can spend £25 and get a case that’s vaguely stylish, properly painted throughout, devoid of the dangerous sharp edges that used to plague cheap cases of yesteryear, and with decent enough build quality that allows for it to be taken apart and put back together again without falling to pieces.
However, there are compromises to be made if you go down the cheap route. The metal used is often thin and easier to dent and warp. What styling there is usually comes in the form of a fairly poor-quality plastic front cover. Screw mounts are formed from pressed and drilled sheet metal rather than solid separate pieces. You’ll find that most of it is riveted in place rather than screwed in, which limits customisation.
So while it sometimes may not be all that obvious from pictures where your money is going if you buy a premium case, in our reviews we’ve made sure to point out where compromises have been made.
When it comes to features, there’s such a vast possible list that’s it’s almost impossible to cover everything in a review. Moreover, it depends where your priorities lie. If you still use DVDs and have lots of hard drives, then you’ll need a case that supports 5.25in and 3.5in drive bays. Alternatively, you may only have one tiny M.2 SSD for storage, but require masses of space for fancy water-cooling.
As such, we can end up with situations where a £20 case technically has more features than a £200 case, but they’re simply different types of features.
Therefore, when it comes to features, we’ll be trying to point out just where you’re missing out, and what else you might be getting instead. Also, there are a whole host of extras to look out for: features such as built-in lighting, fan controllers, removable sections that allow you to customise the layout, clever mounting systems, cooling options and much more.
The Corsair 400C’s hinged-window is a rare feature
CABLE MANAGEMENT AND EASE OF INSTALLATION
One of the most important considerations for those building their own PC – and particularly for regular tinkerers – is that it should be easy to access all the components to remove, install or relocate them.
Similarly, it’s also beneficial if certain parts of the case can be removed if not needed. For instance, if you don’t use any 3.5in hard drives then it’s useful to be able to just remove the whole mounting bay and free up that space.
Also crucial in this regard is how easy it is to route cables from one place to another. Many cases have numerous holes in the motherboard tray, and ample space behind it so that cables can easily be threaded through without getting in the way.
While much of this cable management and general tidy-system building is aesthetic, it does serve a practical purpose. A tidily built system with good cable management is easier to subsequently work on. Plus, getting cables and other unneeded parts out of the way opens up the interior of the case to allow for better airflow. With better airflow comes cooler, longer-lasting components and less noise.
COOLING AND NOISE
One of the key features of any PC case is that it provides adequate airflow to keep the components inside cool. Most cases will come with one or two fans and most will have mounts for several more.
Some cases also include a dedicated fan controller for manually adjusting the speed of the fans, while others rely on the fan controllers that most motherboards come with (in many instances, these are entirely acceptable).
We test the effectiveness of the default fan arrangement, connecting up the fans either to the case’s fan controller or to the motherboard’s fan headers. We then test for the temperature of the CPU and GPU with the PC in idle and when under load (Prime95 on the CPU and Unigine Heaven on the GPU, running for 15 minutes or until temperatures are stable).
Also crucial is how much noise is made keeping everything cool. Either the case fans themselves can be noisy or the lack of adequate cooling can cause the CPU and GPU fans to spin ever faster as they try to dissipate heat. By holding a decibel meter 30cm from the front and side of the case while idling and when under load, we can determine the level of noise for each case; ambient noise is around 36dB.
Our test system consists of an Intel Core i7-6600K cooled by a Cooler Master Hyper 212 Evo, a Sapphire Vapor-X R9 290 graphics card – it vents almost no air out the case itself, so makes for a stern test for our cases, an Asus Z170-A motherboard, a Samsung 950 Pro M.2 SSD and a Corsair RM750i power supply.
The Corsair H100i is a hefty all-in-one CPU cooler that only some cases can accommodate
As well as conventional air-cooling, many cases can accommodate a plethora of water-cooling options, from simply having enough space above the CPU to mount a single-fan all-in-one CPU cooler, to having several areas where you can fit large, triple-fan radiators and reservoirs.
In general, the presence of these radiator mounts is specified in the specs of the case. However, we also tested the general ease of installation of such a system in our review cases by fitting a Corsair H100i all-in-one CPU cooler, which uses a two-fan radiator, in each.
NZXT S340 RAZER
- Stylish Razer design
- Tinted side window
- Excellent cooling and noise performance
- Illuminated front logo and under-case lighting
Priced at around £75, it’s one of the more expensive cases on test, and it shows. It’s finished in a fantastic matte-black paint that looks much classier than the more typical varieties used to cover just about every other case on test.
The general shape of the case, the tinted side window, and the illuminated front logo and under-lighting all add to the sense of this case being worth every penny, even if the over-the-top lighting isn’t to your taste.
The steel used in the case’s construction feels markedly thicker than most other models here, giving the whole unit a reassuring solidity. However, build quality isn’t perfect.
That matte-paint finish chips and scratches far easier than more conventional finishes, and simply removing the screws that attach the side panels resulted in all the paint under the screws being chipped off. If you’re careful and don’t believe you’ll be spending too much time dismantling and rebuilding this case then it should be fine. Serious tinkerers, however, may find it simply doesn’t stand up to regular abuse.
Like many of the cases on test, the S340 Razer has no 5.25in mounts for optical drives. As a result, if you’d like to include a CD/DVD/Blu-ray drive in your build then you’ll have to look elsewhere.
As such, the entire front of the case is clean of any interruptions. The power button, a couple of USB 3.0 ports and headphone and microphone jacks are positioned on the top.
That front section can be removed, however, and behind it is a mount for up to a two-fan radiator, with an integrated removable dust filter; fitting our Corsair H100i was a cinch.
Otherwise, the S340 sports a mostly conventional midi-tower layout on the inside, with the motherboard top-left, power supply bottom-left and hard drives on the bottom-right of the case.
However, covering the latter two is a metal shroud. This is a great way to hide the mess of cables from the PSU and generally keep those unsightly components hidden.
To install the PSU and hard drives it will be necessary to remove the rear panel. There’s also only room for two 3.5in drives, while there are two more 2.5in mounts for SSDs on the top side of that shroud – both can be removed if desired.
Overall, installation is fairly easy, bar having to squeeze in that PSU round the back. Thanks to the clever shrouds, however, cable management is simple; it’s easy to create a great-looking installation with little effort.
Cooling is provided by a 120mm fan in the back and another 120mm in the top, with both pulling hot air from the case – there are no fans forcing cold air in. This arrangement leaves that whole front fan/radiator mount section free to add in components of your choice. Note that if you’re not using any extra cooling then I’d recommend moving the top fan to that front section, since this will keep a steady stream of cool air flowing directly at the CPU and GPU.
Even without this tweak to the cooling layout, the S340 performs well when it comes to keeping the temperature from rising. Under load it was comfortably in the top half of the table, with the CPU hitting 73 degrees and the GPU 77 degrees.
What’s more, it was the quietest case on test, no doubt a result of decent cooling performance, quality fans and that thicker steel. From the front it hit just 39.6dB, while the side was a little louder at 40.4dB.
The NZXT S340 Razer is an all-round fantastic midi-tower case. It’s stylish, easy to build a system with, and offers good cooling. It’s not dripping with features and the paint job isn’t ideal for those that treat their systems roughly, but the overall build quality and design make it well worth the money.
- Incredibly cheap
- A good basic case with a side window
- Simple, smart design
- Cramped interior
There are a few nice touches, such as a windowed side panel, fully painted interior, USB 3.0 ports on the top and a reasonably nice overall look. However, build quality very obviously is a step down.
The steel used in the Nova’s construction is markedly thinner and weaker, giving the whole unit a more shaky, rattly feel. Crucially, though, all edges are rounded and aren’t sharp, unlike the very cheapest cases, while the tough black paint job resists scratches well.
Open it up and you’ll find the motherboard mounts are formed from the same pressed steel as the bottom of the case. This means it’s easy to strip the threads when installing or removing a motherboard. Other cases on test use separate, solid-metal mounts.
Similarly, the expansion card slots don’t have proper screwed-in-place replaceable covers, but rather have “tear-off” covers that you have to lever off then discard. There’s just one replaceable cover provided, and one screw to go with it; there aren’t enough to install a full system.
One thing this case can claim over some of the more expensive models on test is that it can actually accommodate a DVD drive: there are three 5.25in mounts, with one accessible from the front of the case.
On the top, front corner sit power and reset buttons, USB 3.0 and USB 2.0 ports, and headphone and microphone jacks.
Open the case up and the layout is entirely conventional, with a fixed, front-facing section for mounting the 5.25in drives, and up to four 3.5in drives – there are no dedicated 2.5in mounts.
Installation is largely straightforward, aside from aforementioned expansion slots and motherboard mounts, plus if you were installing several hard drives and a DVD drive, the very basic mounting system would definitely make installation more awkward.
What’s more, space is limited. Our admittedly rather long 12.25in graphics card had to be manoeuvred under the drive mount section to fit in, while our Cooler Master Hyper 212 Evo CPU cooler was so tall it actually touched the side panel. In fact, it ended up scratching the window as it was slid back into place. Something to watch out for.
Cable management is also tricky, since there are no holes in the motherboard tray above or below the motherboard through which to thread cables. In fact, there’s very little space between the back panel and the motherboard tray to squeeze any cables. As such, it was a case of pushing the excess cabling into the hard drive bay to keep things reasonably tidy.
Only one 120mm fan is included, which is mounted in the rear position for exhausting hot air from the CPU. Meanwhile, there are a couple of front fan mounts but they’re difficult to access; airflow to them is restricted by the front panel.
This paucity of default cooling options is reflected in this case’s cooling performance. That one rear fan simply couldn’t push air out fast enough to keep things cool inside. As such, the CPU hit a whopping 90C, which is at the point where the CPU starts to throttle itself to stop from overheating.
Likewise, the GPU hit 88C – and it’s possible that it was also having to rein things in a little to keep from self-destructing.
As a result, the CPU and GPU fans were running at full whack and making quite a racket, making this the loudest case on test by some distance. Its load noise levels of 45.3dB (front) and 46.5dB (side) are far and away the loudest. Positioned under a desk it wouldn’t be too obtrusive, but it certainly isn’t ideal for late-night gaming.
Add an extra fan and use a graphics card that exhausts more of its heat straight out the back of the case and these numbers could be lowered fairly easily, but it still isn’t a great result.
The BitFenix Nova is a cheap case. However, it gets the job done and looks reasonably smart in the process. If you just need any old case to get your PC built it’s a reasonable option, so long as your components aren’t too demanding.
CORSAIR CARBIDE SERIES 400C
- Excellent cooling performance
- Masses of features
- Really useful hinged side panel
- Highly customisable
For your money you get a hinged, windowed side panel for quick and easy access to your components. It has removable shrouds for the PSU and hard drives. The 3.5in and 2.5in bays are all removable, and there are masses of cooling options.
As a result of all those extras, the styling is nice enough, but lacks any real finesse. The paint job is the usual tough black rather than the nicer matte finish of the NZXT, while the front is plastic rather than metal. Also, the eminently useful hinged side panel looks a little clunky with that handle, and up top it’s just one big fan filter.
It doesn’t look cheap or ugly, but it definitely isn’t out-and-out stylish, either.
But back to those features…
The side window panel is superb. It opens so easily and simply slides up off its hinges for when you need to really get inside the case. There’s no lock on the latch, so if security is a concern then it may not be ideal. As far as convenience is concerned, though, it’s a big win.
Like several cases on test, there are no 5.25in drive bays, so the whole case is smaller than typical midi-towers of a few years ago.
Open up the door and it’s clear where that space has been saved, with the whole area in front of the motherboard being narrower than other cases. Overall space is plentiful, however. All round the motherboard there’s a decent gap to allow fingers in to fit screws and feed through cables, and there are plenty of holes for cables in the back plate, too.
As such, installation of the motherboard and cable management is really easy. However, the lower part of the case is less successful.
Like the S340, the PSU and 3.5in HDD bays are covered by a shroud, but here they’re plastic and have to be removed to install the components. The problem being that the whole system is just a little clunky, with too many steps required to remove the shroud, and the whole area being cramped. Moreover, I don’t think the shrouding looks all that much better than the bare PSU and hard drives – it’s a far cry from the S340’s cleaner-looking metal shroud.
Nonetheless, this is the only major issue with the case, and in every other regard it’s a joy to use. It performs superbly when it comes to cooling: its CPU temperature is the joint-lowest on test (71C), and although the GPU is a little higher, at 80C, this would be an easy fix if you moved the front 140mm fan down to the lower mount. CPU temperature might rise slightly, but not by much.
Noise levels weren’t amazing, with this being the second-loudest case on test, but it was a distant second to the BitFenix Nova, measuring 42.8dB from both the front and side.
There’s also ample room for water-cooling, with the front section able to fit the H100i; there’s room in the roof for more fans, too.
This case packs in a ton of features and offers good overall build quality and cooling performance. As such, it’s an ideal choice for power-users who don’t need any 5.25in drive bays.
IN WIN 703
- Aluminium front
- three 5.25in drive mounts
- Red LED fan
The In Win 703, though, is a much more modest affair. And, in fact, it’s something of a disappointment. You still get a touch of aluminium in the shape of the front panel, but the rest of the case looks and feels every bit the £50 case that it is.
The biggest problem is that the styling is just awkward. The bulging side panels and aggressive red highlights just don’t work, especially with that big In Win logo that sits smack-bang in the centre of the side window.
A further sign of this case trying to aim stylistically higher than it can manage is the presence of an LED-lit, red-glowing fan at the rear. It’s such a token effort to jazz up the interior of a build, and feels very much like the sort of thing case-modders were adding to their cases 10 years ago.
Before I get too down on this case, however, I’ll concede that of course style is subjective, and actually in most other regards this is a very capable case for the money.
Those bulging side panels do aid practicality when it comes to cable routing round the back and fitting in giant CPU coolers round the front.
There are also plenty of little improvements over a case such as the BitFenix Nova. Sturdy steel is used in the construction; it has a more convenient front-facing 4-bay, 3.5in hard drive section; and there’s space between the 5.25in and 3.5in bays that allows for even the largest graphics card to fit in this case with ease.
Cooling options are also better, with the rear 120mm fan joined by space for two further fans at the front. The Nova, too, has such mounts – but they’re easier to access on the 703, airflow to them is better and there’s an integrated dust filter as well. The case isn’t capacious enough to house our Corsair H100i water-cooler radiator, though.
In another nod to rather old-school case design, there are a couple of rubber-shrouded holes above the rear fan intended for water-cooling pipes to exit and enter the case. Next to no-one does water-cooling in such as manner anymore, and so feel a little pointless on a case in this price range.
In terms of more general features, there are three 5.25in drive bays, with one accessible from the front, and one fairly basic plastic tool-less holder for said drives – any extra 5.25in additions will have to be screwed into place.
There’s no ventilation on top of the case, but you do get a power button – actually, it’s at the top of the right-hand side – plus a USB 3.0 port, two USB 2.0 ports and headphone and microphone jacks.
Like the Nova, the expansion card slots are tear-off style, with only one replaceable cover included, but otherwise installation is easy. There are no holes above the motherboard through which to thread power supply cables, but on all other sides there’s ample room. Add in the bulging rear panel and it’s easy to hide most of your power supply’s cables out of sight.
As for cooling performance, that single fan struggled as you might expect, but nowhere near as much as the Nova. The CPU topped out at 81 degrees and the GPU at 78 degrees. These certainly aren’t good results, but sufficiently below the point where there’s a chance either will be throttling back performance.
Similarly, noise levels were higher than some but still way below the Nova, with the front registering 41.1dB and the side hitting 41.0dB. As with most of the cases on test, it’s the GPU’s fan that creates most of this noise as it ramps ever higher to try to keep cool.
I’ve been a bit down on the In Win 703 since its styling really isn’t my thing, plus a couple of its features feel pretty out of place in this day and age. However, when all is said and done, the In WIn 703 gets the job done. It’s easy to use, has a reasonable selection of features and does okay when it comes to cooling and noise. It just doesn’t feel like the best case for the money, though.
PHANTEKS ENTHOO PRO M
- Larger and more spacious than other midi-towers
- Masses of cooling options
- Plenty of upgrade options
- Great cooling performance
It has a similar philosophy when it comes to design – it’s utilitarian, but not in an offensively brutish way. It has a plain-black finish throughout, brushed plastic front, and huge sections on the top and front that are dedicated to fan grilles.
It would be nice to have just a touch of something to elevate the styling but, for £60, and considering all that it packs in, it’s perfectly acceptable.
As with all the cases on test, there’s a window in one of the side panels for peering into your beautifully arranged system. However, you miss out on the hinged door of the Corsair – it’s just a plain slide-off panel.
Inside is a positively cavernous space. Like the NZXT S340, the bottom section where the power supply and hard drives reside has been shrouded by a non-removable metal cover. Oddly, though, it doesn’t fully cover the PSU and is packed full of ventilation holes, rather negating the two main benefits of these covers, covering up the unsightly PSU and isolating the airflow of the two compartments.
Where you’d normally find a stack of 3.5in and 5.25in drive bays, the whole front of this case is left open – aside from one removable 5.25in bay right at the top. Instead, drive mounts can optionally be added or this area is available for mounting items such as water-cooling reservoirs and radiators.
If you aren’t planning to fill that space with some hefty water-cooling equipment (or an all-in-one liquid cooler) then this case is probably overkill; there really is little need for so much room if you’re just popping a couple of fans in the front.
Elsewhere, there are masses of useful features. Round the back you’ll find a couple of removable 2.5in drive trays for SSDs, while the two 3.5in drive bays can be removed and the tool-less trays sport a clever design that makes fitting and replacing drives a cinch.
There are also masses of rubber-lined holes for effortless cable routing, and even several pre-fitted Velcro ties for holding all those cables in place.
One awkward thing is that the PSU has to be slid in from the back – as in the side behind the motherboard. It’s a tight squeeze in terms of height, so you’ll struggle to any vertically oversized PSUs. Overall, though, system installation is easy thanks to all that space.
When it comes to cooling, this case is packed to the gunnels. Up top is space for three 120mm fans, while the front can also house a two-fan radiator or two 140mm fans. There’s only one fan pre-fitted, though: a 140mm model set at the back.
Nonetheless, cooling performance is excellent, with this case being joint top for CPU temp (71C) and all out on its own for GPU temp (75C). It nearly lead the way for noise, too, just being pipped to the post by the S340 (41.1dB front, 40.5dB side).
This is a fantastic case for those looking to build a powerful system with some hefty cooling, and who still want some 5.25in drive bays. It’s packed with features, cools really well and keeps noise down too. It isn’t the most stylish of cases, but at £60 it would be churlish to ask for much more.