Building a PC? Start with the case.

Building a PC? Start with the case.

Anyone that's built a PC knows how intimidating the task can be. So many components, acronyms and number (I'm looking at you display manufactures) and no idea where to start. 

Forums, guides and subreddits can be a great starting point but they miss one big consideration, the case. Everything in your case can change your PC gaming experience, but aside from peripherals (keyboard and mouse), your case and fans can change your experience outside of your gaming experience. 

What do I mean by that? Well think about it this way, a small form factor (SFF) PC can be great for portability or couch gaming, but a large tower can be great for someone with the desk real estate who wants to get the best possible gaming experience. 

If you're looking to build your first battle station, you're probably imaging two monitors, a full sized keyboard and maybe even a professional mic. That's a lot of desk real estate! So why take it up with a large PC case, unless you plan on having a large desk. 

On the flipside, if you're looking to built the ultimate rig, with custom water loops and high end components, then definitely look at getting a larger case for the increased airflow to your components and space to work with. 

Starting with a case can also help you narrow down on what components you really need. Case dimensions are usually based on motherboard sizing:

  • Mini-ITX 
  • MicroATX
  • ATX
  • EATX

Sizing typically dictates what features a motherboard can have, such as extra PCIe slots, M.2 expansion slots and USB connectivity. Higher end motherboards can also eek out more performance but a mostly negligible amount. 

If you're a pretty casual gamer, one PCIe slot for your graphics card, one M.2 slot for your SSD and a few USB's can all be achieved with a MicroATX and ATX board. Although not always factored into a new build budget, a smaller motherboard, and hence case can also mean you can buy a smaller (and cheaper) desk for your battle station. 

Be warned however, getting into Mini-ATX can get very expensive with SFF builds because they often require SFF power supplies which are not cheap. 

Now knowing what you're looking for in terms of usability from your motherboard, you can pick out a case to fit everything into. Case sizing follow the same sizing as motherboard but slightly different names:

  • Mini-ITX - Mini ITX Case
  • MicroATX - Mini Tower
  • ATX - Mid Tower
  • EATX - Full Tower

Now that you know what size you'll be going for, your pick will come down to two factors: visual preference, and airflow. Case manufactures have made huge strides in improving the visual look and feel of cases. From the beige boxes in the early 2000's to the black rectangle's of the early 2010's, cases have started looking a lot more unique and colorful. 

Cases now integrate RGB fans, tempered side panels and patterns to make them more appealing and differentiate between other cases. 

Airflow is another big consideration when choosing a case. Cases with the best airflow will normally have mesh fronts, top and bottom to place intake and exhaust fans. That doesn't mean you shouldn't buy cases without these features but airflow can be important when running high end components, but for mid tier gamers a good set of fans should be good enough. 

PC building can be daunting. With so many components on the market it can feel like playing with Lego (do I want to use a blue brick or red brick?) but it doesn't need to be so complicated. Knowing the space you'll be working with and the use case, you can find a case to best suit your needs, a motherboard that fits and the components to get the experience you're looking for. 

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