A Pretty Face
The computer system’s case is another component where people may look to cut corners. However it is one where this is less of a concern (from a technical standpoint). With that said though, I would definitely recommend “splurging” and investing in a quality case ($100-200) that has classic styling (one that wont go out of date in a year).
Of all the components you will be buying for your system, this is one that can truly be considered an investment. As, unlike all the other components in your system, the case itself could conceivably last five to ten years without any need to be replaced and, no matter how nice the components in your system are, if your case is of poor quality, I will all but guarantee you that your pride of ownership will be diminished due to having a cheaply made (and ugly) case to look at.
Function Over Form
Aesthetics and emotions aside, a good quality case will often keep your system cooler, be easier to install components into, help with cable management, and provide handy ease-of-use functions like front or top USB and audio ports, tool-free mounting, pull out motherboard trays, and a whole slew of other features.
When looking at cases, try to prefer metal over plastics, aluminum over steal, larger fans over smaller, PSU mounts in the bottom rather than the top, hard drive bays that fit side to side over those that fit back to front, and smaller cases rather than larger ones. These general guidelines should help you find a case that will keep your system cooler, quieter, less top heavy, and easier to find room for and move (I also avoid non-functional “features” such as plastic windows and LEDs myself, but to each their own).
Additional features to consider are hard drive mount points, lengths of GPUs that the case will fit, as well as heights of heat sinks and sizes of PSUs that the case will properly fit. As far as brands, I generally prefer Cooler Master or Lian Li, though Antec and Thermaltake also make some good cases. This is one of the most personal choices when building a system, as such there is no wrong or right answer here. I will provide three options below, use them as a basis for figuring out if another case would work better for you or go with what I’ve suggested below!
Quarter 1, 2012 Suggestions, Alternates, & Other Considerations
Suggestion: Cooler Master 690 II Advanced
This is the updated version of the case I currently own and use for my own (dated) “Omnis-system.” It was the first mid-tower case to be certified for SLI usage due to its phenomenal cooling. The current model, the CM 690 II Advanced, can hold 6 or 7 HDDs or SSDs by default, and has plenty of room for expansion with its four 5.25″ bays.
My version of this case still looks great, and has held up great even though I’ve had it for at least four or five years now and it has survived several moves without issue. The only reason I plan to replace it is because I would like to move to a smaller mATX based system for my front-end system and move my current case and system to a purely server role.
Aside from that, I have no reason to upgrade this case still (as I mentioned above, cases can really be an investment if chosen wisely)! The newer version looks all the better still, with support for newer standards (USB 3.0), more ease of use functions (additional tool-less features), and even better cooling options (more fans, more options for 140 mm fans).
For a system that does everything, I would be hard pressed to offer a better suggestion (though Lian Li does have some tempting offerings!).
Alternate: Lian Li PC-V354
For a mATX based option the PC-V354 is hard to beat. Lian Li builds some very small cases that still support large GPUs (and PSUs). Also, with a shorter GPU this case could even be used as a small Home Server as it will hold 7 HDDs just the same as the CM 690 II Advanced (with less room for expansion via its single 5.25″ bay).
For a system that I only needed to fit a couple SSDs in and a single large GPU I would absolutely go this route over a mid-tower ATX case. This case also should fit any standard PSU.
Lian Li seems great about building small cases that easily fit standard sized components, provide great cooling, and classic styling. In addition to all that, Lian Li is well known for its build quality, and while they use to be prohibitively expensive ($300-500) they now seem to be priced similarly to any other mid to upper range case!
Other Considerations: Lian Li PC-V2120
If you simply need as much space as possible for at least 10-13 HDDs, 2-4 SSDs, up to four GPUs, and anything and everything else, then you would be hard pressed to find a case better than Lian Li’s PC-V2120. Based around the largest standard motherboard form factor, HPTX (but supporting anything down to a mATX ‘board) this case is massive (235mm x 635 mm x 630 mm).
Luckily it comes with wheels so you don’t have to tweak you back lifting this thing after you’ve crammed it full of 3 TB HDDs, 120 GB SSDs, and a beefy PSU. This is definitely not something you’re going to want to play around with if you’re big on LAN parties (and believe me, I’ve been there and done that). However, if you’re not prone to moving a lot, have the space to wheel this thing next to your audio/video setup, and don’t want to mess around with “cute” cases, then look no further.
I’m joking around a little bit here towards the end of the guide, but in all seriousness if you want this much physical space for HDDs there are a few routes to go. The Lian Li PC-V2120 or another similarly sized case is one (as 10-13 HDDs should cover almost anyone).
Another would be to get a case that had nothing but 5.25″ bays in the front and cram them full of 5.25″ to 3.5″ external enclosures (like this one). If you go with quality enclosures this option can definitely add up quickly in terms of cost, but it also provides for incredibly easy access to your drives in the event of upgrades or failures and also provides a lot of flexibility and room for expansion.
Whatever route you decide on, you may want to look at SATA port mulitpliers or PCIe SATA / RAID cards. If you follow my RAID 5/6 guide and go with software RAID you can easily go with cheap RAID cards as the RAID would be mananged entirely by the OS so a failure of the card should simply mean you would need to find a replacement card (or another solution) of the same or different make or model and possibly reconfigure your array (simple enough really and far more fail safe in my opinion than using hardware or pseudo-hardware RAID).
With that said, lets move on to our last section of the Omnis-System Guide proper, the Cooling Hardware section (after that of course I’ll have the Addendum with even more goodness)!