It's tempting to dismiss PC cases as big black boxes, but that's dismissing huge swathes of the market – and one of your system's most important components.
There's a huge amount of variety and quality in every corner of the market. At the top are the full-tower behemoths that can house the fastest components and the most extensive cooling setups, and normal-sized towers sit just below – and can also accommodate huge amounts of hardware.
The case market isn't just towers, either. Micro-ATX enclosures cut a fine balance between the size and versatility of towers and the svelter dimensions of smaller cases, and mini-ITX products can squeeze into the smallest gaps on a desk or beneath a TV.
The choice, understandably, can be daunting. That's why we've scythed through the hundreds of cases out there to pick six of the best in six different categories – so every kind of system is catered for.
1. Corsair Obsidian 900D
Huge, versatile and well-made – it's a market-leader, but it's expensive
Type: Big Tower | Dimensions: 252 x 692 x 650mm | Weight: 18.6kg | Features: Colour: Black; Motherboard Support: ATX, Micro-ATX, Mini-ITX; Drive Bays: 9 x 3.5-inch/2.5-inch, 4 x 5.25-inch; Fans Included: 3 x 120mm front, 1 x 140mm rear PSU; Support: ATX Ports: 2 x USB 3, 4 x USB 2, 2 x audio; Special Features: Total water-cooling support, dual-PSU support, hot-swap drive mounts, 15 fan locations
The largest product in Corsair's Obsidian range, the 900D, is a vast, uncompromising aluminium unit that caters for the world's most demanding hardware.
It supports the largest motherboards, and it's big enough to handle the chunkiest CPU coolers and graphics cards. It has a broad set of storage options, and it's just as accommodating with cooling – it can support any configuration of water-cooling hardware and a baffling array of fans.
The Obsidian pairs its versatile, high-end design with the brooding good looks associated with brushed aluminium.
The 900D has every feature a high-end builder needs, but it has caveats too. This case is very expensive, and it's overkill for anyone who isn't building a benchmark-busting, high-end rig. It'll also be heavy and take up a vast amount of room once it's constructed.
2. BitFenix Shinobi XL
A case that handles powerful hardware without breaking the bank
Type: Full Tower | Dimensions: 245 x 557 x 570mm | Weight: 12.6kg | Features: Colour: Black/White; Motherboard Support: ATX, Micro-ATX, Mini-ITX; Drive Bays: 8 x 3.5-inch/2.5-inch, 5 x 5.25-inch; Fans Included: 1 x 230mm front, 1 x 120mm rear, 1 x 230mm top PSU; Support: ATX Ports: 5 x USB 3, 2 x audio; Special Features: Total water-cooling support, moveable hard disk cage, soft-touch matt finish
This chassis isn't as vast as the Corsair, but that's good – it'll be smaller, lighter and more manageable. It's still got the space to handle high-end hardware, from ATX motherboards to huge CPU coolers.
It can handle long graphics cards, too, and the hard disk cage can be removed to accommodate several extra-long GPUs. There's huge room for storage, oversized fans are included, and it can also handle most water-cooling configurations.
BitFenix uses soft-touch plastic to help the Shinobi XL stand out from rivals, but don't worry about build quality – the plastic is solid and the steel beneath doesn't budge. It has more front ports than rivals, too. As with the Corsair, a chassis this big isn't always necessary, especially for a modest build – but this is an impressive, feature-packed tower.
3. Fractal Design Define R5
Smart and quiet, it's got the size to handle mid-range rigs
Type: Mid Tower | Dimensions: 232 x 521 x 421mm | Weight: 10.7kg | Features: Colour: Black/Titanium/White; Motherboard Support: ATX, Micro-ATX, Mini-ITX; Drive Bays: 8 x 3.5-inch/2.5-inch, 2 x 2.5-inch, 2 x 5.25-inch; Fans Included: 1 x 140mm front, 1 x 140mm rear PSU; Support: ATX Ports: 2 x USB 3, 2 x USB 2, 2 x audio; Special Features: Noise-reduction material, supports 420mm water-cooling radiators, removable HDD and ODD cages, fan controller
This mid-tower case is ideal for building an ATX system that doesn't need extensive cooling or multiple graphics cards.
The metal used throughout is smart and minimal, and its side panels are coated with sound-absorbing material in order to reduce noise. The fans are also designed for low-noise, and their speed can be altered with a three-stage controller.
The hard disk cage is full of solid metal caddies, and it's removable in two stages – handy, as larger graphics cards may be blocked if the cage is left installed. This case supports water-cooling hardware, but there's not as much room as other models – the R5 is capable with pre-built liquid coolers, but proper bespoke loops with large radiators and reservoirs will be better accommodated elsewhere.
It doesn't quite have the chops for powerful high-end builds, but this is a smart, subtle and versatile tower for mid-range ATX rigs.
4. NZXT Manta
Its curved good looks impress, but this case isn't cheap
Type: Mini-ITX | Dimensions: 245 x 450 x 426mm | Weight: 7.2kg | Features: Colour: Black; Motherboard Support: Mini-ITX; Drive Bays: 2 x 3.5-inch, 3 x 2.5-inch; Fans Included: 2 x 120mm front, 1 x 120mm rear PSU; Support: ATX Ports: 2 x USB 3, 2 x audio; Special Features: Curved steel panels, 280mm water-cooling radiator support
This mini-ITX enclosure stands apart from rivals thanks to its curved steel panels. The subtly arcing shape helps the Manta look different, but NZXT also says it has practical applications – chiefly, more room to store excess cables.
The Manta supports Mini-ITX motherboards, which come with pros and cons. They're able to handle the most powerful CPUs and graphics cards, but they can only accommodate one card and don't have the wealth of connectors found on ATX or micro-ATX boards. That makes them ideal for gaming or home machines that won't need many upgrades.
That said, the Manta does a fine job – it supports ATX power supplies and 280mm pre-built liquid-coolers, and has enough room for huge graphics cards and sizeable CPU heatsinks. It has ample room for storage, and includes several fans. It's not the smallest mini-ITX case, but it's one of the best-looking and most versatile.
5. Phanteks Enthoo Evolv MATX
Stunning, strong and with features that punch above its weight
Type: Micro-ATX | Dimensions: 230 x 400 x 450mm | Weight: 9kg | Features: Colour: Black/Grey/White; Motherboard Support: Micro-ATX, Mini-ITX; Drive Bays: 3 x 3.5-inch/2.5-inch, 2 x 2.5-inch, 1 x 5.25-inch; Fans Included: 1 x 200mm front, 1 x 140mm rear PSU; Support: ATX Ports: 2 x USB 3, 2 x audio; Special Features: Fan hub, replacement power LEDs
The Phanteks Enthoo Evolv marks the mid-way point between taller towers and tiny mini-ITX enclosures. It's a good bit of the market to occupy: its conventional tower design means it still has ample features and space, but it's still smaller than full-size cases.
The Evolv's doors swing open to reveal a smart interior. Full-size PSUs and cables sit beneath a shroud that keeps the system tidy, and storage slides into a metal cage at the front. Cable-routing is simple and many panels pull away with quick-release mechanisms.
The aluminium looks fantastic and offers rock-solid build quality, and it's capable on the cooling front – this case comes with a 200mm front fan, and can handle modest liquid-cooling units and more conventional air-cooling hardware. It can even be used for bespoke liquid cooling, although more disassembly is required.
There's little wrong with the Evolv. It's more expensive than other micro-ATX cases, but it justifies that price by balancing a great range of features and laudable versatility with sturdy, good-looking design.
6. Lian-Li PC-V355B
A tiny aluminium chassis that offers surprisingly versatility
Type: Cube | Dimensions: 283 x 386 x 263mm | Weight: 3.7kg | Features: Colour: Black/Silver; Motherboard Support: Micro-ATX, Mini-ITX; Drive Bays: 3 x 3.5-inch, 1 x 2.5-inch, 1 x 5.25-inch; Fans Included: 1 x 120mm front PSU; Support: ATX Ports: 2 x USB 3, 2 x audio; Special Features: Slide-out motherboard tray
Cube cases are ideal for several scenarios: modest office machines, media systems that sit next to a TV, or even gaming. Lian-Li's PC-V355B is a smart-looking cube with the versatility to handle all of these situations.
It accepts micro-ATX and mini-ITX motherboards, which makes it surprisingly versatile considering its diminutive dimensions. It looks good, too – a subtle box of sturdy brushed aluminium available in black or silver – although some might not like its lines and corners.
The fans are mounted on anti-vibration screws to cut down noise, and the motherboard tray can slide out to aid installation – a boon when so many small cases are so fiddly. The Lian-Li can handle a single SSD and three hard disks and it'll also fit reasonably large graphics cards.
There's enough space here to build a machine with the grunt to handle work and play with equal competence – and the Lian-Li won't take up room while doing it.
7. Aerocool X-Predator II
State-of-the-art expansion for when a standard ATX just doesn't cut it
Type: Full Tower | Dimensions: 232 x 559 x 595mm | Weight: 13.34kg | Features: Color: Black/White; Motherboard Support: E-ATX, XL-ATX, ATX, Micro-ATX, Mini-ITX; Drive Bays: 8 x 3.5-inch/2.5-inch, 3 x 5.25-inch; Fans Included: 2 x 140mm top, 2 x 140mm front, 1 x 140mm rear, 1 x 140mm bottom; Support: ATX Ports: 4 x USB 3, 2 x USB 2, 2 x audio; Special Features: HDD dock, external fan control, dual-water cooling support
Comprising eight internal HDD trays, six USB ports, headphone and mic jacks as well as ten total expansion slots, the extended ATX X-Predator II lives up to the name with an intimidating demeanor that refuses to compromise on top-end airflow techniques.
Internally, the X-Predator II is fairly typical, but at a value that's hard to resist considering the sheer size and embedded functionality of the chassis. Most notable is the design choice to include two pre-installed 140mm fans at the top of the X-Predator II in addition to the nearly toolless barrier of entry.
On the outside, Aerocool has devised a premium feel to its convenience factors. For instance, if you need extra storage on the fly, you don't even have to open the unit up. Simply dock a 3.5- or 2.5-inch hard drive at the peak of the chassis and you're good to go.
Ultimately, the Aerocool X-Predator II is one of the best cases money can buy if you're lugging around a graphics card or two that, otherwise, just wouldn't fit in a regular ATX enclosure.
Gabe Carey has also contributed to this article