The case is an important part of the PC and affects performance more than the average consumer expects. How many times have we heard people ask why the PC didn't perform as well as it did online. Or why games started to lose stability after a few hours. The problem was almost always the temperature, and the case purchased had a big influence on this. When the PC gets warmer, not only does it consume more power but there is also a drop in performance. However, before we move on to how we would like our next case, let's try to analyse very briefly what has happened over the last twenty years!
Paranoia and obsessions
Temperatures had to be watched, constantly! And those fans? Were they working? Wasn't one of them standing still? But is it broken, or is it just lazy? What if we overclocked the fans?! Off with controllers, fanbuses and the return of the display on the cases!
We finally had 600 fans, an information display envied by the Enterprise and hands dripping with blood... But something was missing: windows and lights! It was during this same period, in fact, that the first cases with windows were marketed, to be followed by neon and, finally, UV reactive. While the first to place the acrylic panel on the cabinet was certainly a modder, we do not remember who marketed it first. Probably not a specific brand but an online shop like the old pcmods.com.
Consumer = youtuber
While in the early 2000s many manufacturers, not just of cases, sought advice and ideas on popular forums and a few blogs, between 2008 and 2010 this trend changed. "Why rack their brains about what people want when someone else can tell them what they should want?". This must have been the reasoning, for the cases began to increasingly meet the needs of those who were moving from simple unboxing to more in-depth reviews and services. What mattered, since then, was no longer the needs of consumers but the opinion given by a dozen or so YouTube channels. Sponsored by the brands they are supposed to judge.
(tool)Less is more?
Running after those who have to assemble PCs every day to test components encouraged the spread of toolless systems. And we all enjoy this today. But how much has been taken away from us? Every time an improvement was added and another was taken away, we were told that the addition was necessary and that what we were deprived of was not important. Aluminium does not significantly decrease the temperature, SECC is good too. SECC is good, but so is SPCC. SECC and SPCC are fine, but in the end what do you want the difference to be between them and ordinary steel? The poor manufacturers have to save money somewhere to be able to sell you a case for only 200 euros! And what about Plexiglas? All polymethyl methacrylates are identical, and all transparent plastic is a bit polymethyl methacrylate. So the PR told me... Come on! The important thing is that they have thickness! What a beautiful thing this thin acrylic panel is! And it's more transparent than glass! But can you imagine glass on a case? It's heavy, it breaks easily, it'll never fit! But how cool is the tempered glass panel!? The HDDs have been moved twelve blocks away from the fans but that's OK! Who told you they need to be cooled? Me? But no, those were the old models; from last month! Have I already shown you how beautiful the new RGB screws are? But is the power supply better above or below? Let me ask the sponsor!
The Last Drop: the case with DLCs
We have seen this with video games. Expansions started out as a way to extend the fun and support the developers, then became pieces of the base title and paid-for corrective patches (hello Blizzard!). With cases, the same thing seems to be happening, with fewer and fewer included modules to be purchased separately. Modules which, of course, have to be of the same brand, otherwise they are not compatible. NZXT has tried this with its not-controller, Cooler Master with the FreeForm™ Modular Systemand we are sure that others will follow these examples. When will the first COTY edition be released?
Putting the consumer back at the centre
We believe that, as happened with the motherboards, manufacturers have completely lost sight of the consumer's needs in order to meet those of youtubers/influencers. The difference between us consumers and them is that we rarely assemble our PCs and we need the toolless to simplify cleaning, not to assemble/disassemble the power supply and motherboard! For us, the PC must remain stable 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, because ours will not end up in a warehouse or on eBay after a few days. Simplifying assembly is fine, but let it be useful. The power supply sled, for example, yes it is convenient but you use it once. Once! Vibration dampers for HDDs are much more useful and have existed for 15 years, but more and more manufacturers forget to add them. Do you think any influencers have pointed this out? Of course not, because they don't need them!
Filters and grids
They are among the thorniest issues. Many add small grilles along the profile of the case, but without filtering them. Filters are needed even on a single centimetre of grid, because dust will always enter from there. So far we have only seen Cooler Master filtering the little ones and hopefully others will follow this example, not FreeForm™. And no more plastic! Plastic filters suck! Some break, some fray, all block a lot of air. The filter must be made of nylon. We would also like to start seeing grills optimised for airflow instead of the usual completely flat ones. The reference is not to the shape of the grille but to its structure, which is rarely bevelled or rounded. We hope that the ones that amplify fan noise and the ones that vibrate because they are badly fixed are gone forever.
The mid-tower frame
The vast majority of consumers do not mount huge VGAs in pairs, do not buy E-ATX mobos, and do not use custom liquid. Those who do, since the dawn of time, buy a full-tower. It is therefore unclear why the new trend is to make these huge chassis, among other things with windows, so as to show the void inside the case. Despite being bigger than they should be, they have design flaws that make them look cramped. For example, there is never enough space between the top and the mobo, in some cases not even between the rear fan and the mobo, choking the airflow to the CPU heatsink. This is because everything is haphazardly crammed together to leave space for a reservoir, used by a very small percentage of buyers. Instead, it would be useful to take space away from the chassis and add it to the outside, particularly on the top and front, so as not to choke the fans. A small side note: we keep calling the brands we read about on the cases manufacturers, but in reality there are far fewer of them and the brands just buy the chassis. That is why they are all the same.
The fan at the back is universally the exhaust, does it cost so much effort to avoid the honeycomb grille and place the spider web one?
From PCI holders to vertical VGAs
Among the cool things to look at but which we could all do without were PCI holders. These had conquered cases of all stripes (entry level plastic, the others metal). Today they have disappeared, not because of the weight of VGAs but because they are too often incompatible with custom VGAs and larger heatsinks. What was a useless standard of the time is about to be replaced with an equally useless one: vertical brackets. Every self-respecting brand has already put out its nice case with vertical brackets to follow the trend of the moment. Too bad that the brackets are always too close to the panel, causing the fans placed on the VGA to choke. And they are also usually incompatible with custom VGAs, just like holders. In between these two standards were brackets to avoid sagging, which were very useful. And in fact nobody includes them anymore, they sell them separately. DLC.
3,5″ and 5,25″ units
Another accessory they have started selling separately is the HDD enclosure. Supporting a multitude of SSDs and only 2 HDDs is already the new illogical trend. This is not a huge problem, because the most common configuration is 1 SSD and 1 HDD, but it is a limitation for those who have backup needs or are the lucky owners of many old drives that are still working. A choice forced by design? Not even, because a 3 HDD cage fits nicely where they shove the 2 HDD.
A major problem is the gradual disappearance of 5.25″ drive bays. Not everyone makes backups on the cloud, burners are still needed. Just as many people need a Blu-ray player. If we add fan-bus nostalgics to these user segments, we have quite a few people for whom the presence of at least one 5.25″ slot is essential. We are talking about only 5 cm of space on the front, nothing impossible.
We have already mentioned that custom liquids systems are used by few, but the All-In-One systems are a different matter. The price reduction has been welcomed and, although the performance of these systems is poor, they are increasingly chosen by those who want to give their rig a cleaner look. All manufacturers add brackets to the chassis to mount the AIOs. Radiators are like radiators, they should never be placed inside the cabinet and it would be completely absurd to put more than one. The situation gets even worse when mounted on top, because almost all manufacturers leave very little space. We would like to see more space on the top of the case, to allow mounting above the chassis, or a system that favours mounting outside the case. It's a matter of making a few bits of plate removable and drilling a few holes for mounting, nothing too complicated.
Yet another trend, this time appreciated, are the power supply and HDD covers. Seeing the PSU certainly didn't take our sleep away and it was easy to place the wires immediately behind the plate. These covers, however, allow us to focus the view on the other components, without cutting out the window. The problem here too is functionality. If you create a tunnel from the PSU to the front fan, it makes sense, because it channels airflow to the HDDs. Flow that would otherwise be randomly dispersed, because - let's repeat - fans in cases are a bit pitiful and the airflow never goes straight. In many cases, however, the fans are choked by the cover, splitting the flow. Another problem noted in some models is the excessive proximity between the PSU cover and the VGA, caused by a mix of the cover being too high and the mobo being positioned too low.
Turn off those lights!
This light thing is getting out of hand again. Between fans, heatsinks and strips, every case is a casino. Let's pretend everyone likes them (you can turn them off anyway, who cares?), what problems are there? The LEDs on the strips are not pretty to look at, regardless of the glow they emit. They look like small bulbs without a ceiling light, the little lights you put on the tree at Christmas are prettier. If there were a small insert in the frame, the effect would disappear and only the glow would be visible. Having said that, we prefer the old neon, the big ones, not the thin ones, for the ambient light inside the cabinet (maybe in the future we will see the appearance of LED tubes for cabinets). The subject of fans is different, where LEDs render (much) better than neon, but provided they are well assembled. Most led fans are not centred, either because of the different spacing of a single led, or because of a badly attached sticker, and the shaking effect is generated. The fan seems to wobble because the centre seems to shift slightly during rotation. If you have never noticed this before, you will notice it all the time from now on. It is the reason why the marketing departments have imposed diagonal shots and you don't see fronts any more.
We can understand that failure to stand out in frame design causes identity crises in brands. But the solution is not to cover the frame and body with logos. Add stickers, plaques, you name it, but leave it to the end user to add or remove them as they please. We spent good money on the chassis, we did not rent it and it was not offered to us for advertising.
A book could easily be written on cases and their evolution over time. Writing this article, especially shortening it, took three days and we hope we have done a useful job. There are still many small things that could be done to make life easier for the consumer. For example, we sometimes see a few doors on the control panel, maybe even outdated, how nice would it be to have a couple at the back as well? They are never enough! Xigmatek thought of that years ago, then nobody did. The security lock is extinct, it had a specific target and it would have cost nothing to maintain it. We haven't talked about, among other things, the materials and assembly of the shells. Simplifying their removal is all very well, but you cannot sacrifice strength. Some panels today are so light and badly fixed that they vibrate. Finally: the case must breathe, always. It should be the basis from which one starts when designing one. Spaces must be functional for airflow, radiators must be able to be installed outside the chassis, ditto the fans on the front and top, where the shell must be well spaced from the chassis so as not to suffocate them.
Needed no, but useful yes
So many of the points listed throughout the article can attract comments such as: 'You can do without', because this is what influencers have been saying for years and forum experts have been repeating, as if it were an unconditional reflex. True, you can do without something but not everything. Every little detail brings something extra and without that something, the case is just as good. But by removing all those details, however small, we have a huge deficiency that translates into a drop in performance. And it makes us smile to read discussions that go on for days about how to gain a few more fps or lose a few degrees, rattling off technicalities that weren't even at MIT, when we could just as easily enjoy the hardware thanks to a good cabinet. Grille shape, filter material and fan quality together can significantly improve temperature and noise, without changing anything.
In this 20-year journey, some brands have disappeared (3dcool, Lancool), others no longer make chassis (Superflower), very few have been able to maintain a production standard that lives up to its name (Lian Li). All the shortcomings we have talked about are noticeable even before we start assembling, how is it possible that florid engineers and designers don't notice anything already at the design stage? Continuing to cater to the influencers, losing sight of the consumer, will lead to the current manufacturers having to lower their demands. Continuing to sell products that are poorly differentiated, increasingly shoddy, and less and less equipped means settling for the lowest end of the market. It means ending up selling only entry-level houses and something a little better. In the last decade, the prices of premium cases, made in limited quantities by real craftsmen, have dropped and it already makes no sense to give 300 euros to a famous brand. What will happen when 'artisan cases' drop to 200 euros? Will it be better to give 150 euro to Cooler Master, ThermalTake, Corsair and the like or spend 200 euro on something unique? The PC Master Race is very loyal to the brands it has been comfortable with and similarly tends to hold an eternal grudge when it feels betrayed. An extra gasket, 15 clamps instead of 10, a few spare screws and miscellaneous accouterments scattered here and there are more appreciated than other features that only youtubers need.
Before you buy your next case, read back here and make a comparison to see if it really is the right case for you. Hopefully the
2018 2019 2020 2021 2022 will serve to reverse some trends.