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Computer Cases

Discover more about the wide variety of computer cases available.

Computer cases are becoming increasingly fashionable. [© Jupiter Images, 2009]
© Jupiter Images, 2009
Computer cases are becoming increasingly fashionable.

Computer cases are the boxy, rectangular molds into which all of a computer's external wires are plugged. There is a wide variety of computer cases on the market, each with its own purpose.

Standard Computer Cases

There are five types of standard computer cases, each has its own strengths and weaknesses. According to ComputerHope.com, there are four standard types of computer cases:

  • Desktop cases help maximize space and provide easy access to drives and ports, but they are cramped internally, making upgrades harder and increasing the chance of overheating. Desktop cases are usually about 6 inches high, 17 inches wide and 16 to 18 inches deep.
  • Full-sized towers offer easy upgradeability and are commonly used as servers. They also tend to be expensive and are taller than desktop cases -- around 24 inches tall.
  • Mid-size towers are common for home and office computers. These are typically 18 inches tall and sit on top of or under a desk.
  • Mini towers work best in tight quarters or under desks since they stand at about 14 inches tall. One of a mini tower's drawbacks, however, is that it typically holds smaller drives that can reach capacity much more quickly than a mid-size tower is capable of accommodating.
  • Small cases are prized for their portability. Many small cases have built-in carrying handles, but they are difficult to upgrade since space is so limited. Small cases vary a bit in size, but they are usually about 9 inches tall, 10 inches wide and 14 inches deep.

Server Computer Cases

Servers can operate in any standard case, but there are two cases specifically designed for server use: rack-mount and blade. Rack-mount cases fit into standard racks designed to fit a series of servers or electronics equipment. . These cases are broad and flat and look like a pizza box. Blade server cases are similar to a rack system but are even more streamlined; they have only the most basic of components and slide vertically into a blade housing.

Rack-mount cases are classified according to size. A standard rack-mount is 1U, meaning it takes up one unit of space within the rack. There are 2U, 3U and so on, each taking up a specific amount of space. The 1U case is the most efficient, and the larger cases are typically used only if the user needs a component that is too big to fit within a 1U case. Blade servers are a standard size, but their enclosures are not. Some may take only a few blades, while others may take 40 or more.

Choosing a Computer Case

With standard computer cases, the type of case used determines what sort of motherboard may go into that machine. Because the motherboard type determines everything else about the internal components of the system, a case's size is often expressed as its specification rather than its actual dimensions.

Most standard cases fit the Advanced Technology Extended (ATX) specification, currently the most common style of motherboard, or some variation based on size. According to Form Factors, larger tower-type cases work well for the Balanced Technology Extended (BTX) specification, which is designed to expand by increasing the number of system slots. Smaller computer cases may take Micro or Flex ATX specifications.

With servers cases, generally the type of enclosure used is based on the needs of the system. Both rack-mounts and blades are very space efficient. Blades are more integrated and often are set to act like a single system. Rack-mounts are more independent and work well as several independent servers.

Where to Find a Computer Case

Many online stores have a wide selection of computer cases, detailed pictures of the interior of the cases, and descriptions of the various materials inside. All of these cases should have a detailed description of size, form factor, weight and other essential information. Buyers should avoid purchasing from retailers that do not provide all the required information.

Price is an important factor in determining the overall quality of a case. Low-end and less expensive cases are made mostly of pressed steel and aluminum. These cases are light and easy to produce but provide very little support or protection to the internal components. More expensive cases will have high grade aluminum panels with steel reinforcements and more user-friendly internal compartments.

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