Ah, spring: when a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of upgrading. But, alas! Your fancy new videocard is too big for your tiny case, and you’re running out of hard drive bays for your RAID. Fear not! A classy full-tower chassis can be just the solution.
In this roundup we’ve collected five full-tower cases—big and tall enclosures with all the bells and whistles: new looks, toolless expansion slots, intake filters, drive bays aplenty, and more. Space-saving isn’t a priority here: The focus is on features, with room for as much hardware as you need to cram in. If you want a portable rig or something to nestle under your desk, these aren’t the cases for you. But if you’re looking to make the most of your computer, portability be damned, one of these beauts could be your huckleberry.
In evaluating these cases, we focused on a few key points: overall build quality, aesthetics, ease of installation, cooling options, convenience, and features like front-panel connectors. We kept price in mind, too, but only to a degree: After all, we’re Maximum PC. We don’t mind paying for excellence; we just object when gear is offensively overpriced.
They’re big and bold, but which of these full-tower enclosures will make the best abode for your PC?
The Cooler Master 840’s killer combo of good looks and useful features wins the day, but every case has something to offer
At Maximum PC, we go through a lot of components. We build a lot of computers. We know what we like. So when we test a case, we ask a few important questions: How easy is installation? Does this case make our lives easier? Is this case likely to protect our precious components? And while we’re at it, does it look good?
The answers, for the Cooler Master ATCS 840, are yes, yes, yes, and yes. We were won over by the ease of installation, but more importantly the ease of swapping out parts. We love its style and the attention to detail—we can’t say enough good things about its removable motherboard tray and the CPU-cooler cutout.
But other cases here also deserve accolades: We love the Silverstone Raven’s looks, amenities, and innovative motherboard placement, the ABS Canyon 695’s design and SATA backplate, and the Thermaltake Spedo’s cable management features. And the NZXT Zero II is decent if you’re a modder looking for a good starting point.
Each case in this roundup had its drawbacks, too. The Canyon 695 is stupid expensive, while the Zero II is cheap in both senses of the word. We weren’t thrilled by the Spedo’s looks or the flimsiness of its thermal chamber panels. We could have used eSATA in the Raven. And we wish we hadn’t snapped the front-intake cover off of the ATCS 840 (oops).
If you can spare the $280, we’d say go for the Cooler Master ATCS 840. The CPU-cooler backplate cutout and sliding motherboard tray/rear panel alone are worth it for us; we plan on rebuilding our CPU-cooling test rig around it. But even if you’re not in the habit of swapping out CPU coolers regularly, the 840 brings more than enough to the table. Easy install, roomy interior, great looks, screwless drive bays (and plenty of ‘em), and scrupulous attention to detail: The 840 reminds us why we’ve liked so many Cooler Master full-towers in the past.
Wish List: Case Features We Long For
Man, do we love cases with thoughtful amenities. The NZXT Zero II is no slouch of a case, but it’s a Neanderthal compared to the Cooler Master ATCS 840, our favorite case in this roundup. But even the mighty 840 doesn’t have everything we want in a case. Here are a few features we’ve seen in some cases that should really be in all of them.
2.5-inch Drive Bays
With solid state drives making big strides, we see lots of system builders starting to include them as OS volumes. But few cases have dedicated 2.5-inch bays. Our last rig from Velocity Micro solved the problem by mounting its Intel X-25M on the IcePak from a WD Velociraptor. But an actual 2.5-inch bay (or at least an adapter, like that found in the NZXT Whisper), would be better.
Mid-Case Air Duct
A mid-case air duct, like that found in the Silverstone Temjin TJ10, brings cool air from outside into the case to cool the GPUs before exiting out the back. This helps keep other hot components from warming the air before it gets to the GPUs—a literal breath of fresh air for your videocards.
The ABS Canyon 695 and the HP Blackbird are two of many cases that have started featuring SATA backplanes in their drive bays. Forget rails; forget cable routing. Just slap in a couple of hard drives and go. Bonus: Many of these backplanes support RAID and hot-swapping.
While we’re at it, let’s make the following things mandatory: Intake fan dust filters, variable-speed fan controllers, a cable routing mechanism, toolless PCI slots, and quality thumbscrews.