Building a custom gaming PC is an intricate balancing act. Normally, you'll have to save up some money here and there, say on a PC case, to have a bigger budget for a better CPU or GPU. Nevertheless, this doesn't mean you can overlook the basic functionality in the name of cost-efficiency.
Fortunately, the gaming industry is remarkably attentive to its wide pool of consumers; there's always something for everyone. You'll find plenty of cheap, quality PC cases on the market with proper airflow and impressive I/O. The best budget PC case can definitely make using your rig quite a breeze.
Quick PC Case Tips
Before you set out to get a budget PC case, there are a few things you'll need to consider first:
- Figure out the parts you have or want first. While aesthetics might be an essential factor for most gamers, it's important to know what the motherboard, GPU or cooler you'll be using, including the number of drives you'll want to install. This determines the size and shape of budget PC cases you'll be looking at.
- Cooling is crucial, particularly for small cases or rigs with lots of components. As we'll discuss later, airflow is a fundamental aspect to consider when choosing a PC case.
- Get a PC case that you like how it looks. Unless you aren't too particular about aesthetics, it's always nice to find a chassis that appeals to you visually.
Here are 5 of the best budget PC cases on the market right now:
1. InWin 101 PC Case - Best Overall
- Simple and clean front panel with a striking LED bezel while front I/O...
- Detachable tempered glass side panel/remove by pressing button
- Two 2.5” HDD mounts Cleverly positioned in the back of motherboard tray
- Special GPU holder provides extra support
While aesthetics are ultimately subjective, it's hard to deny that the InWin 101 is one of the most visually appealing cases at the price point. There's a range of colour options, each with an integrated LED accents. The tool-less tempered glass side panel further gives it a premium feel.
It sports an unusual internal layout. It has GPU brackets that prevent your graphics cards from sagging, for starters, thus boosting their lifespans. It also has a top-mount design for the power supply to allow better airflow, an uncommon design nowadays. More so, the design helps t keep your PSU's heat away from temperature-sensitive components.
The InPower 101 PC case is also remarkably designed for water cooling support. It fits a 120mm rear radiator, a 240mm side radiator and a huge 360mm bottom radiator. The intentional design and top-of-the-line cooling systems easily make it the best budget ATX case you'll find on the current market.
2. Best Airflow: Fractal Design Focus Mini G
- Contemporary ATX case design: accommodates high-performance components with...
- Showcase your hardware: large windowed side panel included
- High airflow: 2x preinstalled Fractal Design Silent Series LL 120 mm white LED...
- Filtered front, top and base air intakes for a dust free interior
If you're looking for a case with breathtaking airflow on a budget, it doesn't get any better than the Fractal Focus G. For starters, the entire case-other than the back- is made from a breathable mesh, allowing air to flow in and out freely. Good airflow is indispensable in a case, and this one will definitely cool your components and keep them running at their best.
These breathable surfaces also have air filters to prevent dust from getting into the case. This is on top of two 120mm fans that come included, including room for 4 more fans and various radiators. The Force G's design also allows it to house high-profile CPU coolers, further boosting the case's airflow effectiveness.
It comes with a plastic window side panel. The front side hosts 2 5.25" drive bays, which are somewhat outdated in this day and age. The top and front I/O include a single USB 2.0 and a single USB 3.o. The case's header cables for anemic I/O are also relatively short, which presents a challenge setting up some motherboards.
3. Best Storage: Corsair CC-9011023-WW Carbide Series 200R
- Maximum GPU Length : 420mm
- Maximum CPU Cooler Height : 165mm
- Maximum PSU Length: 200mm. Case Drive Bays 3.5 inch - 4. Case Drive Bays 2.5...
- Case Expansion Slots : 7. Radiator Compatibility- 120mm; 140mm; 240mm, Case...
This is an ideal choice for people who often find themselves running out of storage space on their PCs. At its price point, the Corsair 200R offers an incredible amount of storage space, thanks to 11 drive bays; four 2.5", four 3.5" s and three 5.25" bays.
As much as each tech enthusiast has different storage space needs, this case is undoubtedly sufficient for most people, adequate to store your Stream Library, hundreds of movies and games, and thousands of music tracks. Furthermore, the Corsair 200R is fairly easy to assemble, thanks to the toolless design. In fact, all you'll ever need is a screwdriver.
In case you don't need or use all the drive bays, you still have several viable configuration options. However, this design means that you don't get as much airflow as you would from the Focus G. The I/O is also underwhelming, with only two USB ports, a microphone jack and a headphone jack.
The Logitech keyboard does not have mechanical switches but it does outperform those that do. This is ideal for non-competitive gaming. The keyboard has a backlit light so you can use it in the dark without any issues.
4. Best Dual-System: Phanteks Evolv X
- Strongly enhanced airflow Design. Front I/O support (USB 3. 1 Type-C, 2x USB 3....
- Clean interior design. Cable management 2. 0 (cable door covers). smart space...
- Massive storage capacity (up to 10x HDD and 9x SSD simultaneously). high-end...
- Integrated digital RGB illumination. 3mm sandblasted aluminum exterior. Vertical...
The Evolv X goes against the grain to show that a dual-system PC build doesn't have to be in a massive full-tower case. This PC case takes dual-system compatibility and fits it into a mid-tower. You still get plenty of space for E-ATX motherboard support and power supplies, even if you've installed a second Mini-ITX motherboard.
This PC case has pretty ample cooling, partly thanks to the space available in the unit. Its I/O ports include one Thunderbolt 3, one mic jack, one headphone jack, one reset button, an RGB mode button and an RGB colour button.
While the price point might be a tad on the higher end, this case's functionality more than justifies it. Furthermore, you can always rely on Phantek's high-end features.
5. Cooler Master MasterBox Q300L
- I/O panel can be adjusted in 6 different locations and the Case can be...
- Edge to edge acrylic transparent side panel offers a full view inside
- Body depth height: Can support normal size ATX power supply
- Front magnetic design dust filter with open perforated front, top and bottom for...
The MasterBox Q300L is a decent budget case, sporting a slim form factor, yet still delivers enough space to fit a full-size ATX PSU. The slim design means it's wider and taller than your average mATX case.
Its acrylic side panel is prone to scratching; hence you must be extra careful with the case. After all, you can't have too much expectation on a $50 purchase. That being said, it offers 6 different I/O ports, although you'll need an unsupplied USB extension cable to use some of them.
The airflow doesn't stand out either. But all things considered, this is a reasonable choice if you're on a very tight budget and can manage to trim your expectations to size.
Things to Consider in a Budget PC Case
Choosing a computer case can be overwhelming, especially with the plethora of products out there. Furthermore, different people have different needs and preferences for their equipment. However, there are general factors that you need to take into consideration when choosing your budget PC case:
1. Size & Form Factor
Generally, the size of the case dictates the number of components it can fit and, consequently, its form factor. For instance, a bigger case translates to larger motherboard support.
There are three common size variants:
- Full tower: The largest size option, compatible with Micro ATX, Mini-ITX, ATX and EATX motherboards.
- Mid-tower: The most common option, compatible with Mini-ITX. MicroATX and ATX.
- Mini-ITX: The smallest size, hence the most compact, plus great portability. It's compatible with Mini-ITX and MicroATX.
While you're looking at the size and form factor, it would be best if you kept future upgrades in mind. This means that you should look into the relevant dimensions keenly, such as radiator size, graphics card length, CPU cooler height, etcetera. Think about how you want your rig to look in the long-term, then choose accordingly.
You don't need a huge case if you're going for a small build, the same way you shouldn't go for a small case if you have lots of components in mind. This is partly why mid-towers are extremely popular, big enough to accommodate future improvements but not too big to take up too much room.
If you're looking to get the most performance from your gaming setup, then nine times out of ten, you'll need at least a mid-tower case. This size option is ideal since it typically fits a full-size ATX motherboard, the industry standard, which comes with several expansion slots. More PCIe and RAM slots mean you have more room to accommodate multiple GPUs and lots of RAM, making your setup capable of intensive rendering or 3D modelling.
Some CPU coolers can also be too tall to fit into some PC cases. Inefficient cooling will more than likely set the performance back. It only follows that you need to have a clear picture of your desired performance to ensure that you get a PC case with enough clearance to fit longer, more powerful components.
3. Cooling & Airflow
Airflow is arguably the most critical factor you need to consider when you're buying a PC case. Proper airflow means your PC operates with better cooling effectiveness, hence quieter operations and more power efficiency. Good airflow ultimately gives you higher performance and a longer lifespan.
Therefore, the best PC case should come with multiple fan mounts. There's no such thing such having too many fans. Water-cooling support is just as important to airflow. This means you also need to look at the radiator size supported by the unit.
The potential storage capacity of a PC case usually depends on the number of drive bays. There are 3 main drive bay types:
- 2.5": Normally used for high-speed Solid State Drives, thus less capacity and quite expensive too.
- 3.5": Used mainly for traditional Hard Disk Drives, which are slower than SSDs but have substantially more capacity and are pocket-friendlier.
- 5.25": Typically used for CD players and/or floppy disk drives, hence they, technically speaking, don't add to the system's actual storage.
5. I/O Ports
Inputs and Outputs, commonly known as I/O, refer to several jacks and USB ports found on the typical computer case. As such, how you use your computer should determine the setup you'll go for. For instance, as much as USB 3.O delivers significantly faster data transfer, hence ideal for users who move files from flash drives frequently, it wouldn't be the best choice if your mouse and keyboard feature the older USB 2.0 protocol.
6. Cable Management
Basically, this means keeping your cables neat and tidy in the unit. Attentive cable management makes your job significantly easier, especially when adding new components or maintaining your machine running smoothly. Upgrading becomes remarkably easier since you don't have to find your way to the ports through bundles of unkempt cables and wires.
Additionally, proper cable management is equally useful for optimal airflow. Tangled cables tend to impede airflow, which may lead to temperatures building up in the case.
Computer cases come in various colours and designs. You'll probably have your case for a couple of years; you might as well get something you fancy looking at. At the end of the day, aesthetics will always come down to your personal preferences.
Frequently Asked Questions about PC Cases
1. Can I use my computer without a PC case?
Yes, your computer can certainly run without a case. However, this makes it prone to damage and malfunction. Exposure to the elements, such as moisture and humidity, damages electrical components. Dust, which tends to get everywhere, can clog different parts of the computer to the point of malfunction. It could even be an accidental spill or your pet running through your setup unexpectedly.
Furthermore, a computer case is pretty useful for noise reduction and maintaining proper airflow. After all, fans would be blowing all over randomly without a case, minimizing the cooling effectiveness.
2. Does removing the side panel of the PC case help to cool my computer?
This doesn't really solve your cooling issues. In fact, removing the side panel disrupts the whole airflow process. Ideally, airflow is achieved when cool air is brought into the case, heats up and is then let out. None of this is achievable without the side panel. In any case, you'll be exposing your components to dust and the elements.
For better cooling, you would rather invest in more efficient measures, such as adding more fans, CPU coolers or water cooling options.
3. What other features can I look out for in a PC case?
To get the ultimate user experience, you can always look at more specific features on top of the ones we addressed in the buying guide. Here are a few handy features that might not have much to them but can still make all the difference for some people.
- Removable motherboard tray.
- Tool-free design.
- Front-panel Connectivity.
- Fan Mounts.
- RGB Lighting.
- LED light control button.