Our reference article about cool & quiet computer cases, updated June 29, 1015. For those eager to peruse the recommended lists immediately, they are on page five.
Some young readers looking at the drawing below will hardly recognize it: An
early standard case design for an ATX motherboard, with projected airflow. The
ATX motherboard specification was created by Intel in 1995 in an effort to standardize
form factors for better interchangeability of parts. (Check Form
Factors.) Astonishing, in the fast-paced world of computing, that ATX
remains today, more than two decades later. While the spec hasn’t changed, cases
for ATX motherboards have undergone tremendous changes in the past decade, such
that most current retail cases are dramatically different from the case in the
Early ATX case & theoretical airflow
Since this reference article was first written in early 2003, PC case design
has evolved tremendously, substantially more than in the previous decade. I
wrote in earlier editions,
"Much of the discussion here refers to a tower-style ATX case. There are many
other case styles, including very small towers, tall towers, horizontal desktops,
both large and small, silm desktops, and the “lunch box” size / shape popularized
by Shuttle and Mini-ITX case builders, and even smaller Ultra SFF cases. Fundamental
points about cooling and airflow apply to all case types. Just keep in mind
that the low-front-to-high-back airflow path considered ideal for ATX towers
will not apply the same way for horizontally laid out cases. "
The mid tower ATX case is still dominant, but the ATX mid-tower design pictured
in the above drawing has been relegated to the cheapest, most generic models.
The drawing below shows a typical current case design and airflow. Note how
the power supply position has been turned upside down in comparison to earlier
ATX cases. This makes for a huge thermal and acoustic difference.
Straight through airflow in Antec P18x series.
Top and bottom panel vents on Fractal Design ARC XL increase airflow
cooling for the system. Top vents can be used for large water cooler radiator.
THE ROLE OF A CASE
The conventional perspective says that a case performs these functions:
The silent PC perspective is different, mainly in emphasis. Form factor adherence
is assumed (and mandatory) for all cases; EMI shielding, looks and connectivity
are secondary to the key properties of:
Unusual Silverstone RV05 rotates the motherboard a quarter turn
so that airflow goes from bottom to top, for help from natural convection.
1. Unrestricted Airflow Vents
There are several reasons why unrestricted airflow vents are so important for
The ideal vent is one with no grill at all, but in the face of realities such
as curious toddlers or pets, something like a minimal wire grill is about the
best compromise. In the front of the case, it is normal for a plastic or metal
bezel to be used for a cosmetically pleasing apparance. The front intake air
vent can be seriously hampered by the design of the front panel. Many case makers
do not pay enough attention to the front panel vent design.
2. Indirect Escape Paths for Noise
The above points suggests that the best silent case is one with a completely
open hole in the front for an intake fan. This is quite acceptable if the fan
is very quiet and smooth, and if the internal components are equally quiet.
But an open vent allows noise to go directly out of the case to the users’ ears,
so in most cases, some baffling is useful. The front bezel can act as a baffle
that forces sound to travel around angles so that it loses intensity before
exiting the case, while still allowing unrestricted airflow. A similar arrangement
for back panel vents would also be useful, but less so, as the back usually
faces away from users.
3. Well-directed Airflow Path in the Case
This is best achieved by minimizing the number of extraneous holes in the
case. Randomly placed holes on the sides, for example, tend to disrupt directed
flow of air.
4. High Resistance to Vibration, Sturdy Construction and Good Sound Insulation
The requirement of high resistance to vibration and good sound insulation calls
for heavier, thicker panels joined solidly. Noise caused by panels vibrating
in sympathy with fans and hard drives is much more insidious and prevalent than
most people would believe. This phenomenon adds a haze of background hum, mostly
in the lower frequencies but not limited to them.
5. Dust Filters
They have become ubiquitous as case makers vie to ensure
they have all the feature boxes perceived to be desired by consumers. From a
performance and noise point over view, dust filters are often terrible bottlenecks.
The filters themselves are not the only impedance at the vent; there is usually
some kind of baffle or cover, and often, more than one. We’ve examined a handful
of filters and their effect on both airflow and temperatures, and invariably
find a negative effect; total airflow loss of >50% is not unusual. Our
advice: Use them if you must but be prepared to accept a higher level
of noise because fans will have to spin faster to compensate for the airflow
loss through the filter, and make sure you clean the filters often. For the
quietest and coolest performance, get rid of all the filters, which will let
you run all the fans slower, don’t place your case directly on the floor where
dust accumulates most, and just vacuum more often.
A Few Words about Cosmetics: Our preference is for clean, lean minimalist
lines dictated by function. But… if a case "looks ugly" and works
quietly and efficiently, we tend to see it as beautiful: Form follows Function.
Matters of taste are really personal. Choose one that does not annoy you every
time you look at it. Cases meant for Media PC use generally need to look nicer
because most Audio / Video gear looks nicer, and most people want the PC to
match cosmetically with other AV gear.
A class of gaming-optimized cases represent an approch that is almost diametrically opposed to some of the above points:
Some years before, there would have been no way for such cases to be used for
silent computers; the unsupressed noise from the components would have been
too much. Today, heatsinks and fans for the hottest components, the CPU and
the GPU, have progressed to the point where the additional airflow in these
wide-open gaming cases can be used to keep all the fans running at minimal speed,
with the end result beling a surprisingly low level of noise. Good Resistance
to Vibration, and Sturdy Construction are still high on the checklist for such
A steady trickle of fanless cases have tempted silence-seeking PC users over
the past decade. The basic concept with almost all fanless cases is simple:
Turn the external casing into a big heatsink which conducts heat from components
by direct contact or via heatpipes, then disspiate the heat into the air with
natural convection. Most often, the case is made from aluminum, a better conductor
of heat than steel. Some of these cases have been massive and heavy, like the
now discontinued Zalman TNN
series, in order to accommodate hot gaming components. Others have taken
the minimalist approach, using cooler running components so that there’s less
heat to dissipate, allowing for a smaller, less costly product.
Today, CPUs with extremely low thermal design power (TDP) that run under 10W
at idle, and automated dynamic clock/voltage features make passive cooling relatively
easy, at least with some CPUs and big heatsinks. In combination with higher
performance motherboard- integrated video cards, a completely fanless PC is
a lot more practical than in the past. However, fanless operation of a higher
power system (such as the typical gaming rig) still remains a challenge. Fanless
devotees should be aware that components such as the voltage regulation module
on the motherboard, and similar power electronics in video cards are designed
with the expectation of at least some airflow across them. Even in a very low
power system, eliminating all forced airflow usually shortens component life.
Two HDPlex H5 fanless "heatsink cases" in silver and black.
Spinning hard drives and electronic noise from power components
have also been challenges for fanless systems.
The best approach to quieting a HDD is to mechanically decouple it from the
case so that its vibrations don’t excite the large thin panels of the case and
cause noise. This means "float" mounting the HDD in an elastic suspension
or soft rubber bushings or grommets. In a conventional case, the slight loss
of cooling via conduction can be compensated with directed airflow from quiet
fans. But in a passively cooled case, this is much more difficult. The increased
availability of high performance, silent, solid state drives at much more affordable
prices — in combination with inexpensive high capacity network attached
storage (NAS) — has made HDD noise much less of a problem in recent years.
With solid state prices plummeting, it is routine now to load the Operating
System to an SSD, and use a large quiet HDD for storage. Better yet is a large
capacity SSD for storage, but this is still a pricey proposition. A good performance
NAS located remotely on a gigabit network can be nearly as fast as local HDD
storage. This eliminates the need for large storage in the local PC while offloading
both the heat and noise of large HDDs to a distant closet, basement or attic.
The high pitched whining and squealing of power electronics has usually been
masked in the past by the whooshing and whining of high speed fans, but in a
system with very quiet fans or no fans at all, such electronic noise can become
quite annoying. While electronic noise can usually be avoided by staying with
high quality components, it is sometimes caused by interactions between power
circuitry and a particular component or combination of components. In such cases,
trial and error replacement of offending parts is usually the only solution
for DYI builders — other than re-introducing a whooshing fan. Judicious
use of glue from a hot glue gun to physically damp coils and caps is a fairly
common practise in manufacturing, but there’s some risk of potential damage
for the DIYer.
The Aluminum is Cooler Myth – Some favor aluminum cases, citing an ability
to better cool components mounted within. This is a myth. No heat producing
component benefit in any significant way from being inside an aluminum case
— unless the components have a direct conduction path to the case panels,
a feature usually found only in a few cases meant for fanless cooling. The only
heat producing devices that are normally mounted in direct contact with a case
are the drives, particularly the hard drives; the difference between aluminum
and steel in this application is insignificant.
The Potential Aluminum Drawback – Aluminum cases tend to pick up hard
drive and fan vibrations more readily than steel cases, and make a more audible
humming or buzzing sound. This quality is related
to the density of aluminum: It has only about 30% of the density
of the cheaper, more commonly used steel. Hence,
aluminum panels must be thicker than steel panels to achieve the same
resistance to vibration. Internally applied panel damping materials
(especially the heavier kinds) appear to damp the resonance down fairly effectively,
but it can be difficult and expensive to eliminate entirely. Internal supporting
cross braces that effectively divide the large panels into smaller ones also
help quite a lot because smaller panels are more rigid, stiffer, and less prone
to lower frequency vibration than larger ones.
This does not mean aluminum cases cannot be used to make a silent computer,
just that there are disadvantages with them when compared to similarly constructed
steel cases. Regardless, many aluminum cases certainly look nice, and can be
made very quiet. Also, many hard drives are now so quiet and vibrate so little
that the acoustic difference between aluminum and steel cases is becoming less
significant, except when panels are very thin or not rigidly assembled.
Aluminum / Steel Combo – Some case makers have sought to combine the
desireable look of aluminum with the sturdiness of steel by using a front facia
or bezel made of aluminum on a steel chassis. The Silverstone
GD05 and the Coolermaster Sileo 500
are examples of this type of hybrid case.
Simulated Brushed Aluminum Plastic – A trend that began around 2012-13,
the faux brushed aluminum front panel is made from plastic, and offers
the look of black anodized brushed aluminum at much lower cost. Naturally, it’s
been adopted by legions of case makers, particularly in the lower tier. In general,
plastic panels don’t offer better acousitc damping than thick aluminum. Whether
it is convincing depends on who is looking.
VIBRATION FROM HARD DRIVES
Vibration-induced Case Noise cannot be eliminated with heavy panels and solid construction alone. Hard drives are normally tightly coupled to the case with steel screws. The vibration of a hard drive occurs at the primary frequency determined by spin rate, as shown in the table below, and harmonics (multiples) of the primary frequency.
Frequency of HDD Vibrations
140, 210, 280…
180, 270, 360…
196, 294, 393…
240, 360, 480…
333, 500, 667…
500, 750, 1K…
Such vibrations can cause the entire case to vibrate — you can feel it
when touching any part of a normal PC case. They also cause low frequency acoustic
noise — the humming, thrumming and growling
types of sounds that are lower in level than typical fan noise but there contributing
to the overall noise. The harmonics can cause noise in the mid-band where human
hearing is most sensitive. Buzzing and whining are
apt descriptions of the kinds of noise HDD harmonics can cause.
The main solution against vibration-induced panel noise is to stop the vibrations
from getting to the panels in the first place. An acoustically inert and mechancially
solid case can help to keep such vibration from turning into a major source
of noise, but cannot eliminate it completely. The best solution is to use low
vibration components, and to use effective mechanical decoupling
of the noise making components. This is best done by using soft mounting techniques
for fans and hard drives. Rubber bushings and grommets that insulate the fan
or hard drive from the chassis can be used, as well as various forms of elastic
The article Hard Drive Silencing: Sandwiches
& Suspensions covers one example of elastically decoupled mounting
for HDDs. There are many more in the storage section, and in the forums: HDD
vibration & noise reducing methods – ranked and HDD
Suspension… Show your pics!
Many cases offer rubber grommets but some have been only marginally effective,
as the rubber used is often much too hard, and the amount of decoupling achieved
is minimal. True elastic suspension for hard drives can be found on the Antec
P150 / Solo and Solo II.
With low vibration HDD, vibration-induced noise from the HDD can be completely
eliminated in this case. Some cases also offer good soft rubber grommets for
decoupling hard drives.
Since SPCR began examining cases and HDDs back in 2002, there has been much
evolution in both. HDDs are generally far quieter now than they used to be,
and they tend to exhibit a lot less vibration. Still, as our reviews show, typical
7200rpm 3.5" drives remain major sources of noise and vibration. New generations
of 5400rpm and 5900rpm drives, especially for NAS applications, are slightly
slower but notably quieter than 7200rpm drives, and usually have far lower vibration.
High areal density, found in the latest high capacity drives, has also closed
the performance gap between the lower spinning drives and the 7200rpm models.
Solid State Drives are the obvious answer to eliminating HDD noise entirely,
and they virtually elminate heat altogether. They are faster than the fastest
HDDs, and arguably more reliable, although recovering data from a failed SSD
is usually not possible. They are so light, cool and silent that they can be
mounted almost anywhere in a case, even with a single screw if necessary. A
good balance of price, performance and low noise can be had by combining a lower
capacity high performance SSD for the operating system, and a low-vibration,
extremely quiet, sub-7200rpm HDD of high capacity.
A little understood aspect of PC noise is air resonance. The
air in a closed (or mostly closed) space exhibits resonances
centered at certain frequency points. This is true of concert halls as well
as computer cases. Any noise that falls close to these resonance points become
accentuated and amplified. This is not panel vibration, but vibration of the
air in the enclosure. A good explanation of resonance concepts is available
at the Sound and Hearing section of the HyperPhysics web site.
Air resonances occur regardless of the construction materials used. Using non-parallel
panels could help by reducing standing waves, but this is an impractical solution
for a PC case. The common effect of air resonance in a typical mid-tower computer
is a <250 Hz boom or hum accentuated by hard drives and fans. It is usually
low in level, often not noticed until the components have been quieted or when
very low noise components are used; it becomes audible only when your system
is approaching true silence (below ~15 dBA@1m): It’s a high class problem. One
solution to air resonance in the case/system is to remove the main side panel;
if the space is not enclosed, there can be no air resonance.
The application of acoustically absorbent materials on the inner
surfaces of the case may help reduce air resonance effects. Such damping materials
can reduce standing waves, and reduce the level of higher frequency noises.
(But don’t look to such damping materials to block noise from
getting out: Below ~200Hz, very little can be done to limit sound transmission
from a PC case; there’s simply not enough room for the mass, density and thickness
of walls needed to block the lower frequency noise.)
Some acoustic damping materials were developed especially for use in computers.
We’ve done reviews (years ago!) of some of these materials here in the Cases
and Damping Section. In general, damping materials are most useful with
computers that have already been optimized for low noise, including soft mounting
of all major noise making components. Good acoustic damping can reduce the noise
by a few decibels, and more at higher frequencies. But the need for airflow
leaves at least a couple of open fan holes through which fan and HDD noise always
pass. The best approach is to reduce the noise of those components to a minimum,
and then consider whether acoustic damping might help further.
THE MEDIA PC
The way a media PC is used is substantially different than the
average desktop PC. The most important differences are noted below.
Normal Home PC
On equipment rack, near TV / stereo
On desktop next to monitor or on floor under / beside desk
Play & record music and video, download & serve media files, play
games; usual PC functions secondary.
Office, creative, engineering, scientific and communication work; gaming;
watch/play video & music; video encoding, etc.
Typically >2 meters away.
Typically not more than 1 meter
Background + PC noise + noise from other A/V equipment + conversation
+ music/soundtrack playing from TV/stereo speakers
Background + typing noise + noise generated by PC, perhaps background music
In a nutshell, the media PC is usually situated near the TV, which is usually at least six feet away from the seated viewers. The noise in the room includes whatever is being played through the speakers of the A/V system, plus any noise made by other A/V gear. From first hand experience, we know that…
Many digital TV boxes and PVRs contain a noisy hard drive and fan(s).
The HDD is usually on all the time, as long as the unit is plugged
in. This means the noise is always there, whether you’re using the gear or
not. There is no care in PVRs to ensure low acoustics; we’ve measured nothing
lower than 25 dBA@1m with several different PVR models. It’s typically closer
to 30 dBA@1m or higher because the HDD is hard mounted to the chassis, and
the chassis then makes whatever it’s sitting on resonate. The fan(s) in the
PVR are rarely very quiet, and they ramp up in speed when things get hot inside,
which is common given the way PVRs are usually crammed into poorly ventilated
shelves in AV stands.
Many high end (and not so high end) A/V receivers contain a fan that runs
almost all the time. This is usually not as intrusive as the HDD noise
in the digital TV boxes and PVRs, but still measure at least 20 dBA@1m.
Almost all rear projection TVs require at least one cooling fan to be
on constantly. The speed of this fan usually varies with internal temperature,
which naturally goes up the longer the TV is left on. The residual noise of
these TVs (with the speakers muted) is at least 30 dBA@1m. Of course, rear
projection TVs are extinct now, but they’re still in use in many living rooms.
30 dBA@1m is about the absolute minimum level needed for
intelligibility of speech, given typical dynamics when the TV, movie or game
sound is turned on. Levels usually need to be much higher, with peaks
reaching ~60 dBA@1m, and averaging at least 40~45 dBA@1m. This depends a great
deal on viewer / listener habits, hearing sensitivity, housing setup, etc.
In general, sound levels for movies are higher, likely 10~20 dBA higher for
both average and peaks. This is also true of music listening: Most people
prefer higher levels for better realism. Typical peaks from an A/V system
playing music probably reach 80 dBA@1m, with the average being perhaps 10
dBA lower (depending on the type of music, of course.)
These are broad generalizations about the acoustic environment
for a media PC. Suffice it to say that the acoustic environment for a media
PC will almost always be louder than for other types of home PCs.
Its noise will be masked by the sound from the speakers — at least until
you hit the mute button, at which point the PC and other A/V equipment noise
may become audible.
Just how quiet does a Media PC have to be to be inaudible?
If the HTPC is in a multi-purpose room, and you still want quick and instant access to its media functions, then it will have to stay on. Then the idle HTPC noise will be there for you to hear whenever you are in the room, whether you’re using the equipment (ie, have the sound on) or not.
Because of these factors, most users tend to accept a higher level
of noise from a media PC case that they might not accept in a quiet home office
or bedroom. A perfectly acceptable SPL for a Media PC is 20 dBA@1m
(or even several dB higher, depending again on conditions). When the system
is in use, such a level will be completely inaudible.
However, some users are bothered by even modest noise in the midst
of quiet passage of music or in a dramatic cinematic moment. If you are one,
then obviously you will want to shoot for the lowest noise level from your HTPC.
Ditto if your media PC is always on in a living room that’s otherwise free of
PRODUCTS CHANGE, often without notice.
The information provided here is accurate at time of posting, but there is no
way to guarantee that the samples we review are exactly the same as the ones
you buy. There are just too many variables. Manufacturers often change or discontinue
products, and change model names without notice. For a bigger sampling, please
check the SPCR Forums for comments by owners/users.
There are many size / form categories, too many to divide up into sections
of their own:
In view of the multiple categories, to keep things simple, the recommended
cases are divided into three broad groups: Vertical (taller than wide,
or tower style), Horizontal (generally HTPC), and Small (~20 liters
or smaller). The small category’s maximum size definition is a bit arbitrary;
it happens to be the size of the Fractal Design Node 304, a shoebox style case
bigger than most. This case, incidentally, is only a liter or two smaller than
the Lian Li PC-Q18 and SilverStone DS380, which end up in the vertical cases
There are two ranks: Recommended and Editor’s Choice.
Cases ranked as Editor’s Choice are "best in class" (meaning size
and shape) for the various parameters we consider most important: Low impedance
vents and good airflow design, high build quality, good quality fans, good value,
useful features (more or less in that order). Any products on the lists here
are recommended: Recommended for low noise, good performance on the other parameters,
and good value.
Measurements within a couple of decibels or degrees of each other in our case
review tests don’t necessarily translate to real user differences. So many other
factors come into play: The ambient noise and temperature, the particular components
in the case, typical usage patterns of the operator, etc. The fine differentiations
we can make under our lab test conditions aren’t necessarily perceived in real
use by typical users. Hence, the finely-graded numeric ranking in earlier recommended
lists were not always useful.
Now, when a product is an Editor’s Choice, you know that it’s exceptional
in most of the parameters that we consider important. Finding one that’s "perfect"
or "ideal" should not be critical because you will get similar results
with many of them. If it is important to choose a product that’s "ideal"
for you, we encourage you to read all the relevant reviews carefully and use
your own judgement.
Many cases are often supplied with a power supply; the PSU is not considered
here unless it is very quiet or proprietary and integral to the case. Prices
are not provided as they are subject to great market fluctuations.
Common Sense Notes: Smaller cases work best with lower power systems.
Cooling potential improves with case volume, assuming proportionate venting.
For best quiet cooling of a hot powerful gaming system, choose a large case
with good ventilation. Keep in mind that we have not (and cannot) test every
case, as there are hundreds, if not thousands; this is a short list of the best
cases we’ve tested. Other similar cases may offer similar results for quiet/silent
computing, but we cannot vouch for them; remember that perfection is often in
RECOMMENDED VERTICAL CASES
|Make / Model|
size / form
|Very small slim mini-ITX case that|
does a surpringly good job of keeping a gaming system cool. Not ideal for
a super-silent PC, however. SFX power supply is used to minimize size. It
can be used horizontally but cools far better vertically. (Sept 2014)
|Small mini-ITX case in tall breadbox|
form with space for six 3.5" HDDs (4 in hotswap bays), 14cm intake
& exhaust fans, good cooling overall, ATX power supply mount, easy pop-off
panels, and subdued real brushed aluminum appeal. A near-perfect mini-server
case capable of being no louder than the hard drives it houses. Best for
lower power rigs. (Sept 2014) Shopping link
SilverStone DS380 Almost the same size as the Lian
Li PC-Q18 but with 8 hotswap 3.5" bays, the DS380 isn’t quite as
refined as other Silverstone cases. Recommended for SOHO server use even
though the noise level isn’t quite as low as the Lian Li; the 8 hotswap
bays in such a small package is unmatched except in big brand NAS boxes.
Best for lower power rigs. (Sept 2014) Shopping link
|Refresh of NSK3300: Small micro-ATX|
tower case with two thermal zones and an 80 Plus Bronze EarthWatts 380W
PSU. It’s tight to work in, but right out of the box, it’s pretty quiet
and has some nice features. The PSU fan could be quieter. Best for lower
power rigs. Nov 2007. (Still available in market, Sept 2014) Shopping link
|Small steel micro-ATX tower case with|
aluminum facia and 120mm fans in/out, with ATX PSU capability. It’s a winning
combination, even though the panels are a touch on the flimsy side and the
front vent gives too direct a sound path to the user. Reviewed as part of
system from Puget Custom Computers. Best for lower power rigs. Aug 2006.
(Marked "Legacy" product at Silverstonetek.com but still available
in market, Sept 2014.) Shopping link
|Externally similar to the TJ08, but|
very different inside, the TJ08E features upside-down motherboard mounting,
which puts the CPU below the graphics card, with the right panel becoming
the main access. A big 18cm front intake fan is unusual & dictates cooling
in the case. (Sept 2014) Shopping link
|Used for our first highly successful|
mini-ITX Gaming Build Guide, the Legacy W1 looks like an oversized NCASE
N1, with similar pop-off panels and all-aluminum build. It is also a highly
effective cool & silent case when configured well. Priced under $100!
(June 2015) Shopping Link
|Extremely well ventilated case meant|
and recommended for use with NoFan’s large passive CPU coolers for a fanless
(or near-fanless) system. Some rough edges, not super-sturdy, and not recommended
without the passive coolers. (June 2015) Shopping Link
| Updated version of Solo/P150 introduced|
in 2011 with fewer external drive bays and just two elastic suspensions
for HDDs (the latter still unique, afaik, for a production case). It remains
a classic for silent computing, with high build quality, sturdy steel chassis,
and now, a top vent for the top mounted PSU, which makes it fanless-PSU-friendly.
Thermally, the Solo II outperforms the Cooler Master Silencio 550 and NZXT
H2 in convincing fashion. It goes go toe-to-toe with the Fractal Define
R3, perhaps exceeding it by virtue of its hard drive suspension system.
(Sept 2014) Shopping link
latest FT is also the smallest, and maintains the rotated motherboard position
that is the reason for the series’ existence. It is also an extremely capable
hot system case, and kept our dual-GTX970 gaming rig both quiet and cool.
(June 2015) Shopping link
Master Silencio 550
|Modestly priced quiet ATX mid-tower,|
built to price, best with cooler components. Part of CM’s Silencio line,
which includes higher-end 650 models. (Sept 2014) Shopping link
|The FT01 is the closest case in Silverstone’s|
lineup to the Antec P180 series, with one major difference: It is made entirely
of aluminum,. A single U-shaped piece of thick aluminum forms the top, front
and bottom. It’s designed for positive pressure airflow, with two 18cm fans
blowing in and one 12cm fan blowing out. Thermally and acoustically, the
Fortress does a fine job. April 2010. (Still available in market, Sept
Design Define R5 (R4)
Define R5 is the most successful of all silent-oriented ATX cases, versatile
and well priced priced for the features and performance, with significant
improvements over previous generations. Similar in shape and size to 2012’s
Define R4, with 14cm fans (very quiet!) resulting in +1" width compared
to most towers and and increase to 55 liters (from R3’s 48 liters), with
improved overall airflow/cooling. Given the modest price, it’s a silent
case for everyman. (June 2015) Shopping link
Design Define S
|A Define R5 without drive cage, fan|
controller, extra front USB ports, or side panel locking mechanisms for
$30 less. It might be just how some users end up modding the R5. A nice
alternative. (June 2015) Shopping link
| Latest version of the industry’s|
first case designed specifically for quiet operation, the iconic P180, co-designed
with SPCR founder Mike Chin. Still a major contender despite many copycats
over the years, the P183 retains the unique features of the original —
sound-damped multilayer panels, full front door, top exhaust fan, separate
chambers for PSU and main components, HDD damped mounting, wide open fan
grills — with improved airflow and cable management. April 2010. (Sept
2014: Now V.3 with minor upgrades for USB3.0, 2.5" drive, etc) Shopping
| Well thought-out with good attention|
to detail in a large case designed to house powerful components. Quiet fans,
sound damping pads, some clever features for a nice balance between low
noise and good cooling. (Sept 2014) Shopping link
Twelve Hundred Gaming Case
| It’s a big modern gamer’s case where|
airflow is the name of the game: A 200mm fan atop, five 120mm fans supplied,
and room for two more, including one on the side. Sturdy, heavy, 12 drive
bays, modular fan-equipped sub-bays for HDDs, bottom mounted PSU, and support
for the big straight-flow 120mm fan CP-series PSUs unique to Antec. Despite
all the fans or maybe because of them all, the 1200 can be made to run pretty
quietly even with a hot gaming system. April 2010. (Available as V.3,
Sept 2014) Shopping link
|The Raven Five is smaller than the|
RV02 whose design it most closely resembles. No EATX boarc support and much
reduced space for HDDs, in recognition of their obvious non-necessity for
gamers, make the difference. Very similar thermal/acoustic results to FT02,
still our champ in this class. (Sept 2014) Shopping link
its functional mate, the Raven RV02, the FT02 is huge, with support for
ATX boards up to 12"x11". The extra volume is mostly in its depth
(front to back), rather than height, as is the norm. Three bottom mounted
180mm intake fans blow up across the 90-degree rotated board, which puts
the I/O panel on the top. Unique 4.5mm aluminum unibody frame and 0.8mm
steel body combine for good solidity, though the sheer size of the panels
means there’s still some flex. Overall noise and cooling are excellent,
especially with demanding, hot components. It’s essentially a quiet, classy
gamer’s case. April 2010. (Still available in market, Sept 2014) Shopping
| Bigger yet lighter and as sturdy|
as the P183 but without the separate thermal zones, this large case offers
good performance with both low and high power configurations. Excellent
cable management, damped panels, fan filters, etc. (Sept 2014) Shopping link
|The Raven Two is even bigger than|
its functional mate, the FT02, due mostly to the extra space taken up by
the molded plastic that takes the place of the aluminum skins on the FT02.
While the appearance may be a bit comic bookish, functionally, it is the
same case as the FT02, and equally good as a quiet gaming case. The original
Raven RV01 can be recommended as an alternative if you need the latter’s
support for EATX (12×12") boards. April 2010. (Still available in
market, Sept 2014) Shopping link
|Very well built, heavy, cosmentically|
pristine and ideal for full-scale all-out water cooling, the Enthoo Luxe
is top-of-the-line case. Noiser than ideal fans and highly restrictive top
vent filter keeps it from an Editor’s Choice award. It worked very well
in our first Water Cooled Gaming Rig Build Guide. (June 2015) Shopping
Design Arc XL
|Oversized clean design case delivers|
excellent performance. Lots of water cooling options, 140 mm fan placements
with filters everywhere, built-in (limited) fan speed controller. Fits just
about anything inside, with four 5.25" bays, eight 3.5" bays,
nine expansion slots, E-ATX and XL-ATX motherboard support, and effectively
limitless heatsink and video card compatibility. The internal chassis
appears identical to Define XL, a larger version of Define R4. (Sept
2014) Shopping link
|Big, bold 3-thermal zone aluminum|
panel case with the best cooling and acoustic performance, matched only
by SilverStone FT05. $499 MSP is a challenge, but the S10 suggests
Antec is back as a serious case contenter. (June 2015) Shopping link
|Make / Model|
size / form
Overall / Comments
|Small all-aluminum fanless heatsink|
case looks good, works well with up to 65W TDP CPUs. Room for two 3.5"
HDDs and slim optical drive. (Sept 2014) Shopping link
ML05 / ML06
|Attractive mirror-faced, really small|
HTPC case taking advantage of small SFX PSU. Best to avoid 3.5" HDD;
use side mounted 2.5" drives instead, and leave area above CPU cooler
for better airflow. ML06 is the brush aluminum facia version of the same
case. (Sept 2014) Shopping link
|Well dimensioned low profile fanless|
heatsink case looks good and works well with up to 65W TDP CPUs. Room for
up to three 3.5" HDDs if mITX board is used. (Sept 2014) Shopping
|Nicely built low profile fanless|
heatsink case with impressively thick facia, not too deep for most AV cabinets,
unlike bigger H10. Smaller H3
is even better dimensioned but no longer available. Works well for up to
75W TDP CPUs. Priced well for such a product. (Sept 2014) Shopping link
GD05 / GD04
small case offers 17.6" width to match most AV equipment but shallow
13" depth to fit typical AV/TV cabinet shelves. Three quiet 120mm fans
in a positive pressure design provide excellent cooling. Meant for ATX12V
PSU, which draws air from outside the case via bottom vent. Exceptional
cooling at very low noise levels, even with fairly hot components. Fairly
sturdy, good value. April 2010. (Still available in market, Sept 2014)
GD01 and LC17 HTPC
The smallest full ATX cases for HTPC on our list, these
earlier models show their age with smaller 92mm and 80mm fans rather than
the preferred 120mm size fans. Still, with very little modifications,
these sturdy steel chassis can be run quietly and fairly cool with the
right combination of components, and they exhibit the sensible layout
and subdued aluminum facia typical of Silverstone cases. Nov 2007. (Still
available in market, Sept 2014… but newly released ~27 liter
GD09 and GD10 look poised to completely replace these. Review coming soon.)
Fusion Remote Max
|Large implementation of Antec’s successful|
Fusion/NSK2400 case with room and airflow to handle the largest video cards.
Antec’s 120mm tri-cool fans are not as quiet as they could be, but replacement
is trivial. Very sturdy steel chassis with aluminum front bezel, Liquid
Crystal Display (LCD), built-in IR receiver and volume control. April 2010.
(Still available in market, Sept 2014) Shopping link
|Make / Model|
size / form
Overall / Comments
|Excellent execution of fanless case|
for Intel NUC with room for 2.5" drive. Good cooling under normal loads,
an easy choice for commercial or industrial applications in tight, poorly
ventilated spaces and minimum maintenance or for a silent media PC. (Sept
|Fanless "heatsink case"|
for Intel NUC with room for two 2.5" drives. It cools well enough and
provides good functionality without loss of any external ports. (Sept
2014) Shopping link
|Fanless "heatsink case"|
for Thin mini-ITX with room for one 2.5" drive cools well enough for
upto 55W TDP CPU. Fit & finish isn’t tops but with external 120W AC/DC
adapter, is priced well. Sept (2014) Shopping link
|A cheap and cheerful, smaller than|
typical Shuttle breadbox case with room for a standard optical drive, two
3.5" drive bays, and a surprisingly quiet 250W SFX power supply. The
$40 street price buys you a decent looking case that can take a simple 120mm
fan addition for a cool and quiet SFF PC. (Still in the market, Sept
2014) Shopping link
|Amateur enthusiast-designed, crowd-funded|
& built by Lian Li, the NCASE M1 is a modern web community success story.
This svelt stylish aluminum mini tower handles 3 x 3.5 inch drives, a triple-slot
graphics card, a reasonably large CPU heatsink, a single/dual radiator watercooling
unit, and up to four 120 mm fans. When packed with gaming components, noise
level rises more than we’d like due to the need to move air quickly through
the tight space, but only the Silverstone RV01 gets close to this size while
handling a gaming card. Pricey, and getting hold of one is a big challenge.
(Sept 2014) Shopping link
|Innovative gaming-oriented Mini-ITX|
case with 18cm top fan and front mounted 600W ATX PSU allows use of graphics
card up to 12.2" long. With judicious component selection, it can stay
quiet and cool at moderate loads. The main noise limitation at full load
will be the cooler on the graphics card. August 2010 (Still available
in market, Sept 2014) Shopping link
Design Node 304
designed breadbox style case can hold up to six 3.5" HDDs and remain
pretty quiet. Ideal for use as a HTPC or Home Server, this model is a huge
improvement from previous Array Mini ITX Case. Good value. Real competitors
here are Lian Li PC-Q18 and SilverStone DS380, which end up in the vertical
cases category due to marginally large size. (Sept 2014) Shopping
Retired recommended cases are on the following page. They are
retired usually when no longer available.
* * *
RETIRED RECOMMENDED CASES
|Make / Model|
size / form
Overall / Comments
Design Define R3
|The 2011 Gen 2 of the Define R2,|
which was paean to the Antec P180 series, a bit smaller and more cheaply/lightly
built, with some clever variations, and not w/o some weaknesses. The R3
remains a versatile value ATX case for silencers at a good price for the
features and performance, with a few minor improvements over the R2. 2012’s
Define R4 follows the same path; the main change is 14cm instead of 12 cm
fans, resulting in +1" width and increase to 55 liters, with improved
overall airflow/cooling. (Sept 2014) [Discontinued, June 2015]
|Unusual breadbox style case looks|
smaller than its 21 liters due to eye-appealing dimensions. It can hold
a whipping six 3.5" HDDs, possibly a couple more with minor mods. All
aluminum construction does not hurt its acoustics, and vibration is easily
damped (as shown in our review). It takes a standard ATX PSU as well! Great
home server box (as shown in our SFF
Home Server Build Guide). Sept 2010. (PC-Q18 is a better option.
T1610 fanless case
|The smallest mini-ITX case available|
to DIY builders, the T1610 is built to fit only one product, the Intel D945GSEJT
Atom board that was reviewed with the case. It has room only for a single
2.5" drive, which becomes the only source of noise, because the case
uses conduction to cool the CPU, with power from a 60W Seasonic AC/DC brick.
It’s possible other motherboards will be made with the same I/O layout to
fit the case, or that the case will be modified to accept different board
models. (Sept 2014: Discontinued)
TC-100 Fanless mini-ITX case
|"Heatsink case" for typical|
mini-ITX motherboards that employ an embedded CPU such as Atom or VIA. Overall
system thermal limit of 35W is low, but conservatively rated with maximum
ambient temperature given as 50°C, so there’s some headroom for those
who want to push the power envelope with a hotter CPU. Various heaptpipes
kits offered. Main issue is availability / distribution, as main target
audience is industrial/commercial. (Not available anywhere online. Sept
P150 / Solo / Sonata Designer / Sonata Plus
case with unique features including silicone rubber grommets and multiple
rubber suspension for HDDs (the latter a first for a production case), 120mm
exhaust fan, low impedance fan grills, dual 92mm intake fan mounts, easy-access
brushed aluminum facia front bezel, polycarbonate damping sheets on inside
of side and top panels, stealthed CD bay covers, excellent spring loaded
captive thumbscrews for side panels, and a conventional layout finshed in
white or black enamel. Excellent build quality. Cooling capacity is lower
than typical gaming cases, and an extra long video card will not fit without
a bit of modding, but itremains our favorite modest mid-tower case for a
silent PC. This case has also become the Solo (no PSU), Sonata Designer
500 (w/ an EarthWatts 500W PSU), and Sonata Plus 550 (w/ a 550W NeoHE PSU).
(Sept 2014: Discontinued)
|Mini-ITX cases with a twist: They|
can house a gaming system with a midrange graphics card. Modest noise in
these diminutive "classic" breadbox style cases when fitted with
the right combination of components. The PSU fan can ramp up in speed under
high load with hot components, but the 120mm intake fan can help. April
|Antec’s smallest case is half the|
height of a typical breadbox style SFF case, and features an external 65W
power adapter with internal DC/DC converter, and comes fitted with a single
80mm fan, with room for one more. There’s space for a slim optical drive
and two 2.5" drives. Atom and VIA mini-ITX boards work very quietly;
with the right combination of cooling devices, a 45W TDP processor can run
quietly too. (Sept 2014: Discontinued; only available as ISK 300-150
with 150W fanned PSU)
|Big, very expensive, horizonal case|
with very good airflow in open layout, 7" front panel touch-screen
LCD and remote. Standard (poor) HDD mounting, noisy stock fans, but still
very good potental for low noise. If you can accept the size and the price.
Nov 2007. (Sept 2014: Discontinued)
dimensioned case with good airflow for all components within. High potential
for quiet system. SU380 power supply included with NSK2400 is efficient
and quiet, but not as quiet as NeoHE models. Fusion is high-end, aluminum
front panel / VFD, 430W PSU version of the same case. Nov 2007: Refreshed
with EarthWatts higher efficiency 80 Plus power supplies. (Sept 2014:
|A classic look and good airflow design,|
aluminum facia over steel chassis, sound damping on inner panel surfaces:
These are some of the things that makes the Sileo 500 stand out from the
crowd. The thin panels aren’t awe-inspriing, and the drive bay mix leans
too much to optical drives but the case comes with two decently quiet 120mm
and manages to be pretty quiet with a mid-power system of components. Modest
sub-$100 price makes it worthwhile. April 2010. (Sept 2014: Discontinued)
|Very sturdy low profile steel chassis|
and stylish, solid aluminum facia with iMon VFD; designed for use with ATX12V
PSU and micro-ATX board. This excellent HTPC case probably drew little attention
because the review sample housed a poor motherboard/system, but it is the
most robust case of its size/style we’ve come across. The fan grills could
be a bit open but it’s a minor quibble. The 16" depth calls for a deep
shelf. April 2010. (Sept 2014: Discontinued — Moneual
appears to have dropped out of PC cases altogether & moved into robot
|Make / Model|
Overall / Comments
|6 / Unusual,|
handsome, all-aluminum mid-tower case with too many features to detail here.
For aluminum enthusiasts, we were still able to build a quiet system in
the PC-101 without much effort. It is the first aluminum case we’ve ever
been able to say that about. As with most aluminum cases, pricey.
Reviewed. Aug 2006.
|7 / Well|
constructed large steel mid-tower with inverted motherboard position that
locates CPU at bottom in a duct with 120mm fans front and back in push-pull
mode. HDD cage position and airflow in upper area a bit suspect, and the
intake vent on the handsome swing-open aluminum bezel might be a touch restrictive,
but overall, it’s a very nice case with a lot of potential. Choose your
own PSU separately. Reviewed.
|7 / Modest|
mid-tower features solid construction, excellent open vents front and back,
the best airflow bezel design we’ve seen yet with good noise reduction path,
and drive mounts ready for serious grommets. Can accommodate 4 CD and 4
HDD. Side vent over CPU should be blocked for improved noise. Needs little
or no modding for use in a silent system. Often supplied without PSU. Examined
as part of ARM Stealth System review. March 11/03
/ Chenbro PC-610 Custom Case
|7 / A modded,|
upgraded version of the Chenbro PC- 610 case customized by Coolcases.com.
Very solid mid-tower features nicely open airflow front & back vents for
120mm fans, a bezel that balances noise / airflow, some great mods by Coolcases,
inlcuding front cutout fan grill and filer, fan controller, etc. Right side
not removable. Lots of options. Reviewed.
Yang "Mars" YY-5603 mid-tower case
|7 / Solid|
mid-tower, with double-vented side panels and extra depth, very open 120mm
grills front and back for great airflow. Side-mount HDD cage reduces front
intake ventilation a bit; cage must be removed to suspend drives in bottom
front. Nice top front position of controls and in/out panel. Styling open
to debate. Reviewed.
|5 / Black|
steel mid-tower case with striking blue anodized aluminum front accents
and wide open bezel provides good airflow. Supplied with very noisy 80mm
case fan and somewhat noisy PSU. 3.5" drive bay extends all the way
to floor, which can make HDD suspension difficult. Like most case, probably
needs a bit of modding for best results. Reviewed.
SST-LC01 HTPC Case
|5 / A fairly large aluminum|
horizonal case with decent airflow, ATX PSU capability, and room for HDD
suspension. Only adequate by mid-tower standards but quite good for a FTPC
case if total system heat is kept modest. Reviewed.
SST-LC11 HTPC Case
|5 / Slim, sleek, pretty and|
small, with an odd twist borne out of cooling need: The motherboard goes
in upside down. Pretty quiet, too, especially if you take care, but it takes
only Micro-ATX boards. Fans can be better, as can airflow, but there’s good
potential for modders. Reviewed.
SST-LC04 HTPC Case
|5 / Handsome low profile aluminum|
horizonal case with decent airflow and very quiet 240W proprietary PSU takes
full ATX board but is limited to 2 horizontal AGP/PCI devices. Tight for
soft a mounting HDD. No evidence of aluminum hum. Very nice with the right
combination of components. Reviewed.
e-Otonashi fanless EPIA-M cooling case
|7 / A compact case for VIA|
EPIA-M Mini-ITX boards that offers a fanless PSU and fanless CPU cooling
system as an integral part of its design; it works well. The only noise
source is the notebook hard drive, which can be as low as ~16 dBA@1m. Reviewed.
Cooling Silentium T2
|5 / Innovative|
case offers the first heatsinked and suspended HDD mount integrated into
a case, totally non-standard airflow, a custom-made dual fan Seasonic PSU
at front bottom, and a ducted plastic base that directs airflow. All this
behind a mild, unpretentious exterior. Excellent airflow marred by resonances
from plastics and high minimum speed in PSU fans. Difficult to mod or swap
PSU or PSU fans. Reviewed. May
8 / 6
|8.5 / Smaller|
micro-ATX version of the TNN500. Very well engineered heatpipe systems transfer
heat from components to the chassis, and an advanced fanless power supply
is integrated within. Cooling with well-selected components is very good.
The only serious drawback is the lack of good mechanical damping against
HDD vibration and noise; the 8 rating applies only if the HDD can be mechanically
decoupled from the case. Price is still high but better than the 500. Reviewed.
|8.5 / New|
version of P180 with many cable management improvements that address assembly
difficulties. A very nice case has been substantially improved. Reviewed.
8 / 6
|8.5 / Ambitious,|
completely fanless, massive mid-tower with an exterior of aluminum extrusion
heatsink panels. Very well engineered heatpipe systems transfer heat from
components to the heatsinks, and an advanced fanless power supply is integrated
within. Cooling with well-selected components is very good. The only serious
drawback is the lack of good mechanical damping against HDD vibration and
noise; the 8 rating applies only if the HDD can be mechanically decoupled
from the case. High price is a deterrent. Reviewed
as part of an EndPCNoise system Aug 2006.
|8.5 / An ambitious, large|
mid-tower with composite multi-layer external panels and steel chassis,
unique PSU and HDD placement on bottom in isolated ducted chamber. Very
good intake 120mm vent design for upper and lower chambers, with double
hinge door. Much use of resilent damping materials for noise & vibration
reduction. Top corner of upper chamber has two exhaust 120mm fans for very
high cooling potential. Almost any decent fanned PSU runs quieter because
the direct intake in the lower chamber keeps it running much cooler than
in other cases. Suitable for overclockers and silencers. Covered
extensively by SPCR in several reviews. Nov 2005. NOTE: A
new version was released in mid-2006, with a double aluminum panel door
and improved cooling for video cards. Aug 2006. REPLACED BY P182.
|6 / Latest variant of 3000|
series from Antec with the wide open front & back 120mm vent grills of the
3700BQE and the more conventional, removable HDD cage of the 3700AMB, with
double side vents (Intel approved for "Thermally Advantaged Chassis"
designation) and a TriCool 3-speed 120mm fan that’s very quiet on low. You
get to choose your own PSU. Reviewed.
Jan 2005. DISCONTINUED
|6 / Small micro-ATX tower case|
with two thermal zones and a good, small 300W PSU. It’s tight to work in,
but right out of the box, it’s pretty darn quiet and has some nice features.
2006. REPLACED BY NSK3480
| 6 / Stylish glossy black|
mid-tower, nice no-fuss quiet (not silent) design. Excellent 120mm back
vent, bezel airflow restricted but good noise reduction path, side drive
mounts come with rubber grommets. Front door over external bays helps reduce
noise. Supplied with quiet single fan 380W TruePower PSU, noisier than our
reference standards. Comes with 120mm fan. Bezel will benefit from some
cutting to improve airflow. Reviewed.
REPLACED BY SONATA II. Nov 2005
Gaming Bomb Xpider
|6 / Similar chassis to Chenbro|
PC- 610 case with dramatic styling and side window. Nicely open airflow
92mm front vent & 120mm back vent, a bezel w/ very good airflow, some other
nice features. Right side not removable. Reviewed.
May 2004. DISCONTINUED
|6 / New variant of 3700AMB|
with improved front & back grills and side mounted HDDS like Sonata case.
Better than stock AMB in most ways but HDDs run warmer. Supplied 350W PSU
is noise-reduced. Reviewed.
May 2004. DISCONTINUED
|6 / Nice looking mid-tower|
features adequate airflow front & back vents for 120mm fans, a bezel that
balances noise / airflow, typical Antec door over top half of bezel, good
drive mounting features. No specific quiet features, but a solid base on
which a quiet PC could be built. Case mods such as removal of fan grills
will all help. Decently quiet supplied PSU. Reviewed.
March 11/03. DISCONTINUED
Kai FK330 Mid-tower
|8 / Rock-solid construction|
mid-tower, with double layer steel construction for side panels w/best-ever
latch, the FK330 is truly "workstation class". Quality
of construction is tops. Open 120mm grills front and back for great airflow.
The # of drives seems small for the size of case; side mounting for 3 HDDs;
close front bottom area means cutting to suspend drives there – one of the
very few flaws. Choose your own PSU separately. Reviewed.
APPEARS TO BE DISCONTINUED. Nov 2005
SX1000 series (1000, 1040, 1060, 1080…)
|6 / Large 20″ tall ubiquitous|
design features good airflow front & back vents, a bezel that probably lets
out noise too easily, good drive mounting features. No specific quiet features,
but a solid base on which a quiet PC could be built. Case mods such as removal
of plastic fan cages, removal of back fan grills. No sure what could be
done to eliminate direct noise exit path through front bezel. Case appears
similar or identical to models offered by Chieftec, Enermax, etc. Info gleaned
from hands on-examination of SPCR’s own SX1040 case. TOO MANY
OTHER GOOD OPTIONS NOW. Nov 2005
* * *