Which cheap computer case is best?
Building a computer is a fun and rewarding experience that gives you complete control over your system’s components and capabilities, but it can also get expensive. Luckily, there are plenty of budget-friendly parts, including the all-important case that they all go inside.
Our favorite affordable PC case is the Lian Li LanCool 205, which comes from a high-end manufacturer and offers a premium construction complete with two pre-installed fans and an overall layout that encourages good airflow.
What to know before you buy a cheap computer case
Motherboard form factors
From largest to smallest, the three most popular motherboard sizes are ATX, microATX and Mini-ITX. A large majority of motherboards are in the ATX form factor and offer several PCIe slots (for add-on cards like GPUs and wireless adapters) as well as at least four RAM slots and one or two M.2 slots for ultra-compact SSDs. The plethora of ports and connectors makes the ATX form factor the best for most people.
The two smaller sizes offer significantly less versatility, with Mini-ITX boards offering only a single PCIe slot and 2 RAM slots. The main draw for mATX and Mini-ITX motherboards is using them in small form factor cases, like the Thermaltake Core V1 Snow Edition, that only take up minimal space on a desk or entertainment center. If you’re building a home theater PC, a Mini-ITX build should be more than capable, but for anyone looking to do resource-intensive gaming, such compact builds can be an issue.
Generally speaking, building a small form factor PC is a bit more difficult to do physically, and assembling the parts also takes considerably more attention to detail. Plus, parts that are smaller and more compact are sometimes priced at a premium compared to bulkier models. For these reasons, the best motherboards for those on a tight budget tend to be in the ATX form factor, so that’s the size of case you should also get.
Airflow is important when building a PC
Efficiently moving air into and out of the case is paramount to keeping your components safe and running at peak performance. It’s not just about the number of fans, either, but also the layout of the case. Generally speaking, intake fans will be on the front or bottom of the case and exhaust fans on the rear or top, but that’s not necessarily universal.
One good piece of advice is to stick with tried-and-true case manufacturers. Reputable brands tend to do a lot more thorough research into their case layouts, making each fan that much more effective.
Positive case ventilation pressure
Some of the best cases come with fans already installed, but you’ll often benefit from installing additional ventilation. Case fans designed for static pressure are generally considered the best.
The concept of positive pressure is important for keeping the internals free from dust and other debris. That means that you want the fans to provide more intake pressure than exhaust, which keeps foreign particles from getting into the case through the seams. Positive pressure and ultra-fine dust filters help keep everything clean for a long time.
What to look for in a quality, cheap computer case
Enough room for a modern GPU
This might seem obvious at first glance, but it’s easy to underestimate just how large today’s graphics cards are if you haven’t handled many of them. Most gaming-centric cases can fit at least the smaller versions of modern GPUs, but make sure to check the measurements first.
You can find specific dimensions of all GPUs before purchasing and most case manufacturers will tell you exactly how big of a graphics card their cases accommodate.
If you opt for a slim case like the Thermaltake Core G3, though, you’re not out of luck. There are a handful of well-made GPU risers that orient a large card vertically, allowing it to fit in a wider range of cases.
Front-mounted port access
At the very least, you’ll find a pair of USB-A ports and a S/PDIF audio port on the front of the case, and there are often separate jacks for headphones and microphones. Those are the bare minimums for easy connectivity. In rare cases, you might find a USB-C connector on the front, but USB-C isn’t super common among desktops and such cases tend to be more expensive.
You’ll even find some cases with SD card readers on the front. In any scenario, the only difficulty added is that you’ll have to make sure to correctly route the respective cables from the motherboard to the case, which isn’t too tough as long as you read the manual closely.
See-through side panels
Some people don’t look twice at their case while using their PC, but more and more gamers appreciate having a nicely lit and attractive case, both inside and out. For those users, there are plenty of dependable cases on the market with transparent side panels. This is another reason to consider sticking with a reputable manufacturer, as they’re much more likely to use premium tempered glass.
If you can’t find the right tempered glass model for you, many affordable cases use acrylic windows. Acrylic doesn’t look quite as nice as glass, but it’s significantly safer and doesn’t weigh as much.
How much you can expect to spend on a cheap computer case
You can buy something simple for $30, but you’ll find a lot of excellent options around $50. For up to about $80, you can get something with a more premium fit and finish, plus a couple of extra nice-to-have features.
Cheap computer case FAQ
Should I get an RGB case?
A. Cases, themselves, rarely integrate RGB LEDs. If you want your rig to look flashy, the process starts with your motherboard, its onboard RGB controller and the RGB-enabled components you choose. Don’t spend too long looking for a low-cost case with built-in RGB lighting, because there are few options.
Do I need a stand for my PC?
A. If you opt for a case with bottom-mounted fans, make sure your case is elevated an inch or two at the very least. Most cases designed for bottom-mounted ventilation have legs for just that purpose. In general, it’s not recommended to leave a PC running on carpet, due to static electricity and overheating concerns.
What’s the best cheap computer case to buy?
Top cheap computer case
Our take: A low-cost model from one of the most respected manufacturers on the planet.
What we like: Despite its moderate price, it looks and feels like a high-end case. It comes with magnetic dust filters and a pair of fans already installed, and it’s designed for easy installation of liquid cooling. It comes in white or black and there’s even a microATX model if you want to try your hand at building a small form factor PC.
What we dislike: Questionable hard drive cage placement makes it difficult to use 3.5-inch drives with a non-modular power supply.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
Top cheap computer case for the money
Our take: Simple and versatile with a plethora of front-mounted I/O connectors.
What we like: This is one of the rare budget cases with integrated RGB lighting, in the form of a solid diagonal stripe on the front with multiple colors and transition modes. Possibly the most notable feature on this one are the three USB ports and SD plus microSD card readers on the front where they’re easy to access.
What we dislike: Some full ATX motherboards are a tight fit in this one, so you might be well-served to look for some low-profile fans to go with it.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
Worth checking out
Our take: A relatively compact option from a beloved enthusiast brand.
What we like: SilverStone continues to get high marks for all their designs from even the pickiest PC builders. This one is smaller than many ATX cases so it fits in more places. Its fully meshed front panel allows for the installation of three full-size case fans. It comes in a black version or a white version.
What we dislike: Because it’s more compact than most, it takes close attention to detail to maximize the airflow.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
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Chris Thomas writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.
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