Even today, the personal computer is still an ubiquitous electronic device that is utilized in homes, offices, industrial sites, and even in more hazardous environments. Many of its components and subsystems have undergone dramatic changes in capabilities and size, but of all of its parts, the chassis or protective casing has lagged the most in terms of innovation and improvements.
By citing some of the more obvious problems with the current crop of computer enclosures, this short list intends to enumerate just what qualities and characteristics are needed in an ideal casing, and if possible, provide an ideal example. Take note, this piece places a keener focus on more mainstream computer chassis applications (with some exceptions), as specialized cases (extreme gaming, industrial, etc.) will always have specifications custom-tailored for their corresponding requirements.
Materials and Construction
As it stands, the materials used to construct the casings are by no means advanced. I was really expecting carbon fiber and other light and rigid materials being used in mainstream chassis and enclosures by now, but it seems that the usual steel, aluminium, and plastic are still the materials of choice. Only certain units, computer chassis for industrial and military applications, take advantage of more advanced substances.
Materials aside, good build quality is also a hallmark of an ideal casing. With parts that fit precisely, solid joints and links between parts (whether by screws, rivets, or just welded together). You may not need a water-tight enclosure, but it should be reasonably sealed against dust and other foreign matter entering and potentially damaging the electronic components.
Design and Ergonomics
At some points in the evolution of the PC, the chassis seemed to be overly large and empty as the components that comprised of the computer had already become smaller. While airflow and ventilation could be cited as a reason for the extra space inside, it is still not a totally adequate justification, and thus, the computer ends up taking a lot more space than it should.
It also doesn’t help that the chassis is built for some set of specifications that aren’t really reflective of what people need or want. For example, one holdover from old case design philosophy is the excessive number of 5.25” bays. Unless you’re building yourself a full-blown file server (which by the way, is now the domain of NAS appliances) or perhaps an enthusiast PC with a penchant for fan control panels, you only need one to two, since optical drives are fast becoming out of style in the face of cheap flash drives and other removable storage.
I’d like to see way fewer, but by default hot-swappable bays for 3.5” and 2.5” drives, and just one or two 5.25”/3.5” bays for the occasional fan speed control panel or Blu Ray writer. With all the space savings, the basic desktop chassis can be made much more compact, and with mATX and mITX mainboards gaining popularity, the ATX or eATX motherboards should only be considered by enthusiasts, workstations, and other “srs bzns” type applications.
Electronic components generate heat. This is one of the things that makes chassis design a little more complicated. Sure, you can cram in all of the parts you need in a smaller area, but will the enclosure allow the heat created by your computer out before it builds up and puts your hardware at risk? As mentioned earlier, this is probably one of the reasons why manufacturers kept using the cheaper and larger chassis, as adding more fans or using materials that can easily radiate the heat are expensive solutions to the problem.
Chassis with good thermal management aren’t necessarily big, hulking towers that are bristling with fans, radiators, or are equipped with water-cooling paraphernalia. Again, good design plays a part in heat dissipation. Essentially, cool air gets pulled into the casing, takes the heat from the components, and the warm air is ejected out of the enclosure. Good airflow will ensure lower operating temperatures within the chassis, ensuring that the components will work better and last longer.
This is more subjective than anything, so I leave the aesthetic preferences to personal taste. Those that are not satisfied with factory default appearances go the extra mile of modification, but there are plenty of visually appealing cases for different tastes. Just make sure the exterior looks will not get in the way of performance; a pretty-to-look-at casing is no excuse for a flimsy, cramped, and overheating computer.
With these characteristics in mind, I wish you well in choosing your next computer chassis!
Stacey Thompson is a professional writer, marketer, entrepreneur, and a lover of weird little animals. She is based in San Diego, California, and is hammering out the little kinks of her gang’s group blog about coffee, cats, and life in general, Word Baristas.