Powerful PCs generate heat – and the only way to remove that heat from the system is to pass it to surrounding air. Whether you do that via heat pipes and air coolers, or use a liquid loop somewhere, ultimately you need airflow to carry that heat away. In this article we’ll explore some of the very best airflow optimised cases on the market.
Best PC Cases for Airflow – My Recommendations
|Best PC Cases for Airflow||Design||Model||Motherboard Support|
|Best Overall PC Case for Airflow||Fractal Design Meshify C||ATX|
|Best Airflow case for Water Cooling Flexibility||Coolermaster H500M||Extended-ATX|
|Best Looking PC case for Airflow||Lian Li O11-Dynamic||Extended-ATX|
|Best balance of looks and cooling MATX case||Corsair Crystal 280X||Micro-ATX|
|Best Budget MATX Airflow Case||CoolerMaster Masterbox Q300L||Micro-ATX|
|Best Open-air Case for Airflow||Thermaltake Core P1||Mini-ITX|
Best Overall PC Case for Airflow: Fractal Design Meshify C
Fractal Design really hit the mark with the Meshify C. A revision of their Define series, the front panel is replaced with angular blacked out mesh to allow maximum intake airflow. The chassis itself is well made and includes quality of life features with a full suite of air filters, thumbscrews for PSU, side panel and GPU removal and a PSU Shroud enclosing the power supply and mechanical hard drive bays.
There are a range of sizes for all needs and configurations from the mATX ‘Meshify C Mini’ to the S2 Variants which have greater depth to allow for large Graphics cards (over 300mm length) or thick front radiator arrangements. There are also choices for the side panel with metal, tempered glass and heavily tinted tempered glass.
Our suggested configuration involves adding a pair of 140mm PWM fans such as Noctua Chromax or BeQuiet! Silent Wings behind the front panel to act as intake, with a single 120mm exhaust fan in the top rear. Challenges posed by this case include limited clearance between a top mounted AIO radiator and RAM, so check dimensions carefully if this is the configuration that you’re planning. Users also report poor sound quality from the front panel jack, and it has just 2 USB 3.0 sockets on the top face, but both of these limitations are easy to mitigate.
At the price, the standard ATX form factor Meshify C by Fractal Design is very hard to beat for features and cooling performance.
Best Airflow case for Water Cooling Flexibility: Coolermaster H500M
More recently Cooler Master have come on board with the ‘Mesh Replacement front panel’ idea, and offer the H500M. This high end case offers a host of design features valuable to those looking to water cool with AIOs or a custom water loop.
Radiator support encompasses 360mm and 280mm in either the top or front positions, and it comes supplied with 2 massive 200mm fans in the front panel. It even incorporates a pump bracket to mount a custom loop pump and reservoir.
Connectivity is excellent with 4 USB 3.0 ports and one USB C in the top of the front panel. Visual features include the now near ubiquitous RGB fans, Interchangeable Mesh or Tempered Glass front panel, and three other sides covered by tempered glass.
There’s no doubting that this is a very large ATX case (unlike these awesome small ATX cases) with looks that you’ll either love for their angular gamer aesthetic or hate for the same reason, but if you like a bit of bling and are looking for exceptional water cooling support and thermal performance you should strongly consider the H500M.
Best Aesthetic PC case for Airflow – Lian Li O11-Dynamic
The high end case manufacturer Lian Li teamed up with respected overclocker DER8AUER to optimise this ‘bauhaus’ inspired chassis – the O11-Dynamic.
It is ATX compliant but uses a wider dual chamber design to separate PSU(s – it can take 2) and drive cages from the showy hot bits of your PC which it encases in tempered glass. This design allows for no fewer than nine 120mm fans on three of the enclosure sides, with three of them pushing through an (optional but highly recommended) 360mm radiator.
With careful component choice this chassis can become a literal showcase for your build, whilst forcing buckets of air through it to keep overclocked components cool. It’s made from 0.8mm Aluminium giving it a premium finish, but be careful about stripping screw threads by over tightening component fixing screws. So long as you don’t mind spending as much on case fans as you have on the case itself, and can live with the noise of numerous fans (we’d highly suggest getting PWM fans of good quality such as the Corsair LL120 along with an attendant Fan hub, and running them slow) this case brings an excellent balance of airflow and Looks.
If you’re willing to sacrifice some glass in exchange for extended radiator support, the O11-Air boasts no fewer than three 360mm radiator mounting locations in the same format case – but replaces those glass windows with linear vented panels.
Lian Li have just announced the enhanced Lian-Li O11D XL – an extended version of the above case. [URL http://www.lian-li.com/pc-o11d-rog] This absolutely vast case now includes Asus Aura Sync compatible RGB and comfortably fits EATX motherboards and supports three 360mm or two 280mm radiators.
Best balance of looks and cooling MATX case: Corsair Crystal 280X
This case provides an excellent balance of looks, cooling and radiator support. The Corsair Crystal 280X is a mATX dual chamber design case that supports a 280mm Radiator in the top, and/or 240mm in the front and bottom of the case for a variety of airflow and cooling regimes. It’ll do just fine on air alone too with the front accommodating a pair of 140mm fans for a good balance of airflow and lower noise profile.
At £109/$110 or £139/$144 for the RGB version which includes a pair of 140mm RGB fans and an iCue Lighting node pro lighting controller represents solid value, since you’d need to buy a few more fans anyway to make the most of this (or any other) case.
Best Budget MATX Airflow Case – CoolerMaster Masterbox Q300L
A lower budget needn’t mean a compromise on airflow. The Coolermaster Q300L has been consistently available at around $40/£40. It keeps costs low with a simple single box construction in pressed steel, and an acrylic side window. This however helps YOU keep costs low with a cheaper mATX motherboard and ATX Power supply compatibility. The look is enhanced with neat magnetic dust filters that cover the visible metal panels.
Cooling options abound with space for six 120mm fans or four 120mm plus two 140mm fans, or a 240mm radiator. The case also supports 120mm AIO radiators in two locations. They’ve given thought to tower air coolers too with 159mm headroom letting you choose virtually any tower cooler on the market. It has been designed to be used either standing or lying down making it easier to tuck away.
The Q300L is an excellent budget option for your build, providing room to expand as well as solid thermals that won’t stifle the performance of your components.
Best Open-air Case for Airflow: Thermaltake Core P1
When it comes to airflow, there’s not much that beats ‘no airflow restrictions whatsoever’. Thermaltake have hit the market with the competitively priced and rather unique Core P1.
This is an ITX case for those of us who like to leave it all out on show: The open chassis, single tempered glass plate, vertical GPU mount and completely open design ae an airflow lovers dream (but a cleaning nightmare). It’s fairly unique in that it can be wall mounted – or used with a vertical stand or on its side. The chassis supports a 240mm AIO natively.
If you find ITX too limiting Thermaltake also offer the larger ATX core P2 with an utterly gorgeous curved tempered glass panel, and the completely over the top but impressive P90 which uses Tempered glass on two sides to make a corner. All of these systems are compatible with water cooling from the outset, and even include downloadable 3D printing files so you can manufacture your own custom accessories.
In short, these cases meet a customisers every wish. For a showcase build or even with the panel off as a quick-change test bench, they make excellent options for a Premium Build.
Over the top Airflow case? Inwin’s Signature Line…..
Do the above cases leave you feeling a bit cold? Do you demand that your next PC build transcends mere utilitarian needs and elevates itself to art? Most importantly do you have around five grand burning a hole in your pocket? If so InWin have just the case line up for you. From bizarre hunks of spiralised cast alloy, to Perspex domes or strange pollen like organic forms, there’s no shortage of ‘cases’ to allow free air, and confused glances, to flow over your components. They’ve even got one that looks like a transforming tower from Half Life 2. Take a look: you may find inspiration even if you have no intention of buying such a unique and expensive PC case. http://www.inwin-style.com/public/en/gaming-chassis/list/20