Best Gaming PC Cases of CES 2016 – Case Round-Up

By Published January 12, 2016 at 1:35 pm
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CES serves as a means to introduce some of the year's biggest product announcements. At last week's show, we saw new GPU architectures, virtual reality 'jetpacks,' Star Wars Destroyer case mods, and a dozen or more cases. Although by no means a definitive listing of all the year's cases, CES 2016 offers a look at what to expect for the annual computer hardware and technology trends and announcements. In the world of cases, it seems that's the trend of power supply shrouds.

This round-up lists the best gaming cases of 2016, including products from NZXT, Corsair, In-Win, Thermaltake, Phanteks, EVGA, and SilverStone. We look at the top PC cases from $50 to $400+, all shown at CES 2016, to best span all major budget ranges for PC builds.

 

Gaming Case Round-Up

The above video shows our highlights for the best cases of 2016, though a few extras are tagged-on in the below article. For the curious, the image used was from CaseMod Invitational entries at Thermaltake's suite.

Best Budget Cases of CES 2016 ($50-$100)

For budget and entry-level PC builds, the enclosure market is heavily tilted toward the ~$70 range for this CES. We've seen heavy $50 tilts in the past (and even lower), but the trend for the year's sub-$100 products seems to be mirroring NZXT's S340 in features and pricing.

Corsair 400C – Compact and Cool ($100)

Case will be available here for $100 once live.

corsair-400c-ces-1

At the very top-end of this price range rests Corsair's new Carbide 400C case, a follow-on to the 600C and 600Q enclosures we recently reviewed. The 400C makes significant changes from the 600C, primarily in that it rotates its motherboard back to a standard position (from inverted orientation); the smaller 400C case also eliminates that optical drive bay and shifts the PSU to the bottom, including its PSU shroud. 3.5” drive cages have also been moved to the bottom.

Similar to the old HAF X, the 400C has a shroud extension that can be removed and added by the user to cover the HDD cages.

The 400C and 400Q (quiet version, without window and instead with foam) can support 360mm front radiators, 240mm top radiators, and 120mm rear radiators, maximally. Corsair's “direct airflow technology” (read: the air goes in a straight line to the back of the case – no technology involved) sends cool air straight through the GPU and CPU channels. The enclosure includes a single 140mm intake and 120mm exhaust fan pairing, but can fit one additional front fan and can fit 2x120mm top fans.

We like the case for its friendly size and simplicity, but from experience and hands-on, know the 400C to have a structural rigidity about it that presents a notion of 'quality.' An overall discreet appearance is benefited thermally by large, open fins on the left and right of the front panel, allowing intake through the sides and bottom without breaking the clean aesthetic.

Corsair 400C Case Specs

Form Factor Mid-Tower
Motherboard Support ATX
Cooling Fans Included:

1x 140mm front intake
1x 120mm rear exhaust

Optional:

+1x 140mm front
(or 3x 120mm front)

2x 140mm top
Radiator Support 360mm front radiator
240mm top radiator
120mm rear radiator
Clearances GPU Length: 370mm
CPU Cooler: 170mm
PSU Length: 200mm
Storage & Expansion 2x 3.5” HDD bottom-front
3x 2.5”
7x Expansion Slots
Dimensions 425mm x 215mm x 464mm
(16.7” x 8.5” x 18.3”)

Read more about the Corsair suite here, including coverage of the Spec-Alpha and how cases are made.

SilverStone RL-05-B – Quality on a Budget ($60)

Case will be available here for $60 when live.

silverstone-rl-05-b-2 silverstone-rl-05-b

SilverStone's new RL-05-B is another mid-tower enclosure sporting the trendy PSU shroud. The case, unlike the 400C and NZXT S340, clings to life of optical drives with its single 5.25” mount. SilverStone informed us that the US market is close to a 50/50 split on ODD mount demands and that some other markets, like Europe, have a higher need for 5.25” support. SilverStone's supporting those non-US markets with its remnant inclusion of ye olde five-and-a-quarter.

Unlike the plastic found in Corsair's shroud, the RL-05 uses a steel PSU shroud for a more sturdy feel. The RL-05 case bevels its shroud with clean, angular cutting, and has a small incision for front panel cable pass-through. As the case is still receiving feedback prior to launch, we've asked SilverStone to add an additional cut to the PSU shroud for PCI-e cable passthrough, and to consider removing one 3.5” bay (or moving them) to allow for better non-modular PSU cable clutter. Two 2.5” SSD trays are located on the rear of the structural tray located right of the motherboard.

At $60, we like the case for its competitive positioning and slight feature changes over the S340. Not every case has to be NZXT's, and SilverStone generally focuses its philosophy on function over all else. 2x 140mm front intake fans with a mesh front panel (rather than the impermeable steel of the Corsair and NZXT cases) means better breathability. The 5.25” bay and additional 3.5” HDD caging also allows for users with similar aesthetic demands but different drive needs to stick to their price-point.

SilverStone RL05-B Case Specs

Form Factor Mid-Tower
Motherboard Support ATX
Cooling Fans Included:

2x 140mm front intake

Optional: 1x 120mm rear
Radiator Support (Unfinalized)

At least 1x240mm front;
SilverStone investigating changes to PSU shroud
to permit 280mm (but not final)
Clearances CPU: Uncertain
GPU: Not available (but big enough for all of them)
PSU: Not available
Storage & Expansion 3x 3.5” HDD bottom-front
2x 2.5” SSD rear of tray
7x Expansion Slots
Dimensions Not available

Read more about SilverStone's RL05-B and new CPU coolers over here.

Honorable Mention: Phanteks Eclipse P400 & P400S – More Shrouds ($70, $80, $90)

Case available here for $70, $80, and $90 once live.

phanteks-ces-5

Phanteks also liked the iconic S340, something we learned when looking at the new Eclipse P400 series of their mid-tower cases. The Eclipse line is new for Phanteks, targeted more at the budget and entry-level markets, and come in two options: P400 and P400S, or 'silent,' equipped with additional foam padding.

The P400, like seemingly every other case on the market this year, uses a PSU shroud bottom-mounted with a wide interior for system installation. Phanteks plans to ship with a single intake and exhaust fan, but supports additional fan installation in the top and front of the case. The top panel has a slight, stamped inset in the tooling to support dust filtration. The P400 uses a magnetic filter – another trend this year – and the P400S replaces it with two foam plates, which block-off air entirely but prevent dust accumulation and noise emissions.

Phanteks' shroud isn't tooled as neatly as the SilverStone or Corsair shrouds (the latter of which is, fairly, molded plastic). It's also lacking PCI-e passthroughs in the shroud, has a mesh drilling in the top-side (the PSU should be facing down, anyway), and isn't overall as clean – but not a bad start at mid-towers for a younger company. 10-color LEDs are controlled by a switch and light the underside of the case (strip lighting shown in our photos not included), which helps differentiate the case slightly. Front intake will be problematic and choked based upon the plastic paneling and tiny intake slits.

The case is mostly an honorable mention for Phanteks. We'd recommend almost any competing, similar-class case over this one. We're mentioning it strictly because it's Phanteks' first major attempt at a budget, low-end case, and there will likely be iterations throughout the year that feed into future improvements.

Phanteks Eclipse P400 Case Specs

Form Factor Mid-Tower
Motherboard Support ATX
Cooling Fans Included:

1x 120mm front intake
1x 120mm rear exhaust

Optional:

+2x 120mm front (or 140mm)
2x 120/140mm top
Radiator Support (Unfinalized)

At least 1x240mm front
1x 120mm rear radiator
Clearances CPU: Not available
GPU: Not available (but big enough for all of them)
PSU: Not available
Storage & Expansion Uncertain 3.5” support; 3.5” HDD bays separate cost
7x Expansion Slots
Dimensions Not available

Read more about the Phanteks P400 and other offerings here.

Corsair Spec-Alpha – Back to Plastic ($70)

This case will be available here for $70 when live.

corsair-spec-alpha-2

Corsair's Spec-Alpha isn't really targeted at the US market – it's more of an Asia offering, as were the Spec-01, -02, and -03 before it – but makes available a less-than-discreet option for the 'gamer aesthetic' crowd. The Spec-Alpha uses the same tooling used on the -02 and -03 Spec cases, but adds a plastic extrusion on the outside for that “1980s cartoon robot” look – a quote we're lifting from Corsair, who previously used the phrase to describe competing, unsightly cases. The company's outlook has slightly changed, though, and Corsair naturally thinks its attempt at plastic 'gamer' aesthetics is top-notch.

Knocks aside, the Spec-Alpha doesn't look bad for users who want the edgy appearances. The Spec-Alpha breaks the above trend and forfeits the PSU shroud, sticking a stack of HDD mounts in the bottom-front, seven expansion slots in the rear, and using Corsair's Straight Line Cooling Technology to dissipate thermals. The case is fitted with one 120mm intake fan and a 120mm exhaust fan, using heavily meshed paneling to enable better airflow. We haven't yet tested it, but expect thermals to be reasonable with the half-mesh front paneling.

Corsair's removed the 5.25” bays from this case, a move with which we fully agree.

Corsair Spec-Alpha Case Specs

Form Factor Mid-Tower
Motherboard Support ATX
Cooling Fans Included:

1x 120mm front intake
1x 120mm rear exhaust

Optional:

+1x 120mm front (or 140mm)
2x 120mm top
1x 120mm bottom
Radiator Support 1x 120mm rear radiator
Clearances CPU: 157mm
GPU: 420mm
PSU: 288mm
Storage & Expansion 2x 5.25”
3x 3.5”
2x 2.5”
7x Expansion Slots
Dimensions 493mm x 215mm x 426mm
19.41” x 8.5” x 16.8”

Read more about this case here.

Best Mid-Range Cases of CES 2016 ($100-$200)

To be fair, “$200” is exceeding the mid-range by a bit – we'd consider that as entering enthusiast territory – but the case offering was oddly stacked this year. You'll see as things progress. Regardless, all semantics.

NZXT Unnamed Mini-ITX Case (~$120-$160?)

nzxt-mini-itx-3

NZXT 's new Mini-ITX case doesn't yet have a final price (or name, even), but experience and observation indicate to us that the price will be somewhere within the $120 to $160 range. The case officially launches on January 26, at which point we'll obviously have final specs, name, and a price.

The name and price aren't the only mysterious enshrouding the unnamed ITX case's launch. NZXT's also prohibited a look at the inside, so we're going strictly off of external build quality and paneling / tooling as observed from our limited hands-on at CES.

Just from the outside, the enclosure uses a bowed/warped side panel design, both panels made of stamped steel. To our knowledge, this is the first case using stamped, curved steel paneling in its tooling; if nothing else, that makes the NZXT ITX case unique.

NZXT's limited provision of information means we have no spec table for this case. Learn more about the unnamed ITX case over here.

EVGA Unnamed Full Tower Case (~$180-$200)

evga-case-1

This is another unnamed, unpriced case – and it's a bit further away than the above NZXT enclosure. EVGA's new case venture goes back to the 'old way' of designing cases, opting for large, plastic paneling and a massive interior. EVGA tells us that the plastics may be switched out for more steel as design iterates.

As of now, there's a plastic, grilled front, top, and even rear panel (which opens for cable management). The bottom of the case is fitted with a mirrored plate, behind which rests a set of red and green LEDs for fan speed controls and active speeds represented by digit percentages. The PSU is compartmentalized below the main installation area.

Specs are not available at this time as the case is wholly unfinished. Read more here.

Thermaltake Core X31 – Airflow Focus ($130)

Thermaltake's Core X31 will be available here (for $130) once live.

thermaltake-core-x31-2

The Thermaltake Core X31 is a revision on Tt's existing Core series cases. The X31 comes in two flavors – one with RGB lighting, one without – and keeps a serious focus on airflow, as Thermaltake has done in recent years. The front panel is entirely mesh, providing clear breathability to the intake fans. The X31 supports 360mm radiators, 280mm radiators, and case fans up to 200mm in diameter.

Thermaltake includes two 120mm, 1000RPM fans that are rated at 16dBA. The case fits several more fans, detailed clearly in the table below. We think the X31 is worth a look for builders focused on wide real estate and cooling potential.

Thermaltake Core X31 Case Specs

Form Factor Mid-Tower
Motherboard Support ATX
Cooling Fans Included:

1x 120mm front intake
1x 120mm rear exhaust

Optional:

Total front 2x 120mm or 2x 140mm or 1x 200mm
Total top 3x 120mm or 3x 140mm or 2x 200mm
Total bottom 2x 120mm or 2x 140mm
Radiator Support 1x 360mm front
1x 360mm top
1x 140mm rear
1x 140mm bottom
Clearances CPU: 180mm
GPU: 420mm (278mm with HDDs)
PSU: 220mm (180mm with 1x bottom fan)
Storage & Expansion 2x 5.25”
3x 3.5” or 2.5” (cage)
3x 3.5” or 2.5” (behind board)
2x 2.5” (power cover)
8x Expansion Slots
Dimensions 497mm x 250mm x 511m
19.5” x 9.8” x 20.1”

Read more about Thermaltake's new cases here.

Best High-End Cases of CES 2016 ($200+)

The high-end is normally saturated with 'halo' products and stuff that's not necessarily getting bought, but certainly is worth admiring. This is where something like In-Win's robotic H-Tower would land, though its Computex 2015 launch excludes it from the list (not to mention the untenable $2400 price).

Phanteks Project 916 – Thick Alloy and Multi-System ($400+)

phanteks-ces-4

Phanteks' Project 916 is another officially unnamed case, though the company has at least given us a working title. P916 is a part of Phanteks' DS line, or dual-system, and is best used when mounting a mini-ITX and full ATX (or E-ATX) rig simultaneously. The dual-systems can be supported independently by their own PSUs – two PSU slots available – or by using combined or split power, available through Phanteks' separate Power Combo and Power Splitter boxes.

Project 916 uses 5mm thick aluminum for its outer shell – a massive contributor to the cost – and 0.8mm steel for the frame (as of now). An L-Shaped alloy shell gives the case the loose appearance of levitation, and deep etching into the aluminum adds to the company's attempted 'premium' aesthetic.

It's an obvious halo product, illustrated by a minimum $400 price (may increase), and is best used in scenarios where dual-systems are wanted in an unnecessarily flashy box. For more affordable dual-system setups, Phanteks is now including its mini-ITX mounting kit with new iterations of the Mini-XL case – a far more affordable solution with a similar prospect, though some limitations given the slightly reduced size.

Full specs are not available at this time as the case is yet incomplete.

In-Win 805 “Infinity Mirror” - Our Favorite Case this Year (~$220)

in-win-805-1

In-Win's 805 has been out, but a new “Infinity Mirror” front panel has been added to the case for CES purposes. The company says that there's no guarantee this iteration will come to market, but based on response, may bring it out for around +$60 over the base $180 805 cost. There's also no official name for this version of the case; we've decided to dub it the “805 Infinity.”

The 805 Infinity adds a mirrored front panel and inset mirror (about 0.25” into the front panel), with a single RGB LED strip sitting between the two sheets of glass. This allows for the infinite, cascading light effect that terminates in a sort-of 'black hole.'

Learn more about In-Win's CES 2016 cases here.

We'll revisit the topic of best cases later in the year. Each of these cases will likely be looked at individually at some point or another, so stay tuned for analysis and thermal tear-down.

- Steve "Lelldorianx" Burke.
Supporting B-Roll: Keegan "HornetSting" Gallick
Supporting Photography: Jim Vincent

Last modified on January 13, 2016 at 1:35 pm
Steve Burke

Steve started GamersNexus back when it was just a cool name, and now it's grown into an expansive website with an overwhelming amount of features. He recalls his first difficult decision with GN's direction: "I didn't know whether or not I wanted 'Gamers' to have a possessive apostrophe -- I mean, grammatically it should, but I didn't like it in the name. It was ugly. I also had people who were typing apostrophes into the address bar - sigh. It made sense to just leave it as 'Gamers.'"

First world problems, Steve. First world problems.

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