The Best Cases of 2018 | CES Gaming Case Round-Up

By Published January 18, 2018 at 5:17 pm

We spent the whole of 2017 complaining about airflow in cases, and it seems that some manufacturers have heard our complaints for 2018. Cooler Master has revamped its H500P to now feature a mesh face, and has also resolved significant build quality concerns with the front and top panels. Enermax rebuilt its Saberay to use mesh front and top panel inserts (optionally), a major step forward. Lian Li put out the best case at this year’s show, focusing on both looks and airflow (with two different models).

This is our review of the best cases of 2018, CES edition, following on a now six-year (!) tradition of “Best Case” coverage from CES. We started CES case round-ups in 2012, and have advanced them significantly since. Our demands have also changed significantly, as we look more toward function-focused designs that can artfully integrate ease-of-installation features.

Best of Show – Lian Li O11 Dynamic & Air

Let’s open up this coverage with our best of show. This one easily goes to the Lian Li O11 Dynamic and O11 Air enclosures (video coverage here), built as a collaborative project between Lian Li and overclock engineer Der8auer. The case makes excellent use of space: Without getting too wide, the O11 manages to relocate the PSU into a separate compartment, which frees-up the entire interior for optimized airflow pathways to core components. Moving the PSU to the back of the case means that the bottom can be configured with intake fans, feeding the GPU directly, and the CPU can be cooled via liquid or bottom-front intake. The O11 Air case has a grilled front and top, supporting up to 360mm worth of fans in each location, though radiators are an alternative. Side-mounted radiators and fans can also be positioned in the case, useful for custom loop machines.

lian li o11 air 1

The O11 has too many features to recap in a round-up video, but to go over the basics, here’s what we talked about at the show: The O11 Air is intended to ship at $120 without any fans, or $150 with three front non-LED fans and three side-mounted RGB LED fans – 6 total, from what we were told by Lian Li representatives. The O11 Dynamic case will offer zero fans, and axes the front grills in favor of tempered glass, jumping up to $130 in price. The Dynamic is meant for liquid-cooling builds, and feeds its intake primarily from the underside of the chassis. Lian Li has about an inch of breathing room under the case, which our testing has found to be sufficient in most use cases, and should chart-top for GPU cooling performance, given the minimal distance from the GPU and underside. This keeps air pressure high.

Other features include dual-PSU support, if you wanted it, with semi-modularity for choice between which slot the PSU occupies, if only one is present. This means that the HDD cages can also be relocated into an unused PSU slot.

lian li o11 dynamic 1

Lian Li and Der8uaer focused on function, here, and we think this is easily the most promising case of CES 2018. It’s something that manages to keep visuals in mind, while also allowing – for once – for airflow into the case, and does so without being massive.

lian li lancool fusion elite 1

As a quick side mention, Lian Li also showed the less function-focused Fusion Elite, which still has many TBD specifications and components. The Fusion Elite should ship at around $90, and uses a slightly open front panel for more air intake than on closed-off front cases, with side venting for more intake. We’ll look at this in more depth once we have a review sample.

Biggest Surprise: Cooler Master H500P Mesh & H500M

cooler master h500p mesh 1

Through contacts at the show, we found the Cooler Master suite and showed up unannounced to check out the modified H500P cases. This one lands in our Biggest Surprise category, because we were surprised that Cooler Master let us in the suite.

Just kidding – we were surprised that Cooler Master, a company which provided resistance to our criticisms of the H500P, managed to turn-around such a critical set of changes in a relatively short amount of time. Despite initial head-butting over our H500P review and mesh mod, the company is now upgrading old and new designs to tighten the front and top panel, reducing risk of the case falling apart, and is also moving to improve airflow. The H500M version of the case further improves quality by getting the left-side glass panel flush with the case, something that none of the H500P variants managed to do. It’s also offering swappable mesh and glass for the front panel, which should theoretically resolve many of our concerns with the initial case launch.

cooler master h500p mesh 3

As for the H500P refresh, that’s now using a screw to hold the top panel in place, which we think brilliant, and the front panel is now using a clip to firmly mount it. In quick testing, we moved the demo table more than the front panel when ripping at it. We also noticed that the left tempered glass panel is now secure, rather than wobbling, and the power supply now mounts in a bracket, similar to the 600C or S340. All these changes will roll-out to the channel, so future buyers of even the gray H500P will find these improvements. For now, the old model will sell until inventory is cleared, but they’re rolling out. There are two mesh options for the white case right now, with one including a dust filter and one without a dust filter. Cooler Master is still finalizing this design.

Learn more about the H500P and H500M in our Cooler Master coverage. So far, it looks like CM has done a great job at listening to major criticisms of the case, despite something of a standoff at first publication.

Best Small Form Factor: In Win A1

in win a1 sff 1

Moving on to Best Small Form Factor, the In Win A1 was first shown at Computex, but has been finalized for sale in 2018. The A1 was originally demonstrated with a wood panel – something that In Win is still hoping to do, but not for the first round of A1 SFF cases. The manufacturing process is still being dialed-in for making the wood panels.

For now, white and black options are offered, and the enclosures should ship at around $140. The units include an RGB LED strip underneath, encased in an acrylic sideskirt that slightly obscures 2x 120mm bottom intake fans. Another 120mm fan can be installed in the side, with the right panel punctured for exhaust or intake ventilation.

We found the case to be incredibly compact and of a good look. In Win’s closest primary competition this year came from SilverStone, who converted their Computex mini-ITX cases into micro-ATX cases for 2018.

Best Micro-ATX: LD01/02

silverstone micro atx ld01

It’s almost a shallow victory for SilverStone to take Best Micro-ATX cases, seeing as there was nearly 0 competition this year. Still, we wanted to take a moment to highlight the LD01 and LD02 by SilverStone, which have been reworked from Computex to a slightly larger form factor. The LD01 and LD02 are inverted motherboard orientation cases, with some focus on modularity for future designs. We’re told that future iterations of these frames might include mesh paneling as well, despite an immediate form-focused design. SilverStone has a few functional elements, like side ventilation on the paneling and top ventilation, alongside a GPU support structure that mounts to the side wall. These are accompanied by odd design choices, too, like a “pipe” that has no real purpose aside from looks.

Regardless, the inverted layout is one that we think will do well with future mesh designs, and should change the airflow dynamics of the case in interesting ways. We’ll look at this one more in the future.

Most Improved: Saberay

enermax saberay 2018 1

Enermax’s Saberay lands in the “Most Improved” category. We see a lot of cases over two or three shows, each receiving small updates to prototypes as the case goes along. The Saberay was first shown at CES 2017, then at Computex mid-year, and then it vanished. At CES 2018, we learned that it’s finally nearing production, and that the case had been modified for several key changes that should improve overall quality and value.

In our coverage of the new Enermax Saberay, we revealed that the front and top panels are interchangeable, so the mesh and acrylic options can be swapped or changed to full mesh. Enermax plans to ship two mesh inserts with each case, so you’ll be able to structure the enclosure to focus fully on airflow or, if you prefer, use included acrylic to go more looks-oriented.

Enermax further modified its lightpipe to be RGB now, rather than fixed color, and integrates synchronization with other LED products. The Saberay should land at around $160, and will include a few fans in the final model. See our Enermax coverage for more information on this one.

Keep an Eye On: Obsidian 500D

corsair obsidian 500d 1

The least interesting case, but one to keep an eye on, was the Corsair Obsidian 500D. It’s the least interesting strictly because it’s so safe: It’s a steel and glass box that has some fans, it’s shaped like other boxes, it uses large parts of the existing 570X tooling, and it doesn’t necessarily take risks. That said, sometimes it’s better not to take risks – there’s a reason traditional design exists, and it’s because it works. Corsair’s primary changes have been to add the hinged doors, lifted from their own Concept Slate from Computex, but most the rest remains standard. It’s an ATX tower with some front intake and lots of space. That about sums this one up. It is a lateral evolution of the 570X, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Budget Cases

The Versa H26 and H27 interested us, along with the J22 and J23. The H- and J-series cases are differentiated only by their front panel. The H26 has a mesh front panel, while the H27 has a closed-off front panel. The J22 and J23 are differentiated the same way. We find both mesh variants appealing for cheap, entry-level options with tempered glass, but don’t have finalized fan specs. Either way, they’re affordable and land in the ‘budget class,’ and we think the mesh options are worth keeping an eye on. Design isn’t bad on these, either, so that’s a plus.

Needs Work: View 37

thermaltake view 37 1

As a quick mention, we also looked at Thermaltake’s View 37 case. It’s got some interesting elements, like fitment for 200mm fans, but we’ll place this one in our annual “needs work” category.

Everything Else

There were a lot more cases at the show, and we didn’t spend hands-on time with every single one. This is the “everything else” category.

We didn’t get much time to check them out, but Cooler Master also had the Q300P small form factor case, once again enclosed in glass, and also had the MC600 Pro for $130, marked down from $160, and MC500 Maker for $170, down from $200. More on those later, maybe.

From Thermaltake, the company also had a View 91 enclosure – basically a larger, server-sized variant of the View 71, complete with 3-4-foot-wide hinged doors and fishtank-like accommodations internally.

SilverStone had finalized versions of the Redline 07, which pivots in a huge way from the chart-leading RL06 from last year. The Redline 07 sticks with a more closed-off front that has an artsy look about it, and was first shown at Computex, but has now been finalized. The company also had its PM02, still somewhat ventilated, but not as much as the PM01. SilverStone is beginning to pivot towards the closed-front design, feeling industry pressure from nearly every other manufacturer. Separately, SilverStone had the CS381, which we might have a project for later – it’s a micro-ATX server box that can fit 8 HDDs, with an additional 2 HDDs mountable if removing fans. We have some ideas for this one.

Phanteks had its P300 Special Edition cases, but the closed-off ventilation leaves a lot to be desired, and is a trend with the company since the P400. The 350X is a bit more interesting, but is still relatively closed-off. In the least, it has some side mesh on the front panel, though you’re still fighting 90-degree turns and reduced air pressure on the intake. The bigger focus is on RGB LEDs between the tempered glass and PSU.

DeepCool, meanwhile, showed its Baronkase and Quadstellar again – nothing new from them. These are cases that we have seen for over a year now, just with RGB variants.

Corsair had a Spec-Omega that we didn’t feel fitting enough to make it into any award categories, as it’s primarily a Spec-Alpha face with a 460X chassis.

Editorial: Steve Burke
Additional Reporting: Patrick Stone
Video: Andrew Coleman & Keegan Gallick

Last modified on January 18, 2018 at 5:17 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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