In search of the best mid-tower computer case
It’s been more than a year since our last big case roundup, which focused on full-tower enclosures. In that time, case manufacturers haven’t been idle. The USB 3.0 spec finally got an internal header, new competitors joined the mid-tower market, and the price of a great case has steadily decreased. We gathered seven of the newest and most exciting mid-tower cases, all priced between $100 and $160, and put our two most seasoned case reviewers to the task of separating the run-of-the-mill from the cream-of-the-crop. We’ll leave no stone unturned and no metaphor unmangled. Yes, we’re on the case.
Antec Eleven Hundred
Goes far, but not all the way
In a weird twist, Antec has delivered a case that’s both full on features and lacking in some of the company’s staple design elements. Take, for example, the case’s built-in fan controller—or lack thereof. We’re used to being able to flick switches to independently control all of the fans within an Antec chassis, but after connecting a Molex to the provided circuit board in the Eleven Hundred —annoyance number one—we were displeased to find that the switch only turns the top 20cm fan’s blue LED on and off. You can’t physically adjust the speed of that or the case’s rear 12cm fan.
Antec’s big on allowances: You could stick up to seven additional 12cm fans in the system (including two uglier mounts on the case’s side panel), in addition to six hard drives (using rails), two 2.5-inch SSDs, and three 5.25-inch devices. There’s ample space for stuffing an XL-ATX, microATX, Mini-ITX, or standard ATX motherboard into the chassis, and we especially love all of the cable-management tricks that Antec builds into the chassis: four rubber-bordered holes for cable management (or water-cooling tubes), a huge hole in the motherboard tray for easier installation of aftermarket CPU coolers, and a big inch-wide space between the tray and the case’s side panel for more cable management.
It’s a pain in the butt to hook up the “fan controller,” which does little more than turn the top fan’s LED light on and off.
We love how the case’s front panel pops off without a sea of wires dangling behind it, like those for the case’s two USB 2.0 ports and two USB 3.0 ports (real headers; not pass-through). All in all, installing a system into the Eleven Hundred is a breeze, although folks with bulkier water-cooling setups might want to steer clear. This case offers plenty of potential; not perfection, but not a headache, either.
Silverstone Temjin TJ04-E
Keep it simple, stupid
Silverstone’s TJ04-E is a modern take on a classic ATX mid-tower. It doesn’t even have a weird motherboard orientation. That’s not to say it’s boring.
The TJ04-E is a steel case, matte black inside and out. Its brushed-aluminum front panel has beveled edges and contains four 5.25-inch drive bays. The case ships with three 12cm fans: an intake fan in the right panel, and top and rear exhaust fans, with room for an additional fan on top, on the side, and at the case’s bottom. The TJ04-E has lots of drive room: one small cage holds six 2.5-inch drives, a pull-out cage holds eight 3.5-inchers, and the area below can hold either a 2.5- or 3.5-inch drive. To help with cable management, Silverstone included two of its four-in-one SATA power cable extenders.
The drives screw directly into the bays (upside down!), and the case ships with two heatsinks that attach directly to the sides of the drives to keep them cool. The SSD cage can also mount directly into the HDD cage—necessary if you have a long PSU.
The motherboard tray supports ATX, microATX, and Mini-ITX boards, and the tray has nine cable-routing cutouts and one large CPU backplane cutout. There’s plenty of room behind the tray for cable routing, and there’s even a compartment behind the PSU to hide extra PSU cables.
Every Silverstone case has one oddball feature. Here, it’s the drive heatsinks.
The build quality is solid, but the side panels pop off easily as soon as the thumbscrews are removed. The only front-panel connectors are two USB 3.0s (with internal header) and HD Audio, and the cables for both are quite long. At $160 for the version with the side window, it ain’t cheap, but if you want refined good looks, great cable management, and a minimal, classy aesthetic, the TJ04-E is for you.