The Aerocool Zauron is quite simply the most impressive cheap case I tested. Not only because it delivers what any PC gamer on a budget would need of it, most of all a simple and clean-cut chassis, but because it also does it on a shoestring budget. The Zauron is the cheapest case of the lot.
Kolink Inspire K8 (opens in new tab) - Interesting but underwhelming
Aerocool Hive (opens in new tab) - Keep it cool
Aerocool Zauron (opens in new tab) - The budget case champ
Kolink Inspire K11 (opens in new tab) - Look, a proper fan
Bitfenix Nova (opens in new tab) - Storage galore and nothing more
Kolink Nimbus (opens in new tab) - Styling on a budget
Aerocool Tomahawk (opens in new tab) - Good but not good enough
Let's start with why this case is prime candidate for your next budget PC build. For one, the layout of this case is exactly what is best for a case of this price tag and size, with plenty of ventilation and mounting for an optimal fan layout. The PSU is fitted neatly away under a shroud, and it can be mounted to benefit from underside ventilation for clean air intake. Also the front, top, and rear of the case offer space for multiple fans or radiators.
You can fit up to three 120mm fans in the front of this case, while the top has space for two, and the rear just one. You could also happily install a liquid cooling radiator in any of those locations, too.
There's just one fan included, which is a bit of a knock to the Zauron because it's a single Molex-powered fan with a fixed RPM. This comes pre-installed in the front at the lowest position possible, which helps mightily with the graphics card thermal performance. Temperatures are surprisingly good for a cheap case out of the box as a result, with both CPU and GPU managing to stay within a healthy average.
A rear fan or another front fan would make a huge difference here, and if you want more in the box you might want to look at the Aerocool Hive (opens in new tab). Yet the large ventilation on the top of the case appears to help keep that hot air venting outside of the case, rather than being trapped inside.
Cheap case airflow test
The main ingredient for an impressive PC case is airflow, but you'd be surprised by just how many case designs don't get this quite right. Ideally, we want our case to draw in cool air from a handful of high flow intake fans at the front, over our PC's components, then out the exhaust. Cheap cases, however, don't always come with the ideal number of fans for this optimal setup, so it's extra important to find one that is smartly designed to work with limited cooling potential.
To test the thermal properties of these six cheap cases, I built a PC into each of them. Then I ran a handful of benchmarks to put the CPU and GPU under day-to-day stress and collated the average results into this graph.
2.5-inch bays: 4 max
3.5-inch bays: 2 max
Max GPU length: 325mm
Max fan support: 6 x 120mm
Side panel: Yes, glass
Front panel: Power, reset, audio, 2 x USB 3.0
On the side of the case is a real tempered glass side panel, which once again is a surprising thing to see on a case that costs so little.
Though there are a few things I've liked about other cases that aren't present here. Perhaps a worthy sacrifice for its cheap price. The Zauron doesn't feature removable PCIe slot covers, and you will have to bend these off for good whenever you want to install a GPU or add-in card into the machine. It also has a cut-out where a USB port should be in the front panel, though no such port is installed. In its place is a little piece of plastic. There are two USB 3.0 ports that you can use instead, but weird that there's a space for a 2.0 port that simply doesn't come installed.
Yet the Zauron package is impressive for its overall flexibility and value. It's a cheap case that looks decent and is easily upgraded if a builder wants to throw some more money at their build later in its life. It may still have some of those cheap case flaws, but when most of the others at this price also do, I can't argue with this case for the small sum of money demanded for it.
Our group test: A budget PC case is a great way to trim costs on your next PC build, yet many of the brands we're used to seeing in the top case round-ups aren't anywhere near cheap enough for what we're after. That's why I asked our friends at Overclockers UK (opens in new tab) if it would lend us its cheapest cases to see which is worth your small pile of coins, and of the seven cases they sent my way, I made my conclusions.