Best & Worst PC Cases of the Last DECADE!
Needless to say the case industry has evolved a lot in the past decade. We went from appreciating fan mounts on side panels and full black interiors, to clean acrylic windows, to loving tempered glass, going too far with temper glass, and going back to the basics with mesh airflow. The user experience with cases has gotten a lot better, we have many more options to choose from in terms of colors, sizes, water cooling potential, airflow potential, mobility. Obviously cases evolve to fit our hardware needs, our visual preferences, and our styles, so there have been some substantial changes. As a result, we wanted to look back at the past 10 years to see how the best cases of the decade have shaped where we are today.
First of all, let’s appreciate all the monumental releases around 2010, because there were many. Starting with the Corsair 800D, it was the definition of elegance in a super tower. Clean lines, aluminum elements push-to-release side panels, a large window, full black interior with hot-swap base, proper chamber separations for PSU, and support for a 360mm radiator up top. It was also the case that put Corsair in the spotlight because of their innovations, but that would eventually backfire because of their lazy designs.
Do you remember the Thermaltake Level 10? I mean to this day it’s such a unique exterior design, with that visual compartmentalization. It eventually evolved to the Level 20 that had a similar design DNA. The Cooler Master 692 has a special place in my heart. It was because of the Hardware Canucks review that I bought that case and it was my very first gaming tower. They got so many things right in terms of exterior mesh design, the full black interior, the size was perfect for a mid-tower, it was built very well, priced well, and looked like a big leap forward compared to traditional mid-towers at the time, like the Antec 300. The same can be said for the Cooler Master HAF X and HAF 932 that later popularized airflow, and were used as an example to show how bad air flow has become in modern cases thanks to Gamers Nexus.
Let’s move into 2011, where two cases really stand out. The Corsair 600T with a curvy exterior, swappable side panels for mesh or acrylic, modular hard drive cages that became the standard based off of this design, and awesome cable management layout with a ton of rubber grommets. The second case is the Lian Li PC-U6 Cowry, which probably has the worst name for a case ever. The snail shape enclosure housed a full ATX motherboard and power supply, probably had better cooling than most cases of 2018, and the only equivalent in terms of a case weirdness today is coming from InWin with their ridiculous plastic laundry bin cases and absolutely gorgeous 3D printed abstract shells.
In 2012 we got an updated Cooler Master Cosmos II with those epic handles, the mechanical front panel, and heavy AF side doors. It was really all about the exterior shell and internal drive capacity, as the case wasn’t very water cooling friendly despite its large size. Nevertheless, the modding community still loved it. The NZXT Phantom 820 also made a strong impression with properly utilized interior space with modular sections, removable 5.25″ drive cages, elegant built-in lighting, lots of radiator options, and an epic gun metal paint job. Probably the last popular and somewhat decent BitFenix enclosure is the Prodigy, with that unique small box design and flexible handles. The interior supported ATX power supplies and long graphics cards. Sadly, mini-ITX wasn’t as popular back then as it is now. An even more impressive small chassis from 2012 was the Sugo SG09 by SilverStone. This was a micro-ATX case with long GPU support, ATX power supply compatibility, ventilation all over the place, including a massive 180mm Air Penetrator fan up top.
In 2013 the Fractal Design R4 came out and you already know everything about it because it’s been the same case and shell ever since… with minor changes here and there. They even launched a new one recently, the Vector RS, with strange exterior design choices. If you need the Fractal Design case, get the R5 or the R6. The case of the year for 2013 was Phanteks Enthoo Primo. It really put the company on track to dominate from a features perspective. Ever since the Primo, we have had fantastic focus on user experience from Phanteks. This was their first case ever too, with many of the features trickling down into lower-tier SKUs. The most recent Enthoo Luxe 2 or the Enthoo 719 is a reminder how good design can last for years.
In 2014 we had a massive fail streak. This includes the Cooler Master HAF Stacker, cool concept but terrible execution, with poor space optimization and worthless modules on their own. XFX launched a case, it was so bad I don’t even want to waste words. Antec truly died for us when they asked us not to publish the review of the Antec 1900 gaming tower. It was a truly horrible case that we left by the garbage. 2014 was also the first and last time we reviewed a case from Raidmax, with awful build quality and frame. Also with a name like Vampire, it’s truly on us for accepting to review something like it. But let’s not forget 2014 also brought us incredible releases like the NZXT H440 and S340. Two of the most popular cases from NZXT and as a whole. While the case of the year again went to the $89 Phanteks with the Enthoo Pro, which has such a good interior layout that is still valid today.
In 2015 I got to experience a truly wonderful mini-ITX enclosure : The NCASE M1 V3, we’re up to V6 now. This case had fantastic aluminum construction, a super modular and flexible interior for cooling and power supply options, and it’s still a case that I am fond of today. I’m also realizing that Phanteks won the case of the year for the third time in the row with the Phanteks Evolv ATX. I loved the build quality, the subtle lighting integrations, the overall user experience, and cooling options, despite being a choking hazard for front fans. There were also some real fails too, like the Antech S10. It was a $500 USD enclosure, and they got a design company who clearly never built a PC to make them this case. InWin also failed hard with a 707, and it was just embarrassing garbage.
2016 was no different, Riotoro Prism was one of the worst quality cases I’ve worked with to this day, with bad fans, a cheap thin metal frame, bad acrylic panels. The EVGA DG-87 was a nice try, it’s something different, not really my style with the old television vibes, but for its size it felt really cramped to work in. Some unique options include the totally fan-less and absolutely beautiful Streacom DB4. This mini-ITX enclosure was unlike anything I’ve ever worked with. It required a special power supply and a bit of DIY to connect heat pipes to the aluminum exterior that acted as a heatsink. As for the case of the year, this one went to the be quiet! Dark Base Pro 900 for its innovative internal structure with different height mounting for the motherboard tray, and you could even invert the interior.
As for 2017, the case of the year went to the Fractal Design R6, as they inevitably refreshed the case with tempered glass and some internal optimizations to match the competition. Phanteks also made a $1,000 USD case, the Phanteks Enthoo Elite. I had to clear my room to make room for the box. Cougar came out with the Conquer, a super unique exposed frame design that I appreciate. The Fractal Design Meshify C was my favorite case of the year, and it housed my Ryzen system with excellent airflow performance and one of the easiest builds in terms of cable routing. Well I guess it is time for more fails, Cooler Master forgot to open the front panel on their high airflow focused case, the H500P. They later recovered by meshing everything. Zalman launched the X7 full tower and it was a lazy and uninspired case that got the designer fired. True story.
Lian Li launched the Alpha series, which was quite boring and very standard, but I am so thankful they would later redeem themselves by launching the Lian Li O11 Dynamic. That model was actually the case of year for 2018. I love the new take on panel mounting and smart dual chamber design. Regardless of the angle, it was beautiful, fresh, and the only complaint was not accommodating large CPU tower heat sinks and tall GPU blocks. Thermaltake launched something cool too, the View 37 enclosure with a curved acrylic panel for beautiful showcase of your system. Corsair took our feedback on fixing the tempered glass mount on the Carbide 275R making it an easy recommendation for its price class. The Deepcool Quadstellar has one of the coolest frame designs ever. It wasn’t really easy to work in, but I still appreciate them taking a risk. The Phanteks Evolv X launched with a few internal and exterior changes to slightly improve airflow and add a mini-ITX spot above the main ATX section. The NZXT H500i came out too, replacing the S340 with a new modern look and tempered glass.
In 2019, NZXT launched the least exciting special edition of the H500, with an Overwatch logo on the front and side, and this orange cable bar internally. It retailed for “only” twice the price of the standard black model, what killer deal… Cooler Master made a hotbox, the Q500L, it’s not for hardware you want to keep as lack of ventilation is a concern. However, it does support ATX motherboards and power supplies with long GPUs, plus it’s relatively cheap at $59 USD. However, for this price you might as well go for the P300 for Phanteks. Cooler Master also released the H100, trying to keep it in the family with the 200mm front intake fan. Regrettably, the internal layout was a total fail with lots of room wasted, a PSU on top of the motherboard that limited cooler height, it was hard to work in, and just too expensive at $69 USD.
I didn’t think I would include this in here, but the NZXT H510 Elite was kind of a fail at launch. This is not because of the added features like the front tempered glass panel and RGB fans with fan hub, but the quality wasn’t any better versus what you get to the $69 USD case, and they didn’t even include a second exhaust fan at the top. After the freak out and after many emails back and forth, they decided to include the second top exhaust fan because temperatures were better. Now if you buy the H510 Elite you still get a beautiful enclosure with better temperatures. You are welcome.
Okay, time to finish this decade on a positive note. Lian Li launched the O11 Dynamic XL, a larger iteration of the original O11, with a wider and taller frame, hot-swap base, the same excellent quality, awesome for air and water cooling systems. I had a chance to work with the Enthoo 719 by Phanteks. It has a very flexible layout thanks to that bottom chamber that can be used for storage, a mini-ITX system, or radiators. It’s just a massive case and targets a specific audience. The Pure Base 500 from be quiet! was the quietest case I reviewed in 2019 because of low RPM fans and a pretty closed off front panel. Here’s a tip to improve temperatures, just move the front intake fan to exhaust from the top and you will drop internal temps. Phanteks released the P400A enclosure with a mesh front panel that not only looks awesome, but has incredible cooling.
I built my first hard line water cooling system inside the Corsair Carbide 680X, and honestly it was a wonderful experience. None of my frustrations were caused by the case itself, and I think we built a very sweet system for what the 680X was designed for. The Lian Li TU150 is a cute mini-ITX enclosure with a handle. It was designed to house a proper CPU tower heat sink. It’s not meant to compete with the NCASES enclosures, but it has a specific use scenario by letting you mount a massive CPU tower in it. Fractal Design launched the Meshify S2, which is overall a very good frame with more airflow than the Define S2, but still with a toasty GPU area.
The Lancool II by Lian Li was so close to being my case of the year for 2019 because of all the fantastic features and price point. For example, the flexible front fan bracket, rotatable cable bar inside to accommodate larger motherboards, built-in lighting, a drive cage on the rails with optional hot-swap brackets, and good cooling when we tested with our Core i9. Unfortunately, the availability was so poor in the last week of December when it launched that it basically disqualified it from being the case of the year. Despite it being so awesome, but unfortunately you can’t really find the case anywhere. This brings us to this point, 10 years and 50 cases later, my case of the year for 2019, which is also my favorite case, is the Phanteks P600S. I love the fabric mesh that looks really different and is very good for airflow. You could close it off too for a quieter run, but temperatures do suffer. The interior layout is your standard Phanteks that we’ve seen forever now, with simple user-friendly assembly, clean cable management, radiator support at the front and top, and you can also mount a mini-ITX system above the ATX system too.
I will say only that only two versions – the white and gray versions – look interesting as the black model is kind of bland and too matte black. But they fixed the airflow issue from the Evolv series and it’s one of my top cases for the year. The Lancool II definitely deserved the nomination for the case of the year, but because of lack of availability it came up short. All right, thanks much for reading, this decade recap has been the fun and I’m looking forward to 2020.