Case And Power Supply
The case, which is the Antec Sonata III, is outstanding. It includes a top-quality EarthWatts 5000-watt power-supply, which is a must. Other important considerations with a case are its cooling characteristics and noise level. The Antec Sonata 3 provides excellent cooling, drawing outside air in over the components that generate the most heat with a large, 120mm case fan. The Antec Sonata III case was designed with quiet in mind by using a larger, quieter 120mm case fan, a single fan for the power supply and rubber grommets to absorb hard drive vibration. It's also not imposingly big, standing less than 17" tall and about 8" wide. Yet it still has all the 3.5" and 5" drive bays you can reasonably want, plus front mounted USB and eSATA ports, and even a washable air filter. Antec cases can't be beat for price and quality.
Click on the picture to see it enlarged. Here's an inside view of the Antec Sonata III case with major components installed, including the motherboard, processor, CPU cooler, RAM, video card, sound card, one hard drive, and a DVD RW drive. As you can see, the case is quite roomy inside even with this fairly complete configuration. In addition to making it easier to work with, a roomier case translates into better cooling conditions.
Click on the picture to see it enlarged.
There are many important considerations with a case, including power supply, cooling characteristics, sound characteristcs, as well as eye appeal. Another important factor is whether or not the case has sufficient bays. Cases will come with bays sized at both 3.5" for devices such as hard drives, and 5" for optical drives such as CD-RW and DVD RW devices. Each bay, regardless of size, may be "open", meaning you can access the media inside without opening the case, or "closed", meaning you cannot. A closed bay may provide a LED indicator regarding the bay. Any case should have at least one open 3.5" bay, and at least two open 5" bays to accommodate optical drives. It's not uncommon for most of the 3.5" bays to be closed since they are primarily used to store hard drives. The 5" bays should be open since they are used for optical media. The case should include at least two LEDs, one for indicating the computer has power and one for indicating activity on the boot harddrive.
The computer case must support the form factor (size, shape, and so forth) of the motherboard. Most motherboards today follow the ATX form factor and are all very close in size. Any ATX computer case should be compatible with any ATX motherboard.
It's important for the computer case to be equipped with computer case fans, but I wouldn't be at all concerned with what's included with the case itself (if anything) since even the best case fans are relatively inexpensive and buying them separately allows you to get case fans that you know to be quiet and well-performing. Even one case fan installed as the exhaust fan makes a huge difference in the system temperature. It's extremely important to keep a reasonable system temperature since overheating can cause other components, such as the hard drive, to fail. It may be tempting to pack every bay and slot with one thing or another to squeeze out as much capability as possible, but the more you pack the more heat that gets generated and the less air space there is for cooling. A reasonable case fan configuration and one that I am using now is one case fan for exhaust. A second case fan for intake makes very little difference.
The power supply is extremely important. It must be of high quality and it must provide sufficient power. There are two brands I would buy with confidence. They are Antec and Enermax. The amount of wattage is another matter. Performance computers like My Super PC should have a power supply that meet or exceeds the power supply recommendations of the video card, which most often is at least a 500-watt power supply. Lower-end computers may get by with less, but you never know what you might add to your computer in the future so a 500-watt power supply is still a good idea. High-end computers with multiple video cards will need a power supply that provides even more wattage, such as 750-watts or even higher. It's very important to have a sufficient power supply in terms of its quality and wattage as a poor power supply can cause no end of trouble and it will not necessarily be obvious that the power supply is the culprit.
You don't have to worry about a high wattage power supply wasting energy because the computer only uses however much power it needs. A computer with, for example, a 500-watt power supply is not necessarily using all 500 watts all the time. As devices are used, such as CD/DVD type drives, and as devices are loaded, such as video cards, more power is drawn. A high quality 500-watt power supply will do nicely for most computers, but there are exceptions. For example, keep in mind that USB devices, unless they have a separate power cord, are powered through the USB cable by the computer's power supply. Certainly if you're daisy-chaining a number of USB devices and powering them all by the computer's power supply then you should re-evaluate the size of power supply you should use. High-end video cards will often call for at least a 450-watt power supply. And two high-end video cards in an SLI (Scaleable Link Interface) configuration may call for at least a 550-watt power supply.
It can be difficult to know for certain for certain how much power supply is needed for a particular PC configuration. This Power Supply Calculator from xTreme Outer Vision may be helpful. As a general rule, use a power supply that meets or exceeds the recommendation of the video card. The recommendation of the power supply wattage for the video card is based on a typically configured computer. But not all same-wattage power supplies are created equal, so be sure and use a high quality power supply like the ones made by Antec and Enermax.
My personal experience is I've never had a problem with either Antec or Enermax brands rated to meet the minimum recommendation of the video card. Most savvy computer builders routinely use a power supply that is clearly beefier than what's required of their configuration. Again, this reduces the risk of strange problems occuring, as well as allowing room for additional components or upgraded components in the future.
Since the computer case is highly visible, it becomes quite a personal choice as to which one to get. Many aesthetic factors such as color and size come into consideration. And aesthetics can be given fair consideration since it's very easy to remove the power supply from a computer case (even if it comes with one) and replace it with a better one. Any ATX computer power supply will fit into any ATX computer case.
Most computer cases provide some set of front ports, such as for USB, Firewire, eSATA, audio and microphone. A good computer case will usually provide front ports for USB, audio and microphone, plus either IEEE 1394 Firewire or eSATA but probably not both.
Front ports are nice, but they can be an "iffy" proposition. One reason is because there needs to be somewhere for the computer case front ports to connect to the rest of the computer, preferably directly onto the motherboard. It's not uncommon for the motherboard to provide connecting headers for USB, audio, microphone and even IEEE 1394 Firewire, but check to make sure. If the motherboard does not provide a header for a front port then additional hardware that includes support for the header, such as an add-on card, is one option.
Another reason is because there is no standard for the wiring of the front panel connectors on the inside of the computer case. For example, with Firewire this could mean that the 6-pin Firewire connector on the front of the case is separated into six individual wires, each with its own connector, on the inside of the computer case. The inside of the case will have the Firewire separated into individual wires for TPA (power), TPG (ground), TPA+, TPA-, TPB+ and TPB-. The wires will connect to anything that supports "internal firewire", such as some motherboards, a PCI Firewire card, or other component such as a Soundblaster Audigy sound card.
Another solution is to extend and transfer computer ports from the back of the computer to the front of the computer. Typically this works via a faceplate for one of the external bays that contains modular connectors to support any configuration you like, including USB, Firewire, headsets, microphones and so on. The cable from the corresponding port on the rear of the computer is run to the front faceplate panel using an internal extension cable. The result is a nice looking, simple solution to gaining front access to any combination of ports you choose, and it's a solution that should work for everyone. Newegg provides an extensive assortment of such bay conversion kits (look under Computer Cases and then Controller Panels) that provide even more options for a variety of computer case colors, including beige and black.