Computer Cases – A Brief History Of Tower Evolution
The computer case is something that a lot of people overlook these days. We take for granted that towers are more flashy today than they ever have been. Designed to catch the eye and complete a look or theme for a computer, cases now are as beautiful as they are efficient. This wasn’t always the case though. As with a lot of products, the internet has greatly influenced the evolution of computer cases.
Although computer cases will be constantly changing and evolving in the future, it’s certainly worth the time to take a look back at how things used to be. Having a grasp of how things have evolved and become more unique and less uniform will allow us to appreciate the changes all the more!
The Early Years Of The Case
We won’t be winding back the clock all the way to the earliest computers ever built. Late 1800s and early 1900s computers were hardly what they are today. Mechanical and Electro-Mechanical computers are certainly an interesting topic to cover one day, but they don’t quite meet the criteria for what we’re looking at.
Instead we will be looking at the introduction of the home computer with the invention of the microchip and microprocessor. These two revolutionary designs were what me it possible to vastly reduce the size of our computers and in turn, the cabinets they were stored in. Gone were the days of computers taking up entire portions of large rooms and weighing so much you needed a forklift to move them around.
With the microchip, computers could be small and eventually personalized. Soon you would see companies like IBM, Commodore International, Apple, Tandy Corporation, and even Microsoft filling the need for a high consumer demand for personalized computers. However, computers in these early first few decades of the personal computer were hardly as personalized as the name implied. There were several main complications of this era of computer cases that separate them from today.
- These older designs were mass-produced and uniform
- The towers themselves were rather bulky and awkwardly designed
- Creating your own computer was a limited and time-consuming process because of difficulty of ordering parts
- Cases were more of an afterthought designed to simply hold everything together
The Early 2000s (Internet Impact)
While we can’t entirely say the early 2000s saw a rise in “beautiful” case design, it certainly saw a dramatic rise in those interested in building their own computers. Case design was still in its infancy and companies were more focused on efficiency (at least by the standards at the time) and reliability. The cases themselves were still made of mostly steel with some plastic innards. The edges were sharp and unfriendly to hands working inside the case itself. Overall cases were still fairly boring and hadn’t yet taken the next leap forward.
That isn’t to say that things weren’t changing for the better. Even in the early 2000s companies had begun looking at case design in terms of meeting the needs of the consumer. While airflow, power supply location, and drive cages weren’t where they are today, there was still effort being made toward improving them even in these early stages of case evolution.
Most case and computer building enthusiasts don’t look back on this early era of design fondly, it’s still important to note that things were making steps forward in the right direction. The increasing popularity of the internet allowed for easier communication between customer and company. It would take some time to implement the changes people wanted, but companies were listening to the feedback they were receiving.
The Encroaching 2010s (Birth of Modern PCs)
The mid 2000s and late 2000s had a lot of status quo. At the time, companies didn’t seem to interested in taking many risks with computer case design. Consumers and critics had begun to accept, in some part, that case design was going to remain as is and bulky steel cabinets with drab off-white coloring was the norm.
Progress away from this mindset was slow, but there were some key companies that were willing to shake up the competition with some fairly radical case designs. To this day, some of those designs have become staples of the modern case.
Antec is widely credited with paving the way for some of these features as they had experimented with aluminum and plastic in some of their designs. LED lighting and a glass window to see the innards of the system were also a key part of their design changes. These sorts of ideas were fairly revolutionary and while some applauded the lighter designs, some were skeptical of the more fragile materials.
Rosewill would soon follow suit and build upon these ideas. LED fans were introduced and they helped introduce a case color other than off-white and silver to the computer case community. While today a black case might be looked at as quite normal, at the time it was very different.
These two companies and several others like Cooler Master continued to iterate on their design ideas and other things were introduced that would soon become industry standards. Removable drive cages, bottom mounted power supply units, tool-less installation for optical drives, and even removable hard drive brackets.
Things were looking up for case design and by the end of the 2000s era, as a community, we had moved away from bulky steel and boring colors. Cases were looking far more like they do today with colorful LEDs, larger fans, painted exteriors, and features that made assembly much simpler.
How Things Look Today
Today’s computer case design has still continued to evolve from the early 2010s to now. However, the changes occurring now are more subtle and under the hood. Exterior design is certainly not stagnate, but has once again taken a backseat to the inside design of the case itself. Unlike the earliest days of the personal computer though, the insides of the case don’t exist solely to keep the “guts” in place. There has been many small but very important changes.
Companies have begun to focus a lot of accessibility, presentability, and easy of use. The evolution of the case has been geared more towards things to keep system parts cleaner and cooler. Airflow has specifically been changed to pull from the bottom front of the case and up through the back and top. Constantly cycling cooler air onto the parts of the system that notoriously run hot.
Cable management has become a huge draw for case enthusiasts and companies are always looking to how they can improve this particular feature. Hiding messy cables allows the customer to proudly display the hard work they put into the assembly of the system itself and keep the inside of the computer cleaner and more accessible.
Mounting points for water cooling radiators are a staple feature as well as these types of alternative cooling methods have become increasingly popular with builders. It allows for better overclocking and increased performance that a lot of enthusiasts are looking for in a modern PC.
Finally other small changes like sideways mounting brackets for HDDs and SDDs have become common, allowing for ease of access. Most importantly, however, it allows for hot swapping of drives when necessary, further improving a system builder’s quality of life.
Things Are Always Changing
Modern computer case design is vastly different from the infancy of personal computers, and designs today look alien in comparison. However, things will always continue to evolve and change. The case features, both exterior and interior, might look vastly different in the future and it’s hard to say what directions we will take.
Case design springs from the community that drives it, and that community looks much different than it did even a decade ago. The average system builder is a far cry from the more hardcore enthusiasts of the 2000s. It’s a much broader range of people than before and companies will always be keeping their consumers in mind when they take the next big step in case design. The future is exciting and it will be interesting to see what they come up with next!