What Is A Computer Tower?

While I was lifting my gaming computer up onto a table to begin opening it up to do a regular cleaning of the inside, it struck me that a computer tower is an interesting piece of work. It’s just a box that holds everything together, but it’s so much more than that at the same time. It got me thinking, and I wanted to do a little extra research to give a clearer answer.

So what is a computer tower? A computer tower is a metal framework that is used to hold most of a computer’s components. Computer towers are also referred to as a computer case or chassis. Typically, they’re constructed from steel or aluminum. Acrylic or plastic can sometimes also be used. A tower will usually not hold peripheral computer equipment, like the monitor, keyboard, speakers, or mouse.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg though, and there’s so much more to them than just that simple answer. So, I wanted to take some time to dive into details about computer cases below!

 

Important Terms to Know About Computer Towers

Before we can really dive PC cases and discuss them, there’s some important terms that should probably be mentioned first. Not all of these terms will necessarily come up in every conversation about cases, However, these are still important things to know. Especially if you intend to be shopping for a new computer case!

  • Small Form Factor – Sometimes shortened to SFF, this is an extremely compact computer case. These are usually made to fit proprietary motherboards and don’t have any set measurements.
  • Mini-Tower – This is a small version of the standard vertical tower. Always smaller than a mid-tower case. These measure 14 inches tall on average.
  • Mid-Tower – This is the median computer case size, finding itself between the mini-tower and full tower in height. These measure 18 inches tall on average.
  • Full Tower – This is the largest of the computer cases. These can vary more in size than the others but will typically measure in above 22 inches on average.
  • Mini-ITX – A motherboard size measuring 6.75 x 6.75 inches. Can also be used to describe a case that supports this motherboard.
  • MicroATX – A motherboard size measuring 9.63 x 9.63 inches. Can also be used to describe a case that supports this motherboard.
  • ATX – A motherboard size measuring 12 x 9.63 inches. Can also be used to describe a case that supports this motherboard.
  • E-ATX – A motherboard size measuring 12 x 13 inches. Can also be used to describe a case that supports this motherboard.

While you might encounter other terminology when looking to buy a computer case, these main terms will allow you to better understand towers in general.

 

A Closer Look at Computer Towers

PC cases are essentially the glue that hold all of your main computer components together. They’re usually made out of metal, or steel specifically. However, you will occasionally find computer cases that are constructed out of aluminum, acrylic, plastic, or even glass.

Note: A full glass case might seem like an incredibly interesting design for a computer. I would never recommend this though, as the risk is just too high when both building and maintaining one. I would personally stick with a metal case. They’re safe, sturdy, and still have a lot of amazing design options.

All computer towers have some basic features regardless of their design. They will have a designated area for the motherboard which is where you will find your computer processing unit (CPU) and expansion or graphics card unit (GPU). They will have an optical drive bay for a CD/DVD-ROM drive, as well as room for a Power Supply Unit (PSU). Modern computer cases will also have several hard drive bays and room for plenty expansion if you intend to do so at a later date.

Cases these days will also have a lot of options for hiding and organizing cables. Plastic tie offs, Velcro, removable back panels, power supply shrouds, and many other options. Each case design offers a different array of options and it’s important to check to make sure that whatever case you intend to buy will have the accessories you’re looking for.

They also come in a multitude of sizes. If you plan on buying a new computer case for a custom build, you’ll want to keep in mind what the sizes mean and what you’re looking for.

A case can be referenced in two different ways. The size of the case, or the size of the motherboard the case uses. Both are important, but knowing what kinds of motherboards a case can support is the most important of the two. You definitely don’t want to be buying a case and motherboard that don’t match.

Below I’ve made a small graph that will show case and motherboard compatibility:

Case Size and Motherboard Support Mini-ITX Motherboard Micro ATX Motherboard ATX Motherboard E-ATX Motherboard
SFF Case Yes No No No
Mini-Tower Yes Yes No No
Mid-Tower Yes Yes Yes No
Full Tower Yes Yes Yes Yes

The take away here is that the larger of a computer tower you buy, the more motherboard compatibility you have. This doesn’t mean that you should just buy a full tower and be done with it. A lot of times, a full tower can be far too large for your new rig and it will end up looking like overkill and a little silly as well!

The Pros and Cons of Different Tower Sizes

If you plan on buying a new computer case, there are always advantages and disadvantages to using different sized towers. Knowing what you’re looking for out of a system build is important to knowing what sized case you need to buy.

Advantages of a SFF case:

  • Small and easy to place anywhere in a room
  • Lightweight and easily portable
  • Very power efficient

Disadvantages of a SFF case:

  • Their small size makes them hard to work with and maintain
  • You will have trouble finding the right components to fit into the case
  • Little to no room for expansion

 

Advantages of a mini-tower:

  • Has some features of a mid-tower but in a more compact size
  • Lightweight like the SFF
  • Still very power efficient

Disadvantages of a mini-tower:

  • Still somewhat compact which makes building and maintaining them a challenge
  • While bigger than a SFF case, component selection will still be limited
  • Expansion will be limited

 

Advantages of a mid-tower:

  • The most adaptable computer case
  • Finding the right components is a breeze
  • Plenty of options for future expansion

Disadvantages of a mid-tower:

  • Water cooling can be a little tricky and require a lot of extra work to get right
  • You could potentially run into problems with no enough slots for graphics cards if you go overboard
  • Somewhat limited on the amount of fans you can have and what size they can be

 

Advantages of a full tower:

  • Every motherboard will fit in a full tower. There’s no guesswork necessary
  • Huge amount of room for water cooling if you want to go that route
  • Lots of room for expansion
  • Not limited by fan count or size

Disadvantages of a full tower:

  • Very pricey compared to other towers
  • Often a lot of space is wasted
  • Efficient airflow is more difficult to achieve because of the size of the case
  • Very large and bulky and not very portable

Why a Computer Tower Is So Important

Computer cases might seem like they might not have a true purpose other than to look nice, but that’s not true at all. Because the case holds all of your components inside of it, it also protects them from the elements. A case removes the chance of any outside electrical shock adversely effecting your system and keeping as much dust and particles from the room out as possible.

On top of that, it brings the computer together into one convenient spot. Would you really want to look down at your floor or across your desk and see all those electrical components and wires strung about everywhere? It wouldn’t be a pretty sight, and I doubt many people would be comfortable with it.

 

Towering Above The Rest (Conclusion)

So now you’ve learned more about what a computer tower is. You know what sizes they come in and what their pros and cons are. With that knowledge, you’re officially a step ahead of the pack!

If you have any comments or questions please feel free to leave them below and I will do my best to get back to you directly!

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