Table of contents
Dmitry: Welcome to our Top 5 cases of 2020. Now we were very selective this year when it came to case reviews and we intentionally wanted to focus on unique and interesting cases because this year was about recovery, about giving us better airflow, smart lighting features, and pretty good pricing across the board.
Evil Dmitry: …with a few exceptions. Hello, good people, I’m the Evil Twin.
Dmitry: Yes, my Evil Twin is here. I have reviewed over 20 cases in 2020, so I want to keep it simple and discuss my Top 5, include some honourable mentions for cases that didn’t really make the cut, and have the Evil Twin here run down some of the failures of the year.
Top 5 Cases
Dmitry: At spot Number 5 we are going with a chart topper, the best airflow enclosure for 2020: The LANCOOL II MESH by Lian Li. The engineers did such a good job with the front panel ventilation that there is almost no difference in temperatures with the front panel on or off. This case is absolutely loaded with features like the dual swivel panels for the main chamber and for the basement, with one of the panels used for storage, while on the left it is perforated and that helps with GPU cooling especially when you add the fan on top of the PSU shroud.
Dmitry: The front fan bracket is brilliant with four positions to accommodate your cooling configuration, depending on how much internal clearance you need or you can simplify installation down the line with the mounting side facing outwards. I love the rotatable cable cover that converts the interior to support larger E-ATX motherboards. If you are not into cable management the entire back section is covered with panels for that cleaner look and the best part is that it is only $89 USD for either the Performance Edition or the RGB Edition, which is incredibly competitive. The Performance Edition also comes with the fan controller as part of the I/O and it supports up to six 4-pin PWM fans. It’s like the perfect case for 2020.
Evil Dmitry: Although let’s be honest here, the non-removable hard drive cage is a bit of an oversight and also you can’t have it all since the USB-C port on the I/O panel is an optional accessory.
Dmitry: My 5th place honourable mention for the airflow would have to go to the Phanteks P500A. It is worthy of mention just because it was the first to implement this metal mesh front panel for high airflow on a really good and familiar interior frame. I have used this case on so many builds and it fits both air cooling and water cooling together. I love the genius anti-GPU sag bracket, and if you are into the dual system design an ITX motherboard can be installed up top with little hassle. The triple vertical PCIe slots will showcase your GPU nicely, and the ambient built-in lighting is absolutely gorgeous.
Evil Dmitry: You sound like such a fan boy. Let’s not downplay the ridiculous sliding cable covers. Not only do they look bad, they also do a terrible job at hiding exiting cables. The fans at full speed are also pretty loud. I would give my airflow mention to the LANCOOL 215, which is super cheap $69 case. In terms of airflow it is best in its class with those two massive 200mm fans at the front. If all you care about is performance sure it’s a good consideration, but despite the $69 price tag it’s one of my least favorite cases I have worked with this year and I have worked inside a damn pyramid.
Dmitry: Moving down to Number 4, the SFF Time P-ATX V2 is a case that surprised us all. Not only because of its simple design and that elegant base, but because at just 10 liters in volume it offers us so much flexibility. For example, this case can fit a full-size ATX motherboard with a dual-slot GPU up to 370mm and SFX power supply. While with an ITX motherboard you can fit a triple-slot card. If you have a small GPU under 245mm in length, that opens up clearance for a 120mm all-in-one cooler below the power supply. CPU coolers up to 59mm are supported and overall the system looks incredible when you build around the small limitations. This was also one of the best building experiences in such a small form factor. The power supply is tucked away to give you a room for cable management and everything is exposed properly for assembly. Plus you are guaranteed good airflow because of all the ventilation holes, but just keep in mind there are no dust filters.
Evil Dmitry: Hold on a second, I don’t want to imagine a case without dust filter, plus you conveniently omitted that it’s priced at $200 USD. I will say that you can mount up to 8 SSDs and two 3.5-inch drives, which is nice, plus removing the rear panel gives you access to the back of the motherboard for M.2 installation and cooler plate swapping.
Dmitry: Moving to Number 3, and when silence is important to you we have the Pure Base 500DX from be quiet!. It is a good mid-tower with tasteful RGB strips at the front and the interior/ That RGB lightning is controlled from the I/O panel that does have a USB-C port. I love that it comes with three 140mm Pure Wings 2 fans included that spin at 900 RPM. Meaning not only do you get amazing cooling out of the box, but it’s one of the quietest cases for this type of performance as well. In my testing, relocating the top fan to the front you will get better CPU temperatures, so make sure to do that if you have a the similar setup as mine. Also, all of the intake areas are covered in high airflow dust filters. You can mount two SSDs beside the cable cover for that cool showcase, and overall it is a nice compact mid-tower with both airflow and silence in its design.
Dmitry: Moving on to my second pick for 2020, and if you want a hassle-free and truly excellent user experience I recommend the Corsair 4000D Airflow. With this release Corsair went back to their roots with solid refinements in many areas, such as appropriate pricing at $79 USD, tiny design changes like the yellow brand elements, and consistency in ventilation pattern across the entire frame. Accessing the fine dust filter in the front is easier for cleaning and a 360mm radiator will fit there, but only with one set of fans because of the relatively short shroud cut-out. The cable bar can be moved back to support E-ATX motherboards, and the basement hard drive cage can be moved to the front or even removed completely for extra open space, and the SSD caddies can be relocated to the shroud for drive showcase. The cable management setup is absolutely noob friendly. If you want a zero stress chassis, the 4000D Airflow is my pick. I even built my new gaming PC in it, it looks super sweet with that tinted glass, and cooling performance at stock settings with the two fans is almost as good as the P400A. To be honest, I can’t remember the last time I was this satisfied after a case review, so well done Corsair.
Dmitry: All of this brings us to my case of the year pick for 2020, which is a little bit unconventional, but I absolutely love what Cooler Master did with the NR200 ITX. I think this is going to be the entry-level enclosure for newcomers into the ITX space, because of the incredibly competitive price point at $79 USD or $99 USD for the NR200P, but also because it’s not trying to be the smallest case around at over 18 liters. Instead it offers a good variety of cooling options, both for radiators and CPU towers, like up to a 280mm radiator on the side and 240mm at the bottom or heatsinks up to 155mm. This case can easily house any of the latest GPU options because of the triple slot layout and 330mm of clearance. If you are doing any custom watercooling with the radiator at the bottom a vertical GPU mount is available with a tiny riser cable to avoid any additional clutter. This case supports both SFX and SFX-L power supplies with an option to relocate the PSU bracket to the front if you need more clearance around the motherboard. Cable management though is a bit tricky because exiting cables enter the GPU space, so you have to be kind of careful around there. There is actually a lot of breathing room under the graphics card, there is even room for a set of fans if you install a standard dual-slot graphics card.
Dmitry: My runner-up for the case of the year goes to the Lian Li O11 Mini. I would love to see more modular elements like this in 2021, where the motherboard tray and the back portion of the case allow you to convert this from your standard ATX frame into either a micro-ATX or mini-ITX frame. This opens up all the additional clearance at the top and bottom for water cooling. The Mini in the name is actually pretty fitting given how much taller a regular mid-tower is. I love all the staple designs from the original O11, like the clean side panels, dual chamber layout, the side radiator spacing for exhaust, and support for standard height CPU heatsinks if you are going with a traditional build. In many aspects this O11 Mini is actually quite better than the original O11 Dynamic, but it has been over 2 years so the design improvements make sense. By the way, given it’s smaller size this case only supports SFX or SFX-L power supplies.
Fails of the Year
Now it’s time to focus on the failures of the year and there were plenty, but I’m going to let my evil twin take over.
Evil Dmitry: Hey, Fractal Design, I appreciate the wood top panel and the aluminum exterior shell on your Era ITX case, it was truly a pleasure to shoot to look at, but please Google the definition of optimal airflow because this is where components go to die, the graphics card especially. Maybe go back to the Defining series, although it’s not like we don’t have enough of those already.
Evil Dmitry: We saw a fresh concept from AZZA with the CAST enclosure, which features a removable shell with an open swivel concept, but they clearly need to cast some new designers who actually build computers. Assembling the main frame into the cast is incredibly tedious, it requires lots of space, some muscle, and good luck if you need to swap like a single cable. What a fail…
Evil Dmitry: NZXT’s handling of the H1 recall due to a fire hazard has been top-notch. They are preparing the repair kits to replace the screws on the riser cable that might cause a short, but they also get the reward for the most useless mesh panel on the GPU side. I mean just look at the temperatures, they are Fractal bad… and yes that is meant to be an insult.
Evil Dmitry: Moving on to the ASUS ROG Z11, it’s an ITX enclosure that is almost the size of a mid-tower and it is incredibly expensive as well. That patented 11 degree motherboard rotation should keep you up at night after you have spent hours trying to access the motherboard I/O by removing four panels and losing some hairs.
Evil Dmitry: Finally, if you ever wanted a subpar custom water cooling enclosure and have $1,000 to spare and are into constant water trickling noises then the Zadak MOAB II Elite is for you. This is a product that makes the Apple stand look good.
Dmitry: Yikes, what a rundown of the fails. I hope you enjoyed our Top 5 case overview. Let us know if you are excited about what 2021 has to offer, I’m excited to see the emergence of more high airflow cases, but hopefully with some new tweaks. Big thanks to my Evil Twin chat, if you want him to come back let me know in the comments.
Check out the NZXT BLD Service here – https://nzxt.co/HwcBLD
Buy items in this video from Amazon at the links below:
Lancool 2 Mesh – https://geni.us/LC2Mesh
Phanteks P500A – https://geni.us/P500AM
Lancool 215 – https://geni.us/LANCOOL215M
be quiet! Pure Base 550DX – https://geni.us/PB500DX
Corsair 4000D Airflow – https://geni.us/4000DAir
Cooler Master NR200P – https://geni.us/NR200PB
Cooler Master NR200 – https://geni.us/NR200W
Lian Li O11 Mini – https://geni.us/O11MINI