If you have decided that you would rather build your own computer than investing in a new laptop, you might feel a little overwhelmed by all of the terms.
One commonly misunderstood part is the computer case. Many people end up buying the wrong type only to find out in the later stages that it will not be compatible with their builds.
In this article, we are going to walk you through the different computer case types. We are also going to look at the various motherboard factors and what they mean for your build.
Related: How to Build a Gaming Laptop
The first group of cases that we are going to look at is the tower cases. These are the most commonly found cases and will be what the majority of people stick to.
In the tower classification of cases, you have 3 further specifications depending upon the size, the slots, and the space available:
The full tower is what you commonly think of when you think of a computer case. These are tall cases that have lots of spaces inside. To be classed as a full tower, your case will need to more than 76cm high.
A full tower case is a perfect choice for beginners and pros alike. There is a lot of space inside and lots of room for airflow and all types of cables for easy management.
Mid-tower cases are perhaps the most used case around the world. They are slightly smaller, usually between 45-60cm. This allows them to have between 2-4 internal drive bays, making them the perfect multimedia case build.
The mini-tower is the smallest of the three-tower cases. They normally fall in the range of 30-45 centimeters high. These cases are the best for those that are happy to sacrifice size and capabilities for a smaller overall footprint.
Slimline and Small Form Factor Cases
Next, we have two special cases that are designed for different functions.
Slim Line Case
A slimline case is commonly found inside offices. They are essentially tower cases that have been designed for the components to fit in sideways. This allows the case to be laid flat on its side, giving you the ability to put a monitor on top.
Small Form Factor Case
SFF cases are for those that want to create micro builds that take up as little space as possible. These are often used for servers and multimedia builds due to their tiny size.
USFF - Ultra-Small Form Factor
All USFF cases are custom designed specifically for minimalism. The idea is to take up as small a real estate as possible. For this reason, they are usually fitted with laptop components that take over little space.
Most of the time, the motherboards even come with installed peripherals, like wireless mouse connectors. This allows for the removal of things like unnecessary USB ports.
What is a Motherboard?
Your motherboard is the component that allows all of your parts to communicate and connect with the hardware inside your case.
Your Central Processing Unit (CPU), Random Access Memory (RAM), and your Graphics Processing Unit (GPU) are all designed to slot into your motherboard.
Motherboards come in a range of different shapes and sizes, and most of the time, they are designed explicitly with certain brands and components in mind.
This means that some motherboards will be compatible with some parts, and some won't.
Your motherboard comes with several different important parts, and there are no standards for what these ports might be.
Commonly they will have heat sync and expansion slots that allow you to connect your different parts.
Motherboard Form Factors
The most important thing you will need to consider when purchasing a case for your build is the size of the motherboard you will be installing. If they do not match, you could run into serious problems that stop your build from progressing.
The size and layout of the board are called the form factor. This lays out the size and the circuit board layout, including slots and fixing locations.
A full tower, for example, can fit every type of motherboard inside. A mid-tower might be able to fit all sizes of the board, but you will have to sacrifice space to do so. A mini or slimline case will have to have special motherboards with small form factors.
Here are the different form factors:
The most common form of the motherboard is the full ATX. These boards are pretty big and will require a large space to be installed. They come in a 30cmx24cm size.
Slightly smaller than the full ATX, a mini ATX motherboard measures 28xmx21cm. To save on space, these motherboards usually have fewer memory slots and buses for different parts.
The screw holes for fixing a mini ATX are nearly identical to a Full ATX board, making them interchangeable most of the time. This means that if your case can fit a mini-ATX, you should be able to squeeze in a Full ATX card if necessary.
The micro-ATX is smaller once again and has a size measuring 24x24cm. Once again, the fixing holes are in the same location, so any case that can hold a Full ATX or Mini ATX will have a Micro ATX installed.
An older design made to fit into Micro ATX cases, this board measures 22x19cm. These are pretty rare.
Getting even tinier still, we have the MiniITX. These boards come in at 17x17cm. They have just one expansion slot, and the entire board is a lot more crowded to allow for the tiny size.
The holes for fixing once again match up with the ATX design. They are rarely used in larger cases, though, and are usually the favorite choice for those using an SFF case.
Nano ITX's are usually found in low-powered budget builds. This board is sized at 12x12cm. They are also used in embedded devices.
Mobile ITX motherboards are the smallest of the most commonly found cards. This board is only 6x6cm.
Less Common Cards
95% of the time, you will run into the standards motherboard form factors found above. Occasionally you might find one of the following, especially if you are working with older machines or servers in old office buildings.
The SSI format was designed to be used when you need to have multiple processors installed. They have a similar rear panel to the ATX card from which they were derived from.
They also have the same mounting holes, but these cards are usually too big to fit cases designed for ATX cards. The only exception is the full tower which might be able to accommodate one.
BTX Form Factor
Compared to the ATX layout, there are some significant differences with the BTX form factor. The faceplate is on the opposite side, to begin with. The processor socket is also in a different location, angled to improve cooling and airflow.
The BTX form factor also has its own layout of fixing holes. This means they will only fit inside a case specifically designed for them.
There are exceptions to this, and some cases have been modified to give you the choice of which type of card you want.
As the ATX form factor is so popular, it has been widely adopted and innovated, while the BTX form factor never really took off. This means they are not found on many retailers or inside many builds.
Obsolete Form Factors
NLX Form Factor
The NLX is one of the oldest form factors. This is what was used over a decade ago. They are designed for what was at the time classified as "Slim" computers.
They have no expansion slots for the newer PCI bus or ISA. This makes them practically useless in modern times.
Tips and Tricks For Installing a Motherboard
This might seem like a strange tip, but you should not wear socks when you are installing your motherboard. The biggest killer of motherboards is a static discharge which can fry your board. If you have carpeting, this can be built up by simply walking in socks across the carpet. If you remove your socks, the chances of this happening are much lower.
Most manuals that come with motherboards tend to suck. For this reason, you are much better off watching installation guides on youtube. In almost all cases, this will make it 10x easier for you to install your motherboard with little problems.
All it takes is one loose cable to wreak havoc inside your build. For this reason, you should make sure you have excellent cable management. This will stop any potential problems as well as keep your entire computer a lot cooler. A cold computer is a happy computer.
People Also Ask (FAQs)
What type of paint should I use for the computer case?
Most cases come pre-painted. We don't recommend painting your case unless you absolutely have to, as you will need special paint that won't degrade and leave paint chips in your fans.
Are expensive computer cases worth it?
This depends entirely upon your build. You can buy good computer cases for relatively cheap that will be perfect for most builds. If you are overclocking or building a very powerful build, you will need a good case with ample airflow and heat-protective materials. These can be quite expensive but are worth every penny.
Hopefully, we have cleared up any confusion you have about the different motherboards and their function as well as picking up some tips for installing them correctly and easily.
Jake Redman is a UK-born-digital nomad & founder of Ultimate Quality Content, a collective of high-end copywriters formed to provide detailed insight into everything technology-related. Jake is the definition of a man-nerd. He gets excited over things like processor architecture, ray-tracing, & is an avid E-Sports fan, specifically League of Legends. When he isn’t writing detailed tech-related articles, Jake can be found performing fire-breathing shows & wields a dragon staff, or on the sofa playing Mario Kart.