Blast from the past: originally posted February 14th 2002.


Way back in 1991 I bought my first PC; a shiny Magnavox 386SX 20MHz. After a few months I began upgrading pieces of it, leading me to realize I needed a new system. I wanted to build it myself, so I did a ridiculous amount of research and decided on an AMD 386DX 40 MHz with 8 MB of RAM. My real concern was getting a good sized case to put everything in; I already had a 1x Sony CD-ROM, Colorado 250 MB QIC120 tape drive, 3.5” and 5.25” floppy drives. Going crazy I bought a full tower made of the heaviest steel available. The thing was unwieldy on its best day, requiring Herculean feats of strength to lift. But every piece of computer hardware fit into it with caverns of room to spare. It stood on the floor under my desk and saw a whack of upgrades, until I needed an ATX system and finally passed on the heavy fellow to a relative.

This has, unfortunately, led me to a love affair with full tower and server cases. Being a hardware review nutcase I try a lot of different configurations in my PCs, swapping parts in and out on a regular basis. Towers always give enough knuckle room to maneuver, never leaving you with a need for just one more external 5.25” bay. If I decide to install a six drive RAID 5 array, the tower case handles it with aplomb. Need to have four CD-ROM drives installed at the same time? No problem. My current tower pick is the Antec SX1040; a sweet number that I liked enough to buy two.

It was the second SX1040 that led me to my latest conundrum. After setting up one SX1040 as my test system, which budget has allowed these past few years, I set the other as my main system. The test system still has parts swapped in and out monthly or even weekly, and the Antec SX1040 gets the job done every time. My main system experiences upgrades at a much slower rate. It held an AMD Athlon 1100 MHz for over a year, a 13 GB 7200 RPM Fujitsu hard drive for over two years. The only external drives I have are a 3.5” floppy and a DVD-ROM; the other bays sit empty and alone. Once it was set up properly and working without incident I was reluctant to upgrade. It pains me to say that I really don’t need a full tower case for my main system anymore.

Taking a hard look at my system needs, I realize a Micro ATX system would fit the bill. Everyone stay calm as I go through my reasoning. I cracked the case of my system and looked at the contents; AGP video card, sound card, network card, 3.5” hard drive, 3.5” floppy drive, DVD-ROM. That’s it. Next I looked at the current crop of KT266A Micro ATX motherboards; one AGP slot, three to four PCI slots. That would take card of my current configuration and leave me with one or two PCI slots for future needs. Perusing Micro ATX cases revealed tight form factors with two 5.25” bays and two to three 3.5” bays. Again meeting all my needs, save for the low end power supplies. Not a problem once I install an Enermax 350 watt.

If tinkering is your pastime, then the need for a decent sized case can’t be overstated. If you need to build a stable system, then push aside your ego and go for a practical case.