If the most noise-sensitive buyers will prefer a quiet, sound-dampening case, most users will benefit from a trend that’s on a comeback since 2019: airflow-oriented cases.
The idea is simple: replacing the solid front panel with a mesh grid that allows for direct, unobstructed airflow from front to back.
Manufacturers have tried it before of course, but now that ODD bays are mostly a relic of the past, and components run hotter and hotter, the need for direct, high-performance airflow is bigger than ever.
Mesh airflow cases allow you to get the highest performance from your system by quickly moving all the hot air out of your case. Having good airflow also reduces the need for water cooling: a big CPU cooler will be as efficient and silent as a much more expensive AIO cooler if it can move more air around.
You might be concerned about silence, but here’s the trick: since there’s better airflow, your fans won’t spin as much to move the air around, so will make less noise, simple as that! Upgrading the CPU cooler to a silent, high-end one is however a good idea, as decent stock coolers you might want to keep (AMD Wraith Spire/Prism) aren’t built for silence and won’t have sound-dampening materials to help them
Best Mesh cases for airflow orientated
Best Airflow case on a budget
At around $60, hard to believe the Phanteks P300A Mesh almost has it all: a large mesh front, plenty of interior space, and a tempered glass side panel. It keeps the design simple but includes good quality materials and smart cable management ideas. The side panel can swivel and has been reduced in height to not include the power supply shroud, a trend we appreciate as it lowers the overall cost of the case while still looking
The mesh front panel is Phanteks’ other great idea to reduce cost: it’s so fine it acts as its own filter and doesn’t require an additional filter behind it. It’s not the textile mesh that we’ve seen on their higher-end cases but is made of high-quality metal that is durable and easy to clean.
Storage options include two 3.5″ HDD trays and one 2.5″ SSD bracket, a configuration that will match most people’s needs. There’s even a second slot for an optional SSD bracket if needed. Ports are pretty standard with 2x USB 3.0, mic & headphones jacks on top.
The case doesn’t disappoint on fan mounting options, with 4x 120mm fan slots, 3 of them large enough for 140mm fans. It can also fit a front radiator of 240 or 280mm. Its only real downside? The lack of stock fans. With only one 120mm fan included, intake airflow is limited and the case only reveals its true cooling potential with the addition of two front fans at least. But maybe you have those already. If not and by doing the math you find the cost of the case and fans too high, you could also consider its the older brother, the award-winning P400A Digital, that comes with 3 preinstalled DRGB intake fans for $90. But if you plan on adding your own fans, there’s not really any match for this $60 case, really convincing at this price point
Best Airflow Mid-Tower case
Sometimes, to make a great airflow case, you just need a great case and a front panel swap. The Lian Li Lancool II Mesh is the airflow version of the original Lancool II, a case with awesome features but lacking in cooling. The Mesh version improves on that and delivers the best thermals yet on an ATX case, without compromising on features or material quality.
Like on the P300A, the tempered glass side panels are shorter than the overall case height, a good decision to keep the price low without compromising on looks. The case makes great use of magnets for easy opening of the two side panels. Great functionality for hard drive lovers: the bottom PSU shrouds have a magnetic door on the side that can be easily opened to access the 3x HDD slots for easy swap, and as it’s also a mesh panel, it’ll allow for better cooling of the hard drives. The case also has 4x SSD brackets on the right side. The front I/O comes with 2x USB 3.0 ports, a dual audio jack for headphones and mic, and an empty hole to add an optional USB-C cable sold by Lian Li. We would’ve appreciated the inclusion of this USB-C cable, but not everybody needs USB-C. Cable management isn’t left out, as in addition to the standard cable ties and routing it includes two large cover plates behind the motherboard tray to conceal almost all your cables and enjoy the view from the right tempered glass panel. A feature we rarely see at this price point. It comes with 2x 140mm front fans and 1x 120mm back fan, connected to a fan hub with 6 PWM connectors.
It can be managed with a 4-position speed slider placed at the top of the case (3 speeds + auto PWM mode). If you plan on changing the fan configuration, the case is very flexible and allows for up to 2x 140mm fans at the top, 3x 120mm at the front. It can fit a 240mm radiator at the top or front, and even a 360mm radiator at the front. The PSU shroud cover is also modular and can host two additional 120mm fans. Users already equipped with the original Lancool II can also opt to swap the front panel for the new Mesh panel, saving the cost of changing the entire case. At $90 in non-RGB and $100 with RGB (available in black or white), it competes with way more expensive cases without backing down and delivers the best stock cooling experience we’ve seen so far on an ATX case.
Best Airflow mATX case
With the Meshify line, Fractal Design was one of the first companies to provide high-quality airflow cases. If the regular Meshify C isn’t the best choice on ATX anymore now that other manufacturers came into play, its little mATX brother has less competition and doesn’t disappoint: The Fractal Design Meshify C Mini brings high-end quality to a form factor too often dismissed by manufacturers.
While not as modular as our other picks, the case is streamlined without compromising on useful features, and at 33.4 liters it has a particularly small footprint. The mesh panel sports an original angular design while still being sober, and includes an easily removable dust filter behind it. The case is available with either a regular tempered glass panel or a tinted tempered glass (“Blackout Edition”) or a stealth approach to RGB illumination, or for people who just want to hide their interior a bit. The panel can’t swivel as it’s mounted on 4 screws, so opening the case is longer but the panel is more secured.
It comes with 2x 120mm fans, but you might want to add a 3rd one to maximize airflow. It can fit 3×120mm or 2x140mm at the front, and up to 2x140mm fans at the top. If you want to go with liquid cooling, the case allows for a 280mm radiator in the front and/or 240mm up top.
One thing to keep in mind: the case is shallower than usual, so the longest GPUs might not fit especially if you want multiple front fans. The maximum video card clearance is 315mm/12.402″. The Meshify C Mini sells around $110, so it’s not the cheapest option in mATX, but if you’re really looking for quality and performance at this form factor, this is your best bet.
Best Full Tower case
The Enthoo lineup regroups Phanteks’ flagship cases, the latest entry in this lineup is the Phanteks Enthoo Pro 2, a full tower case that features all the options a workstation would need, with an airflow
an approach that’s still rare at this form factor. While the standard model comes with a tempered glass side panel like most cases, there’s also a more sober metal panel option, if you’re building a workstation for a professional environment for example. The front panel is mostly composed of a giant fabric mesh that filters a lot of dust, but unlike the P300A or P400A, it has an additional filter behind it.
The case is twice as tall as your regular ATX motherboard but uses this space to host almost everything you can think of: SSI-EEB & E-ATX compatibility, extensive water cooling support, vertical GPU brackets, space for 8 PCI slots, and up to 4 HDD/11 SSD out of the box. You can even upgrade that to 12 HDD bays! To cool all that, you can install up to 15x 120mm fans or 8x 140mm, radiators pretty much everywhere with up to 480mm in the front. However the case doesn’t come with any fan included, as it can be expected on high-end full towers, so be sure to add your own.
The Enthoo Pro 2 hidden feature? A spot for where to install a second motherboard in ITX format, powered by either a second PSU or Phanteks’ own Revolt X. Having a dual system is quite a niche feature but is nonetheless appreciated, it might suit professionals or streamers who want a high-end desktop PC and a second less powerful ITX station in the same space. Connectivity includes 4x USB 3.0, a mic/headphone dual jack, and a USB-C Gen 2 port, all under a small flap on the front panel. I/O and buttons can even be split between the two systems if you go for that. The case has a D-RGB controller and motherboard adapter, and a discrete RGB strip on top of the PSU shroud. The Enthoo Pro 2 comes at an MSRP of $140, which is surprisingly low for a Phanteks flagship case. If you need the extra space and features of a full tower, it’s worth every penny.
Best ITX cases
Airflow on an ITX case is different: the front panel is usually covered, and the air goes from side to side, with optional vents at the top and bottom. But there’s no ground rule when it comes to ITX cases, as there’s a lot of different designs and panel options out there. And a lot of different pricing too, that why we decided to offer both a budget ITX option and a high-end one.
A case who caught our attention is the Cooler Master NR200, which includes vented panels on 4 sides (left, right, top & bottom) for maximum airflow. It has clearance for a 330mm GPU, 155mm CPU cooler, and even a 280mm radiator on the side. It can host up to 7x 120mm fans if you compromise on storage and get an SFX PSU, so airflow potential is really good, but make sure to choose good fans and a fan controller. With a volume of 18.25L, it’s not the most compact ITX case available and is made of steel instead of aluminum, but its price of only $79 makes it one of the only interesting ITX options at a low budget.
You could also opt for the Sliger SM550, the same ITX case we chose for our quiet case list, but with vented panels options. Like the NR200 it can be configured with vented panels on 4 sides to maximize airflow. At 12.6L it can host a Mini-ITX or Mini DTX motherboard, and up to a 305mm long GPU. Storage options allow for 2×2.5″ SSD/HDD drives, with the possible addition of a 4 drive bracket.
It can host two bottom 120mm fans, but most of the airflow will be provided by the CPU cooler that can be up to 55mm tall. For $219, you can buy this ITX marvel made of brushed-anodized aluminum. It’s available in three colors and will offer a lot of customization for demanding ITX builders