Picking out parts for your new PC but stuck on the case? We’ve all been there. The mid tower vs. full tower selection can be tricky, mainly because there are so many things to consider.
Given how much of a pain moving a completed rig into a new case can be, starting with the right size case is critical. Let’s go through both mid and full towers so that you can decide which is right for you.
At A Glance
As a rule, mid tower cases are smaller than full tower cases. This means support for fewer motherboard sizes, fewer PCI-E expansion slots and drive bays, and more limited fan and radiator mounting options. However, they are often cheaper and lighter than full towers, and should be enough for most gamers.
Here’s a quick rundown of some defining differences between the two case sizes. Of course, there will always be exceptions to these numbers. Still, they’re decent ballpark figures that will give you a general idea of what to expect.
|Mid Tower||Full Tower|
|Dimensions||Around 18 inches tall||Around 22 - 25 inches tall|
|Motherboard Support||Mini-ITX, Micro-ATX, ATX, occasionally E-ATX||Mini-ITX, Micro-ATX, ATX, E-ATX, XL-ATX|
|PCIe Expansion Slots||7 - 9||8 - 10|
|Drive Bays||5 - 10||10 - 15|
|Fan Mounting Locations||6 - 9||10 - 15|
|Maximum Radiator Support||360 mm||480 mm|
Mid Tower vs. Full Tower: The Breakdown
Now that you’ve gotten a brief overview let’s go a bit more in-depth into some of the differences between mid and full tower cases.
Mid tower cases are the safe, middle-of-the-road option in PC cases. Generally hovering around 18 inches tall and long, they’re large enough to fit a high-end gaming rig in them without difficulty. They’re large enough to comfortably build in but not so large as to weigh a ton and take up a lot of space on your desk. A great example of a high-end mid tower case is the NZXT H710i.
Full towers, on the other hand, are the goliaths of the PC case world. Measuring at least 20 inches in height and length, they’re designed to fit a lot of equipment and accommodate the largest motherboards and graphics cards. Some, like Corsair’s Obsidian 1000D “super tower,” even have enough space for two motherboards.
One benefit of full towers is that the increased room makes for a more comfortable building and upgrading experience. Whether that’s worth the additional size and weight depends on your priorities.
One component that can still force you to go big is the motherboard. Most mid tower cases will fit ATX motherboards, perfectly adequate for the vast majority of gamers and setups. Some mid towers, like the NZXT H710i, will take so-called E-ATX boards up to 10.7 inches wide, like the MSI MEG Z490 GODLIKE.
However, go for an E-ATX board wider than 10.7 inches or an XL-ATX board for an AMD Threadripper system, and you’ll definitely be shopping around for a full tower.
Unsure what E-ATX and XL-ATX even mean? Here’s a handy image that might help:
You should always choose the right motherboard for your needs first. Once you’re happy with your motherboard, find a case that will accommodate it. Never the other way around.
If you’re still trying to figure out what motherboard to go for, take a look at our guide to choosing a motherboard.
PCIe Expansion and Drive Bays
Mid tower cases vary when it comes to drive bays. A case like the airflow-focused Phanteks Eclipse P400A only has four bays by default, with an extra four needing an optional bracket. Others, like the Fractal Design Define 7, boast six 3.5/2.5 inch mounts, two SSD mounts, and a dedicated optical drive bay from the factory.
This is where full towers excel. The additional slot or two of PCIe expansion might not seem like much. However, paired with the right motherboard, the extra space might be what keeps your multi-GPU rendering setup from overheating.
Full towers will also support a lot more drives. Want to fit 10 SSDs, five hard drives, and an optical drive into your rig? A full tower like the be quiet! Dark Base 900 is what you’ll need. If there’s even a small possibility that you’ll go down this route, a full tower is a good bet.
Regardless of whether you’re going for a mid or full tower, make sure your case of choice will fit your storage needs. There’s nothing worse than needing an extra hard drive but not having the space to install it in your case.
Air and Liquid Cooling
It used to be that full tower cases would almost always have more fan mounting points than mid tower cases, with better airflow to boot. The recent glut of airflow-focused mid towers on the market has changed that, though.
For example, the Phanteks P400A and Lian Li LANCOOL II MESH have open layouts and unobstructed front panels that will fit three 120 mm fans.
Cases like these will easily keep even the burliest gaming rig under control with good airflow, rendering full towers’ airflow and cooling advantage mostly irrelevant.
One area where full towers are still somewhat preferable is water cooling. Radiator-wise, the biggest you’ll fit in most mid towers will be a 360 mm radiator. While this is more than enough for an AIO CPU cooler or a simple loop, it can’t compete with the 420 mm radiators that full tower cases support.
A full tower won’t only give you space for a larger radiator, it’ll provide you with room for more radiators. This can be handy for cooling high-end, power-hungry components, especially if you’re overclocking.
That said, both mid and full towers can accommodate custom water cooling loops. Several manufacturers make mid towers explicitly designed for that purpose, like Fractal Design. Their Define 7 has an open layout that’s perfect for a full-on custom loop with two radiators.
While both will work, a full tower will give you more room to work in when building your custom loop. You’ll have fewer issues placing things like radiators and pumps, too. This all makes for a smoother build experience overall.
Undecided on liquid vs. air? Our liquid cooling vs. air cooling article should point you in the right direction.
Mid Tower vs. Full Tower: The Conclusion
Unlike CPU or GPU performance, there isn’t an objective winner in the mid tower vs. full tower choice. Neither is definitively better than the other, and both fulfill different needs. It’s possible to build a killer rig in both mid and full towers.
There are undoubtedly optimal choices, but you can go with whatever you want as long as it fits your components. At the end of the day, it’s your choice. If you like the idea of putting a micro ATX motherboard in a full tower case, go for it! Want to try and cram in as much water cooling into a mid tower case? Be our guest.
That’s the beauty of PC building in a nutshell, really: it’s your rig, and you can build it however you want to. Have fun!