How to Swap a Computer Case

You bought that off the shelf computer last year because it was a good deal but you’ve recently got the itch to do some gaming. All your friends are playing and you don’t want to be left out. Sound familiar? To get started you went and ordered a graphics card but now you have a problem. It won’t fit in your case. Uh-oh.

Drawing of a Computer CaseDon’t worry, fixing the problem is easy and much cheaper than you might think. All you have to do is swap your ‘guts’ into a bigger case. A case swap is a fairly basic task that anyone can do in no time flat with minimal skills. It gives you more room for upgrades, makes future repairs easier and can help with cooling. On top of all of that you get to pick a cool looking case to replace that drab grey box.

Computer Case Swap Shopping

Computer model of person pushing shopping cartBuying a case is fun and easy. You can check out the technology sites but there are tons available right on Amazon. I recommend starting here if you’re going to look on Amazon.

You’ll want to stick with what are called ATX Mid-Tower cases for your swap. Most computers you run across are this size. It might seem odd swapping one ATX mid-tower case for another but there is a method to this madness. The cases that big companies use for their computers aren’t designed for upgrades but ones for home built computers are. They are slightly bigger and laid out differently inside to accommodate things like graphics cards. Things to look out for when shopping for your swap case:

Graphics Card Space: Many cases will advertise the size of graphics cards that will fit in their case. If you’re doing a case swap just to fit a graphics card this is very important. Make sure your new case can fit your massive new graphics machine.

Fans: A case may only come with the standard, single exhaust fan but other may come with more. Nearly all will have open spots where extra fans can be attached. When doing a case swap it’s also a great time to pop another fan or two into your computer.

Good Reviews: Read what other people say about a case. A case might seem like a great deal but if the reviews repeatedly mention ‘cheap construction’ then stay away.

The Computer Case Swap

Swapping Image of ArrowsOnce you’ve picked out the perfect upgrade it’s time to do the case swap. This is surprisingly easy despite the amount of hassle it appears to be. Besides the graphics card all you’re doing is taking it apart and putting things back together exactly how they used to be. We’ll go through the case swap in steps so we can highlight some of the important bits.

Assess: Before you do anything it’s not a bad idea to take some pictures of how things are plugged in. This will give you a reference when putting everything back together in the new case. This is highly recommended if you’re not very experienced working inside your computer. Take special care to note where cords for the power and front panel ports plug in.

Disassembly: Now you’re ready to dig in. Make sure you’re working on a table with some space. Be sure to minimize static electricity during your case swap by using a wrist strap if possible or grounding yourself before touching components.

Remove Power: Disconnect all the power connections from drives and the motherboard. Once that’s done you can remove the power supply itself.

Remove Drives: Remove hard drives and any optical drives you might have hooked up. Be careful to unplug them from the motherboard.

Graphics Card: Remove the graphics card and put it aside. Remember to remove the hold-down from the back of the case before pulling it out of the motherboard.

MotherboardMotherboard: The last thing you want to do is remove the motherboard. Take extra care when doing this as the motherboard is the most prone to static shock and rough handling. Find the screws that hold the motherboard to the case and note their position. Look at your new case and find the holes that match your current layout. Many cases are setup to accommodate different types of motherboards so you want to know where yours should sit in the new one. Once you know, remove the screws and set them somewhere safe. You can leave the motherboard in the old case for now but be sure not let it slide around.

Reassembly: The first thing to do is move the motherboard. Be careful during the case swap when moving the motherboard. Always hold it by the sides and make sure you’re static free before you touch it.

Standoffs: Standoffs are small posts that keep a small space between the motherboard and the side of the case. During the case swap it’s important to make sure these are installed before you move the motherboard otherwise you can completely fry it. Install the new ones that came with your case in the correct holes for your motherboard.

Move Motherboard: Carefully transfer the motherboard to it’s new home in the new case on the standoffs. If you’re still nervous about this then watch a few videos online for the best directions.

New Wires: Your new case is going to have new wires that hook into your motherboard for power, front USB ports and more. Reference your photos from before to see where the old cords plugged in. If you bought new fans to install when doing your case swap you can install these now too.

Reinstall Graphics / Drives: Reverse the process you did in disassembly to put the graphics card and drives into your new computer. You should have plenty more room now making the process easier.

Install Power: To finish off your case swap, install the power supply and hook up all the wires to your components. If your case came with cable management features use them. Make the inside of your case as tidy and open as possible. I highly recommend using velcro ties to secure cables. Amazon sells them cheap and they are well worth it.

Final Check For the Computer Case Swap

Triple check everything. Make sure everything is both reconnected to the motherboard and to power. If it looks good, put the side panel on and give it a test. Hopefully your computer will pop right back to life. Your case swap is done and you might just fool some of your friends into thinking you custom built the entire thing!