While there are a great number of options these days for good-looking PC cases that entirely lack 5.25” drive bays, the majority of cases still offer at least one of these spaces. And efficient builders won’t want that space being used for nothing.
Don’t get me wrong: Many builders still do want to use those spaces to house intended utilities, including disc drives, card readers, extra USB ports, and even floppy drives. But that doesn’t mean there won’t still be an unoccupied bay sitting around at the end of the day. (I personally have a Pioneer Blu-Ray/DVD/CD player in my tower, and for the time being, it sits above an unused 5.25” bay.)
So, here are a few ideas for what to do with those bays instead of leaving them as cavities in your build:
Hard Drive Bays:
If your case is anything like mine, then you’re not exactly short on HDD and SSD storage space. Modular or not, most cases come with at least three or more spots for long-term memory toward the front.
But there are two things that your 5.25” bays can offer that those internal bays can’t offer.
The first thing is convenient access for hot-swapping drives, as in the case of this basic enclosure that can hold one 3.5” HDD or this upscale model that can hold a remarkable six 2.5” SSDs (featured in the image above). Configuring your BIOS for hot-swapping is generally straightforward, and allows for much greater flexibility when needing to store or access data.
The second thing the optical drive bays can offer over and above the internal cage is getting out of the way of front-mounted case fans for improved airflow. Hard drive cages often obstruct all or part of at least one intake fan mount. Stowing your drives above (and maybe even removing the lower drive cage) can allow fresh air to flow more freely to your PSU and the intake fan(s) of your GPU, where it is needed most.
I went out of my way with my build to find a motherboard that featured five 4-pin fan headers (in my case, the MSI Z170A SLI), so that the motherboard could handle all of the cooling of my system automatically. But not every build has that kind of managed air cooling capacity without the help of a fan controller. (Or you could risk outstripping the amperage rating of your motherboard’s headers by using a splitter cable—which, for the safety of yourself and your build, I strongly discourage.)
Well, an empty 5.25” bay is a wonderful opportunity to take control of your cooling. I personally like the idea of a controller array that is sleek and simple like this one with just knobs from Lamptron. But for other builders, there are full-featured controllers like this one from NZXT to fulfill your micromanagement needs.
You can use a 5.25″ bay as room for a drawer to hold flash drives, component screws, an external HDD, or whatever else you want. This is the simplest option for what to do with that space, and is one that highly tempts me. However, it has some potential pitfalls.
The biggest pitfall is that the drawers on the market right now don’t look very promising. There are basically three models that are widely available: one that has the words ‘case box’ engraved on its matte front (available from multiple sellers with different branding and mixed reviews); one that has a glossy flat front (and apparently requires modifying to be compatible with most cases); and one that has a glossy front with a handle (which apparently doesn’t sit flush with most front panels).
But it’s such a simple and appealing idea that I hope one of the reputable component companies wises up and churns out a 5.25″ drawer option that’s matte black or brushed black, doesn’t jut from the face panel, and clicks open reliably with serious longevity. I know I’d buy one in a heartbeat.
I said in the intro above that there is an unused 5.25″ drive bay in my build, but that’s not entirely accurate. That space currently houses some of the cable length running from my front-mounted fans into my motherboard, from my optical drive to the cable space behind the motherboard panel, and from my white LED lighting strip across the top of the case.
In general, this space is a likely contender for holding extra cable length from the front panel connectors, excess SATA power or SATA data cable length, or upper front panel fan cables. If your case doesn’t have much room for cable management between the tray and the side panel (like the Corsair 100R), or if you’re building in a case that is micro ATX-designed or smaller (like Fractal Design’s Arc Mini R2), then you should absolutely consider making use of this space.
When it comes to these kinds of extra customizations and final considerations (or even upgrades) in your build, the most important thing is to have fun with it.
Don’t like any of the ideas in this article? Get creative. As long as you practice safety-first tactics, this front-panel real estate can be home to some serious custom accents (while researching this article, I saw everything from a row of tiny fans to a two-bay-tall combination fan controller and alarm clock). So enjoy yourself.
And please let us know in the comments below if you’ve done something unconventional with your 5.25” bays!