By: Jonathan Kwan
December 9, 2011
Updated February 15, 2012
Since I write a review almost every week throughout the year, it is hard to believe how many introductions I have written during my reviewing career. And although each of these introductions are as unique as it can be (Really, I am not kidding -- try going through all of my past articles), to be honest, there aren't many that really stands out in my memory. Although the Tt eSPORTS Meka G-Unit is definitely one of my recent highlights, I still clearly remember what was going on in my head when I wrote the OCZ Special Ops PC3-10666 2x2GB review's introduction just over three years ago. Being a first year engineering student, I really had a hard time adjusting; in conjunction with all the sharp changes going on in my life, I just wished I could rewind time instead of going through such a dark time of my life. Earlier this year, I have reviewed the Fractal Design Define R3. But unlike 2008, if time could be rewound, let's not -- it took a lot of hard work to get this far, and there is no way I would like to do it all again, haha. Speaking of the which, I am sure those who got a Define R3 or Define XL before September would like to change one thing about their case: Front USB 3.0 ports. The good news is, you won't need to go back in time to unbuy the case and buy it now to get this upgrade, because the company has modification kits available for existing owners. Cool, right? We took one in to see if this is the real deal.
Our review unit of the Fractal Design USB 3.0 Upgrade Kit for Define R3 came in a medium sized bubble envelope from the company's American offices in Frisco, Texas. Moving up three thousand kilometers from the Lone Star State to the ever freezing city of Calgary, we are happy to confirm that everything arrived safe and sound for our project today. Using FedEx Ground, travel time was about a week, and I excitedly cracked the package open to examine its contents.
The retail packaging is as simple as it can get. Being a small modification kit for a chassis and all, its form reminds me of accessory boxes found inside a brand new case. With Fractal Design's logo prominently displayed across the front, and the upgrade kit version right below it (There is another one available for the Define XL, but as you can see in our photo above, this one is for the Define R3), that is pretty much it. Open the side flaps, and you will be greeted with the contents inside.
Out of the box, you will receive only two items: The front port block for the Fractal Design Define R3, and a package of installation screws. I cannot imagine the upgrade kit for the Define XL to be that much different; to my understanding, the only thing changed is the block configuration from two USB 3.0 and one eSATA port to two USB 3.0 and two USB 2.0 ports instead. As such, I am willing to bet that most of the stuff I have written in this article -- including the modification procedure -- to be intrinsically similar. With that in mind, I took out the Define R3 I have reviewed back in September, and started the modification process.
The stock USB 2.0/eSATA block on the Fractal Design Define R3 is secured into the chassis via two silver screws behind the detachable front panel, as shown in our photo above. To remove it, simply take out your screwdriver, and you know the rest. There is nothing tricky about this step, it is really one of those "I see, I do" kind of thing. Just remember this if you forget: Righty tighty, lefty loosy.
Theoretically, installation is extremely simple. My advice to you is to take a look at the installation manual first (Available on the company's website), because the new USB 3.0 block is going to be a tight fit. To reiterate in words on how the installation process is supposed to go, simply tilt the block at a 45 degree angle with the ports facing out, and then snap it into place. If everything goes well, then you are in luck. Unfortunately, things are not as simple as it is supposed to be on paper, and from what I have read, I am not the only one with these issues.
Firstly, the screws do not protrude through the back sufficiently to engage a secure fit on the chassis. To remedy this problem, one must shave the back of the block slightly with a knife, or drill the holes a bit deeper, so the screws can go through a little bit more. For most people, this will do the trick. Unfortunately, I also had a second problem. When I tried to attach the right screw, the corresponding hole on the front panel of my Define R3 became unthreaded, disabling this attachment point permanently. Because the USB 3.0 block has significantly thicker cables than the stock USB 2.0 block, bending it around so the front panel can reattach to the chassis' main frame will create a lot of inertial stress in this area, causing the ports to misalign. To fix this, I appended a patch in the gap between my Fractal Design Define R3's front panel and the USB 3.0 upgrade kit, so the space is filled in as much as possible. After that, I inserted some super glue between the patch and the block to hold it in position, then let the glue settle for a few days. It is no perfect solution, but it provides more resistance to the inertial forces caused by the thick cables, and provides some effort in holding the upgrade kit in its correct position.
Update: Fractal Design claims that the screws and fitment issues are due to the fact that we were accidentally sent a pre-production unit. The actual production units currently sold at online retailers do not exhibit these problems. A replacement is being sent to us right now, and we will update this review once we have received it.
Update 2: A replacement kit arrived on February 15, 2012. The production block now fits flush with the top of the case. Different screws are included this time. The diameter of the new screws are exactly the same as the ones that came with the case, and protrudes an appropriate length out the other end for a proper fit. Unfortunately, my Define R3's front panel threads are already damaged by the wider screws that came with the pre-production kit, so I don't have any actual installation pictures. That said, I have test fitted everything, and it looks like everything should be good to go.
Shown above is our Fractal Design Define R3 modified with the Fractal Design USB 3.0 Upgrade Kit. To be honest, I am not very pleased with the overall fit and finish, as the ports are still slightly out of alignment with the openings. Had the screws worked, I think we will be in a better situation; unfortunately, it still protrudes slightly on top. Oh well, at least it works very well, haha. Overall, the process is quite simple, but I think the quality of the modification parts can be improved. On a side note, the upgrade kit is only internal USB 3.0 compatible. In other words, if you don't have any internal headers on your motherboard, you will be out of luck. I think Fractal Design should include an internal to external USB 3.0 converter for those who need it.
Fractal Design provided this product to APH Networks for the purpose of evaluation.
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