Fractal Design Define R5 Review (Page 2 of 4)

Page 2 - Physical Look - Outside

Anyone who has owned a case from Fractal Design's Define series will know exactly what to expect. Our particular unit is the titanium with window version; you can also buy it in black or white with or without a window. After many years and several generations of what we call the "fridge inspired" design here at APH Networks, the Define R5 stays true to its predecessors. For those who swear by exemplary clean looks combined with an intrinsic attention to detail and emphasis on silence, this is your mid-tower chassis. That said, even owning almost every generation of the Define series -- sans the ATX sized R2 -- my first impression of the R5, taking it out of the box, was, "Wow, this is fat." However, looking up the specifications, I soon found out it was actually almost identical to the Define R4 quietly humming along in the room next to mine. Measuring in at 232mm width, 462mm height, and 531mm depth, the Fractal Design Define R5's dimensions are about right for an ATX computer case, maybe except for its width. On the other hand, it tips the scales at 24.64 lbs, which is actually lighter than the Define R4 at 27.06 lbs. It is still a bit heftier than the competition though. The reason for its increased weight is because quiet computer cases are built with more sound insulation materials and other miscellaneous items.

A quick glance at the left side panel reveals an opening for a good sized side window, which means there is no fan opening should you choose to get this model. This is actually the first Fractal Design Define series case I have ever owned with a side window; everything I had before came with the ModuVent. What is a "ModuVent", you ask? Simply put, it is a fan opening, except it is sealed off with sound absorbing material by default. If you choose to buy a Define R5 without a side window, that is what you will get. It provides an advantage in preventing dust from entering your system, and noise from exiting your system. If you ever decide to install an intake fan in this area, you can easily remove the material that seals off this vent. It is always a nice touch in my opinion. Other than that, the right side panel is completely blank, which you will see in the next photo.

Opening the friction held shut front door reveals the usual things we are used to seeing in a standard computer case. However, before we start talking about that, let me just point out the direction the door swings can finally be changed. After this many years, they have finally listened! We have been pushing this since I have first got my hands on the original Define XL back in 2011, and when I saw this being implemented, I was stoked. It swings clockwise out of the box, but you can easily configure it to hinge the other way instead. While it is true most of us rarely access optical drives anymore, flexibility in this area is always appreciated. Truth to be told, I think many of us place our computers on our right, so being able to change the door direction makes a lot of sense. I do not even have an optical drive installed in my latest build, but no one can say 'no' to options.

Moving on, from the top we have two 5.25" openings for optical drives, and other case accessories such as fan controllers. Of course, unless you are up to something sophisticated, it is probably not necessary, because the Define R5 already has one built in. A 3.5" drive bay converter is no longer included. While I will agree two external 5.25" drive bays is not a lot, I cannot recall myself using more than two at a time, so it should be sufficient for most users out there. Under it is a secondary push-lock door hiding space used to accommodate up to two 120mm or 140mm fans; one of which -- a Dynamic GP14 -- is included from the factory. The stock fan is white in color. Washable dust filters are placed in front of each and every included and optional intake fan, which is something I definitely appreciate. The built in three-speed fan controller that can control up to three fans simultaneously comes with an integrated switch is at the top; labeled by an intensity bar underneath it. The switch quality is an improvement compared to the Define R4, but the notch tactility has some room for improvement. Last but not least, as shown in our photo above, a layer of sound absorbing material is installed behind the door, used to dampen the sound emitted from the front fans.

Rather than setting the front panel connectors behind the door, Fractal Design made a wise choice in putting them at the top of the Define R5, just like everything that came before it. The Define R5's layout configuration is very similar to the Define R4. With its power button placed nice and center, the designers managed to create a level of symmetry in an asymmetric fashion. On the right side of the power button, we have two USB 3.0 ports and two USB 2.0 ports. Both sets are clearly labeled. On the left side of the power button, we have two 3.5mm audio jacks for microphone in and headphone out, as well as a reset button. I think it was better to have the reset button behind the front door, but at least it is still hard to press accidentally. Surrounding the power button is a stylish blue LED ring that dips down at the front for maximum visibility and aesthetic appeal. New to the party is the HDD activity LED we have been asking for years. Where is it, you ask? Good question. Actually, it is hiding in plain sight. The power LED also flashes for indicating drive activity.

Shifting our focus a little bit, there are elements that make the Fractal Design Define R5 quite unique. Traditionally, case designers install top mounted fans to efficiently draw heat away from the processor. This makes a lot of sense, since heat rises, so we are only adhering to the natural laws of physics. Unfortunately, this is a two way street, as it is also very easy to get a lot of dust in the system that way when it is turned off. I am not a big fan of such a design, and I really dislike it when manufacturers force me to use that opening. Therefore, to rectify this problem, Fractal Design made a wise choice and gave the user an option to choose what they want. Want silence and no maintenance? Leave the ModuVent covers on. The covers are sound dampened. Want more airflow? Take one or both of them off in any order, and you can install up to three 120mm or 140mm fans. It is that simple. Unfortunately, I think they made a crucial error with the Define R5's design. If you take the ModuVent covers off, you will realize the openings are as wide as the case itself -- which is considerably wider than the largest fan you can install in this area. This leaves a ton of space for dust to enter your system, and sound to exit your PC. In my opinion, restricting the opening width to 140mm will be much better.

Painted black to match the rest of the chassis, the back of Fractal Design's Define R5 is pretty much standard for a case with a bottom mounted power supply bay. We can expectantly spot an included white colored Dynamic GP14 140mm fan placed adjacent to the motherboard I/O backplate. Normally, you will only get a 120mm fan here, but the fatness really pays off. Much to our surprise, there are no radiator pipe openings, but I think external water cooling systems are practically non-existent nowadays. Both side panels are held closed by two thumbscrews each. The left side panel actually has a quick release mechanism as well. Basically, a sliding latch locks the panel in place, so you technically do not even need to use the thumbscrews if you do not feel like it. This is particularly useful for those who need to remove this panel frequently. The ventilated plates enclosing the seven expansion card slots are painted white, as shown in our photo above.

Shiny legs with rubber bottom resembling those commonly found on home electronics can be seen on the Fractal Design Define R5. The legs provide the chassis about 1 cm rise over the surface it resides on. For those who want more fans in their systems, the bottom panel has room for up to two 120mm or 140mm fans. The front handle of the washable fan filter for all the bottom intake fans can be seen in our photo above, which can be pulled out for easy cleaning.

Overall, the Fractal Design Define R5 ATX case continues to be one of the most solid cases I have seen with regards to build quality. All the panels fit together extremely well with minimal panel gaps -- in fact, it is pretty darn close to perfection in refinement. With that out of the way, nothing feels flimsy or cheap. Sharp edges are out of the question. The amount of attention to detail is very noticeable, and to some extent, it is even a small improvement over both its predecessors. The Define R5 is almost 2.5 lbs lighter than its predecessor, but it is still a bit on the heavy side compared to other cases. Quality and sound insulation material comes at a price though, and you will see why in the next page.

Page Index
1. Introduction, Packaging, Specifications
2. Physical Look - Outside
3. Physical Look - Inside
4. Installation and Conclusion