Fractal Design Define S 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. On the outside, the Define S looks almost exactly the same as the Define R5. Our particular unit came with no window, but you can buy one with a window. After many years and several generations of what we call the "fridge inspired" design here at APH Networks, the Define S stays true to its family heritage. 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. Although I have owned every generation of the Define series -- sans the ATX sized R2 -- my first question regarding the S out of the box, even with such thorough familiarity with the lineup, was, "Is this the same size as the Define R5?" Measuring in at 233mm width, 465mm height, and 533mm depth, the Fractal Design Define S' dimensions are literally within millimeters of the Define R5. On the other hand, it tips the scales at 20.06 lbs, which is unsurprisingly lighter than the Define R5 at 24.64 lbs. You will see why shortly. 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 140mm fan. Fractal Design calls this the "ModuVent". Why such a fancy name for a simple fan opening? 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 S 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. The window version of the Define S has a really large and awesome side panel; given my personal love for anything chassis with a clear side panel, it was regrettable I could not feature one for our review today.

Funny story: One of the first things I tried with the Fractal Design Define S was to open its front door. After about ten seconds of wondering why it was shut so tightly, I then remembered this chassis does not actually feature a front door, because there are no front 5.25" drive bays. Instead, they have replaced the entire drive rack -- all external 5.25" and all internal 3.5" drive bays -- with... nothing. This was done to maximize airflow, and taking the entire front panel, you can see where we are at in our photo above. I have seen air purifiers with smaller intakes than the Define S, and with space for three 140mm fans, I bet the Define S will make a better air purifier than actual air purifiers, if it had a HEPA air filter. That said, only one Dynamic GP14 fan is included from the factory; if you want anything more, you will need to pay to play. The stock fan is white in color. One large washable dust filters can be seen here, and it can be easily removed for cleaning.

What the Define R5 has that the Define S does not have an integrated fan controller and sound dampened front panel. Typically, with the Define series, a layer of sound absorbing material is installed behind the door to dampen the sound emitted from the front fans. In the Define S, all you will get is plastic, which I think Fractal Design has cheapened out a bit here. The sound absorbing material actually makes a difference in noise emissions from my experience.

Fractal Design has front panel connectors on top of the Define S, just like everything that came before it. The layout configuration of the Define S is similar Define R5, except with no USB 2.0 ports. 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 only two horizontally oriented USB 3.0 ports. 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. Surrounding the power button is a stylish blue LED ring that dips down at the front for maximum visibility and aesthetic appeal. The power LED doubles as a hard drive activity LED that flashes to indicate drive activity.

Shifting our focus a little bit, there are elements that make the Fractal Design Define S 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 S'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 S 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 my 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. Unlike the Define R5, the left side panel does not feature a quick release mechanism, which I liked in the Define R5. This is not a big deal, as the thumbscrews are designed to hold on to the panels even when they are loose. Meanwhile, the ventilated plates enclosing the seven expansion card slots are painted white, as shown in our photo above. The area adjacent to the expansion card slots are not ventilated, which I think is a good thing, since it allows less dust in.

Shiny legs with thick rubber bottom resembling those commonly found on home electronics can be seen on the Fractal Design Define S. 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 one additional 120mm or 140mm fan. The rear 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 S 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 noticeable, but some removed features put it below the Define R5. The Define S is about four pounds lighter than the R5, 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