Fractal Design Define R3 Review (Page 2 of 4)

Page 2 - Physical Look - Outside

As I have mentioned on the previous page, it is really easy to come up with the Fractal Design Define R3. If you put the Define XL in a photocopier, hit the 80% button, and voila! -- out comes the Define R3. Depending on how you would like to interpret of what we call a 'clean and simple design', either way works. The company calls this a "stylish design" (Probably inspired by a fridge), is still extremely appealing to people like yours truly, who takes great interest in exemplary clean looks. And if you think that is a bad thing, don't let my words provide the wrong connotation. If the design of a fundamentally clean case (Read: The entire front is a completely blank door, with a brushed texture to enhance its looks) combined with an intrinsic attention to detail and emphasis on silence, our Black Pearl Define R3 provides me a striking reminder both in philosophy and implementation to the now classic Antec P182 I have reviewed nearly four years ago. The difference is, while Antec has their logo embedded at the top right corner of the door, Fractal Design leaves the user the choice of finding your own Maytag, Whirlpool, or GE badge. Fact is, you just won't find Fractal Design's logo anywhere on the entire product.

A quick glance at the left side panel reveals an opening for a 120mm or 140mm fan. Fractal Design calls this the "ModuVent". Why such a fancy name for a simple fan opening? The answer is simple. The opening is sealed off with sound absorbing material by default. This 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. Quite a nice touch in my opinion. Other than that, the right side panel is completely blank. Unfortunately, there is no option for a side window, even if you want to forgo some sound absorbing material. Even as a hardcore silent PC enthusiast, I honestly wouldn't mind. All my components are quiet out of the box anyway. That is not to mention there are sound absorbing acrylic panels on sale, I am sure those will fit the bill.

Measuring in at 207.4mm width, 442mm height, and 521.2mm depth, the Fractal Design Define R3's dimensions are about right for an ATX computer case. On the other hand, it tips the scales at 27.5lbs, which is a bit heavier than the competition. The reason for its increased weight is because quiet computer cases are built with more sound insulation materials and other miscellaneous items, and at the end of the day, it is only about 70% the weight of the Fractal Design Define XL full tower chassis. However, it is about seven pounds heavier than the Cooler Master Silencio 550.

Opening the magnetically 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 cannot be changed. It only swings clockwise, and that's quite a bummer. While it is true most of us rarely access optical drives anymore, I would still like to see a little more flexibility in this area. Actually, I think many of us place our computers on our right, so I think it makes more sense if the door swings counterclockwise instead.

Other than that, from the top we have two 5.25" openings for optical drives, and other case accessories such as the NZXT Bunker or NZXT Sentry Mesh. One 5.25" to 3.5" external converter with faceplate is included for those who need it. While I will agree two external 5.25" drive bays is not a lot, I can't 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 fans; one of which 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 fan. I really like that. A small reset button is off to the right. 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 R3, just like the Define XL. Interestingly, the configuration on the Define R3 is slightly different than its bigger brother. 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 2.0 ports and an eSATA port. Although the Fractal Design Define R3 does not come with any USB 3.0 ports, a conversion kit is available from the company at press time (See article here). On the left side of the power button, we have two 3.5mm audio jacks for microphone in and headphone out. Surrounding the power button is a stylish blue LED ring that dips down at the front for maximum visibility and aesthetic appeal. Notably missing from today's party is the hard drive indicator LED, which is nowhere to be found.

Painted black to match the rest of the chassis, the back of Fractal Design's Define R3 is pretty much standard for a case with a bottom mounted power supply bay. We can expectantly spot an included white colored 120mm fan placed adjacent to the motherboard I/O backplate, with two pre-drilled water cooling holes on top of each other right under. Both side panels are held closed by two thumbscrews each. Even the ventilated plates enclosing the seven expansion card slots are painted white, as shown in our photo above. The rear handle of the washable fan filter for the power supply can be seen in our photo above, which can be pulled out for easy cleaning.

Shifting our focus a little bit, there are elements that make the Fractal Design Define R3 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. Want more airflow? Take one or both of them off in any order, and you can install up to two 120mm fans. It is that simple. Why can't more manufacturers learn from Fractal Design?

Shiny aluminum legs with rubber bottom resembling those commonly found on home electronics can be seen on the Fractal Design Define R3. The front legs are larger than the rear legs, because they will need to leave some space for the power supply fan filter, as shown in our photo above. The legs provide the chassis a 2.5cm rise over the surface it resides on. For those who want more fans in their systems, the bottom panel has room for one 120mm or 140mm fan, but this time around, the filter is mounted internally.

Overall, the Fractal Design Define R3 ATX case is 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, other than a very minor tolerance imperfection on the right side panel on both Define R3 cases I have. 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 like its bigger brother, the Fractal Design Define R3 is almost peerless in refinement compared to the competition. Admittedly, the Fractal Design Define R3 is a bit on the heavy side, but quality and sound insulation material comes at a price. 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