Fractal Design Define R4 Review (Page 2 of 4)

Page 2 - Physical Look - Outside

As I have mentioned on the previous page, the Define R4, ostensibly, it just a chubby version of its predecessor. Depending on how you would like to interpret of what we call a 'clean and simple design', I have always appreciated the approach Fractal Design takes. The company calls this a "minimalistic and stunning Scandinavian design" (Probably inspired by a fridge), but it 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 R4 provides me a striking reminder both in philosophy and implementation to the old school Antec P182 I have reviewed nearly five 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, just like all their other products.

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? 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. This time around, you can pick up a version of the Define R4 with a clear side panel. Awesome -- they finally made what everything was asking for! Too bad we don't have any on hand at the moment, but we will try to pick up one in the near future.

Measuring in at 232mm width, 464mm height, and 532mm depth, the Fractal Design Define R4's dimensions are about right for an ATX computer case. However, it has increased dimensions in all three directions compared to the Define R3's specification of 207.4mm width, 442mm height, and 521.2mm depth. On the other hand, it tips the scales at 27.06lbs, which is actually lighter than the Define R3 at 27.5lbs. 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.

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. With that in mind, it is quite rare for me to use my optical drive anyway, so it has never been a big issue for my day-to-day usage.

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 R4 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 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 or 140mm fans; one of which -- a Silent Series R2 -- 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 built in three-speed fan controller switch is in place where the reset button is used to be; labeled 5V, 7V, and 12V. I think the switch feels a bit cheap and out of place for a case of this class. 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 R4, just like the Define R3 and Define XL. The Define R4's layout configuration is revised once again. 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. It was a wise move to ditch eSATA in my personal opinion, since having four USB ports is probably much more practical. On the left side of the power button, we have two 3.5mm audio jacks for microphone in and headphone out, as well as the relocated 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. Notably missing from today's party is the hard drive indicator LED as always, which is nowhere to be found.

Painted black to match the rest of the chassis, the back of Fractal Design's Define R4 is pretty much standard for a case with a bottom mounted power supply bay. We can expectantly spot an included white colored Silent Series R2 140mm fan placed adjacent to the motherboard I/O backplate; up from the 120mm from last year. Much to our surprise, there are no radiator pipe openings. Both side panels are held closed by two thumbscrews each, with a much larger and robust handle for better grip compared to what we have seen in the past. This is particularly useful for removing the side panels. The ventilated plates enclosing the seven expansion card slots are painted white, as shown in our photo above. A vertical slot is also present for stuff like aftermarket LED lighting control. 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 R4 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 or 140mm fans. It is that simple. Why can't more manufacturers learn from Fractal Design?

Shiny legs with rubber bottom resembling those commonly found on home electronics can be seen on the Fractal Design Define R4. 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 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 120mm or 140mm fan, with a fan filter also mounted externally.

Overall, the Fractal Design Define R4 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 -- 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 I would say it is even better than the Define R3, which is ridiculously awesome. Admittedly, the Fractal Design Define R4 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