Fractal Design Define XL Review (Page 2 of 4)

Page 2 - Physical Look - Outside

Fractal Design calls it a "stylish design"; at the same time users like yours truly would also appreciate the Define XL's exemplary clean design as well. But like I said on the previous page, so is a mini fridge. 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) combined with an intrinsic attention to detail and emphasis on silence, our Black Pearl Define XL 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 left side panel is also completely blank, just like the top and right panels. 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.

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 left, and that's quite a bummer. While it is true most of us rarely access optical drives anymore -- also consider the fact I am building a server with Fractal Design Define XL, and it doesn't even have an optical drive -- I would still like to see a little more flexibility in this area.

Other than that, from the top we have four 5.25" openings for optical drives, and other case accessories such as the NZXT Bunker reviewed by my colleague Preston a few weeks ago. One 5.25" to 3.5" external converter with faceplate is included for those who need it. Fractal Design also provides the user with an option to install one 120mm fan here, but you will need to sacrifice three drive bays for that. Under it is a secondary push-lock door hiding space used to accommodate up to two 140mm 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. 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 XL. 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 four USB ports. On the left side of the power button, we have an eSATA port, along with 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 XL is pretty much standard for a case with a bottom mounted power supply bay. There are elements that make it unique, however. The most notable of which is the honeycomb grille ventilation at the top. The purpose of that opening is to exhaust heat from the system driven by its top mounted 180mm fan. Traditionally, case designers install a top mounted fan to efficiently draw heat away from the processor with a top opening -- unfortunately, it is easy to get a lot of dust in the system that way. I am not a big fan of that either. Therefore, to rectify this problem, Fractal Design made a wise choice and integrated the best of both worlds into the Define XL. Rear exhaust, top mounted fan. Other manufacturers, take note.

Shifting our focus a little bit, we can expectantly spot an included white colored 140mm 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. An eighth one can be found vertical oriented on the very right; in which I would presume to be used for the included fan controller. As aforementioned, Fractal Design's Define XL eATX case has a bottom mounted power supply bay. A small honeycomb grille above the power supply bay provides additional ventilation into this area.

Shiny aluminum legs with rubber bottom resembling those commonly found on home electronics can be seen on the Fractal Design Define XL as well. Combined with a 2.5 cm rise above the residing surface, like every other air intake, the company has a fan filter here to reduce dust from entering your power supply -- especially of those featuring a bottom mounted fan.

Overall, the Fractal Design Define XL eATX 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. Nothing feels flimsy or cheap. Sharp edges are out of the question. The amount of attention to detail is simply impeccable, and to say the Define XL is not a high quality case is like saying Aston Martin makes cheap junk cars. Admittedly, the Fractal Design Define XL 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