In and Around the Fractal Design Define R3

If you read our review of the Fractal Design Arc Midi, the Define R3's interior is going to seem pretty familiar. That's not necessarily a bad thing; Fractal Design brings a lot of smart ideas to the table with the two enclosures, and the R3 in particular seems to really maximize its internal real estate compared to some of the competition. It's not a big case, but there's a lot to it.

Before we get to that, though, the basics: the R3 uses a foam-padded door on the front to keep the noise in, but unlike Antec's older P180 series designs, Fractal Design wisely places the power button and I/O ports at the top of the enclosure, above the door. The result is a door that becomes less of a nuisance and more functional. When you open it, you'll find the two 120mm fan mounts (one of which is occupied) as well as just two 5.25" drive bays. Some users might chafe at the notion of being stuck with just two bays, but I honestly prefer it for most enclosures. Surrounding the door on the outside is a ventilated region that allows the intake fan to pull in air from the sides; this is an improvement over NZXT's H2, whose door threatens to completely suffocate the intakes, but it feels minimal compared to the intakes in Antec's P180 series.

The sides and bottom of the enclosure are pretty much what you've come to expect, with two fan mounts on the top, one on the side, and one on the bottom, but the difference here is that every mount but the bottom one is basically sealed off with removable acoustic foam panels. This honestly feels like such a good idea that I'm baffled as to why it's not more common, because it basically allows the R3 to succeed either as a quiet case or as a performance case (provided you add additional fans), as well as offering several points in between. I love it, and I wish more enclosure designers would implement something like this. Moving around to the back of the enclosure we see Fractal Design's traditional set of white expansion slot covers and the white exhaust fan, but otherwise nothing particularly noteworthy.

When you pop the R3 open, though, you'll see an interior that's largely well designed and really maximizes the available space. A friend of mine is in the market for a new case, and when I showed her the R3 she actually called the eight drive trays "extravagant." That may very well be, but they're an appreciated amount of expansion (even if a touch excessive), and the lateral mounting allows for easy cable routing to behind the motherboard tray. Fractal Design also includes the usual grommet-lined holes for cable routing, but they're a touch smaller in the R3. As for expansion clearance, odds are you're not going to be fitting an AMD Radeon HD 6990 or ASUS Mars II in here, but if you can afford either of those, why are you buying a $100 case? I found the clearance for power supplies, expansion cards, and CPU cooling to be just right.

Fractal Design has also padded both side panels, a much appreciated gesture keeping in line with the R3's ambitions as a silent chassis.

Ultimately I'm a fan of the R3's aesthetics (particularly the blue LED at the top center of the case that goes up and around the power button), and it's been my experience that a lot of you also like these generally sleek, minimalistic designs. The good news I have for you is that you've spoken and it seems the vendors are listening, given what Fractal Design is doing, along with BitFenix and some others. Even a recent conversation with Antec about the upcoming P280 suggests you're being heard loud and clear.

Introducing the Fractal Design Define R3 Assembling the Fractal Design Define R3
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  • cjb110 - Friday, November 11, 2011 - link

    Given the sizes are standard, I'm surprised there isn't a third-party product, sheet of heavy ish metal with insulation of some kind. Reply
  • beginner99 - Friday, November 11, 2011 - link

    Seem weird. You say ambient is 71-74 F (= 21-23 °C) yet idle temps are exactly yin that range. CPU idles at ambient seems a little off to me? Reply
  • moep - Friday, November 11, 2011 - link

    But how did your review case smell?

    When I bought my R3 last year, it emitted a headache inducing stench that was too much to bear. I first thought that the bitumen mats were to blame, but Fractal later on told me that something went wrong during the production process of the rubber parts.

    I had to throw all the rubber grommets out.
    Reply
  • ckevin1 - Friday, November 11, 2011 - link

    They have fixed that. I read that they changed the rubber on the newer models because of that exact complaint. My new R3 arrived just yesterday, and I did not notice any bad smell with it.

    I was actually in the market for a potentially expensive case -- the FT02 and Raven were in consideration -- but the dealbreaker for me was the size of those cases. The spot under my desk can really only hold something about as long as the R3, maybe a little taller but not much. As far as I could tell, the R3 is about the nicest case you can buy of its size, without having to go significantly bigger.

    I would have liked another quarter inch of clearance behind the motherboard tray. There is some space back there, and ultimately I did get all the cables routed, but fitting the door was impossible until I laid the case on its side.

    The bottom fan intake for the PSU isn't going to have enough clearance on carpet, you'll probably need to put a hard surface underneath it. I really like the FT02 design in this area, with the flat bottom giving you an inch air gap on any surface.

    In general, the case seems quality. I was hoping the sound damping might do more to mitigate my noisy GPU fan, but it sounds about the same as in my old Sonata 3. I can't fault the case on that -- it's a really crappy card -- and I imagine I'll be able to appreciate the lower temps and low noise of the system fans once I replace that component, which is by far the noisiest thing in my build.
    Reply
  • geniekid - Friday, November 11, 2011 - link

    I've been waiting for this review forever! Thanks!

    I also dislike having the door, but if it helps keep thing quiet, I can live with it. This will probably be the case I use for my next gaming build unless the FT02 drops under $150 - pretty unlikely, I know.
    Reply
  • vectorm12 - Friday, November 11, 2011 - link

    I recently bought a couple of FD cases (R3+Define XL) what I cannot for the life of me understand is why the drivetrays are as flimsy as they are. They are made out of steel and as much have a tendency to bend and flex. After a couple of drive-swaps I've already been forced to correct some of the trays to keep them locking into the case. The ideal budget-drivetrays in my mind come from the HP Microserver(they are plastic but extremely sturdy).

    Secondly I hate the fact that not more cases come with hotswap capability (even as an option).

    If your like me building a home server aiming for Xen/Fileserver etc. Your gonna need plenty of HDDs. Even a dumb-backplane with SATA-connectors would be better than having to disassemble the case each time I need to switch out a bad drive.

    With the XL I could give up three of the 5,25" bays for a separe hotswap-bay but honestly it's far from an ideal solution. Again a backplane for the satadrives (even as an option) would have been a far greater idea considering you can fit 10 drives inside the XL, without using the 5,25" bays.
    Reply
  • vectorm12 - Friday, November 11, 2011 - link

    Half my kingdom for a edit button :)

    In any case despite these gripes this is in my opinion THE budget case to get. With improved fans this case is capable of running a system extremely quiet and still keep relatively cool.

    Not gonna bother correcting the few typos I made in my previous post :)
    Reply
  • xeizo - Friday, November 11, 2011 - link

    And I'm very happy with it. The build quality is not top notch, it is only ok, but the functionality is almost faultless. It housed my C2Q @ 3.84GHz very silently for the past year and now it houses my 2600k-rig @ 4.8GHz on water near silent(I use slightly higher speed ST1450-fans to get better performande from the radiator, the C2Q was aircooled with TRUE and Noctua 12P and more silent).

    Very easy to work with, lots of space. I use all the 140mm-fan positions occupied with FDs own 140mm fans @ 600rpm and they are totally silent compared to the Silent Typhoons which are the only fans making some kind of noise in the rig. All fans are intake except the two in the top, which makes the case an excellent chimney :)
    (the water radiator benefits from intake ie cooler air pasing through it)
    Reply
  • cjs150 - Monday, November 14, 2011 - link

    Interesting. Always though that the Arc Midi was a better choice for watercooling (or maybe just more flexible) but clearly R3 also works well.

    Are you cooling the CPU only or watercooling GPU+CPU?
    Reply
  • HaydenOscar - Friday, November 11, 2011 - link

    I have the R2, can anyone please tell me what has changed between these two versions? I can't seem to find an actual list anywhere. Reply

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