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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  • Dustin Sklavos - Friday, November 11, 2011 - link

    Everyone's a comedian.
  • Peskarik - Friday, November 11, 2011 - link

    Swedish design. :-)

    Very nice case, good materials, many possible fan mounts, good cable management.

    I installed:
    Asus P8Z68-V Pro/Gen3
    Intel Core i7 2600K
    Noctua CPU-Cooler NH-U12P SE2
    be quiet! STRAIGHT POWER, E8 CM 680W 80plus Silver
    Corsair Vengeance Red, 2x4GB, DDR3-1600, CL9@1.5V
    Seagate Momentus XT, 7200rpm, 32MB, 2.5", 500GB
    OCZ SSD Vertex 3 60GB, SATA-3, 2.5"
    extra fan at the bottom: Noctua 120mm NF-S12B FLX-Series
    will install another fan on the top: Noctua 140mm NF-P14 FLX-Series

    I do not have any graphics card in the case now, but with side open and the case 30cm from my head I hear only the CPU fans, the case fans and the bottom Noctua fan are very quiet.
    For me the problem with the case is non-removable drive bay rack. There is only one rack running from top to bottom with space for 8 drives. I wish the rack was 2-piece (4 + 4) and removable, so that I could remove the rack for the bottom 4 drives and get free air flow from the lower front fan.
  • Peskarik - Friday, November 11, 2011 - link

    Oh, I forgot, the front eSATA is now replaced with USB 3.0, and the HDD light is integrated into the power button light (I like this a lot).
  • UNHchabo - Friday, November 11, 2011 - link

    I thought the Power light was far too bright to be on constantly, so I just plugged the power LED leads into the HDD LED header. Works perfectly for me...
  • Malih - Friday, November 11, 2011 - link

    exactly, i'm using Define Mini, they have pretty much the same design, and I don't care much for power LED, HDD LED is more important to me.
  • Peskarik - Saturday, November 12, 2011 - link

    Thanks for the suggestion!
  • FlyBri - Friday, November 11, 2011 - link

    I've been looking at either getting the Define R3, or a BitFenix Shinobi w/ sound dampening material installed (I'm a bit curious to see if the Shinobi would perform the same, better, or worse than the Define R3).

    Anyway, what wasn't mentioned in the article is that for the longest time now, the only vendor in the US that sells the Define R3 is NewEgg. While NewEgg is a great site, they are currently charging around $23 for shipping. Add to that the fact that I live in CA, and thus have to pay sales tax on it, and I'm looking at a total cost of $142.65. While this is a good case, to me, that's too much to pay for it.

    If NewEgg ever offers a free shipping promotion on it (or even like a $5 shipping promotion), I'd definitely reconsider, but seeing as I haven't seen them do it ever (and I've been checking periodically for months), I'm not expecting it to happen anytime soon.

    So Fractal Design, if you're reading this, you have a VERY popular case in the Define get some more U.S. vendors on-board please!!!
  • piroroadkill - Friday, November 11, 2011 - link

    This is practically perfect.

    The 8 3.5" side facing drive sleds me me want to jizz.

    My current system uses an Antec P182, which I've had for a few builds now, but there are annoying issues. No hole where the cooler backplate is, making it a dick to swap the cooler. Bottom drive cage is horrible (yes, I already removed the middle fan, with that it's almost impossible to work in.
    Too little space behind the motherboard!

    I have 7 hard drives and an SSD in my P182, along with one HD-DVD/Blu-ray drive, so I could use every single one of those 8 sleds and leave one 5.25" bay left over, and it would look fantastic.

    That said, I just finished my build back in my P182 and I can't be bothered to switch.. But damn, this is an extremely nice case for a reasonable price.
  • Peskarik - Friday, November 11, 2011 - link

    "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 disagree with this logic.
    R3 is nice and would fit 6990 no problem, if the drive bay rack were split and removable.
    The fixed non-splittable rack is The big miss in R3 for me.

    The rest was fine, fitting MB was no problem, but like you've wrote, the standoffs were not mounted and since this is the first time I build a machine on my own it took me some time to understand how to mount the MB correctly (specifically, where those shiny standoffs should go). :-)
  • JarredWalton - Friday, November 11, 2011 - link

    You disagree with which part of the logic? That people buying a $700 or $1400 GPU that uses a metric ton of power would likely be shopping for a larger case? Because that seems very reasonable to me; I don't get why people are uptight about us pointing out that a $100 case may not be the best choice for what will presumably be a dream system in the rest of the components.

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