Assembling the Fractal Design Define R3

Putting together the Fractal Design Define R3 was actually surprisingly unusual. Everything goes in the usual places and there aren't exactly any particularly strange decisions, but when it came time to install our testbed into the R3, I found that parts of the inside were ever so slightly off kilter. The interior feels like one of Corsair's designs, but one that just doesn't quite come together like Corsair's do.

Installing the motherboard was easy enough, but unfortunately Fractal Design doesn't have any standoffs pre-mounted into the tray. What you'll notice, though, is that a standard ATX motherboard does ever so slightly overlap the grommets and mounting holes surrounding the motherboard tray. Our test board is by no means oversized, but the edge is maybe a millimeter or two beyond the edge of each grommet.

The optical drive bay and hard drive trays are also anything but toolless, but given the acoustically optimized ambitions of the R3, that's not too surprising. The R3 uses the same white steel drive trays for 3.5" and 2.5" drives that the Arc Midi does, and they fit in snugly and securely. You'll still have to screw the drives into the trays, but that's not altogether unusual. Meanwhile you'll also have to manually screw in the optical drive to mount it in the 5.25" bay, but at least the shield pops off easily enough; there's a small lever on the side that you push in, and the shield just pivots right out. Fractal Design includes thumbscrews explicitly for mounting 5.25" drives, and they work well.

Mounting our GeForce GTX 580 wasn't a huge hassle either, although the spacing on the enclosures we test always seems ever so slightly off, and I feel like there's at least a shred of human error involved there. When an enclosure doesn't include an easy way to mount the motherboard, there's usually a margin of error for getting it aligned perfectly and making sure the GTX 580's bracket doesn't wind up having to stretch. So the GTX 580 had to be gently nudged into place, but it was secure and mounted using a thumbscrew.

It's here that I'd like to point out that Fractal Design also includes an expansion slot mounted fan controller with the R3. You don't have to use it and for our testing I actually elected not to; there are only two fans in the case, and both can easily be manipulated using our motherboard's built-in fan control. Cabling the fan controller in the Arc Midi also served to muck up our installation a bit, so I opted to test the R3 using motherboard control instead. When we get to the results, you'll see this wasn't an issue.

Remember when I said the interior of the R3 wound up being ever so slightly off kilter? The power supply and cabling is where that comes into play. The gap between the end of the motherboard tray and the drive cage winds up oftentimes being better for routing cables than the smallish holes in the tray, but on the flipside it results in a messier installation. The interior of the R3 may in many ways look like a Corsair case, but it doesn't work out that way in practice. The hole for the cabling to connect to the power supply is too small, and the hole that was intended for the AUX 12V line above the motherboard tray is about the right size, but runs right into the top rim of the case. As a result, the plastic plug part of the cable can't fit through the gap, or at least couldn't with our testbed; it just butts up against the inside rim of the case.

If it seems like I'm making a mountain out of a molehill, you're probably right. The interior of the R3 is still by and large well enough designed, and it's not going to be particularly difficult to install a system into it. The problem is that there are all of these little things in it that keep it from being a perfectly clean and easy installation the way the Corsair cases it resembles tend to be. If they fixed the holes in the motherboard tray by lining them up better and expanding them a bit, we'd probably have a much easier time. It's a small fix, but it would go a long way.

In and Around the Fractal Design Define R3 Testing Methodology
Comments Locked


View All Comments

  • 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.

Log in

Don't have an account? Sign up now