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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  • BitJunkie - Saturday, November 12, 2011 - link

    I intended to buy this case, however, it was out of stock and predicted to be out of stock for some time. I ended up getting the Arc Midi with a separate noise damping kit for recent build. I also purchased extra case fans, a noctua D12 and Gainward phantom 560 gfx card to team up with an i5 2500k. Its fast enough and silent.

    20 deg / 30 deg idle
    40 deg / 50 deg oc'd and full load.

    Nice that at idle the CPU operates at ambient temp.

    I tried some experiments:

    1) No noise damping kits
    2) full noise damping (all inner surfaces covered and no intake fans)
    3) 2 No x 140mm intake fan and 2 No x 140 mm throttled venting fans with noise damping cut to cover the exposed panel sections

    for 1) it was super loud, for 2) the case got very warm and mobo temps kept creeping up. For 3) I ended up with a super silent case with lots of space and good airflow.

    Given that the Arc Midi is a newer design, removable drive bay, larger cable routing slots and perfectly aligned stand-offs I'd say that it is ahead of the R3. With the addition of fractal design noise damping kit (foam with bitumen backing) then it is way ahead of my friends R3.

    Still the R3 is a great case and the write up here is to my mind a bit more critical than it needs to be. For my last build, I used a Lian Li tower that cost me over USD 200. Found this experience to be as good and probably easier on balance.

    I have more money than I need, don't really care about paying for premium kit if it gives value - I still buy Fractal Cases - would even do so for an epic build. Quite depressed to see that high end cases dont give actually give significanltly better build quality or utility than the Arc Midi - I'd really like an excuse to buy them.

    I want a case that looks good and doesnæt come from some sci-fi movie film set.

    So long as you are not gated by thermal performance, I dont see the R3 case being a limit on rig performance - so long as you can get the components in it that you want to. Key dimensions are well specified by Fractal so check out their website and use your brain.
  • Dustin Sklavos - Saturday, November 12, 2011 - link

    Honestly I'd rather be overly critical than not critical enough. As a consumer, someone buying the end product, I'd rather the reviewer have missed something awesome than something that was going to make my life difficult.

    That said, the R3 is certainly a fine case and one of the better ones I've reviewed, easy enough to recommend for sure.
  • BitJunkie - Sunday, November 13, 2011 - link

    Good points Dustin. I've been reading anandtech since 2002 and the reviews that you and your colleagues post are excellent. I wouldn't wish that you change your style or approach at all.

    I suppose my intention was to say that the negative points that you raised, which are valid, are not significant in my decision making process when I weigh them against the other points that I feel are important.

    Of course, because you pointed them out, others are then free to make their own evaluations on how important they are.

    Keep up the good work.
  • petrucius - Saturday, November 12, 2011 - link

    I am so going to buy one of those for xmas.
    Great design and looks, love it.
  • petrucius - Saturday, November 12, 2011 - link

    Oh and I almost forgot - great review, thank you! :)
  • einard - Sunday, November 13, 2011 - link

    And I can highly recommend it. So many good points compared to the bad ones. Dust filters work like a charm.

    It works well with stock, but I've gone to the step of adding two more intake fans (bottom and front) and the side door outtake fan. I'm running xfire 6950's and it sure gets hot down by the outtakes - but that just keep my feet warm during cold days :)

    Also, to top it off I removed the padding infront the one of the top fan spots. Even though its right next to the read outtake, it get hot around the cpu, and by opening that up it allows for natural removal of air.

    By using the simple fan controller that follows with the case, you can control three fans I believe - which I use to tune the intake fans to just so much that I have a slight overpressure in the case to keep dust out. I don't know the results after this, but I'm betting that if you add those three fans plus removing the padding you can get some crazy good results for a cheap case.

    I wish someone would go to the step and testing the case to it's full potential (challenge for you Anand)
  • Daedalus454 - Monday, November 14, 2011 - link

    I've been using this case for about 6 months now. I've used more expensive cases from Antec, Cooler Master, etc in the past. IMO this case is the best one I've ever used.

    I'm very surprised that you weren't able to fit the 12v power cable through it's grommet. I had no issues while using the 12v 8-pin on my SeaSonic X-650 power supply, and more recently with an NZXT 12v extension cable. I'm also running the power cables from my top and rear fans through this same grommet, and I can fit the 12v 8-pin plug through the grommet with both of these power cables in place. Does your test power supply have larger-than-normal connectors perhaps?

    I actually prefer the slight overlap between the motherboard and the side grommets, as this allows me to more easily make smaller u-bends in my cabling which, to my mind, results in a cleaner case layout. I did end up running the main ATX power cable through the gap between the mobo tray and the drive chassis, as you mentioned, which I don't really have a problem with. It puts a lot less side load on the motherboard power connector that way in any case.

    In my experience, if installed correctly, brass motherboard standoffs are extremely rigid - I doubt your issue with the video card not lining up perfectly is related to the use of removable standoffs. I find that there's a lot more wiggle room where the motherboard screws into the mounts, and if a video card doesn't line up, I just need to loosen all the motherboard screws and gently slide the mobo in the right direction.

    I'm running my R3 with two 120mm intakes, a 140mm bottom intake, a 120mm exhaust, and a 140 top exhaust, running through an NZXT Mesh fan controller. With the fans set to a "reasonable" speed I can cool an idling Phenom II 955 (with a CM Hyper 212+) at 1-2 degrees above ambient. With the top 140mm fan, I prefer to mount the CPU cooler horizontally so that it exhausts straight out the top of the case.
  • milic - Sunday, November 20, 2011 - link

    I am looking for real silence, just wondering: are FD fans good enough to be kept or is it worth switching to top of the line Noctua NF-S12B FLX? and great review by the way, this case is really top notch for value
  • milic - Sunday, November 20, 2011 - link

    Ooops edit: Daedalus454, interesting comments, on the side, what is the NZXT Mesh fan worth? looks nice, no real information displayed but does it really matter? :-)
  • Flashfir - Monday, November 21, 2011 - link

    I'm running this with sflex-e as exhaust, 1 as the upper front intake, a stock fan for front lower intake, and a 140mm xigmatek for bottom intake. it runs pretty quiet my friends say they can't tell if my computer is on walking into the room.

    if you got any questions, lemme know. I'm also running a hyper 212+ and a 955.

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