Assembling the Fractal Design Define R4

Much as with the Define R3, Fractal Design takes a few cues from Corsair in the ease of assembly arena. Despite having been under the weather with tension headaches and a stomach bug this week, the Define R4 was still pretty easy to put together.

Fractal Design doesn't include the convenience of pre-mounted motherboard standoffs, but it has all of the necessary mounting points for Mini-ITX, ATX, and large Micro-ATX boards like the one we use in our testbed. The I/O shield snapped in easily enough, and the motherboard went in without any real trouble. Vertical clearance is a little crunched (hence my reservations about using a 240mm radiator in the R4), but this is also a relatively small case compared to some of the monsters I've tested recently. The R4 really is a mid-tower or as most users would say, "reasonably sized."

Installing drives in the R4 is relatively easy, too. Fractal Design doesn't go the toolless route anywhere, but that may be to minimize vibration. There are silicone grommets on the drive trays for mechanical drives, and 2.5" drives just screw in directly to the bottom of the trays. These trays are designed primarily for bottom-mounting drives but there are a pair of holes in the sides for the oddball device that won't mount that way (like our Corsair Link unit). The drive shields for the 5.25" bays also lock in and pop out easily; they use a small lever you can lift with your thumb as a locking mechanism.

Expansion cards and the power supply are basically the same story. The expansion slots use thumbscrews as is de rigeur, while the power supply mount has padding behind and below it. Nothing entirely notable here, although it's worth mentioning again that the eighth expansion slot is positioned laterally above the seven and intended for adding ports or whatever other accessories might fit there. Doing this saves on the height of the case, but in the process it does crunch the space between the power supply and bottom of the motherboard some.

Where things start to go a little topsy turvy is with cabling. The rubber-grommet lined holes in the motherboard tray seem a little on the small side, which can be a minor inconvenience. I was disappointed to see Fractal Design still hasn't really fixed one of my big problems with the R3, though: the AUX 12V routing hole above the motherboard. They increased the space between the back of the motherboard tray and the the right side panel, but that doesn't change the fact that the AUX 12V line routing hole is essentially parallel to the panel rails. In the R3 I just plain couldn't use the hole, while in the R4 I could shimmy the cable through with a little effort. This still feels like a big oversight that needs to be corrected somehow, though. Fractal Design may want to consider switching over to a hinged side panel mounting design for the next revision to clear this gap.

By and large, though, assembly was pretty easy and I can't complain too much outside of the cabling snafu. What's worth pointing out is that the R4 does not feature an IDE indicator LED despite having space for one. The LEDs surrounding the power button and breaking the center of the front door are power indicators only. This is an unusual omission that doesn't affect the usability of the case too much (many notebooks these days don't include IDE indicators either), but it's worth mentioning.

In and Around the Fractal Design Define R4 Testing Methodology
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  • Dustin Sklavos - Friday, July 20, 2012 - link

    Fractal Design rates it for 15mm, but I'm still of the opinion that your mileage may vary due to VRM sink design, etc. If it's going to fit it's going to be awfully tight, I don't think I'd try it in this case.
  • danjw - Saturday, July 21, 2012 - link

    Thank you for the response. Sounds like a water cooling in this case is a lost cause. Oh well.
  • vanwazltoff - Wednesday, August 1, 2012 - link

    actually there is not a single review that says this but the button hard drive cage can be moved back and a 240mm read can be installed in the front. there is a YouTube video from fractal that shows this
  • TheStu - Friday, July 20, 2012 - link

    I just picked up the Arc Midi, which I love aside from one small issue. In the removable cage, you cannot put a 3.5" drive into the top bay. The screws that secure the plastic bits on top protrude down too far and it scratches the top of the drive. I suppose if I felt like gouging the crap out of my drive I could put one there, but fortunately I /only/ have 6 hard drives and 1 SSD.
  • sonicology - Saturday, July 21, 2012 - link

    "Evolution not revolution" and variations thereof must be the single most overused literary cliche in tech journalism, every time I read it I shudder.
  • randinspace - Saturday, July 21, 2012 - link

    It's the influence gaming has had on the current generation of writers. Although, I'd personally take "evolution not revolution" over "rare(fied) air" (which seemed to inexplicably sweep the nation after Drew Brees passed Dan Marino's passing record last season, even creeping into Anandtech) any day.

    Seriously speaking (as a hack novelist who makes less money from writing than most HS kids do from their summer jobs), I find that even though the writers here at Anandtech all have their own idiosyncrasies which they can't help but put on display considering their output, they each have their own distinct "voice" and do a good job not just parroting their fellows' expressions, anecdotes, opinions, metaphors, and what have you. As opposed to AM radio personalities, ESPN's in particular. If I hear Jeremy Lin described as a "gift from the heavens that fell into the Knicks' lap last season" one more time (after hearing it used on just about every ESPN radio program just about every day this week) I'm going to throw whatever the offending phrase issued from into the nearest bay. Even if it's my manager.
  • Dustin Sklavos - Saturday, July 21, 2012 - link

    Sometimes I can't help it, and I've found myself often even accidentally or almost repeating myself in headlines. It's tough to consistently come up with new stuff when you write as much as we do. ;)

    At the risk of tooting our own horn a little bit, Anand pretty aggressively courts (and has us aggressively court) people who have some writing skill in addition to their understanding of technology. From there, our editorial process has been in my experience devoid of any stylistic editing. I've written for a few sites, but these are seriously the nicest and most genuinely talented guys I've ever worked with.
  • Grok42 - Sunday, July 22, 2012 - link

    I love the monolithic front look of the case with no bays or grills. I also appreciate this case bucking the almost universal trend of putting three or four and sometimes even five useless 5.25" bays. Doing so builds the option of having much better cooling or many more hard drives.

    Other than the power button, the ports on the top of the case seem a bit silly. I can't imagine why I would use the audio ports for my speakers. I can't imagine use them for headphones instead of the headphone port on my speakers or remote dongle. Same for the USB, just use the one on my computer/monitor/keyboard/speakers all which seem like they would be more convenient. I wouldn't care so much but it seems like those top ports will get dirty quickly and become unsightly.

    I also agree with other posters that the top ports shouldn't be there. My current case has a vent and fan on the top and I will never get another case with them again. You can stack anything on top and my son loves to put things into them.

    Finally, If they really want to do a revolution for the next iteration of this case here is what I would do. Ditch the 5.25" bays entirely. Reduce the width of the case as much as feasible while still keeping the 3.5" bays mounted the same. Ditch the lateral expansion slot if it helps reduce case width. Ditch ATX support along with 3 of the 7 expansion slots to allow the case to be shorter.
  • Arbie - Sunday, July 22, 2012 - link

    Actually, I love the top vents on my Coolermaster CM-690, and wouldn't buy a case without them for a performance build.

    This looks like a very good case even compared to the CM-690 series, except I don't want a door. Is it removable? I hope so.
  • Grok42 - Sunday, July 22, 2012 - link

    I would prefer not having a door as well to reduce the overall size of the case. However, as long as manufactures insist on not making ANY cases without putting 5.25" bays in them, there are a lot of people who want something to cover up the ugliness these bays create. My ideal case would look just like the front of this without a door. The front sides would have vents/grills for pulling air in across all the drive bays and exhaust it out the back with vents/grills where they now typically have 9 expansion ports. Basically create a wind tunnel from front to back with the only compromise is not pulling air through the front panel for appearance reasons.

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