Assembling the Fractal Design Define Mini

The Fractal Design Define Mini may be a year old, but it's design feels like it's at least two or three, unfortunately. Certain conveniences we've come to appreciate in recent designs are absent, and Fractal Design hasn't shown any sign of learning about them in the intervening period between the Define Mini's launch and their most recent case, the Define XL R2.

Once again, no standoffs or studs are included to line up motherboard installation, so it's back to screwing in standoffs manually for you. A high end micro-ATX motherboard uses the same number of standoffs as a standard ATX board, so even the smaller form factor won't save you. For what it's worth, the motherboard lined up well, and the case headers were all long enough to connect with no problems.

Installing a 5.25" drive is basically toolless (and painless), but my review unit had the cables from the top I/O cluster hanging in the top bay. That meant a lot of struggling to get them routed the way they're supposed to; if they're not, you won't be able to fit an optical drive in here, and you'll run into the same idiotic problem the Nanoxia Deep Silence 1 unfortunately suffers from, where badly routed cables actually prevent you from using the bay. The installation itself required no latches or anything of the kind; Fractal Design includes special thumbscrews with smaller heads appropriate to the mounting holes of an optical drive.

3.5" and 2.5" drives require the use of a Phillips head screwdriver, but I'm mostly okay with it due to how sturdy and rigid the drive trays themselves are. You'll need the special screws included for the rubber grommets used to insulate the 3.5" drives from vibration; 2.5" drives just screw directly into the tray proper.

Mounting the power supply was a painless process, but expansion cards and the fan controller are a little more complicated. That owes almost entirely to the fan controller actually; if you use the extra expansion slot, it makes turning the thumbscrews for the primary four slots much more difficult, and that's ignoring the fact that I needed pliers for the fifth slot's thumbscrew anyhow. So if you're stupid enough to install the fan controller in the fifth slot first like I was (and keep in mind I needed pliers to get it comfortably secure), you just made life a lot harder on yourself. This is more advice to the end user and less a critique of Fractal Design, who were thoughtful enough to include that fifth slot in the first place.

Things start to go a little off the rails when you get to cabling, though. Most of the routing holes are well placed and work perfectly, but that fan controller seriously hampers any attempts at a clean cabling job. It uses a molex connector, and all of its leads are too short to route behind the motherboard tray. The leads on the case fans themselves are also too short to route, so you'll have fan leads stretching across the interior of the case. I'm absolutely dire at cabling systems, but this just makes things worse. Space behind the motherboard tray is at a premium as well, making the rear panel difficult to replace.

The Fractal Design Define Mini is ultimately reasonably easy to build in, but it lacks modern conveniences, and things go haywire (no pun intended) when you start running the necessary leads. This isn't catastrophic by any measure, and the case as a whole is very sturdy, but it's further evidence of Fractal Design being just a breath behind Corsair and now NZXT in usability.

In and Around the Fractal Design Define Mini Testing Methodology
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  • Sleepingforest - Monday, April 22, 2013 - link

    Dustin, how would you say this compares to the TJ08e? They have essentially identical price points and both promise quiet performance.
  • smellykaka - Monday, April 22, 2013 - link

    I have a TJ08e and I can't imagine how it could be called quiet. Its single fan on low setting is very audible. My main PC (in a Fractal Design R3) with 6 case fans (and a water pump, and four GPU fans) is considerably quieter at idle.
  • EnzoFX - Monday, April 22, 2013 - link

    It can be quiet. It's loud just like any open? case with direct airflow. So it's up to your components. The big 180mm? fan on the TJ08e can be undervolted and be set quiet, it's 180mm! so it'll still pump out good air. After that it's up to your components, so pick a good cpu hs/f, quiet gpu, HDD's that don't vibrate too much, etc, etc.

    But yes, if you don't want to approach it this way, a case like this will be the best bet in terms of quiet potential, without having to try too hard.
  • Sleepingforest - Monday, April 22, 2013 - link

    Weird. Even in games, mine is totally silent. Maybe you're pushing your hardware harder?
  • serrin - Monday, April 22, 2013 - link

    That's probably because the noise of your games is masking the noise of your case. The TJ-08E is great* quiet case, with the caveat being that you need to undervolt that sucker of a 180mm fan. Although that's not too hard given that you can buy them from fleaBay for a couple of bucks if you don't want to weld some resistors to a bit of wire.
    The Define Mini also is easier to assemble than the TJ-08E, but it's also 10cm longer and thus, heavier.
    Six of one, half a dozen of the other.
  • Sleepingforest - Monday, April 22, 2013 - link

    The TJ08e is definitely a pain to muck around in because of the cramped space. My hands are pretty big, so squeezing them into case to mess with fan headers is pretty close to impossible. I wish it was just an inch bigger in each dimension.

    I have the fan undervolted pretty considerably, so even with the game sounds off, I don't really hear what's happening. Or being under a fume hood for too long has desensitized me to fan noise...
  • JPForums - Monday, April 22, 2013 - link

    I agree. The loudest component in the most recent TJ08e based build I've put together is the Zalman 9900CNPS and that's not particularly loud. However, the case is seriously a pain to work in for someone with big hands. I'm actually putting together two builds based on the Define R4 and Define Mini this weekend. I don't know how the noise will compare, but I've opened up the chassis and I'm fairly certain the Mini will be easier to build in than the TJ08e. I can't imagine its thermal performance will be quite as good though.
  • Metaluna - Monday, April 22, 2013 - link

    The hard drive cage in the TJ08e also has major interference issues with many full-sized tower coolers. It's virtually impossible to mount a 3.5" HD in this cage with anything but a smallish (90mm) tower cooler, or maybe a 120 with the fan flipped to the other side (which in my situation had other interference issues on the other side of the board).

    On the plus side, it does have more height clearance for taller coolers. But overall I agree it's a PITA case to work in.
  • Death666Angel - Tuesday, April 23, 2013 - link

    I have big hands (1.95m here) and no problem with the TJ08-E. But then again, I don't use 3.5" drives. All my drives are in the 5.25" trays (2.5" ones, 7 total). That's all I need. And the space freed up is great for water cooling (pump and controls). :) The front intake fan is loud even in lowered setting though. It runs at ~700rpm on the low setting, but I have my fan control throttle the fan to ~500rpm to be inaudible. :)
  • Dustin Sklavos - Monday, April 22, 2013 - link

    I don't want to be a jerk, but have you tried changing the fan's setting? There's a switch on the side of the case, I believe, that's easy to miss, but on the low setting the TJ08-E is borderline inaudible.

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