Fractal Design Define Nano S Mini-ITX Case Review

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Small form factor (SSF) builds have been quite popular over the last few years, and Fractal Design has a new case for those in the SFF market. Fractal Design launched the Define Nano S back in January, and we finally got our hands on one to showcase to you all today. Enjoy!

Specifications & Features

(Courtesy of Fractal Design)

Fractal Design Define Nano S Specifications
Motherboard Mini-ITX
Expansion Slots 2
Storage 2 3.5″/2.5″ drive positions; 2 dedicated 2.5″ drive positions (fits SSDs up to 13 mm thick)
Fans 6 positions (1x Fractal Design Dynamic GP14 and 1x GP12 included)
Filtered fan slots in the front and bottom (ejects from the front of the case)
Compatibility CPU coolers up to 160 mm in height
ATX PSUs up to 160 mm in length (shorter PSUs recommended for easier cable management)
GPUs up to 315 mm in length with front fans mounted
Cable Management 17 – 35 mm of space for cable routing behind the motherboard plate
Velcro straps included for easy cable management
Captive Screws Both side panels and rear HDD/SSD brackets feature smart captive thumbscrews
Noise Reduction Dense sound dampening material on front panel, right side panel, and top ModuVent™
ModuVent™ on top of case for further silent computing or additional ventilation
Colors Black
Case Dimensions
(W x H x D)
203 x 330 x 400 mm
203 x 344 x 412 mm (including feet/screws/protrusions)
Net Weight 4.6 kg
Case Volume 26.8 l

Key Features

  • A Define Series ITX case designed for silent computing with sound dampening and ModuVent™ technology
  • User-friendly construction with superior cable management and compatibility for full-size components
  • Flexible storage options with room for up to 4 drives
  • Accommodates a variety of radiator sizes and includes brackets for reservoir and pump mounting
  • Features two Dynamic Series fans — 1 GP-12 and 1 GP-14 — with an adapter included for motherboards with limited fan headers
  • Featuring an open interior allowing an unobstructed airflow path from the front of the case to the rear exhaust
  • Easy-to-clean filters on the top and bottom, spanning the PSU position, with the bottom filter ejecting from the front for easy-access.

Cooling System

  • Front: 2x 120/140 mm fans (included is one Fractal Design Dynamic GP14 fan, 1000 RPM speed)
  • Rear: 1x 120 mm fan (included is one Fractal Design Dynamic GP12 fan, 1200 RPM speed)
  • Top: 2x 120/140 mm fan (not included)
  • Bottom: 1x 120 mm fan (not included)
  • Dust filters: Bottom and front intakes

Water Cooling Compatibility

Radiators

  • Front: 120/240 mm, 140/280 mm (max width 147, length 312; some radiators extend beyond the screw holes)
  • Top: 120/240 mm (max component height on motherboard 35 mm. Big heatsinks on RAM or power regulators around CPU could conflict with this restriction)
  • Bottom: 120 mm (max thickness & length: 85 x 160 mm)

Pumps

  • Pre-drilled holes on multi-bracket, supports many DDC and D5 variants (see manual for detailed measurements)

Reservoirs

  • Adjustable mounting brackets allow for almost any rectangular mounting screw pattern. Maximum distance between the mounting bracket screw positions: 270 mm height / 80 mm width.

Packaging & Accessories

The Define Nano S was wrapped in plastic with Styrofoam caps on the front and back of the case, and placed in a cardboard box. The box has an isometric view of the Define Nano S on one side and an exploded view of the case on the other side.

Box

Box

Box

Box

The accessories box contains mounting screws, reservoir brackets, a fan splitter, and cable ties. A very detailed user guide is also included, which goes through installing basic components, all possible mounting configurations for HDD/SSD/pumps, and all compatibility limitations of radiators/GPUs/heatsinks.

Accessories Box and Manual

Accessories Box and Manual

Fractal Design Define Nano S

The Define Nano S has Fractal Design’s signature Define series look. The case is sleek and streamlined; a rectangular box without any protrusions. The Nano S is entirely black on the outside with a brushed metal look on the front panel and side vents along the front panel for intake. This model sports a window on the left side panel to display the build, but a windowless version is also available.

Define Nano S

Define Nano S

Define Nano S

Define Nano S

Define Nano S

Define Nano S

Define Nano S

Define Nano S

Exterior

On to a closer look at the exterior, the front panel I/O is on top of the case and consists of 3.5 mm audio I/O, large power button, small reset button, and two USB 3.0 ports. The USB 3.0 ports are black instead of the usual blue color to stay within the color scheme of the case. The Define Nano S also has a large removable ModuVent panel spanning almost the entire length of the top of the case. When the tool-less panel is removed, it opens up the top of the Define Nano S revealing a hexagonal mesh and mounting for up to two 120 mm or 140 mm fans (120 mm radiators can also be mounted at the top, inside the case). The panel also has noise reduction material on the under side which allows users to close off the top of the case completely for reduced noise.

Front Panel I/O

Front Panel I/O

Top - ModuVent Removed

Top – ModuVent Removed

Removing the front panel reveals an easily removable magnetic intake filter that helps keep the case clean of dust and debris. When we take the filter out, we can see the Fractal Design Dynamic GP14 fan mounted in the middle of the front. Both 120 mm and 140 mm fans can be mounted in the front (up to two), and their exact positions can be adjusted thanks to the slot mounting system.

Front Panel Removed

Front Panel Removed

Front Filter Removed

Front Filter Removed

On to the bottom, the Define Nano S stands on four rubber feet with chrome housings. An intake filter spans the bottom which keeps dust and debris out of the both the PSU and the interior of the case. This filter slides into and out of place from the front of the case, which makes for easy removal and cleaning without having to tilt the case on its side for access.

Bottom

Bottom

Bottom - Filter Removed

Bottom – Filter Removed

The rear of the case looks fairly ordinary for a case of this size. The rear fan is a 120 mm Fractal Design Dynamic GP12 that’s mounted in slots to allow a little adjustment for aligning with heatsinks and directing airflow.

Rear

Rear

Rear Fan

Rear Fan

Interior

First, here’s an open shot of the interior. There are a total of five grommets for cable management: two above the motherboard area, two on the right side of the motherboard area, and one down near the PSU. We can see the the front panel wiring coming out of the PSU grommet, but when building, those wires will be fed through the other grommets.

Interior

Interior

The multi-bracket mounting plate on the bottom is a really versatile piece of aluminum that can mount 3.5″ drives, 2.5″ drives, and pumps (DDC and D5 variants). The plate is installed in the bottom of the case from the factory, and its placement can be adjusted from front to back. However, the plate can also be installed vertically on the tray slots.

HDD/SSD/Pump Mount

HDD/SSD/Pump Mount

HDD/SSD/Pump Mount

HDD/SSD/Pump Mount

Looking at the front of the interior we can see the GP14 fan, and some vertical slots on the tray. The slots pictured can be used in combination with the reservoir brackets to mount tube reservoirs in the case, or the multi-bracket can be used to mount a 3.5″ drive, 2.5″ drive, or pump.

Front

Front

Front

Front

In the bottom left corner, we can see the screws for the expansion slots are located inside of the case, which is atypical of most other cases out there. In the PSU area, there is some foam around the opening and four rubber disks for the PSU to sit on, both of which will help reduce any vibrations that could be caused by the PSU.

Rear

Rear

With the non-windowed side panel removed we can see the sound dampening material on the inside. The thumbscrews holding the side panels in place are captive to the panels to make installation and removal easy as possible, and prevents losing the screws (I really like this).

Side Panel

Side Panel

Screw

Screw

The first thing we notice when looking behind the motherboard tray is a couple of innovative hard drive mounts that save space in the main compartment by moving drives behind the tray. The mount on the left supports either a 3.5″ drive or a 2.5″ drive, whereas the one on the right supports up to two 2.5″ drives. Both of these mounts are each held in place with one captive thumbscrew. Fractal Design included three Velcro cable straps for cable management as well. Speaking of cable management, there is anywhere between 17 and 35 mm of room behind the tray for all of the PSU cables (more room towards the front of the case).

Behind Tray

Behind Tray

Drive Mounts

Drive Mounts

Component Installation

The components I’ll be using to test out building a system in the Define Nano S are listed below. These parts will help test out multiple configurations and look for compatibility issues. Unfortunately, I don’t have a pump or reservoir to test their mounting.

Components
CPU Intel i7 6770K
CPU Cooler Thermalright Venomous X (160 mm height)
Swiftech MCR220-QP (128 x 280 x 34 mm)
Scythe Gentle Typhoon AP-15
Motherboard ASUS Maximus VIII Impact
RAM Patriot Viper 4 2×8 GB DDR4-2800
Graphics Card EVGA GeForce GTX 980 Ti (266.7 mm length)
Storage PNY CS1311 120 GB 2.5″ SSD
Western Digital Black 640 GB 3.5″ HDD
Power Supply Corsair CX430 (150 mm length)

Let’s check out some possible HDD and SSD configurations first. We can have up to three drives mounted behind the tray (two 2.5″ and one 3.5/2.5″), and one 3.5/2.5″ drive can be mounted on the multi-bracket in the bottom of the case. Personally, I’ll be keeping drives in the back to have a cleaner looking build.

HDD + SSD

HDD + SSD

SSD

SSD

HDD

HDD

SSD

SSD

Here’s a mounting configuration that I forgot about until later in the build. Using the multi-bracket allows a 3.5″ or 2.5″ drive to be mounted vertically onto the motherboard tray. This is a good way to show off the HDD/SSD through the side panel window if you aren’t using the bracket for a pump.

Heatsink and Vertical Drive

Heatsink and Vertical Drive

Motherboard installation was straight forward using just four screws on the corners of the ITX board, but don’t forget to install the rear I/O guard first. When installing a backplate for the CPU cooler, whether it’s a heatsink or a waterblock, there is plenty of the motherboard tray cut out for easy access and installation.

Motherboard and RAM Installed

Motherboard and RAM Installed

Heatsink Backplate

Heatsink Backplate

Installing the PSU is easy by just sliding it into place, fan down, and using the four provided screws to hold it in place. The Corsair CX430 is 150 mm in length, so 10 mm less than the max recommended length. We can see why a smaller PSU is recommended since the bottom grommet would start to be covered by a 160+ mm length PSU. However, cable routing should still be manageable with the grommet partially covered.

PSU Installed

PSU Installed

To install the GPU we have to remove the two thumbscrews and white slot covers on the back of the case. Then, slide the GPU into place and secure it with the thumbscrews. Once installed we can see that there isn’t much space between the PSU and GPU (maybe 4-5 mm) with one of the fans on EVGA’s ACX cooler above the PSU and one out in the open case. So, a reference (or “Founder’s Edition”) GPU would make better use of the placement since they usually have a blower style cooler with one intake fan on the end of the card.

GPU Installed

GPU Installed

The Define Nano S supports 2×120 mm and 2×140 mm radiators so let’s see how my Swiftech MCR220-QP (2×120 mm) fits in the front and top of the case. First, the front panel needs to be removed so we can also remove the GP14 fan and install the radiator. Using the mounting slots made attaching the radiator a breeze. The radiator did overlap the middle mounting hole for the front panel, but it wasn’t enough to prevent the front panel from snapping in place. With the radiator installed there is still a little space between the AP15 fans and the end of the GTX 980 Ti.

Radiator Overlapping Front Panel Mounting Hole

Radiator Overlapping Front Panel Mounting Hole

Radiator Installed

Radiator Installed

Close up

Now for some unfortunate, but expected, news about mounting the radiator to the top of the case. When using motherboards like the Maximus VIII Impact or Z87I-Deluxe that have vertically extended power sections, the 34 mm thick MCR220-QP could not be installed (with or without fans). This result was expected since Fractal Design specifically states that motherboards with tall components could interfere with mounting a radiator in the top of the Define Nano S. However, it’s still slightly disappointing that users with select top-of-the-line ITX boards may not be able to install enough water cooling components to cool their overclocked CPU and GPU. Although, a single 120 mm radiator looks like it may fit in the top towards the front, but I don’t have one to confirm and it looks like it would be a really close fit, so I wouldn’t bank on it.

Conclusion

The Fractal Design Define Nano S is a small, sleek, ITX case with straight lines and flat surfaces. It uses Fractal Design’s signature black and white theme; mostly black with a few white accents to be precise. In my opinion, it’s a great look for those who like understated elegance.

I mentioned the Define Nano S is small, however, it’s not too small that it has to sacrifice features for size. Three HDD/SSD mounts behind the motherboard tray opens up quite a few water cooling options. There’s room for a 2×120 mm plus another 2×120/140 mm radiator (depending on components’ size), which should be enough to cool a CPU and GPU. Fractal Design even included ways to mount common pumps (DDC/D5) and reservoirs. A couple more things worth mentioning are the easily accessible front and bottom intake filters, and my favorite small detail: the captive screws on the side panels and drive mounts.

If I had to come up with some cons to the Define Nano S, then the first one would be the limited space between the PSU and GPU, which could limit cooling potential of non-reference GPU coolers. The other would be a couple of minor compatibility issues I had with installing radiators: motherboard interfering with top 2×120 mm radiator and front 2×120 mm radiator almost being too large to mount the case’s front panel. However, when working in the SFF world some size restrictions are expected, and Fractal Design lays them out well in their specifications and manual. So, kudos to them for making these restrictions known and easily accessible to potential customers.

The Define Nano S comes in at $70 and $65 for the windowed and non-windowed versions, respectively. This puts the case on the cheap side of ITX cases and, in typical Fractal Design fashion, pushes its value for the money through the roof.

Overall, the Define Nano S is a relatively cheap, but feature-rich ITX case with tons of versatility that SFF builders should love.

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– Matt T. Green (MattNo5ss)

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