Fractal Design enjoyed great success with the Define R3, which was released a little over a year ago. As the Define R3 exits stage left, entering stage right is the recently released Define R4. Fractal Design has brought several new features to Define R4, most of which are internal. This time around we get a chassis that is a little wider, USB 3.0 support, and a built in fan controller. We’ll touch on other improvements made to the Define R4 as we work our way around the case, inside and out.
Features and Specifications
The Company Line
Here is what Fractal Design has to say about the define R4, as provided by their web site.
The Fractal Design Define R4 is the latest in the Define Series of computer cases offering minimalistic and stunning Scandinavian design fused with maximum sound reduction, configurability and functionality.
The Define R4 side and front door panels are fitted with dense, sound-absorbing material making it a benchmark for noise reduction. Moreover, the Define R4 accommodates up to 8 HDDs, all modern graphics card sizes, and multiple ventilation options – including two standard Silent Series R2 hydraulic bearing fans – to keep internal components at optimal temperatures.
For ultimate functionality, the Define R4 features a front interface with USB 3.0 and an integrated three-speed fan controller behind the front panel door.
As mentioned in the introduction, there have been several changes from the Define R3. Some of those highlights include:
- Integrated fan controller. Helping to make up for the inability to use a knobbed fan controller because of the front door design.
- Bottom filter covers both intake holes.
- Front panel filter removal is improved by having one large panel and one large filter, instead of two panels and two filters.
- HDD bays are removable and can be placed in multiple configurations, whereas the R3 has static HDD bays.
- Removed the R3′s rear water cooling holes and added a vertical expansion slot.
- Added a reset button and 2x USB3.0 ports to the front panel I/O area, and removed the eSATA port.
- Fewer, but larger wire management holes.
As you read through the features below, you quickly notice the emphasis put on silent computing. We’ll dive into these features with more detail as the review progresses. All of the of features and specifications listed below are provided by Fractal Design.
- High density noise-reducing material for an optimal silent case – To achieve a high level of noise reduction, material with mass should be incorporated which is what we strive to achieve with the dense bitumen used on the side panels.
- Patent pending ModuVent™ design allowing the user to choose between optimal silence or maximum airflow.
- Top HDD cage (5 trays total) can be rotated 90 degrees or removed for additional airflow or to accommodate long graphic cards up to 430mm in length.
- Three-speed fan controller is strategically integrated in the front panel and supports up to 3 fans.
- Two Silent Series R2 fans included, featuring hydraulic bearings contributing to a longer life expectancy – Silent Series R2 retail fans will now come standard in all cases.
- Wider case body that allows for improved cable routing behind the motherboard – now 26mm wide.
- New tool-less front fan holder makes switching front fans a breeze.
- Two SSDs can be mounted on the back of the motherboard plate in addition to the 8 slots in the HDD trays, for a total of 10 SSD positions available.
- ATX, Micro ATX, Mini ITX motherboard compatibility
- 7 + 1 expansion slots
- 2 – 5.25″ bays
- 8 – 3.5″ HDD trays – all compatible with SSDs, 2 – 2.5″ extra SSD positions
- 3 – ModuVent™ plates – two in the top and one in the side
- 7 – fan positions (2 Silent Series R2 fans included)
- Filtered fan slots in the front and bottom
- CPU coolers up to 170mm tall (when no fan is installed in the side panel)
- ATX PSUs up to 170mm deep when using the bottom fan location, when not using this fan location longer PSUs (up to 270mm deep) can be used
- Graphics cards up to 295mm in length with the top HDD cage installed
- With the top cage removed, graphics cards up to 430mm in length may be installed
- 26mm of space for cable routing behind the motherboard plate
- Thick rubber grommets on all holes on the motherboard plate
- Colours available: Black Pearl, Titanium Grey, Arctic White
- Case dimensions (WxHxD): 232 x 464 x 523mm
- Package dimensions (WxHxD): 320 x 535 x 610mm
- Net weight: 12,3 kg
Cooling / Ventilation
- 1 – Front hydraulic bearing 140mm Silent Series R2 fan, 1000 RPM speed (included)
- 1 – Front 120/140mm fan
- 1 – Rear hydraulic bearing 140mm Silent Series R2 fan, 1000 RPM speed (included)
- 2 – Top 120/140mm fans – positions also support some models of 240 radiators, depending on configuration
- 1 – Bottom 120/140mm fan
- 1 – Side 140mm fan
- 1 – Integrated fan controller for up to 3 fans (included)
- 2 – USB 3.0, 2 – USB 2.0
- Audio I/O
- Power button with LED (blue)
- Reset button
- Fan controller (behind door)
Retail Package Contents
- Define R4 computer case
- User manual
- Accessory box
- EAN/GTIN-13: 7350041080916
- UPC: 817301010917
- Product code: FD-CA-DEF-R4-BL
The Define R4 comes in a box with very little in the way of fancy design graphics. Black printing on a brown box is what Fractal Design has used to get their point across. There is a tremendous amount of information regarding the product inside, a frontal sketch on the front of the box, and an exploded view on the back of the box. Scattered across the the back of the box and both sides are all the features, specifications, and unique designs implemented into the Define R4.
Upon opening the box, you will find the Define R4 secure in its environment with the help of two foam blocks. Have you ever taken a brand new case out of its box and had the dickens shocked out of you when removing the plastic wrapping? I sure have, more than once! I was delighted to see that Fractal Design used an anti-static bag as the wrapping material, it saved me from yet another “shocking” experience. Also included in the box is a users manual and warranty leaflet.
The Define R4 is available in three colors: Arctic White, Titanium Grey, and Black Pearl. All of the color choices are available with or without a side panel window. Today’s sample is the Black Pearl color and does not have the side panel window option. Fractal Design also sells just the windowed side panels, if someones wishes to update a non-window version of the case. The left side panel has a ventilated area that will accept an optional 140 mm fan. In order to install a fan here, you will have to remove the sound dampening block that is installed by default. The right side panel is void of any ventilation, and is basically just a solid panel. Both side panels are extremely heavy duty and are made from some of the thickest material I have come across lately. The front area of each side of the case has ventilation holes, which serve as the air intake channel for the front fans.
The Define R4 incorporates a swing door design on the front. The door is held securely in place by way of three small magnets that provide a solid feel when it’s opened and closed. The inside area of the door is lined with noise dampening material. Once the door is opened, you can see the two 5.25 inch drive bay covers and the large grill that covers the front fan area (more on this later). The 5.25 inch bay covers are very easy to remove by opening the latch located on the right side of them and then simply pulling them out. Just to the right of the drive bay covers, you will find a three-position switch that is used to control up to three fans. The switch can be set to either 5 v, 7 v, or 12 v. Obviously, the higher the voltage, the faster the fan speed will be.
Moving around to the back of the Define R4, we see the implementation of a bottom mount PSU design and a 7+1 PCI expansion slot feature. The extra expansion slot is a great place to house such things as a PCI expansion slot fan controller or a USB/Firewire type bracket that comes with some motherboards. At the top area is an included 140 mm exhaust fan, which also has a provision for installing a 120 mm size fan if desired. To the left of the fan is the opening for a motherboard’s I/O shield. Across the top of the case’s rear is a large ventilation area that spans the entire width.
At the top of the Define R4, we find two more openings for optional 140 mm fans. In the interest of preserving the quiet nature of the Define R4, these two 140 mm fan openings are also covered with sound insulating blocks. The blocks are easily removable, should you want to install fans in these locations. There are also holes provided for mounting 120 mm fans here. At the very front of the top area, you will find the headphone and microphone jacks, two USB 3.0 ports, two USB 2.0 ports, and the power button. Just below the power button is a single LED light, which forces you to choose between “HDD Activity” or “Power On” for this light’s operation. I think it might have been a better idea to add an additional light here or split it in two so both options are available.
Rounding out the exterior tour is a look at the bottom of the Define R4. All four feet are outfitted with a round rubber base, which I really like. The rubber provides excellent anti vibration qualities as well as protects the surface the case sits on. The bottom also features a large slide out filter that covers the PSU’s intake fan, and the optional fan that can be installed forward of the PSU. The guide for the filter is kind of unique in that it’s flared out at the filter’s entry point, making sliding it back into place extremely easy.
We’ll begin the interior tour of the Define R4 by looking at the noise dampening material applied to the side panels. It’s worth mentioning again how sturdy these side panels are; they scream quality. From the inside view of the left side panel below, you can see the noise insulating block applied to the fan opening area. It’s attached much the same as a fan would be by way of four mounting screws.
With the panels removed, we get our first look at the black and white themed interior of the Define R4.
The bottom area features rubber pads to rest the power supply on, as well as a place to mount either a 120 mm or 140 mm fan. The entire area is protected by the slide out dust filter mentioned earlier. From this vantage point we can also see the first of five cable management holes that are protected by rubber sleeves.
Moving up the rear side of the case, we find the opening for the PSU, the 7+1 PCI expansion slots, and the included 140 mm exhaust fan. All of the PCI expansion brackets are ventilated and secured with thumb screws. The rear exhaust fan has a nicely sleeved 3-pin cable and operates at a maximum of 1000 rpm.
Inside the top deck, we find two more noise dampening blocks and two more cable management holes. If you have ideas of mounting a 2×120 mm or 2×140 mm radiator here, choose you components carefully. With the noise insulating blocks removed, there is only about 50 mm of available space between the top deck and the edge of the motherboard. About the thinnest radiators available are 30 mm in thickness; and when coupled with 25 mm fans, you’re at 55 mm. Depending on how the motherboard is laid out, you may run into a host of issues trying to fit a radiator and fans here. The second picture below shows a tape measure from under the top deck to one of the motherboard mounting holes. Had there been just another half inch or so of space in the design here, this issue could have been completely avoided.
Moving to the front area of the case, we see the wiring associated with the case’s I/O ports and fan controller at the very top. Just below that are the two 5.25 inch drive bays. The 5.25 inch bays are not a toolless design, but do use two tension arms on each side to help align the drive before installing the mounting screws. The lower bay offers a 3.5 inch support shield, but the case does not come with a 5.25 inch to 3.5 inch adapter. Also not included is a drive bay cover to accommodate a 3.5 inch device, if one is installed. Perhaps having one of the 5.25 inch drive bay covers with a removable center to facilitate 3.5 inch drives would have been a good idea. I’m not sure what good a 3.5 inch support bracket does if you can’t finish off the front of the case with a drive bay cover, or at least one that matches the design.
Below the 5.25 inch drive bays we come to the modular 3.5 inch hard drive bays. There are a total of eight hard drive trays: five on the top cage and three on the bottom cage. These trays are not the cheap flimsy plastic ones found on many other cases, but instead are made of metal. They slide out very easily by simply pinching the two arms towards the center and pulling outward. You can probably tell by looking at the second picture below and the location of the rubber grommets that Fractal Design would prefer you to mount a hard drive by using the screw holes at the bottom. However, there are holes on the sides of the tray if you prefer that method of attachment. Each tray is also outfitted with mounting holes for SSDs.
One of the highlights of the Define R4 is the amount of options provided by the hard drive cage design. The upper cage can be rotated 90° or completely removed, if desired. The bottom cage can also be removed by removing four screws located at the bottom of the case. With both cages removed, you are left with a large open area for the possible installation of a radiator. With the limited space under the top deck for water cooling options, it’s nice to see an additional provision to install a radiator and fans at the front of the case.
With the hard drive cages removed, we can see the included 140 mm front intake fan. This fan is identical to the exhaust fan and also runs at a maximum of 1000 rpm. Just above the front intake fan is a built in option to install another fan. Either the upper or lower fan area can accept a 120 mm fan. If you’re willing to sacrifice both hard drive cages, there should be ample room for a 2×120 mm or 2×140 mm radiator and fans in this location.
Both fan locations are covered by an easily removable dust filter. To remove the filter you need only press the front grill inward at the two pressure points, which are marked. This will release the spring loaded latches and allow you to lower the grill.
With the grill out of the way, you press on the latch at the top of the fan cage to either completely remove it or just tilt it forward enough to remove the filter.
The motherboard tray area is complete with a large CPU cooler access hole, five rubber protected cable management holes, and threaded holes for the motherboard standoffs that are marked to coincide with the size motherboard to be installed.
The back of the motherboard tray has two locations where you can install a SSD. This is a very nice feature to have if you decide to remove the HDD cages to facilitate a water cooling setup. Be advised that you’ll need to install the SSD before mounting the motherboard, as it will block access to the SSD mounting holes once installed. There are six loops that can be used to attach wire ties for additional cable management options. I measured just under one inch of space between the back of the motherboard tray and the right side panel. Fractal Design claims there is 1.062 inches (26 mm) of space, but either way there is more than enough room for even the thickest of cables.
The case wiring is standard fare, except for the missing HDD activity wires. The power LED wires can be used for HDD activity if desired, but as mentioned earlier that will mean you have no power LED lighting. The wire leads also include a USB 3.0 cable, a USB 2.0 cable, and a HD audio cable. Rounding out the case wiring are the 4-pin molex connector that powers the fan controller and the 3-pin fan power connectors. The fan power connectors will not accept a 4-pin PWM style connector; just something to keep in mind if one desires to add additional fans to the case.
Included in the case is a black box that houses all the accessories. The box itself is a bit unique in that it has an iconic list of everything included on one side. Once opened, you will find everything you need to get your system assembled.
Putting It All Together
- Gigabyte GA-F2A85X-UP4 ATX Motherboard
- AMD A10-5800K CPU (Overclocker Approved)
- Western Digital 500 Gb SATA HDD
- OCZ Vertex 4 SSD (Overclockers Approved)
- 2×4 Gb Kingston HyperX Memory
- Sapphire HD 7770 Video Card (Overclockers Approved)
- Corsair CX430 Power Supply
- HP CD/DVD SATA Rom Drive
- Swiftech HD2220 LCS AIO Water Cooler
I have to say that assembling a system in the Define R4 was very easy to accomplish. I decided to test the limited space allowed for a water cooling setup under the top deck. It was a tight fit, but I was able to get Swiftech’s new All-in-One H220 LCS installed. The tightest fit was the uppermost portion of the motherboard’s I/O block, where the radiator cleared by a mere one or two mm.
As far as the noise dampening feature goes, I found it to be quite effective. Even with the upper blocks removed to install the radiator, the system was extremely quiet. Any noise that you do hear is different from the sound you’re used to hearing on a case without the noise dampening material. The sound is a lot less “high pitched” and a lot easier on the ears. If you decide to use a low noise air cooler and other components that feature low noise output, you’ll be hard pressed to even hear anything.
As you look through the thumbnail images below, you’ll see where I took advantage of installing a SSD behind the motherboard tray. The mess of wiring behind the motherboard tray proved to be no problem at all for getting the right side panel on; there really is an enormous amount of room to tuck cables away. As far as video card compatibility goes, with the upper hard drive cage removed there is 430 mm (16.9 inches) of room. That’s obviously enough for anything currently on the market. Even with the upper cage installed, there is still 318 mm (12.5 inches) of available space. Enjoy the picture show!
Searching around the internet, I found the Define R4 (Black Pearl – no window) selling for right at $110. Newegg sells the same exact case in Titanium Grey for $109.99, so I doubt the Black Pearl version sells for any more than that. Is it worth that price? I think so. Most cases that have similar features usually sell for a little more than that. If you base your decision strictly on build quality, then the case is definitely worth the asking price. This thing is built like a rock. About the only complaint I have with the case is the limited space under the top deck for thicker radiators; but as you can see by the build pictures, a thinner solution will fit it most scenarios. If you can live without the hard drive cages, you can install just about any dual fan 120 mm or 140 mm radiator at the front. The possibility of a dual radiator setup is definitely something that adds even more value to the Define R4.
In addition to the water cooling options, we have a built in fan controller, a nice filter ensemble, generous room behind the motherboard tray, lots of cable management features, and plenty of room for long video cards. Even with all the improvements made from the previously released Define R3, Fractal Design was able to hold the price equal to its predecessor. All told, this is a great offering by Fractal Design and is well worth consideration if you’re in the market for a new mid-tower case.
-Dino DeCesari (Lvcoyote)