Fractal Design ARC XL Case Review

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Today, we have an opportunity to look at a new full tower case from Fractal Design named the ARC XL. In the past, we have reviewed other smaller cases from them such as the ARC Midi and Mini, the Define R3 mid-tower, and the Full Tower XL R2. However, the ARC XL is a different design then the “Approved” XL R2, but looks to build upon some of its merits. Let’s see what this case has to offer a builder, shall we?

Fractal Design - Arc XL

Fractal Design – ARC XL

 

Specifications and Features

Of course, the first thing one would notice is the sheer size of the box/case. It is a full sized tower, so we expect nothing less. The specs below are in millimeters, so to translate that, this ‘girthy’ machine measures (WxHxD): 9.1″ x 22.5″ x 21.7″. Typical for a full tower really.

From, the specifications below, we see there are four 5.25″ bays for any of your optical, fan controller, or bay reservoir needs. This unit can hold a total of eight HDD caddies in two cages, which also support 2.5″ SSDs. There are also two spots on the back side of the motherboard plate that are dedicated to hold SSDs, which is a cool feature. Being a full tower, chances are you may want to run a larger than ATX sized board, and this case does support up to XL-ATX, so you are set there. With that size/class of board, chances are you have many expansion slots as well. The ARC XL has nine of them in the back.

As far as cooling goes, there are seven total fan positions in this case with (only) three included. All fan slots, except for the rear exhaust, have filters on them. While it is curious to have any exhaust filtered, I suppose this allows for one to put a radiator up top and have air coming IN from the top be filtered as well. The ARC XL also comes with a simple built-in fan controller (three speeds). The switch is located at the top panel with all the other I/O ports located there. The bad part is, the controller can only handle three fans at once with the included hardware. So, if you want to fill the case with fans and have the others controlled off of it, you will need a different controller or risk killing it as I am not sure how much wattage that controller can handle.

Of course, this is the day of AIO water coolers, where every Tom, Dick, and Jane can now say they cool their PC with water. Most cases, especially of this size, have plenty of space for AIO and custom cooling, and the ARC XL is no different. This case offers the ability to place 240 mm radiators (thick), 280 mm and 360 mm radiators (slim) up top. It will also hold a 120 mm on the bottom, a 120/140 mm at the rear, and if you remove/re-position the HDD cages, another 240 mm rad in the front.

Below are the ARC XL specifications and features lifted shamelessly from the Fractal Design website.

Specifications

  • ATX, Micro ATX, Mini ITX, E-ATX, XL-ATX motherboard compatibility
  • 4 – 5.25″ bays
  • 8 – 3.5″ HDD trays – all compatible with SSDs
  • 2 – 2.5″ dedicated SSD positions behind the motherboard plate
  • 9 expansion slots
  • 7 – Fan positions (3 Silent Series R2 fans included)
  • Filtered fan slots in front, top and bottom
  • CPU coolers up to 180 mm tall
  • PSU compatibility: ATX PSUs up to 190 mm deep when using the bottom fan location; when not using this fan location longer PSUs (up to 345 mm deep) can be used
  • Graphics card compatibility: Graphics cards up to 330 mm in length with the top HDD cage installed – With the top cage removed, graphics cards up to 480 mm in length may be installed
  • 26 mm of space for cable routing behind the motherboard plate
  • Thick rubber grommets on all holes on the motherboard plate
  • Window side panel included
  • Colors available: Black
  • Case dimensions (WxHxD): 232 x 572 x 552 mm
  • Net weight: 13.8kg
  • Package dimensions (WxHxD): 322 x 625 x 635 mm
  • Package weight: 16.3kg

Key features

  • Delivering maximum airflow within a sleek and minimalistic body design
  • Spacious internal layout with 9 PCI expansion slots allowing the biggest, most demanding components and cooling setups
  • Designed for extensive water cooling configurations, accommodating multiple thick 240 mm radiators and slim radiators up to 360 mm in length with space to spare for pumps and reservoirs!
  • Offering added value with three Silent Series R2 fans included, giving you excellent cooling straight out of the box!
  • Featuring a three-speed fan controller strategically integrated in the front panel for easy access
  • With multiple easy-to-clean dust filters designed into the case, you can ensure a dust free interior
  • Providing ample storage capacity with a flexible hard drive mounting system for up to 8 x 3,5” drives while accommodating an additional 2 x 2,5” drives behind the motherboard
  • Innovative SSD position mounting, using brackets to allow for easy access once your system is completely built
  • Featuring a window side panel to show off your set up in style

Cooling system

  • Front: 2 – 120/140 mm fans (included is one hydraulic bearing 140 mm Silent Series R2 fan, 1000 RPM speed)
  • Rear: 1 – 120/140 mm fan (included is a hydraulic bearing 140 mm Silent Series R2 fan, 1000 RPM speed)
  • Top: 3 – 120×140 mm fans (included is one hydraulic bearing 140 mm Silent Series R2 fan, 1000 RPM speed)
  • Bottom: 1 – 120/140 mm fan (not included)
  • Fan controller: 1 – Integrated fan controller for up to 3 fans (included)
  • Water cooling compatibility:
    • Front – 240 mm radiators (thick and slim) when HDD cages are repositioned or removed
    • Top – 240 mm radiators (thick) or 280 and 360 mm radiators (slim)
    • Bottom – 120 mm radiators
    • Rear – 120 and 140 mm radiators

Front interface

  • 2 – USB 3.0
  • 2 – USB 2.0
  • Audio in/out
  • Power button with LED (blue)HDD activity LED (red)
  • Reset buttonFan controller

Packaging and First Look

So, a couple weeks ago I came home to this hulking package waiting at my door. There really was not any wondering what was inside as we can see things are clearly labeled all over the place. The packaging is very typical of cases with the corrugated cardboard protecting the hardware inside. On the outside of the box, it shows the case and the Fractal Design ARC XL naming on the front. On the rear, it shows the case being taken apart to show some of the innards and higher level features.

Speaking of inside, this case like most others, is suspended and protected by Styrofoam on front and back with the case sitting inside a plastic bag. Again, quite typical and usually plenty to get what is inside to its destination without damage.

As far as anything else included, we see a manual and a box of screws/standoffs/zipties, etc. We can see what exactly is included on the box in the picture. As usual, plenty of screws and such are included. About my only gripe there is the mini socket tool they use to tighten down the standoffs stripped after its first use. Now, it is not like we install and remove these things all the time, but the socket didn’t even make it through its first use.

Retail Packaging - Front

Retail Packaging – Front

Retail Packaging - Rear

Retail Packaging – Rear

Open Sesame

Open Sesame

The Usual Internal Case Packaging

The Usual Internal Case Packaging

Manual

Manual

Acessories/Screws

Accessories/Screws

Exterior Tour

Here we see our first glimpse of the ARC XL. We can see from the front shot, it is quite a reserved front panel really with its black brushed aluminium look. No buttons on this shot. On the front, we see four 5.25″ bays and below that is the grill and filter for the intake portion of the case. You will see later that the front intake filter comes off quite easily for cleaning.

Flipping it around to the back, we can see one of the three included 140 mm Silent Series R2 fans through the back and the nine total expansion slots. What I do not see however, are any holes which would allow for a clean external mount of radiators. Not a huge issue really as there is plenty of room inside, but that option is almost always there and it was odd to see it missing. The side of the case is windowed as you can see from the third picture. It is made out of acrylic and is a smoke/brown color. I like the size and shape as it shows what I would want to be seen (motherboard area for the most part). However, without lighting you really cannot see inside the case too well. Please consider that if you are looking to show off the internals using this case for your ‘infrastructure’.

Case - Front

Case – Front

Case - Rear

Case – Rear

Windowed Side

Windowed Side

Moving around the case to some design details, we see the Fractal Design emblem attached to the fan grill/filter on the front towards the bottom. Small enough to not get in the way, but large enough to know who made it.

On the bottom of the case, we see it stands on roughly 1″ rubber risers that give it the ability to breathe freely even while resting on some 70’s style super shag… if ‘that’s your bag baby… YEAH!’. To keep all those carpet fibers or any other dust pollutant out of the power supply and case, there is a removable filter here as well. Moving to the top of the case we see another unassuming grill and filter. As I mentioned above, I am not a huge fan of filters on any exhaust. The goal there is to get the warm air out of the case, and frankly filters do not make that job any easier. I would personally, assuming I would always use the top as an exhaust (I would), rip that stuff out to help aid the exhaust fans.

The next picture looks under the top panel of the case exposing a plethora of options for fan sizes and placement. A quick glance shows it will hold 2×140 mm radiator,  a 2x or 3×120 mm radiator without any modifications or moving of internal parts.

Last up in this set of pictures is the I/O for the case. The ARC XL puts them up on top of the case. While this design isn’t new or unusual, it just would not work for my setup as my case sits under a desk. So be aware of that part of things. From left to right we see the fan controller we talked about earlier that gives you the option of Low, Medium, and High for the fan speeds. Next up are the microphone and headphone jacks. The power button rests in the middle with its blue LED, and just to the right on the same button is the HDD activity light with its red LED.

Fractal Design Emblem

Fractal Design Emblem

Bottom of the Case

Bottom of the Case

Top of the Case

Top of the Case

Top with the Cover Removed

Top with the Cover Removed

Front (Top) Panel Ports

Front (Top) Panel Ports

Interior Tour

Moving to the inside of the case, we see the room that we thought we would in this full tower. It is painted a matte black with white on the expansion slot plates, the eight drive trays, and one of the included 140 mm fans. We can see wire management pass through holes that have grommets in them to protect the wires from being sliced up. A must in every case, really. Where the PSU sits is elevated on some rubber parts to help keep cool air flowing into the PSU. Again that is filtered on the bottom.

Flipping the case around to the back side, there is not too much to see here. The cutout for the CPU cooler is large and in the right location for most back plates, so you are set there. One can see the SSD mounting locations on the back of the motherboard plate/tray, which I really like the design of I have to admit. Simply screw in the SSD to the bracket, plug it in and go! You cannot tell from this angle, but there is around .5″ of clearance between the panel and the tray. While it isn’t the most room I have seen for hiding wires, it should still be plenty of room to hide them without what I call “case bulge.” Speaking of hiding, you will be able to show off your wares in the case as it does come with a windowed acrylic pane. But wait, you said speaking of hiding, didn’t you Earthdog? I did. As you can see the acrylic is smoke/brown in color and is difficult to see through without interior case lighting. So, while there is a window, it is pretty dark when you look through it without additional LEDs to brighten things up.

About the only negative to mention here is that this case does not come with quick disconnects for the 5.25″ bays. Though they may not hold as securely as the tried and true screws, its convenience factor balances that out to me. That should be a must have in this market segment.

Case inside

Case Inside

Case side panel removed

Case Side Panel Removed

Smoke / Brown Window

Smoke / Brown Window

Here I took apart the front panel to expose the 5.25″ bay area, and another of the three included fans. Taking off the panel was easy, just pop it off from the front. It attaches securely as well. In this area, on the bottom with the fan, is where one can mount a 240 mm radiator, 120 mm radiator or 2×120 mm fans if you maneuver the drive cages around a bit or even remove them for that matter. On the back of the front panel we see the easily removable dust filter to help keep your case clean.

Speaking of dust filters, in this section I added a picture of the top grill. More specifically the bottom of that grill, which shows it has a dust filter. I think I mentioned before that I don’t get this move, when typically one uses the top for exhaust and we want to get that warmer case air out as quick as we can. In order to do that the filter should go. While clearly this is not a problem, in the quest for the best airflow this is not an optimal setup for a typical configuration.

The last two pictures show more clearly the dust filter that resides at the bottom of the case and under the PSU and optional fan location. Also pictured are all the cables for the front panel. I had trouble with the front panel audio cable reaching header on the MSI board I used in this build… the line was taut, but it did get there.

Last up is Fractal’s choice of fan for this case, the Silent Series R2. This fan uses a whopping (sarcasm) .3A of power at full tilt. They are pretty silent, even when cranked, and move a fair amount of air. Not sure I would want these on a radiator, but to get the air in or out of the case would be just fine.

Front panel removed

Front Panel Removed

Front panel (dust filter)

Front Panel (Dust Filter)

Removable Dust Cover from the Front Panel

Removable Dust Cover from the Front Panel

casedustfilter

Case Top has a Dust Filter?

PSU Area is Also Filtered. Also Pictured are the Front Panel Inputs

PSU Area is Also Filtered. Also Pictured are the Front Panel Inputs

Fractal Silent Series R2 140mm are the Fans of Choice

Fractal Silent Series R2 140 mm are the Fans of Choice

Next is a closer look at the hard drive cages and their configurations. We can see a total of two cages, which are held together with a simple thumbscrew. One can remove the cage for extra, EXTRA long GPU fitment (up to 480 mm), or simply for better airflow. If you slide the cages to its alternate mounting point(s) (closer to the PSU, you can fit a 240 mm rad (thick or thin) up front. The last picture shows an alternate orientation of the top cage.

Hard Drive Cages

Hard Drive Cages

Cage Removed

Cage Removed

HDD Cages Alternate Configuration

HDD Cages Alternate Configuration

Putting it all Together

System Specs

I suppose now is the time where the case earns its keep. How easy is it to install parts? Did I gouge my hand on any sharp corners? Are wires long enough? All those things will be answered here in this section.

I started out by showing you how a HDD and a SSD mount to the included drive caddies. It is a simple process that involves four screws through anti-vibration grommets in the caddy. They are movable for all kinds of configurations, even for an SSD. Though, with the SSD, there is BARELY enough room to get the power and data leads in the SSD. I am of course aware there are two locations for SSDs on the back of the motherboard plate, but just in case someone has more than two, these would of course be used. It did not block my plugs but it was precariously close. Normally a SSD would protrude a couple millimeters of a caddy like this.

Hard Drive Mounts

Hard Drive Mounts

HDD Mounted (view from the bottom)

HDD Mounted (View from the Bottom)

SSD Mounted

SSD Mounted

Be Careful with an SSD as there is not a lot of space in case the two SSD slots in the rear are taken

Power and Data Cables are a Tight Fit

The first thing I had to do was to mount the brass motherboard standoffs inside the case. What is cool is that they give you a small tool/socket to do so. All you need is a Phillips/flat head screw driver and you can screw them in there easily. I used a small handheld power screw driver with the torque setting on its lowest. While it was a breeze with the tool, I managed to strip the thing out after the first use and now have to use a flat head. Not a huge deal, but I would have expected this thing to last past the first installation at least.

After that was done, it was time for the motherboard. I threw in my MSI Z87 MPower MAX for this mock build. The board is a looker on its own and continues to be one inside the case. We can also see I mounted the hard drive on the bottom slot as well. The caddies slide in and out on those rails with a smooth motion.

In the next picture I went ahead and added the Seasonic G380 380W PSU. This is obviously not a modular PSU, but we can see the ARC XL does a solid job at hiding the cables through its peripheral orientation and well-placed cable routing holes. Being a full tower case, make sure that if you choose to route your 8-pin power lead behind the motherboard and pop it out of the top hole like I did, it is long enough. Mine is TIGHT! The next picture shows the completed build with the side window off. I added the ram, and all the the connections to the board and hard drives. Yes, I know that a heatsink is missing in this case, and my apologies for that. I found one to strap on way too late in the process. Just know that per the specifications you can fit up to a 180 mm (a hair over 7″) tall cooler inside this case. The next picture of this build just shows the wiring behind the motherboard tray, and the last shows the completed build with the window on it. A bit anti-climactic with the dark tint and no lights, ehh?

HDD and Motherboard installed

HDD and Motherboard installed

HDD, Motherboard, and PSU installed

HDD, Motherboard, and PSU installed

Everything installed (minus a process and heatsink of course... Oops!

Everything installed (minus a process and heatsink of course… Oops!

Backside post install

Backside post install

Hatches. They have been battened..Smokin'

Hatches. They have been battened..Smokin’

Conclusion

Well ladies and gentlemen, there you have it. The Fractal Design ARC XL Full Tower case. Overall we have a quiet, understated black case with a brushed aluminum finish on the plastic facade. The controls and inputs are up top, so make sure you have a couple inches of clearance above for things like USB sticks.

Being a full tower, there is plenty of room for XL-ATX sized motherboards with nine expansion slots, down to mATX sized boards. The case comes with three fans that can be used on the built in fan controller. I wish case makers would add a couple more fans. While three is enough to get you going, I would want two more to fill the front intake and top exhaust for best results.

As far as installation goes, not a scratch on me. Fitment and finish was good. All parts came apart and back together without any coaxing to do so.  It was overall quite easy to install everything inside the case with all the room it has. The easy mounting of HDDs in the caddy and SSDs in their unique location on the back of the motherboard plate were also easy to work with. About the only drawback here is the lack of space to connect cables to a SSD when installed in one of the HDD caddies.

Cooling and airflow are solid in this case, outside of the curious (to me) filtering on the top where it is typically exhaust. Again, I would remove that assuming you are using it as an exhaust of course. There are several options to mount several different sizes of radiators from 120 mm AIOs to multi-radiator full custom loops without modding a thing. So, flexibility of your cooling options are high here as well.

Overall Fractal Design has brought a solid case to market. Looks good, has good airflow, and plenty of options all around really. The pricing on the ARC XL comes in at $129.99 + $13.59 SH. I believe this price is quite fair for a full tower case of this caliber. While we are not working with steel/aluminum all around like much more expensive cases, the build quality and appearance are still there. And that makes it worth being towards the top of your case short list in this price range. This case is Overclockers.com approved!

Overclockers_clear_approved

~ Joe Shields (Earthdog)

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Discussion
  1. Would this case be any good for Quadfire setup on air? Currently running through the options. At the moment the Corsair 540 is top of the list..would this case be any better or worse?
    Just a note on the filter on the top.
    I have the XL R2 and would of liked that feature, until my H220 AIO died recently the fans were setup to pull through the radiator from the top in which case the filter would have been great.
    However, as I said, my H220 died and I've replaced it with a Kraken X60 which now exhausts the hot air out, so no need for the filter.
    Just a configuration where the filter would have been advantageous.
    Great cases BTW and I highly recommend Fractal Designs.