Fractal Design has updated their Define series of cases to the Define R5. From looking at the list of features, this case seems to put together a number of desirable design elements all in one case. Is it a good case? Is it a case for you? Let’s see.
Fractal Design says this about themselves:
The concept of Fractal Design is to provide products with an extraordinary level of design, without compromising the important factors of quality, functionality and pricing. Today’s computer has evolved into playing a central role in most homes, creating a demand for appealing design of the computer itself and its accessories. Our main product areas are computer enclosures, power supplies and related accessories.
All Fractal Design products have been carefully designed and tested in our Swedish headquarters. The well-known elements of Scandinavian design can be found throughout all of our product lines; a minimalistic, elegant and simple design, embracing the motto of ‘less is more’.
Year over year, the Fractal Design brand continues to grow and we pride ourselves on honestly listening to our partners and customers. All feedback is carefully considered and new revisions of products as well as new product line launches are a direct response to the demand and feedback received from the market.
Fractal Design calls the Define R5 “The Definition of Silence.” Air is pulled in from the sides. The full height front door of this case is lined with sound-absorbing foam to intercept noise from the faces of the front intake fans. Specific features that are mentioned on the fractal design Define R5 web page:
- The layout can be configured to meet your demand.
- High density noise-deducing foam used throughout the case.
- Removable ODD cage
- Removable and movable HDD cages
- Dust filters that cover front and bottom air intakes are easy to access from the front of the case.
- Three ModuVentTM fan slot covers are lined with sound absorbing foam. They are also extra wide to accommodate space for water cooling.
- Two SSD mounts behind the motherboard deliver tool-free mounting and installation.
- Quick Release System on the left side.
- Front door can be mounted on either side.
- Extensive radiator compatibility – up to 420 mm on the top, 360 mm in front, 240 mm on the bottom and 140 mm at the rear of the case.
- Supports up to nine 140 mm fans.
The Define R5 specs do not seem to be available on-line, but here is what the box says:
|Drive Bay Capacity|
|Power Supply Compatibility|
|Graphic Card Compatibility|
|CPU Cooler Compatibility|
|Case Dimensions (nominal)(measured)|
|Water Cooling Compatibility|
* — It is rare that a case manufacturer will specify the maximum length of a PSU with a bottom fan in place.
** — The fan’s label says it is a 1000 rpm fan. RPM labels on fans are rare. The specs are online here.
Note that Fractal Design are rather prolix in their descriptions. None of that cryptic “supported (supplied)” language is used (for example, “2(1)” at the front).
Speaking of the box, let us look at what the Fractal Design Refine R5 came in. The retail box doubled as the shipping carton. The side has a nice line drawing of the outside of the case, while the end has a diagram of the inside. Note also that TI has been checked among the three choices. Since BK is a standard abbreviation for Black, the TI must stand for Titanium, right? We’ll see. The obverse side has an exploded diagram of the case. It really is a good preview of what you will find inside.
Inside the box we have bog-standard Styrofoam end caps. With a heavier case, these would not be desirable, since Styrofoam end caps fracture under asymmetric load. But this case was light enough not to bother its end caps at all.
The front is protected by a plastic sheet. In this slight downward view we get our first look at the top-mounted IO cluster.
Now, the box was marked “TI” – you saw that, right? I’m not imagining it, am I? Well, this case looks black to me. If this is Titanium, then just how black is black? Either I got a black case by mistake, or Black is truly light-sucking.
External Tour of the Define R5
The left side of the case presents us with some interesting previews. The fan panel, for example, is sized for a 140 mm fan. Although with a 120 mm window you should use a 140 mm fan with a round frame and 120 mm screw holes, Fractal Design’s use of a 140 mm window removes all ambiguity: use a 140 mm fan here, they tell us. Good advice. We also see the front side vents, and can get a peek at the mysterious doings inside the front cavity.
The rear view of the Define R5 shows us, first of all, a 140 mm fan that can slide down channels. That is a sure sign that it is supposed to get out of the way of something – in this case, top-mounted radiators. It also tells us that a heatsink taller than a full tower heatsink will find plenty of room. For the rest, a motherboard IO slot, seven expansion slots, an adjacent grilly space and room for a bottom-mounted PSU. Next . . . Wait! Where are the obligatory grommets? No grommets for rear-mounted radiators. I guess Fractal Design either decided they had made enough provision for radiators internally, or – like Steve Jobs – they were not making any compromises on the look of their case. Or both. But the space that would normally go to grommets is used here to make room for the fan to slide. It was a good choice.
But there are a couple of design elements we should look into at the back. We will start with the Quick Release feature. Now, it is true that the case comes to you with the left panel firmly attached with two thumbscrews. But, for working with the case routinely you will use that quick release feature. It actually holds the side panel with three latches. The middle latch actuates the other two. Of course, you must take out the thumbscrew for the quick release to work. But, it’s a little stronger than most quick release devices.
At the back of the right panel we have two captive thumbscrews. When you unscrew the panel from the case you can safely reach to hold other things; you don’t have to worry about those thumbscrews. They will wait for you on the side panel.
On the right side we see those front vents again. At one point you can see light on the other side. Nice, open airflow. A clean look. With shiny silver colored feet.
On the top we see the three ModuVents. They keep the top nice and smooth when you don’t want to use fans or radiators on top. Further forward is the IO cluster. At left we have the standard headphone and microphone jacks. Then we have the purposely-hard-to-actuate reset button, with the prominent Power switch in the center.
A closeup of the USB section shows that they are labeled USB 2.0 and USB 3.0. Having two of each is excellent practice. For one thing, every motherboard has at least two dual USB 2.0 sockets. Modern motherboards come with at least one dual USB 3.0 socket. This means they will accept what the case has to offer. The reason you want to have two of each is that you might want to run the USB 2.0 pair for a wireless mouse and keyboard, but still have USB 3.0 connectivity for a USB 3.0 hard drive, or a USB 3.0 memory stick.
What the R5 lacks is a card reader. Anyone who has used a laptop recently knows that SDSX memory cards are not just used in cameras anymore. They are definitely useful in expanding the storage capacity of your portable device. When you want that capacity now, you must either spring for an external USB 3.0 card reader or get a 5.25” bay device. For reasons that will shortly become apparent, the latter would not be a good choice here.
Oh my stars and garters! A full length front-mounted bottom fan filter! It pulls out from the front! If you have ever mounted a computer in a cabinet, or put your computer on a desk with its back against the wall, so heavily laden that you don’t want to move it, having front-mounted filters is a godsend.
Without the filter, the bottom has grill-covered spaces for three fans. The grill is there so if you pick up the case, your fingers won’t disrupt the fan blades. The slots are there to accommodate 120 mm fans and 240 mm radiators. The only reason I can see for not using a 280 mm radiator is that there would not be enough room for a normal size PSU.
A look downward past the open front door of the R5 shows the front of the full length bottom filter. It is designed to conform to the sleek design of the case, so it is a little hard to grip unless you take off the front filter first. Then it is less difficult. But, you can forgive a lot with a front-pull filter. In passing, note how the side slots let in the light and presumably air.
When you open the front door of a Define R5, this is what you see. At the top, there is a 3-position switch. It is supposed to be a 3-speed switch, but in the case I used, the fan would not spin at one “speed.” So for me it was a 2-speed switch with an off setting. YMMV. Adjacent to that is the jutting clear plastic that lets the Power LED shine through when the computer is on. Beneath that are two 5.25” slots. The slot covers have latches that allow the covers to pull away. They are quite easy to work with. Underneath that is the filter for the front air intake.
You can’t really see the quality of the mesh here, but in both the front and the bottom filters Fractal Design has supplied what is likely the best compromise between filtration and airflow. A number of manufacturers use this mesh and it is good to see it here. Note also that there is indeed room for a second 140 mm fan. Interestingly, there is no front grill, nothing to impede airflow to the rest of the case. With the front obstructed, even if there are airflow slots, a grill here would simply obstruct airflow. Fractal Design is wise to have omitted it. Further, the HDD cage visible beyond is singularly free of obstruction.
The one additional comment here is that this is a relatively short case among mid-towers. In such cases you must make a trade off between slots and fans. Fractal Design chose to go with two 140 mm fans in the bottom, thus limiting the slots to two. If there were three 5.25” slots, this design would allow you to put a 120 mm or 140 mm intake fan there. But, that would require a full tower case.
Interior Inspection of the Define R5
This is the detached left panel of the Define R5. It is covered with Fractal Design’s high density foam. The fan panel has more of the high density foam, but no dust filter. A grill would keep fingers out if a fan were mounted there.
On the left, you can see that the panel attaches to the case with an open hinge. It is much easier to mount a panel this way, especially one-handed. On the right are the three positions for the quick release system. From their angled shape, you can see that all you have to do is shut the panel to secure it.
With the case open, let us start at the top – literally. With the case upside down, we can see the push-through grippers that hold the top ModuVents on. With those disengaged, there is plenty of light to see.
We can start with the light pouring in from the top – a consequence of it being so wide open. Next, we see that the CPU window is huge. It is constrained only by the motherboard screws. Next, note that the 5.25” bay and the HDD cages finish out to the same edge. To the right of the HDD cages are the inset intake fans. There are five grommeted pass-through passages in the motherboard tray. And one grommeted pass-through.
This picture illustrates the positions of the motherboard standoffs. As the legend says, A for ATX, M for micro ATX and I for mini ITX. So simple. The case comes with one standoff already attached; the kingpost, a threadless shaft (in place of a screw) that is at the center of an ATX board and the corner of a mini ITX. Having a kingpost makes installing a motherboard much easier than doing it with all screws.
The case wiring is about what you would expect with a USB 2.0 dual plug, a USB 3.0 dual plug and various IO plugs. One nice touch is the absence of a AC97 plug. The line looks so much cleaner with only an HD Audio plug on the end of it.
As for accessories, you have a nice chart telling you what you get and how many of each. The square black thing the chart is sitting on is a ModuVent with its high density foam lining. The white nylon device is the “Standoff Tool,” a combination between a standoff holder and a standoff wrench. It actually works.
Behind the motherboard tray you can find a number of nice features. Perhaps the first to jump out is the CPU window, but its moment in the sun is not yet here. Next are the Velcro straps that hold your cables. They are much easier to use than cable ties; and you can remodel your cable architecture without having to clip and remove old plastic bits. But, there are five tie-down spots where you might need to affix a cable. One of the SSD mounts has been removed by loosening its captive thumbscrew. The mount itself is resting on a side panel sill. This sill is useful for resting your die panel on it before closing up your case. You can shut it with one hand if your other hand is holding something else. Quite a convenience.
The 3-fan controller is powered by SATA directly from your PSU. This is part of a general movement away from Molex connectors.
Hard drives screw directly onto sleds, which allow unfettered airflow across the tops of the hard drives. Airflow doesn’t go under the drives, but there is plastic under the spinning (heat generating) parts of a drive, so not bothering with airflow under it makes sense. The rubber grommets attenuate any noisy vibrations from the HD. 2.5” HDs also screw onto the sleds, but without grommets.
The 5.25” bay and the two 3.5” HDD cages detach from the case with thumbscrews – in the case of the HDD cages, with captive thumbscrews. Included as a backdrop here is the right panel, which has two captive thumbscrews of its own dangling down. A removable 5.25” bay may be a first. While we have seen a case without a 5.25” bay, I have not seen one with a removable bay before. If any of you have seen one, please tell about it in the comments section. With so many people getting their software by download, and with the advent of inexpensive USB optical drives, there may no longer be a reason to include them in systems. However, giving users the option to use it or remove it certainly adds to the appeal of this case.
Installing Systems in the Fractal Design R5
Let us try test-fitting some rads to the R5. Let’s go right to the biggest one we have. Fractal Design says a 360 mm rad will fit in the front. So here is a 360 mm rad with three 120×38 mm fans. It looks like these is plenty of room inside; it is not a fit in name only. Although no HDD cage is shown here, the bottom HDD cage is mountable from the bottom with for screws. So it could be mounted between the front rad and the PSU, for example.
A front view shows us that most of the rad’s surface is exposed. So you should get pretty good cooling with a setup like this.
Here is a view of a 240 mm rad with two 120×38 mm fans. Note that the middle HDD cage has been moved downward to a lower position, which the R5 provides.
We then have a side view of that 360 mm rad fastened to the top of the case. Because the rads are positioned to the left side of the case, they will clear any RAM you have. Because the case is tall enough, even thick fans will clear the tallest of pumps. Note that the lower position of the upper HDD cage clears it from upper as well as lower fans and airflow.
As long as we have a test motherboard in the case, let’s try a height test with a Silver Arrow SB-E, currently the tallest heatsink sold. Here the heatsink is sitting on top of its mount, which is sitting on top of the CPU cover. A mounted heatsink would be at least a cm lower. So, obviously, we have plenty of room for tall heatsinks.
Now let us remove the top rad and see how many 140 mm fans will fit. Three! Very good. Three 140 mm fans and an ATX motherboard.
Building a Testing System in the Define R5
Now we will build the thermal and noise testing system.
|CPU||Intel i7 860 HT enabled, LLC enabled; ran at stock 2.93 GHz|
|Motherboard||Gigabyte GA-P55M-UD2; supplied 1.1125 Volts to the CPU|
|RAM||4 x 2 GB G.Skill low profile DDR3-1600 at 10x (1333 MHz)|
|Graphics Card||PowerColor AX3450 Radeon HD 3450 (fanless)|
|Solid State Drive||Kingston V+ 100 64 GB|
|Hard Drive 1||3.5” 1 TB Hitachi|
|Hard Drive 2||3.5” 1 TB Toshiba|
|Power Supply||SeaSonic X650 650 Watts|
Since the PSU is fully modular, when the case size allows it (and it does here) I leave the EPS12V plugged into the motherboard and fed it through the pass-through aperture in the motherboard tray. I did so this time, right through the grommet . . . and pulled the grommet out. Obviously, with the grommet installed, the pass-through was too small. But since the metal was nicely hemmed, there was no sharp edge for me to cut myself on. That was not true for the adjacent motherboard window. There the metal was bent and the edge smoothed, but not dressed. Put pressure on that, move sideways, and you might get a cut.
And the grommet-less pass-through? Even uglier. Take a look. The edges were hardly smoothed. That’s definitely a place that will wear your wires down, if not you.
But, when it is all put together, it looks nice. The top will be covered for the tests. It is uncovered here to let the light through.
On the reverse side, you can see how the SSD is mounted. The EPS12V cable uses two of the tie-down spots. The fan controller has both fans attached to it, and one SATA line from the PSU powers all three.
There is about 20 mm for cable management at the narrowest spot. In the groove where the thick ATX 24-pin cable goes there is significantly more.
Testing the Fractal Design Define R5
We built a system in the Define R5 to test the passive cooling. That NH-D14 has not been remounted, so the results are consistent across all the cases shown below – no mount variation. The stress Software used was OCCT 3.10, with the small data set. It provides a steady heat and logs the CPU core temperature readings. The SSD monitoring software was CrystalDisk Info; SSD and HD temps were recorded after the hour run. Measuring Equipment was the Tenma 72-942 Sound Pressure Level Meter and the Digital TEMPer USB Thermometer, with its dedicated logging software. As usual, the test run was an hour, with the first half hour ignored to allow the system to equilibrate. Over the last half hour, the CPU and GPU core temps were logged. The mean ambient temp was subtracted from core temps, leaving net temps to be presented below.
Sound Pressure Levels were measured one meter in front of the case in a basement where the ambient SPL was 30.5 dBA, which sounds like dead silence to the human ear. The SPL was reported both as actual and net SPL.
This is what the system looks like, all buttoned up. Note the LED shining through the gap in the front door.
The Define results were with the fans set on High. With the fans set on Low, the SPL was about 30.5-31.0 dBA – that’s 0-0.5 dB over ambient. But with both fans set to Low, the system ran too hot and shut down the test run. The temps were still climbing when it stopped, 12 minutes into the test run. If the rear fan was left unmolested, the temp results would probably compare to what you see below, but the case would have been near silent.
With the fans set to High, it was still a very quiet case – the quietest I have tested. You pay for that, of course. The net core temps were mediocre.
Consistent with placing the SSD behind the motherboard tray and outside the case’s air path, you would expect a higher temp, and you got it. But with ambient temps running 19-22 °C, that put the SSD at around 26 °C. That is not a very high temp, and ratifies the growing wisdom that SSD’s can be located outside the airflow. The HD temp was in the middle of the pack.
This case is so quiet that you could keep it next to you on your desk. Yes, the way I test these cases is to test their airflow with a passive heatsink. You probably won’t do that, but the testing shows that this case will not add to whatever noise your heatsink makes.
The R5 is set up so you can keep it at your feet and reach down to plug in your thumb drive from above; what a wasted opportunity. All the noisy cases are more or less required to sit at your feet or live somewhere else out of the way. So they all have IO ports on top. But here we have a case that’s quiet enough to sit next to your ear. The front door can even be configured to open in your direction, no matter what side you keep your tower. And you have to reach way up to put your flash drive in a USB port. The USB ports should be in front, where you can reach them.
If you want a good case for under a shelf, this case is almost there. It is not too tall. As noted, the door can be set to open either way. Also, the bottom filter can be removed from the front. That is quite the welcome improvement. It means you can clean this machine without having to move it. So, how do we mount this quiet case under a shelf? The only way to do this is to buy a front-mounted memory card reader for one of your 5.25” slots. Those usually come with USB 3.0 ports, so you can put your flash drive there.
All of the places for fans will accommodate 140 mm fans. This is a good thing because for the same CFM, a 140 mm fan is quieter than a 120 mm fan. The R5 also has set up the back space to be easy to work in, with room for cables and SSDs. Putting the SSDs in the back allows for shorter runs to the PSU and for shorter SATA data cables. And in the main cavity, making room for offset placement of up to 140 mm wide radiators means that the space is big enough for even the tallest heatsinks. By contouring the motherboard tray, Fractal Design made room for cables in the back and radiators in the front while not having to unduly widen the case.
The adaptability of this mid-tower case is amazing. You can move your hard drive cages around. And because 5.25” optical disk drives are optional now, so is the 5.25” bay. You can remove your 5.25” bay entirely. This may be a feature unique to this case. If you have seen this somewhere else, please leave a comment below. Otherwise, we may have a first. All this moving around means that you can put a three-fan radiator in this case. It’s hard to believe a 360 mm rad will fit in this small case, but you saw a picture of just that. And seeing three 140 mm fans across the top strongly suggests you ought to be able to do just what Fractal Design says you can do: put a 420 mm radiator in this little case. With all the other places for radiators and fans in the Define R5, this is impressive indeed.
A word should be said for Fractal’s choice of IO ports. They did not cheap out and give us just two USB 3.0 ports. They do have a pair of USB 3.0 posts for USB 3.0 flash drives and hard drives, but they also have a pair of USB 2.0 ports to allow for wireless mice and keyboards.
The high density foam they use not only attenuates sound, but deadens vibration, keeping the sides from becoming a drum set. Also, while I could complain that Fractal should have included a filter for side and top fans, at least they did not insult the user by including a perforated plastic “filter.”
Fractal Design was serious when they said they listened. The case pays attention to many details that show evolution of the product. All in all, this case makes great use of a relatively small space, keeping the dimensions compact.
Something to ponder for the future: these days laptops often come with memory card readers. Small, inexpensive laptops use memory cards to expand their storage capacity. Perhaps we have arrived at the time when cases should have built-in memory card readers – at the very least to transfer large files.
Fractal Design Define R5 Pros:
- Sleek design
- Solid construction
- Very quiet – suitable for sitting on your desk or at your feet
- Highly adaptable design
- There is a lot of room for a lot of stuff in a modest sized case
- Bottom filter pulls out from the front
- 5.25” bay is removable
- USB 2.0 as well as USB 3.0 ports – allows using wireless devices without interfering with high-speed USB 3.0
- Front door easily reconfigured to open on the other side
- All fans and fan spaces are for 140 mm fans.
- Rear exhaust fan slides downward to accommodate radiators
- Large window in motherboard tray
- Sound-deadening panels for top and side grills
- Sound-attenuating and vibration-dampening high density foam on front, top and both sides
- All dust filters are optimum mesh.
- No fake dust filters
- No unneeded grill behind the front intake fans – no obstruction of airflow
- HDD cages have very open sides, allowing for airflow to keep drives cool
- The Velcro straps really do make cable management easy
- Comes with an excellent manual.
- The manual is available online
- One motherboard pass-through window has potentially sharp edges
- Bottom filter is a little hard to grip and pull forward
- IO cluster is on the top, precluding your using this case under a shelf
- A side filter and a top filter would be nice to have
- Specs not available on-line
The Fractal Design Define R5 is available with a side window in Titanium and Black from Newegg for $119.99 + shipping, from Directron for $129.99 + free shipping, and for about $10 less at both places for the non-windowed version. It is also sold in white, windowed and non-windowed.
Ed Hume (ehume)