Since Fractal Design has jumped into the component market, they have done a great job of bringing us affordable cases that look great. Today we look at a refinement of their venerable Define XL, the Define XL R2. Did they make the right changes to make an already solid case a top contender? Let’s find out together, shall we?
Packaging & Specifications
Starting off with a boring, but very important part of case reviews, we’ll have a look at the packaging. Like most cases, it comes in a giant cardboard box. Fractal decided to eschew colorful, shiny packaging in favor of plain cardboard and that’s fine with me.
The Define XL R2 is a huge case and comes well-protected, floating in Styrofoam and encased in a plastic bag.
We’ll let Fractal Design tell you about the specifications.
Specifications, Features & Cooling (Courtesy Fractal Design’s Define XL R2 Page)
- High density noise-reducing material for an optimal silent case
- Patented ModuVent™ design allowing the user to choose between optimal silence or maximum airflow.
- With a new internal layout and additional PCI expansion slots, it can harbor the most powerful enthusiast systems.
- Both HDD cages can be removed or repositioned – Top HDD cage can be removed or repositioned for increased airflow whereas bottom HDD cage can be repositioned further into the case to allow for front radiator mount.
- The case can fit water cooling equipment in the front, top, rear and bottom without major modifications.
- Three-speed fan controller is strategically integrated in the front panel and supports up to 3 fans
- Three Silent Series R2 fans are included, featuring hydraulic bearings which contribute to a longer life expectancy – Silent Series R2 retail fans now come standard in all cases
- New tool-less front fan holder makes switching front fans a breeze
- ATX, Micro ATX, mini-ITX, E-ATX and XL-ATX motherboard compatibility
- 4 – 5.25″ bays
- 8 – 3.5″ HDD trays – all compatible with SSDs
- A total of 9 expansion slots
- 3 – ModuVent™ plates – two in the top and one in the side
- 7 – Fan positions (3 fans included)
- Filtered fan slots in front and bottom
- CPU coolers up to 170 mm tall (when no fan is installed in the side panel)
- 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 330mm in length with the top HDD cage installed – With the top cage removed, graphics cards up to 480mm 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
- Colors available: Black Pearl, Titanium Grey
- Case dimensions (WxHxD): 232 x 559 x 560mm
- Net weight: 16.4kg
- Package dimensions (WxHxD): 322 x 637 x 655mm
- Package weight: 19kg
- Front: 1 – hydraulic bearing 140mm Silent Series R2 fan, 1000 RPM speed (included); 1 – 120/140mm fan (not included)
- Rear: 1 – hydraulic bearing 140mm Silent Series R2 fan, 1000 RPM speed (included)
- Top: 2 – 120/140mm fans (not included) – positions also support 240/280mm slim radiators
- Bottom: 1 – hydraulic bearing 140mm Silent Series R2 fan, 1000 RPM speed (included)
- Side: 1 – 140mm fan (not included)
- Fan controller: 1 – integrated fan controller for up to 3 fans (included)
- Water cooling compatibility:
- Front – 240mm radiator when HDD cages are removed or repositioned
- Top – 240 and 280mm when using slim radiators
- Bottom – 120mm radiators
- Rear – 120 and 140mm radiators
- 2 – USB 3.0, 2 – USB 2.0
- Audio in/out
- Power button with LED (blue)
- Reset button
- Fan controller (behind door)
Enough of the mundane stuff, let’s look at the case!
Before we get started, I’d suggest first looking at Newegg’s discontinued listing of the original Define XL so you know what it used to look like and can see how it has evolved.
The first thing you’ll notice about the Define XL R2 is that it is heavy. H.E.A.V.Y., heavy. It is steel construction and maybe it’s because I’m used to Lian Li‘s aluminum cases, but this case is heavy even for a steel enclosure. That’s not a bad thing, you just need to know it. Its weight actually speaks well about it; the thing is built like a tank.
The case Fractal sent us is the Titanium Gray version and as far as I can tell the only difference is the facade on the front door’s panel, which is a nice shade of dark gray instead of the plain black on the regular version. This one looked good in photos and definitely does in person as well. Unless you really like uniformity of color, I’d recommend the Titanium Gray version.
While the front door is plastic, it is also heavy like the rest of the case. The plastic is thick and sturdy, but it also holds a layer of sound deadening material. This case is all about silence and that extends even to the front door.
As you can see there are four 5.25″ drive bays behind the door. We’ll talk in detail about this section in a bit.
The top of the case has room for either two 140mm or two 120mm fans. These aren’t included, but Fractal didn’t just leave blank holes. In these spaces are plastic panels with sound deadening material on them. They were serious about silence in this case.
The front panel I/O looks great and, conveniently, does not reside under the door. Everything is right there on the top of your case for easy access. Interestingly, there is only one LED indicator, which has a light-transmitting bezel that goes around the power button and extends out toward the front. The light is blue and you get to choose whether it is a power indicator light or HDD activity light.
Besides the power & reset buttons, there are mic and headphone jacks as well as four USB ports, two each of USB 3.0 and USB 2.0.
The rear of the case has a nice white contrast in the form of the rear 140 mm fans and expansion slot blanks. There is some added ventilation at the top and next to the expansions slots too. The rear fan hole can accommodate 120mm or 140 mm fans, and with the extra room afforded by going the 120 mm route, you could fit a radiator back there. It looks like a 140 mm radiator’s plenum would be too large if considering the radiator route. The PSU hole cutout fits large PSUs just fine and holds the Cooler Master 1300W brute we’re using in this build just fine.
The bottom of the case is great on the Define XL R2. Not only is there a filter, it also works for both the bottom intake fan and the PSU at the same time. It removes easily for cleaning too. The case feet are tall and give plenty of breathing room. However, if your carpet is thick, or has thick padding, you’ll want to elevate the case a little bit to let the PSU / bottom fan breathe. Even with tall feet like this, which is a lot better than many others I’ve seen, carpeted floors and bottom mounted PSUs just don’t get along.
For our build, you’ll see we removed the bottom 140 mm fan and placed it in the front to go with the other (single) front 140 mm fan.
Moving back to what resides under the case door, the 5.25″ drive blanks are one of the most interesting and useful I’ve ever seen. For starters, they don’t have useless metal you have to twist off to install a drive and they’re easily removed and installed from the exterior of the case.
Just to the right resides the built in fan controller. I wouldn’t put any high amperage fans on it, but it could handle the included case fans no problem. Rather than variable control with a knob, you get three settings: 12 V, 7 V and 5 V. Note some fans don’t like to start spinning until 7 V or even higher, so leaving it on 5 V when starting up your system could prove unwise.
Below the 5.25″ bays resides another door, behind which is a removable fan mount that can house 140mm or 120mm fans. The mount is filtered just like the bottom of the case, though this one isn’t as easy to remove if you’ve got the fan wires stretched taught.
On the “front” side panel (or left, if looking at the case door), there is another spot for, you guessed it, either a 120 mm or 140 mm fan. It houses a sound-deadening blank just like the top fan holes.
This is the last photo and it’s just to try and give you perspective on the front case panel with both light and dark reflecting off it. While it isn’t brushed aluminum, that’s what the sheen is reminiscent of. I’m definitely a fan of the Titanium Gray look.
So far we’ve got a monumental monolith. Let’s check out the included accessories, then check and see if it looks as good on the inside as the outside.
The accessories come in a small box and are enclosed in plastic bags. While this seems like a small benefit, I assure you it’s huge. Having all the screws separated into their own sections are a true time-saver. Kudos to Fractal Design for not just throwing everything into one bag, which does end up being a royal pain.
Everything you need is included. While the case is not tool-free, if you can’t deal with a single Phillips-head screwdriver, you shouldn’t be bothering with building your own computer. Tool-free is way overblown if you ask me. Using screws ensure everything you install is installed securely. More importantly, using screws on everything protects against unwanted vibration, which means silence – and I’m fairly certain that’s why Fractal chose not to go tool-free.
Interior & Features Tour
Removing the “front” (or right) side panel, you can see it, too, is layered in sound deadening material. You also get your first look at one of the fan blanks, which are also sound-deadened as mentioned previously. The interior of the Define XL R2 is clean and appealing. The white accents from the fans, expansion slots and drive cages really make your system pop.
The top panel of the case doesn’t have a full layer of sound deadening material like the front door and side panels, but if you choose not to install fans here, the blanks do help with sound dampening.
The PSU mount has a layer of sound deadening material around where the PSU meets the case, which also keeps any vibration from the PSU fan isolated from the case. There are two rubber pyramids on which the front of the PSU sits. Silence is a strong theme throughout and these two little details ensure your PSU won’t be making any mechanical noise.
The attention to detail in this case is evident throughout, but one example is the sleeving present on all of the fans. End-to-end, the fan wires are all sleeved in black. Moving down a hair, the rear expansion slot blanks are affixed with black thumbscrews.
The HDD cages sit in their slots firmly, but are also easily removable with a little bit of pressure on either side. When installed, they give a satisfying “click” and affix firmly in place to avoid any vibration.
The case has wire management holes all around the board to accommodate any wiring you can throw at it. The only qualm I have about that is the front panel wires. I really wish they had included one more small grommet where the front panel headers are located. They put the rear hole/grommet in the perfect spot to accommodate the front panel audio header. It would have made wire management that much better.
As it is, they were pretty close to perfect with the choices they made. Note the vertical holes are spaced outside an eATX motherboard’s range, so there will be a small wire run from there to a standard ATX sized board.
The included three-position fan controller can control up to three fans. As mentioned, I wouldn’t put anything high amperage on it, but for standard case fans it will be fine.
On the right you can see the CPU cooler backplate hole as well as how much depth there is for wire management. The backplate hole is not quite big enough to accommodate an eATX board like the Rampage IV Extreme we’re using below, so if you’re using something like that, make sure to put the backplate on before installing the motherboard. On the plus side, there is plenty of room for wire management.
One thing that isn’t really photograph-able but is very striking about this case is panel strength. It was mentioned earlier that this case is heavy and there is a very good reason for that. Every single panel on this case is thick and very strong. There is no flex anywhere without considerable effort. That again speaks to the lengths Fractal Design has gone to make this a case built for silence. If your panels can’t flex, they won’t vibrate. From top to bottom, this case is very, very sturdy. It was already said, but it bears repeating: the Define XL R2 is built like a tank.
Working with the Define XL R2
Working with this case has been a pleasure. It isn’t perfect (very little in this life is), but it’s close. The front fan bracket removal is as easy as pushing down with your thumb and pulling. However, after you’ve run the wires for wire management purposes, if you don’t leave some slack you’ll find it doesn’t work like this any longer.
There is a side note to this front fan bracket. When you install two 140 mm fans, they touch and the plastic extends the entire depth of the fan, leaving no room for your fan wires. In order to accommodate the wiring, you have to remove the wires from the fan’s edge wire clip. A photo is worth a thousand words, so look at this next photo. This isn’t a huge problem, but it is an annoyance that would have been fixed if there were a notch cut out where the fans meet through which you could run the wires that matched up with the metal cutout that exists in the case.
Behind the front fan bracket resides the front radiator mounting holes. It is wisest to go with a dual 120 mm radiator here as there likely wouldn’t be enough room above or below for a 140 mm radiator’s plenum. The holes are drilled for a 140 mm rad, and you could easily use a 1 x 140 mm rad here, but not a 2 x 140mm. I chose to stick with the included 140 mm fans in the fan bracket and use a dual 120 mm radiator, but you can also eliminate the front fans, leave the bracket (for air filtering) and install 120 mm fans directly to the radiator.
The included three included fans are all 1000 RPM, 140 mm and rated at 0.3 A. I’m not sure if they’re as quiet as their 18 dB noise rating, but they’re close. They can be heard when the extra turbulence of the case itself is introduced, but only if they’re very close to max.
The HDD/SSD brackets all serve that double-duty. They are sturdy, metal and come with vibration absorbing washers pre-installed. SSDs obviously don’t need rubber washers since there are no moving parts. You mount an SSD directly to the internal four holes. HDDs are mounted using the vibration-isolated holes. There are more rubber washers included in the accessories pack as well in case you need them.
Please excuse the “DEAD” text on the example HDD used. All of my functioning HDDs were in use at the time.
While it’s not a problem per say, note that these HDD mounts are designed to fit perfectly. The distance from the top of a HDD to the bracket above it is very small. There will be little airflow getting on between them. Temperatures of HDDs aren’t normally a problem and that hasn’t presented itself as a problem in the system installed, but they could do with a little more spacing.
Both HDD cages are moveable or removable, it’s up to you what you do with them. Since I’m exploring water cooling, I removed the top HDD cage…
…then moved the remaining HDD cage back toward the rear of the case. This forces you to give up the bottom intake fan, but that was going to happen anyway, so the point was moot. There is plenty of room for a slim radiator here. If you want to use a thick radiator, you’ll have to figure out what to do with your HDDs/SSDs without the use of the drive cage.
Here’s an interesting tidbit from the accessories. The brass motherboard standoffs of course can be easily started by finger, but you’re usually on your own figuring out how to tighten them. Not so with the Define XL R2. Fractal includes a thumb screw cap that is milled to tighten the standoffs. This was another neat idea I haven’t seen before.
After moving the HDD cages, I put the front 120 mm radiator in its place. Choosing to use the 140 mm front fans for quiet does introduce a little problem with wasted airflow around the front radiator, but it’s a sacrifice I can make. With two radiators in the loop, that little bit of loss isn’t going to hurt anything.
Here you can see both radiators and the reservoir installed. The reservoir was a little tricky in this case and I couldn’t fit all the screws for it, but there is plenty to hold the weight of this reservoir filled. There was enough room for it and to make it look good, but if the motherboard tray had an additional one to two inches of clearance, that would have been easier to do.
The top fans I’m using are Bitfenix Spectre Pros they had sent for a previous build. They look good through the top fan grill. There is plenty of room between the top rad and the motherboard too. However, it isn’t enough room for a thick radiator, so be sure to use a slim 140 mm or 120 mm radiator like we did.
After everything was installed, it was time for a leak test. This ran overnight to ensure there no leaks (there weren’t).
The insulated front door is a blessing and a curse in this case. It’s a blessing because it insulates sound very well and looks great. It’s a curse because you can’t use a fan controller with knobs that stick out at all. Not even in the slightest. Using a Lamptron FC-9, I had to use the rear of the front pair of ODD mounting holes and recess the controller so its control knobs were flush with the front of the case. If considering a fan controller in a Define XL R2, I would recommend a flush touch screen model.
Installation of a system was a breeze, even one that’s water cooled with multiple radiators as you see here. This case is a blast to install a system in.
Installed & Ready for Showtime
After installation comes wire management and there is plenty of room for it in this case. While it doesn’t look pretty on the back side, you can’t see a bit of it from the front.
As you can see, the placing of the moved HDD cage is perfect, right where it needs to be for the data and power cables for any SSDs you use so that they aren’t bending around the motherboard tray before connecting with your drives.
With a system installed, the rear of the case comes together nicely. It would be nice if the rear of the GPU were white as well, and that could be done if you wanted to put forth the effort on something very few people will see.
As you can see, there isn’t a ton of space between the front radiator and the HDD cage, but there is plenty to easily install it without any worry about fit. This particular system uses two SSDs and two HDDs, which look nice installed.
Now we get to the main event – a full, dual-radiator, water cooled system. The loop could have done with some 90°/45° fittings, but even without them it came together very nicely. There are plenty of photos from every angle so you can see just how a system comes together in the Define XL R2.
One last photo and we’re done.
Overall, I’d say this case can go a long way to making your system look very nice.
Final Thoughts & Conclusion
Fractal Design’s Define XL R2 is indeed extra large. It fits a full eATX motherboard based system and a dual radiator water loop, complete with a tube-style reservoir. Not too many cases are large enough or well planned enough to make that kind of claim.
It’s not just large though. This case is (for a third time) built like a tank. Its panels, front to back and top to bottom – even the plastic front door – are very thick and sturdy. The only thing that would make that part better is if they were made with aluminum, which would at least double the price, if not triple it. A bit more weight is worth that trade-off.
There is one thing not mentioned before – the black finish on the case panels. The finish is very nice and is the perfect middle point between glossy and matte black. It is also nice and thick. Despite dropped screws (and once a screwdriver), there were no flaws in the interior’s finish when the build was completed. Well, except for inside the two holes drilled for the reservoir, for obvious reasons.
Working with the case was wonderful. Installation was simple, wire management was intuitive and easy to handle. The only con is the size of the cooler backplate hole and admittedly that will affect a small number of users.
All told, Fractal Define’s Define XL R2 is built tough, finished flawlessly and well thought out throughout. The changes they made with the Define XL R2 have made it one of the best cases I’ve had the pleasure of working with. Add to that the very reasonable price of $139.99 + shipping (for both this and the black version) and you have a total package that is well worth the price of admission. The Define XL R2 is unequivocally Overclockers Approved.