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Fractal Design Arc Mini R2 MicroATX Tower

The Fractal Design Arc Mini R2 sheds the Define series’ iconic look and noise suppression features to focus more on airflow and cooling.

Fractal Design Arc Mini R2 MicroATX Tower

January 7, 2014 by Lawrence Lee

Product
Fractal Design Arc Mini R2
MicroATX Case
Manufacturer
Street Price
US$100

Fractal Design made their name on the strength of the Define series, minimalist
elegant tower cases that utilize noise limiting features to carve out a nice
niche in the market. They’ve been expanding their catalog substantially, three
more lines of cases, the Node for home theaters, the value-oriented Core series,
and the Arc which focuses more on cooling and airflow without compromising their
iconically sleek Scandinavian aesthetics.

The Arc Mini was released in 2011 along with the Define Mini, a pair of microATX towers with similar designs but differing styles. We never had the opportunity to examine the original but if the R2 can live up to the Define Mini it would be in excellent company — it’s currently SPCR’s best performing microATX case.


The Arc Mini R2.

The Mini R2 lacks the grace and sophistication of the Define series. There
isn’t a hint of aluminum nor is there a door at all, but rather a more generic
looking plastic bezel with fine lines on the surface mimicking brushed aluminum.
This is the first Fractal case we’ve used with a side window, something added
to entice enthusiasts who love gazing into their systems’ innards to admire
their cabling or lighting, or to simply check if anything has caught fire.

At 16 inches, the Arc Mini R2 is slightly taller than the Define Mini. Both
cases are unusually tall and large for a microATX case — add an inch or
two and you’re in ATX territory. Inside you’ll find bays for six 3.5 inch drives
and two 2.5 inch drives, three stock fans of a possible seven, a three-speed
fan controller, dust filters, removable drive trays and cages, and support for
a large radiator if you’re into watercooling. What you won’t find are noise
damping mats and foam. Aside from the fan controller, the Arc Mini R2 isn’t
particularly noise-conscious.


The box.


Accessories.

The packaging and accessories included with the case are minimal. A black cardboard
box stuffed in one of the drive trays contains the necessary screws and standoffs,
along with a few plastic zip-ties. It’s less of an accessory box as it is a
necessity box.

Specifications: Fractal Design Arc Mini R2
(from the
product web page
)
Motherboard compatibility Micro ATX, Mini ITX
Drive bays 2 – 5.25"
6 – 3.5" HDD Trays – all compatible with SSDs
2 – 2.5" dedicated SSD positions behind the motherboard plate
Expansion slots 4 + 1
Front interface 2 – USB 3.0
Audio in/out
Power button with LED (blue)
HDD activity LED (red)
Reset button
Fan controller
Cooling features 7 fan positions (3 Silent Series R2 fans included)
Filtered fan slots in front, top, and bottom
Integrated fan controller for up to 3 fans (included)
CPU Coolers up to 165 mm tall
Fan positions Front: 2 – 120mm fans (included is one hydraulic bearing 120mm Silent Series R2 fan, 1200 RPM speed)

Rear: 1 – 120mm fan (included is a hydraulic bearing 120mm Silent Series R2 fan, 1200 RPM speed)

Top: 2 – 120/140mm fans (included is one hydraulic bearing 140mm Silent Series R2 fan, 1000 RPM speed) 1 – 120mm fan (not included)

Bottom: 1 – 120mm fan (not included)

Watercooling compatibility Front – 240mm radiator (thick and slim) when HDD cages are removed, radiator cannot exceed 275mm in total length with the ODD bay in place.

Top – 240mm or 360mm radiators (thick and slim); the use of 360mm radiators requires removal of the ODD cage.

Bottom – 120mm radiators

Rear – 120 and 140mm radiators

PSU compatibility ATX PSUs up to 170 mm deep when using the bottom fan location; when not using this fan location longer PSUs (up to 220 mm deep) can be used
Graphics card compatibility Graphics cards up to 260mm in length with the top HDD cage installed – With the top cage removed, graphics cards up to 400mm in length may be installed
Cable management 20 mm of space for cable routing behind the motherboard plate
Thick rubber grommets on all holes on the motherboard plate
Side panel window Included
Color Black
Package contents Arc Mini R2 computer case
Accessory box
User manual
Case dimensions 210 x 405 x 484mm (WxHxD);
41.2 liters
Package dimensions 280 x 475 x 565mm (WxHxD)
Net weight 9kg
Package weight 10kg

EXTERIOR & PANELS

The Arc Mini R2 weighs 9 kg or 19.8 lb and measures 21.0 x 40.5 x 48.4 cm or 8.3 x 15.9 x 19.1 inches (W x H x D), giving it a total volume of 41.2 liters. It’s close in size to the Fractal Define Mini but overly large for microATX towers which are typically closer to 30 liters. The main chassis is constructed of steel while the front bezel is made of plastic.


The usual connectors are on the top of the front bezel, a pair of
USB 3.0 ports and line-out and mic-jacks. A tiny recessed reset switch
occupies a position on the left, a wobbly power button and LED reside
at the center, and on the right are the three controls (5V, 7V, 12V)
for the integrated fan controller.


The rear of the case is practically identical to the Define Mini. There are a pair of watercooling tubing holes at the top, a 120mm exhaust fan placement, and 4 + 1 expansion slots. The side panels have handles at the center and are held on with a pair of thumbscrews each, as is the top cover.


A large dust filter on the underside services two fan positions and pulls out from the back.


As the side panels are only 0.8 mm thick, they exhibit some flex (especially on the windowed panel) but attach fairly solidly to the chassis.


Removing the front bezel requires no tools, simply pushing out the round plastic tabs holding onto it from the interior is enough to detach the panel. Front fans are mounted using screws.


An enormous dust filter runs along the entire length of the top cover. This seems to be a form over function decision as ceiling fans are typically used as exhausts and are not as prone to dust buildup.


The top dust filter is attached directly to the top cover, while the front filter resides on a frame that detaches with a simple push via a barb system. However for both, metal tabs have to be bent to remove the mesh.

INTERIOR

The build quality of the Arc Mini R2 interior is satisfactory. The frame is stiff and the drive area feels relatively sturdy despite not being riveted in place and having a pair of removable hard drive cages with no structural support at the sides.


The layout is similar to other Fractal Design towers and essentially identical to the Define Mini.


The center drive cage is secured with two thumbscrews and the sliding mechanism is nicely balanced, tight enough to keep the cage mostly immobilized without making it too difficult to remove/install. The bottom cage can also be taken out via four screws on the underside.


The power supply position is dampened with four rubber pads and the expansion slot covers are all ventilated.


The ceiling is open, supporting up to 2 x 140 mm or 3 x 120 mm fans. You can even install a 360 mm radiator if the optical drive cage is removed.


Cable management is facilitated with multiple large holes with grommets and a series of hooks behind the motherboard tray.


As much of the space in this area goes wasted, Fractal added a pair of 2.5 inch bays near the center.

ASSEMBLY

Assembly of the Arc Mini R2 is fairly straightforward and if the interior ever feels cramped during installation, relief can be had by removing the drive cages and installing any hard drives at the end of the process.


3.5 inch hard drives are secured from the bottom onto dampened drive trays for installation. It’s the same system used on other Fractal cases, but the trays sit more loosely than usual, creating drive vibration issues.


One neat feature is a dual head USB header that supports either USB 3.0 or 2.0 (don’t plug in both simultaneously).


The fan controller located at the top of the case uses standard 3-pin connectors and the included fans have cables more than long enough to reach.


Our test system fully assembled. There was an additional 15 mm available above our Noctua NH-U12P cooler, making the total CPU heatsink clearance approximately 173 mm. The drive cage proportions were designed to allow for a long graphics card by removing the center cage, but this is foiled by our motherboard layout. The PCI-E 16x slot is positioned second from the top — in our case we would have to remove both drive cages to install a graphics card longer than 28.0 cm.


Our system doesn’t have that many cables but they were tied up neatly enough. We found the unused SSD trays to helpful in this regard.


There is only 17 mm of space behind the motherboard tray so the bundling of cables must be planned carefully to avoid issues with closing the right side panel.

TESTING

System Configuration:

Measurement and Analysis Tools

System temperatures and noise levels were recorded with SpeedFan and GPU-Z
at idle and on load using Prime95 (large FFTs setting) and FurMark, an OpenGL
benchmarking and stability testing utility.

Baseline Noise

The Arc Mini R2 inherits the same dual rear/front 1200 RPM 120 mm fans from the Define Mini, but also sports an additional 140 mm model secured to the ceiling. The Define Mini also had a variable fan controller at the back, whereas the Arc Mini R2’s controller is located at the front as has three set speeds.

Baseline Noise Level (dBA@1m)
Fan Speed Setting
SPL @1m
5V
16 dBA
7V
22 dBA
12V
32 dBA
Measuring mic positioned 1m at diagonal angle left/front
of case.

As all the fans belong to the Silent R2 series, their acoustics are similar. The top and rear fans are pleasantly smooth with a some bearing chatter audible close-up but inside the case with the side panels running interference, it’s impossible to detect. The front fan has a tendency to click, but this is a result of the intake fan mount rather than the fan itself. We encountered the same issue with the Define Mini.

Together, the overall sound quality is above average compared to most stock case fans and the controller’s preset speeds offer a decent range to suit individual needs, though obviously we would prefer more granular control. At 5V, the total SPL was a very quiet 16 dBA@1m, while at 7V, it measured 22 dBA@1m which is still fairly reasonable. If you’re running hotter, high-end hardware, 12V may provide the cooling you’re looking for but at a heavy acoustic cost.

TEST RESULTS

System Measurements (ASUS EAH6850 DirectCU)
System State
Idle
CPU + GPU Load
System Fan Speeds
5V
7V
GPU Fan
Speed
1660 RPM
(auto)
1660 RPM*
1570 RPM*
CPU Temp
31°C
69°C
66°C
HD Temp
30°C
31°C
31°C
GPU Temp
39°C
90°C
90°C
GPU VRM Temp
46°C
92°C
92°C
SPL@1m
21~22 dBA
21~22 dBA
24 dBA
System Power
64W
270W
268W
*set as low as possible to maintain a GPU temperature of ~90°C on load.
CPU fan at 9V.
Ambient temperature: 22°C.

Sitting idle with the case fans set to 5V, our test system was relatively cool
and quiet, with the CPU hovering around the 30°C mark and the GPU below
40°C, with a total noise output of 21~22 dBA@1m. As we mentioned previously,
hard drive vibration was an issue with this case due to the loose drive trays.
In our case, if we positioned the tray just right, it would produce a moderate
amount of vibration noise audible at close proximity. If it wasn’t positioned
just so, the drive would cause an obnoxious buzzing. A screw can be inserted
through the side to brace the tray against the cage but this didn’t help in
our case. In the end we resorted to placing some foam above and below the drive
to keep it steady. You can also try adding tape to the drive trays for more
friction.

On full CPU and GPU load, our methodology dictates we balance the noise and heat by adjusting the video card fan speed manually to keep the GPU at or around 90°C as a reference point. For the Arc Mini R2, no fan speed change was required from what the card was using at idle. Increasing the case fan speed to 7V took some of the pressure off the GPU, allowing us to slow the fan by about 100 RPM. This produced a net noise gain of 1~2 dB but helped the CPU cool down by 3°C. It’s not an acceptable tradeoff in our opinion, but if the video card fan had less admirable acoustics we would consider doing it just to make the system sound a bit more pleasant.

ASUS EAH6850 DirectCU Test System: Comparison (Load)
Case
Fractal Design Arc Mini R2
Fractal Design Define Mini
Silverstone Sugo SG09
SS Temjin TJ08-E
System Fans
3 x 5V
2 x 9V
2 x 5V, 1 x 9V
1 x 10V/low
GPU Fan
1660 RPM
1670 RPM
1680 RPM
2330 RPM
CPU Temp
69°C
65°C
69°C
59°C
HD Temp
31°C
31°C
34°C
25°C
GPU Temp
90°C
89°C
90°C
89°C
GPU VRM Temp
92°C
90°C
86°C
87°C
SPL@1m
21~22 dBA
22~23 dBA
24 dBA
24~25 dBA
CPU fan set to 9V.
Ambient temperature: 22°C.

The Arc Mini R2’s performance was similar to that of the Define Mini, with a 1 dB improvement in SPL but a 4°C deficiency in CPU temperature. These are the two best performing microATX cases we’ve tested. The larger than average size paired with a traditional layout produces superior results than the smaller Sugo SG09 and Temjin TJ08-E from SilverStone.

AUDIO RECORDINGS

These recordings were made with a high resolution, lab quality, digital recording
system inside SPCR’s own 11 dBA ambient anechoic chamber, then converted to
LAME 128kbps encoded MP3s. We’ve listened long and hard to ensure there is no
audible degradation from the original WAV files to these MP3s. They represent
a quick snapshot of what we heard during the review.

Each recording starts with ambient noise, then 5~10 second segments of product
at various states. For the most realistic results,
set the volume so that the starting ambient level is just barely audible, then
don’t change the volume setting again while comparing all the sound files.

FINAL THOUGHTS

There’s no denying that the Arc Mini R2 is built on the same foundations
as the Define
Mini
. And why wouldn’t it be? It’s a sound core, a microATX tower with
excellent acoustic performance, noise prevention features, and the familiar
elegant minimalist aesthetic that Fractal Design has been evangelizing since
its inception. However, the Arc Mini R2 takes the basic blueprints and goes
in a different direction, one that is accommodating of a larger, broader audience.
The chassis appeals more to enthusiasts, with increased ventilation at the top
to accommodate large radiators (which seem to be all the rage these days), an
additional stock 140 mm exhaust fan, including SSD mounts behind the motherboard
tray, and a vanity window on the side panel.

All these changes alone would have been fine but unfortunately they also took
away key features. The aluminum door is the most noticeable omission, removed
in favor of a more accessible front bezel with a less appealing plastic construction.
Inside, the noise absorbent sheets have vanished, and the once solid hard drive
mounting system is no more. The drive caddies use a similar design to those
of yore but they fit noticeably looser than in previous Fractal models, making
them more prone to hard drive vibration. Basically, most of the things that
we loved about Fractal and the Define series has been removed, leaving behind
a case with less cachet for a silent PC enthusiast.

As microATX cases go, the Arc Mini R2 is a fantastic performer, but it lives in the long shadow of the Define Mini which is still available and priced the same, about US$100. We prefer the former — the Arc Mini R2 adds some minor improvements which we wouldn’t mind seeing in an updated version of the Define Mini, however, what is subtracted from the equation is substantial. Fractal’s desire to expand beyond the niche they started out from is understandable — we just wish it didn’t cost them their identity. Remove the branding and change the black/white color scheme, and we probably wouldn’t recognize who built this case.

Our thanks to Fractal Design
for the Arc Mini R2 case sample.

* * *

Articles of Related Interest
Fractal Design Node 304 Mini-ITX Case
BitFenix Phenom Mini-ITX Case
Chenbro SR30169 Mini-ITX Server Chassis
Silverstone ML05 mini-ITX HTPC Case
SilverStone Grandia GD07 & GD08 Media Center Cases
Fractal Design Define Mini MicroATX Tower

* * *

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