Fractal Design Arc XL Case

The Arc XL is Fractal Design’s take on an oversized tower that doesn’t stray far away from their minimalist design aesthetic. The XL has ample space for cooling options, larger components, and just about anything else one would cram into a PC case.

June 10, 2014 by Lawrence Lee

Product
Fractal Design Arc XL
XL-ATX Tower Case
Manufacturer
Street Price
US$125

The Define R2 tower helped propel Fractal Design from obscurity seemingly overnight. The case exemplified their philosophy of minimalist but elegant design, striking cord with many DIYers tired of the plethora of over-styled, over-the-top, and just plain ugly enthusiast cases. While it was a nice niche to fill, to grow as a company, they inevitably had to branch out. They adapted their formula to the Core line of budget towers and the Node series of home theater enclosures with varying degrees of success. The Arc line, which caters more towards enthusiasts concerned primarily with cooling and compatibility, is a tougher nut to crack given the company’s original modus operandi. Our recent review of the Arc Mini R2 microATX tower perfectly illustrates the difficulty involved as it turned out to be a solid case, but lacked many of the things that made Fractal stand out in the first place. The Arc XL is of a similar, albeit much larger, mold.


The Arc XL box.


The Arc XL.

At almost 23 inches tall and nearly as deep, the Arc XL is a lumbering giant, among the largest cases we’ve come across. It was designed not only to house ATX form factor motherboards, but also E-ATX, and oversized XL-ATX models which can potentially have up to nine expansion slots. Typically cases in this size category have more bolder style elements, so the Arc XL’s clean, reserved aesthetics almost looks out of place, though it doesn’t carry the same cachet as the Define series. The case is doorless for better front airflow, the entire top panel is ventilated, and there’s a side window for observation. It shares much of the Arc Mini’s DNA, only it has more of everything. There are additional 5.25/3.5 inch drive bays, larger 140 mm fan placements, improved watercooling support, and clearance for taller CPU coolers and longer video cards is extended. If the Arc Mini suffered from a case gigantism, this would be the end result.


Accessories.

In terms of accessories, Fractal kept it relatively simple. Included in the package is some documentation, a few short zip-ties, and all the necessary standoffs and screws.

Specifications: Fractal Design Arc XL
(from the
product web page
)
Motherboard compatibility ATX, Micro ATX, Mini ITX, E-ATX, XL-ATX
Drive bays 4 – 5.25″ bays
8 – 3.5″ HDD trays – all compatible with SSDs
2 – 2.5″ dedicated SSD positions behind the motherboard plate
Expansion slots 9 expansion slots
Front interface 2 – USB 3.0
2 – USB 2.0
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 180 mm tall
Fan positions Front: 2 – 120/140mm fans (included is one hydraulic bearing 140mm Silent Series R2 fan, 1000 RPM speed)

Rear: 1 – 120/140mm fan (included is a hydraulic bearing 140mm Silent Series R2 fan, 1000 RPM speed)

Top: 3 – 120x140mm fans (included is one hydraulic bearing 140mm Silent Series R2 fan, 1000 RPM speed)

Bottom: 1 – 120/140mm fan (not included)

Watercooling compatibility Front – 240 mm radiators (thick and slim) when HDD cages are repositioned or removed
Top – 240mm radiators (thick) or 280 and 360mm radiators (slim)
Bottom – 120mm radiators
Rear – 120 and 140mm radiators
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
Cable management 26 mm of space for cable routing behind the motherboard plate
Thick rubber grommets on all holes on the motherboard plate
Side panel window Included
Colors available Black
Package contents Arc XL computer case
Accessory box
User manual
Case dimensions 232 x 572 x 552mm (WxHxD)
Package dimensions 322 x 625 x 635mm (WxHxD)
Net weight 13.8kg
Package weight 16.3kg

EXTERIOR & PANELS

The Arc XL is primarily constructed out of steel while the top panel and front bezel are made of plastic. As it is compatible with both E-ATX and XL-ATX motherboards, its dimensions are an expansive 23.2 x 57.2 x 55.2 cm or 9.1 x 22.5 x 21.7 inches (W x H x D) for a total case volume of 73.3 L. It is one of the largest cases we’ve used but its considerable height to width ratio gives it a lanky look.


The Arc XL’s front interface options are located at the top of the case. Both USB 3.0 and 2.0 ports are available as are mic and line-out jacks, a small reset button, a power button with power and hard drive activity LEDs built into it, and a three speed fan controller.

The front fan filter is detached by pushing the top two corners, revealing a deep cavity capable of fitting a thick 240 mm radiator or a pair of 120 or 140 mm fans. One bolt-mounted 140 mm fan is included in this location, in front of a restrictive hard drive cage inside.

Looking at the rear of the case we get a sense of why it’s so statuesque. There are a whopping nine expansion slots and extra space has been allotted above the I/O panel to better accommodate ceiling-mounted water cooling units.

An external dust filter underneath the case, which simply pulls out from the back, services both a single 120/140 fan position and the power supply fan.

Removing two thumbscrews at the rear allows the top panel to slide out. It too is outfitted with a large filter covering the three fan placements on the case ceiling. The material used is denser and thus more restrictive than the front/bottom filters, but it also limits how much noise escapes.

The side panels uses a solid hinge system to hook up with the chassis. The steel used is of considerable thickness, 1.3 mm at the thinnest points.

INTERIOR

Like the panels, the internal construction is fairly solid. The layout is traditional, staying true to the design of previous Fractal towers. The power supply resides at the bottom, 5.25 inch bays are located at the top/front, and the 3.5 inch bays sit underneath, separated into two removable cages.


The Arc XL’s interior is spacious and the component support is vast. Users can install up to nine expansion cards, four 5.25 inch drives, eight 3.5 inch drives, and seven fans.

Removing two thumbscrews frees the upper hard drive cage, which is rotatable if you prefer that orientation. The lower drive cage can be taken out via a series of screws and may be repositioned closer toward the power supply to make room for a front-mounted radiator.

Tall rubber supports keeps the power supply further off the ground than most cases. Additionally, an isolation frame is attached at the back to dampen any vibration created by the power supply.

Along with the one included 140 mm fan at the front, there are another two at the top and rear, positioned to exhaust hot air around the CPU portion of the system. Two more fans can be placed on the ceiling and this space also supports a thick 240mm or slim 280/360 mm radiator.

The area behind the motherboard tray offers 27 mm of space to hide/route excess cabling.

A pair of 2.5 inch drives can be installed on this side of the case, each in their own dedicated, hard-mounted frame.

The connectors for the fan controller hang down near the 5.25 inch drive bays. The controller is powered via a molex connector and can temper the speeds of up to three 3-pin fans.

ASSEMBLY

Assembling a system in the Arc XL is fairly straight forward. Our usual ATX case test system was used: An Asus 790GX motherboard with Phenom II X4 955 CPU cooled by a ZEROtherm FZ120 heatsink with a Nexus 120 mm fan, a WD SE16 hard drive, a Cooler Master 700W modular power supply, and two Radeon HD 4870 graphics cards (see full system details on the next page).


For an ATX system, the Arc XL is overly large, with plenty of space around the motherboard and ample room for longer graphics cards. According to our measurements it can fit cards up to 33.2 cm long with the upper drive cage installed in its default orientation, and an additional 13.6 cm is opened up if the cage is removed.

We installed our test hard drive in one of the upper bays so it could be cooled by the front fan which blows directly toward the video cards. Compared to the Define series, the individual trays don’t fit as snugly, and while a screw from the side can be inserted to help steady the caddy, it didn’t really help in our case. The upper cage is also somewhat looser than the more structurally stable bottom cage which is bolted to the floor.

There was 29 mm of space above our CPU cooler, making the maximum height 18.5 cm.

While our system doesn’t have much cabling, keeping things tidy was relatively effortless.

We didn’t have any difficulty closing the right side panel as there’s more than sufficient space behind the motherboard tray for thick, overlapping cabling. The hinge design of the panel certainly doesn’t hurt either.

The power and hard drive activity LEDs are not particularly bright and too small to cause annoyance.

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 CPUBurn (K7 setting) and FurMark, an OpenGL benchmarking
and stability testing utility.

Baseline Noise


One of the Arc XL’s three stock 140 mm fans.

The Arc XL’s three 140 mm stock fans are screwed to the front, top, and rear of the case. These 3-pin fans belong to Fractal’s Silent Series R2 line, and have a nominal speed of 1000 RPM, relatively low compared to most stock case fans from other manufacturers. They can be hooked up to the built-in three speed (5V/7V/12V) fan controller to slow them further.

Stock Fan Measurements
Voltage
Avg. Speed
SPL @1m
12V
960 RPM
30 dBA
9V*
760 RPM
23~24 dBA
7V
640 RPM
18 dBA
5V
460 RPM
15 dBA
*Integrated fan controller incapable of this voltage.
Measuring mic positioned 1m at diagonal angle left/front
of case.

Any kind of fan control is always a nice feature on a case but the three speeds offered leave a big gap. The fans produced an almost inaudible 15 dBA@1m at 5V, a relatively quiet 18 dBA@1m at 7V, and a loud 30 dBA@1m at 12V. Ideally you want a good cross-section of speeds to match the noise generated by the other components, and the hole between 18 dBA and 30 dBA is sizable. We imagine 9V (23~24 dBA@1m) is close to the sweet spot for many systems but they aren’t achievable without using other means. An adjustable knob/dial would have been preferable for more granular control.

In our opinion, the stock fans had a generally pleasant sound and this is backed up by frequency analysis, which revealed no major tonal peaks at either 7V and 9V. At close proximity, there was some audible bearing chatter and clicking but these minor negative qualities weren’t noticeable under normal circumstances; they faded away into the background with the noise emitted by the rest of the system and were well-muffled by the side panels.

TEST RESULTS: DUAL RADEON HD 4870 CONFIGURATION

Given the Arc XL’s massive size, it didn’t seem likely that anyone would purchase it for use with a single video card, so we jumped straight into our CrossFireX test configuration.

System Measurements (2 x HD 4870)
System State
Idle
CPU + GPU Load
System Fan Speeds
5V / 460 RPM
7V / 640 RPM
9V / 760 RPM
12V / 960 RPM
CPU Temp
35°C
51°C
49°C
46°C
SB Temp
60°C
69°C
68°C
67°C
HD Temp
33°C
33°C
31°C
29°C
GPU #1 Temp
80°C
92°C
91°C
90°C
GPU #1 Fan
Speed (auto)
1160 RPM
2350 RPM
2300 RPM
2320 RPM
GPU #2 Temp
74°C
87°C
87°C
85°C
GPU #2 Fan
Speed (auto)
980 RPM
2050 RPM
2020 RPM
1950 RPM
SPL@1m
20 dBA
32~33 dBA
32 dBA
34 dBA
System Power (AC)
197W
540W
539W
537W
CPU fan set to 100% speed.
Ambient temperature: 22°C.

With the machine idle and the stock fans set to 5V, our system was relatively quiet, measuring 20 dBA@1m. Our GPUs aren’t very aggressive with regards to fan control, so the fan speeds were kept down even with temperatures in the 70~80°C range.

Load tests were conducted with three different fan speeds, with the 9V setting (which isn’t possible with the built-in fan controller) giving us optimal results. Running at 7V actually resulted in more noise as the video card fans spun faster to compensate for the reduced cooling. While 12V produced better temperatures, the noise jump from 32 dBA to 34 dBA was considerable given the logarithmic nature of the decibel scale.

We’re fortunate that the HD 4870’s we use have a mostly broadband acoustic profile, sounding a lot like white noise even at speeds greater than 2000 RPM. The stock fans have a decent sound as well, so the combined noise was loud but not entirely unpleasant on load.

We didn’t detect any audible effects of hard drive vibration, but from time to time, a peak did appear on the spectrum at 120 Hz (corresponding to the 7200 RPM rotational speed of the hard drive’s motor). It was a minor issue but worth noting given our previous observation of the looser drive trays compared to the Define series. If possible, we highly recommend using the more secure lower drive cage first.

CrossFireX Configuration Comparison (Load)
Case
SilverStone Raven RV03
Fractal Design Arc XL
Antec P280
Phanteks Enthoo Primo
Fans Speeds
top at 12V, bottoms at 9V/low
top, rear, front at 9V
top, rear, front on low
top, rear, fronts, bottom at 800 RPM
CPU Temp
41°C
49°C
45°C
46°C
SB Temp
66°C
68°C
64°C
67°C
HD Temp
34°C
31°C
28°C
30°C
GPU #1 Temp
87°C
91°C
89°C
91°C
GPU #1 Fan
Speed (auto)
2140 RPM
2300 RPM
2440 RPM
2370 RPM
GPU #2 Temp
81°C
87°C
84°C
85°C
GPU #2 Fan
Speed (auto)
1820 RPM
2020 RPM
1950 RPM
1940 RPM
SPL@1m
[right side]
31~32 dBA
32 dBA
32~33 dBA
33 dBA
CPU fan set to 100% speed.
All temperature results adjusted to 22°C ambient.

The Arc XL produced solid thermal/acoustic performance, matching up closely to Antec P280 as it exhibited higher temperatures all around but emitted slightly less noise. It should be noted that our CrossFireX configuration is particularly challenging, and only members of the SilverStone Raven/Fortress series have ever managed a sub-32 dBA result.

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 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

The Arc series is essentially a bridge, bringing together Fractal Design’s minimalist roots and a wide audience of enthusiasts who crave big towers with tremendous cooling. In this regard, the Arc XL is a success, an oversized case that delivers excellent performance while maintaining a clean, reserved design aesthetic. It has many of the qualities big case lovers covet including a host of water cooling options, plenty of 140 mm fan placements with filters everywhere, and a built-in (albeit limited) fan speed controller. Its massive dimensions also allow users to fit just about anything inside, with its four 5.25 inch bays, eight 3.5 inch bays, and nine expansion slots, E-ATX and XL-ATX motherboard support, and effectively limitless heatsink and video card compatibility.

Given its target audience, there is unfortunately less of a focus on noise reduction than the Define series. While the fans provided are relatively low speed, there are no acoustic dampening sheets, unused fan positions are not blocked off, and the front fan intake position is more exposed to the user. To mitigate hard drive vibration, the upper drive cage could be more secure, as could the individual trays for themselves, which are noticeably looser than in the Define R2/R3 and Define Mini. Vibration was barely noticeable with our test configuration but we can imagine that multiple drives would compound the problem.

There’s nothing refreshing about the Arc XL’s design, though it is nice to see a big case without an equally big sticker-price. As it doesn’t have flashy over-the-top features or any aluminum in its construction, the Arc XL sells for a modest US$125, on par with the Antec P280. However, like in the case of our Arc Mini R2 review, our preference for the Define series presents itself once again. From what we can tell, the Arc XL’s counterpart, the Define XL, has an almost identical core, and addresses some of the Arc’s noise-related issues. The Define XL also features a door and a windowless side panel, giving it a more elegant look, and even the price-tag is lower at just US$100. There are undoubtedly those who prefer the more open airflow scheme of the Arc line but our readership would likely be better served by the Define model.

Our thanks to Fractal Design for the Arc XL case sample.


Fractal Design Arc XL is Recommended by SPCR

* * *

Articles of Related Interest
Fractal Design Arc Mini R2 MicroATX Tower
Phanteks Enthoo Primo: Giant Tower Case
SilverStone Raven RV04 Overview
SilverStone Fortress FT04 Tower
Nanoxia Deep Silence 1
BitFenix Ghost: Quiet ATX Chassis

* * *

Discuss
this article in the SPCR Forums.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *