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Fractal Design Define R2 ATX Tower Case

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Produced by Fractal Design, a young Swedish company, the Define R2 is a deceptively simple minimalist tower case that takes more than a few cues from the Antec P180 series cases. Though it retails for only US$100, the R2 is much more than a cheap clone.

Fractal Design Define R2 ATX Tower Case

March 28, 2010 by Lawrence Lee

Product
Fractal Design Define R2
ATX Tower Case
Manufacturer
Market Price
US$100

Fractal Design is a young Swedish company providing products to the DIY PC
market with an emphasis on design, quality, functionality and pricing. Its product
catalog is currently rather sparse with the bulk of it comprised of a few power
supplies, quiet fans, and noise reduction items.

Fractal also has a couple of cases, the Array,
a mini-ITX cube, and the Define R2, an ATX tower case that takes more than a
few cues from the ground-breaking Antec
P180
. The P180 was a fantastic case that hit the mark on every level
at the time: Cooling, noise reduction, and expandability. Its current iteration,
the P183, retails for about
US$150, while the R2 looks to hit North American shores at just over US$100.
If it is indeed a comparable case, the R2 would represent excellent value.


The Define R2.

If not for the side fan placement, one could easily mistaken the Define R2
as a new Antec Performance One case. It has simple, understated aesthetics,
a large front door with air vents running down on both sides and a pair of 120/140
mm fan placements at the top. On closer inspection, you’ll also notice it’s
a lot shorter, by 3" compared to the P183 and by 4" compared to the
P182. The Define
R2 is available in three colors: black, grey, and silver.


Provided accessories. Note: the R2 does not ship with retail
boxed fans.

In its retail form the R2 ships with an external fan controller mounted on
a PCI slot, a 3-pin fan extension cable with 3 inputs, a pair of velcro straps
for bundling cables, screws/standoffs, and two hard-mounted 120 mm fans. Our
sample had no pre-installed fans, but rather included retail boxed fans which
ship with rubber fan isolators. Fractal Design sent us with three fans in total:
2 x 120 mm and 1 x 140 mm.

Product Details: Fractal R2
(from the
product web page
)
Key features * Stunning
front panel design
* Patent pending ModuVent™ design, allowing the user to either have
optimal silence or optimal airflow
* Pre-fitted with dense, noise absorbing bitumen
* 8(!) white painted HDD-trays, with silicone mounting
* A total of 7 fan slots (2x120mm in front, 2x 120/140mm in top, 1x120mm
in back, 1x 120/140mm in side panel, 1x 120/140mm in bottom)
* 2x 120mm Fractal Design 120mm Silent Series 15dB fans included
* Fan controller for 3 fans included
* Easily removable front fan filters with clip-on holders for 120mm fans
* Supports graphic card lengths up to circa 290mm and CPU coolers with height
of maximum circa 165mm
* Supports PSUs with a depth of maximum circa 170mm, when using bottom 120/140mm
fan location. When not using the bottom 120/140mm fan location, the case
supports also longer PSUs, typically 200-220mm.
Cooling system * Fan controller
for 3 fans included (10w Max)
* 1 rear Fractal Design 120mm Silent Series 15dB fan (included)
* 1 front Fractal Design 120mm Silent Series 15dB fan (included)
* 1 front 120mm fan (optional)
* 1 bottom 120mm/140mm fan (optional)
* 1 side panel 120mm/140mm fan (optional)
* 2 top 120mm/140mm fan (optional)
Specifications * 8x 3,5 inch
HDD trays, compatible with SSD!
* 2x 5,25 inch bays, with 1x 5,25>3,5 inch converter included
* On top of front panel: 2x USB 2.0, 1x eSATA and Audio I/O
* No PSU included (removable filter below PSU)
* M/B compatibility: Mini ITX, Micro ATX and ATX
* 7x expansion slots with sleek white painted brackets
* Supports graphic card lengths up to circa 290mm and CPU coolers with height
of maximum circa 165mm
* Supports PSUs with a depth of maximum circa 170mm, when using bottom 120/140mm
fan location. When not using the bottom 120/140mm fan location, the case
supports also longer PSUs, typically 200-220mm.
* Case size (WxHxD): 207.40x440x521.2mm
* Net / Gross weight: 12.50 / 14.50 kg
Additional information * EAN/GTIN-13:
7350041080299
* Product code: FD-CA-DEF-R2-BL
* Also available for System Integrators

THE EXTERIOR

The Define R2 measures 207 x 440 x 521 mm (H x W x D) or 17.3" x 8.2"
x 20.6", and weighs in at 12.5 kg or 27.5 lb.


The front bezel is guarded by a sturdy door secured by
a pair of round magnets so it always closes tightly.

The door opens to reveal only a pair of exposed 5.25" bays (one
with a 3.5" adapter) and two fan vents closely resembling those on
the P180. The inside of the door is dampened with foam and the front 120
mm fan placements are filtered.

The rear of the case features a single 120/140 mm fan placement and
four grommeted holes for tubing/cabling.

The front ports, which include line-out, mic, eSATA and a pair of
USB connectors, are located at the top of the case near the front. Their
are two 120/140 mm fan placements at the top, but they are sealed off
by default.

Another 120/140 mm fan can be added to the bottom of the case at the
center. Behind it resides a power supply vent with a removable filter.
Above it you’ll notice one of the case feet sitting on the side panel
— it was damaged during shipping.

THE INTERIOR

The Define R2 can take up to an ATX-sized motherboard, 2 x 5.25"
drives, and 8 x 3.5" drives; an appropriate choice given that most users
only have a single optical drive. It also has the space to accommodate graphics
cards up to 290 mm (11.4") long, and power supplies with a depth of 170
mm (6.7"), longer if you remove the fan holder located on the case floor.


Hard drives are installed using the side-mounting drive trays pioneered by Antec in the original Sonata case. These ones are arranged a little looser for a bit better airflow when the HDD bays are all full, and the rubber isolators are rather hard. (Editor’s Note: Fractal says that in standard production models, the isolators are made of softer silicone rubber.) Expansion cards are secured with thumbscrews. There is
a large cutout in the motherboard tray to aid in the installation of large
third party heatsinks. There are also five large cable management holes
protected with rubber grommets as well as a series of smaller holes for
cable-ties.

The top and side fan placements have noise isolating mats covering
them. The interior of both side panels and the rest of the case ceiling
is covered in the same material. It is made of bitumen, is a tar-like
substance essential in the production of asphalt and is used for waterproofing
and insulation.

The case floor has a 120/140 mm snap-on fan mount and a power supply
vent with four rubber feet above it to dampen vibrations and lift the power supply so it isn’t flush with the vent surface.

As it has to be able to support the weight of eight hard disks and
trays, the hard drive cage is very strong.

While cabling is easily hidden, there isn’t much room behind the motherboard
tray, so overlapping cables may make it difficult to get the side panel
on.

One noticeable area where the Define R2 falls short compared to the
P180 is the thickness of the panels. They are only 0.7~0.8 mm thick and
aren’t as nearly as sturdy as the frame of the case. The thick bitumen
sheet however makes it deceptively heavy. The side panels also stick a
little during removal — it takes a bit of fidgeting to get them off.

ASSEMBLY NOTES

Our Phenom II X4 test configuration was installed without any
difficulty. Hard drive installation was a snap, and cables were easily tucked
out of the way. All three fans provided were installed using the rubber isolators
included in the retail fan boxes. We placed the two 120 mm fans provided in
the rear and top front placements and the top 140 mm fan went on the side panel
blowing inward.


The front fan holders are attached with four screws, accessible from
the front of the case. It’s a one piece unit that includes a mesh filter.

The 120 mm fan. Though they are the same model as those that ship
with the retail case, the fan isolators are not included.

The 140 mm fan. As the fan has closed corners, the included isolators
are very long.

We replaced our sample’s broken foot with one of comparable size.

The large holes around the motherboard tray make cable management a breeze.
However, the grommets protecting them have a loose fit and can be easily
dislodged when passing large cables through them.

When the power comes on the power button is surrounded by a blue ring.
The LED the front of the case is thin and won’t blind you like some cases.

TESTING

System Configuration:

Measurement and Analysis Tools

  • CPUBurn
    processor stress software.
  • FurMark
    stability test to stress the integrated GPU.
  • GPU-Z to
    monitor GPU temperatures and fan speed.
  • SpeedFan
    to monitor system temperatures and fan speeds.
  • Seasonic
    Power Angel
    AC power meter, used to measure the power consumption
    of the system.

System temperatures and noise levels were recorded with SpeedFan and GPU-Z
at idle and on load using 4 instances of CPUBurn to stress the CPU and FurMark
with the Xtreme Burn option to stress the GPU.

Stock Fan Measurements


Fractal Design Silent Series 120mm fan.
120 mm Stock Fan Specifications
Manufacturer
Power Rating
0.72 W
Model Number
FD-FAN-120
Airflow Rating
38.3 CFM
Bearing Type
?
RPM Rating
1000 RPM
Corners
Open
Noise Rating
15 dBA
Frame Size
120 x 120 x 25 mm
Header Type
3-pin
Fan Blade Diameter
112 mm
Starting Voltage
~3.8V
Hub Size
40 mm
Weight
120 grams
Data in green cells provided by the manufacturer or observed;
data in the blue cells were measured.
140 mm Fan Specifications
Manufacturer
Power Rating
2.52 W
Model Number
FD-FAN-140
Airflow Rating
39 CFM
Bearing Type
?
RPM Rating
600 RPM
Corners
Closed
Noise Rating
9 dBA
Frame Size
140 x 140 x 25 mm
Header Type
3-pin
Fan Blade Diameter
129 mm
Starting Voltage
~6V
Hub Size
45 mm
Weight
150 grams
Data in green cells provided by the manufacturer or observed;
data in the blue cells were measured.
120 mm Stock Fan Measurements
Voltage
Speed
SPL @1m
12V
820 RPM
12 dBA
9V
630 RPM
11 dBA
140 mm Fan Measurements
12V
690 RPM
11 dBA
9V
520 RPM
<11 dBA
Measuring mic positioned 1m at diagonal angle from
the intake side of the fan.
Ambient noise level: 11 dBA.

We found that the 120 mm fans ran slower than expected, 820 RPM rather than
the rated 1000 RPM at 12V, while the 140 mm model spun a bit faster, closer
to 700 RPM than the 600 RPM listed on the box. Both the 120 and 140 mm fans
are very quiet on their own, close to our anechoic chamber’s noise floor. However,
they both exhibit a noticeable ticking quality. It is particularly bad on the
120 mm model, being audible within one meter’s distance at 12V, and within half
a meter at 9V.

The included fan controller has a range of about 6.4V to 11.4V.

Baseline Noise

Noise measurements were made of the case with the rear, front and side fan
at various voltages in various configurations. The air cavity resonances inside
a case amplify fan noise, as do any vibrations transferred from the fans into
the case, so these measurements can be regarded as the baseline SPL levels for
the case and fans.

Baseline Noise Level
Fan Voltage
SPL@1m
Front
(120 mm)
Rear
(120 mm)
Side
(140 mm)
12V
off
12 dBA
off
12V
off
13 dBA
off
12V
21~22 dBA (28~29 dBA with screws)
9V
off
11~12 dBA
12V
15 dBA
9V
7V
13~14 dBA
9V
16~18 dBA
12V
9V
18~19 dBA
12V
22~23 dBA
Measuring mic positioned 1m at diagonal angle left/front
of case.

Both 120 mm fans became louder when installed in the case, even though the
mic position places the front fan closer and the rear fan further away. Despite
the distance difference, the rear fan measured 1 dB higher than the front fan
as it was muffled by the vent and the front door. The 140 mm fan hanging on
the side panel was much louder unfortunately, measuring about 10 dBA higher
due to the vibrations passed onto the side panel, and interaction with the vent
in front of it. The rubber isolators definitely helped as the noise level was
much higher when we mounted the side fan flush against the panel with screws.

If the system doesn’t have a high-end video card to cool, it would probably
be best to omit the side fan and leave the bitumen mat cover in place.


The case measured 16~18 dBA@1m with the rear, front and side fans @9V.

Test Results – Configuration #1 (IGP)


Case with test system installed (IGP).
System Measurements (IGP)
System State
Idle
CPU + GPU Load
Active Fans
none
none
front & rear @12V
SPL@1m
18 dBA
18 dBA
19~20 dBA
CPU Temp
31°C
63°C
51°C
SB Temp
34°C
49°C
38°C
HD Temp
38°C
42°C
36°C
System Power
49W
181W
190W
CPU fan set to 100% speed.
Ambient temperature: 22°C.

Our test system running integrated graphics got quite toasty when placed on
load with none of the fans turned on. The CPU heated up to above 60°C, the
Southbridge almost hit 50°C and the hard drive stabilized at 42°C. The
system was very quiet, measuring only 18 dBA@1m. Running both the front and
rear fans at 12V improved the thermal situation dramatically with a more than
10°C temperature drop for both the CPU and Southbridge, while the hard drive,
with a fan blowing directly over it, cooled down by 6°C. Thankfully the
increase in noise was minimal, about 1~2 dBA, and the ticking we observed earlier
from the stock fans was less noticeable when combined with noise generate by
the CPU and power supply fan. It was undetectable at even a half meter away.


The system measured 19~20 dBA@1m with the HD 4870 configuration.

Comparisons

IGP Configuration Comparison (Load)
Case
Define R2
Antec P183*
Antec Sonata Elite*
Active Fans
front & rear @12V
rear @low
rear @low
SPL@1m
19~20 dBA
19~20 dBA
20 dBA
CPU Temp
51°C
50°C
55°C
SB Temp
38°C
38°C
37°C
HD Temp
34°C
37°C
30°C
*CPU fan set to 9V rather than 12V.
Ambient temperature: 22°C (results adjusted accordingly)

Compared to the Antec P183 and Sonata
Elite
, two known quiet cases, the Define R2 holds its ground. It gave
us temperatures comparable to the P183 at an equivalent noise level, holding
a small advantage over the Sonata Elite in CPU temperature as well as noise.
It should be noted that the two Antec cases were tested with the CPU fan at
9V rather than 12V, which in our experience typically results in a 3~4°C
increase in CPU temperature and about half a dBA less noise at the 20 dBA level.
Also, both Antec cases were tested with a single fan in the rear exhaust position,
a 120 mm Antec TriCool fan, which, even at low speed, is louder but more effective
in cooling than a pair of Fractal 120 mm fans.

Test Results – Configuration #2 (HD 4870)


Case with test system installed (2 x HD 4870 in CrossFireX).
System Measurements (HD 4870)
System State
Idle
CPU + GPU Load
Active Fans
none
front, rear & side @12V
front & rear @12V
none
SPL@1m
18~19 dBA
26~27 dBA
28~29 dBA
32 dBA
CPU Temp
37°C
48°C
54°C
68°C
SB Temp
49°C
45°C
57°C
64°C
HD Temp
40°C
34°C
36°C
40°C
GPU Temp
79°C
84°C
87°C
91°C
GPU Fan
Speed
960 RPM
1710 RPM
1950 RPM
2330 RPM
CPU fan set to 100% speed.
Ambient temperature: 22°C.

Aside from a large spike in Southbridge temperature, adding a
HD 4870 had little impact on our test system when idle. The CPU heated up by
about 6°C and the overall noise level increased by less than 1 dBA. On load,
we tested with all the fans off, with the front and rear fans at 12V, and with
the front, rear, and side 140 mm fans at 12V.

As the graphics card fan was the main source of noise and reacted
to temperature, the noise level was lowest when all the fans were on. The side
fan was by far the noisiest of the three, but it made the most impact, improving
temperatures across the board. It caused the Southbridge to cool down tremendously
and allowed the GPU fan to spin 240 RPM slower. The system was fairly loud with
the GPU fan spinning at about 1700 RPM, and all the system fans blowing at full
speed, the acoustic profile was smooth without any irritable characteristics.

Without the extra airflow from the side intake fan, the two low
speed stock fans were not very effective in keeping the system cool. They were
very quiet, but for a machine with a powerful graphics card, they are insufficient.


The system measured 26~27 dBA@1m at full load with all fans @12V.

Comparisons

HD 4870 Configuration Comparison (Load)
Case
Antec 1200*
Define R2
Antec 902
Active Fans
top, rears @low
rear, front & side @12V
rear, front @low
SPL@1m
25~26 dBA
26~27 dBA
27~28 dBA
CPU Temp
46°C
48°C
49°C
SB Temp
49°C
45°C
50°C
HD Temp
31°C
34°C
31°C
GPU Temp
85°C
84°C
81°C
GPU Fan
Speed
1760 RPM
1710 RPM
1860 RPM
CPU fan set to 100% speed
All temperature results adjusted to 22°C ambient.
*Antec 1200 tested with Antec CP-850.

Compared to more open airflow cases, the Define R2 put up surprisingly stiff
competition. From a thermal standpoint, it is on par with the larger
Antec 1200
, though the 1200 managed to do the same job while generating
1 dBA less noise. The R2 in turn, puts up a similar victory over the Antec
902
. The results are perhaps closer than they should have been given
that both Antec cases were tested without a side fan.

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.

  • Fractal
    Design Define R2 – Baseline at 1m

    — rear & front fan @12V (15 dBA@1m)
    — rear, front & side fan @9V (16~18 dBA@1m)
    — rear & front fan @12V, side fan @9V (18~19 dBA@1m)
    — rear, front & side fan @12V (22~23 dBA@1m)

FINAL THOUGHTS

Given the Define R2’s similarity to the Antec Performance One line, the P183
is the obvious choice for a direct comparison. The R2 is a smaller case overall,
about 3 inches shorter as there is less space between the ceiling and the top
of the motherboard tray (just enough room for 25 mm thick fans), and there is
no compartment separating the power supply from the rest of the case. The latter
is nothing noteworthy as the chamber design is pretty much obsolete given the
multitude of quiet, cool power supplies today as well as the as-effective approach
of having the PSU fan draw its air from below the case. However, one of the
very quietest high-end power supply we’ve tested is the Antec
CP-850
, and the P183 is one of the few cases that supports it. The overall
build quality of the R2 is not as strong, particularly the side panels which
are much thinner and hefty only because of the bitumen pads; we wouldn’t call
it weak though as it’s stronger than most $100 cases. The R2 also lacks removable
drive cages, relying on side-mounting dampened hard drive trays, which incidentally
were also pioneered by Antec.

In some ways, the R2 is more refined. Its front door is of quality construction and the magnetic seal gives it a sturdy feel. Cable management is also very good and access to the CPU backplate is useful for enthusiasts who insist on high end aftermarket CPU cooling. Perhaps the best thing about the R2 is the additional fan placements at the bottom, side and top of the case which gives it a broader appeal. Those less picky about noise can add a couple of fans and reap the benefits
of improved cooling. The side panel fan is particularly useful for video card
cooling, even though a fan mounted there increases the noise dramatically, particularly
if hard-mounted. Unlike their retail box fans, the case doesn’t ship with rubber
fan isolators.

Users more interested in silence will be happy to know that the extra fan mounts
on the top and side of the case are blocked off by default with thick bitumen
mats, so they don’t represent a an acoustic liability like most gaming style
cases with similar cooling options. The case includes a manual fan speed controller, but it’s a bit of a waste given the ultra low noise level of the stock 120mm fans — running them below 12V is pointless. We feel a little silly complaining
that they’re too quiet, but faster, louder fans, in the 16~18 dBA range would
be more practical as long as there is some fan control available. Another concern
regards the hard drive trays — they do not snap in as tightly as Antec’s
and our sample rubber grommets are very stiff; we doubt they effect much improvement on hard drive vibration.

It is rare to see a rookie manufacturer come out of nowhere with a
well-thought out design right off the bat. Luckily for Fractal Design, much
of the trail was already blazed by Antec: The Define R2 is a kind of homage
to the P180. Fractal
Design engineers kept true to its core design, added a few simple improvements,
and cut corners in areas they believed were not fundamental to thermal performance
and noise reduction. The result is an affordable, versatile, minimalist case
that is suitable for housing a simple quiet PC, a well-cooled gaming machine,
and anything in-between. It may not have the highest build standards, but it’s good value.

While the case is already available in Europe, NCIX
in Canada is apparently the only company in North America currently offering
the Define R2. It can be pre-ordered for CAD$110 with an ETA of May/June. Their
US site has the R2 listed for just under
US$100, but it is not yet available for order for consumers south of the border.

Fractal Design Define R2
PROS

* Sturdy, dampened door
* Insulated side panels, ceiling, fan placements
* Many fan options
* Very quiet stock fans
* Fan controller included
* Effective cable management
* Price

CONS

* Hard drive trays need improvement
* Stock fans too weak
* No fan isolators included

Fractal Design Define R2

SPCR Recommended Product

* * *

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* * *

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