Fractal Design Define R3 ATX Tower

Table of Contents

The R3 is an update to Fractal Design’s popular Define R2 ATX tower case. Faster yet smoother fans give it greater airflow and cooling potential, and the heavy bitumen mats have been tossed in favor of more conventional acoustic dampening foam.

April 13, 2011 by Lawrence Lee

Fractal Design Define R3
ATX Midtower Case
Street Price

The Define R3 is an update to the successful Define
from Fractal Design, a rookie case manufacturer. The R2 ATX midtower
chassis took more than a few cues from the classic noise-conscious Antec
. A few corners were cut to make the price more competitive, and
the end result was a surprisingly quiet midrange case with broad appeal.

The box.

From the outside, the Define R3 looks identical to the R2. Generally speaking,
gaming cases scream out for attention, both visually and audibly, while silent
cases strive to neither be heard or seen. In this respect, the Define R2/R3
stands firmly in the silent camp, with a sleek understated look and dimensions
just large enough to comfortably house the majority of popular components. The
R3 is available in four different color schemes, with our sample being the “Arctic
White” model.

The R3, Arctic White.

There are only two significant changes to the R3. One is a change to the bitumen/foam
damping which lines the inside of the side and top panels. Though they worked
well at blocking noise, many users complained about the smell of the bitumen
sheets when the R2 was first introduced, while others reported that the sheets
began to peel off over time. According to Fractal Design,

“The only change that’s been made since the R2 is that there’s a textile
cover over the bitumen, making it a nicer look. The sound proofing characteristics
are the same.

“The concern that we had from some early revisions of R2 about the case
smelling, was not from the bitumen, it was from the rubber grommets over the
M/B cable routing holes. We immediately changed the rubber type and the problem
is gone since long.”

(Editor’s Note: In a meeting at CES 2011, Fractal Design staff
informed me that the adhesive used to bond the damping sheets to the case panels
is much improved. While bitumen is basically a heavy petroleum with all that
this implies, any potential for toxicity in the form used in the R2 case is
very low. Just don’t peel it off and burn it or put it in your compost!

Secondly, the two stock fans have been replaced with higher speed models, perhaps
in an attempt to curry favor with those who put more value on cooling and airflow.
This potentially makes the case more versatile at the cost of higher noise.
However, the R3 ships with the same manual fan speed controller as its predecessor,
which could mitigate any increase in noise from the fan swap.

Fractal Design Define R3: Product Details
(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 material
* 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 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 PSU’s 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 PSU’s, typically 200-220mm.
Cooling system
* Fan controller for 3 fans included
* 1 rear Fractal Design 120mm @ 1350rpm included
* 1 front Fractal Design 120mm @ 1350rpm 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)
* 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 ~290mm
* Supports CPU coolers with height of ~165mm
* Supports PSU’s 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 PSU’s, typically 200-220mm.
* Case size (WxHxD): 207.40x442x521.2mm
* Net weight: 12.50kg


The R3 has the same dimensions as the R2, 20.7 x 44.2 x 52.1 cm or 8.1 x 17.4
x 20.5″ (W x H x D), making it a bit shorter than most ATX towers that
find their way to SPCR. The case has an internal volume of about 47.7 L and
weighs 12.5 kg or 27.5 lb.

The only differences at the front is the inclusion of ventilated, easy to open 5.25″ slot covers and a small reset button on the right side of the bezel.


The case floor looks virtually identical. There are two fan vents, one for the power supply at the back and one for an 120/140 mm intake fan at the center.


The bitumen-based padding lines on both side panels as well as the
“Moduvents” blocking off unused side and top fan placements.


The interior looks more or less the same as well. The R2/R3 both ship with a pair of 12 cm fans, one at the front and one at the rear, and support eight 3.5″ hard drives.


The only structural changes inside were on the motherboard tray. The
cutout behind the CPU area has been enlarged slightly, some hooks have
been added to make cable management easier, and the topmost hole on the
side has been widened.


There’s only one minor alteration at the rear of the case: ventilated expansion slot covers.


As the case interior is almost identical to the R2, and there are no changes to the exterior/frame to affect thermal performance, we opted not to run the R3 through our usual, rigorous testing procedures. For thermal results, see our Define R2 review; there should be no appreciable difference between the two. We did test the baseline noise of the case, as different system fans were included.

Baseline Noise

The only change in the R3 that has a meaningful impact on noise output are
the case fans. The R2 uses Fractal’s Silent Series 120 mm fans which spin at
approximately 1000 RPM at full speed. The R3 fans have a different design, and
are rated for 1350 RPM.

Old fan above, new fan below.

The R3 fans have the same model number as those used previously but they are
higher speed variants with differently shaped blades. The blades on the previous
fans had almost straight trailing edges, resulting in a hook or boot-like shape.
These new ones are curved, creating a more symmetrical design.

Specifications: Fractal Design Define R3 Stock Fan
Bearing Type
1350 RPM
Frame Size
120 x 25 mm
Fan Diameter
111 mm
Start voltage
< 3.0 V
Hub Size
40 mm
120 g
Data in green cells provided by the manufacturer
or observed; data in the blue cells were measured.


Baseline Noise Level
Fan Voltage
SPL @1m ( dBA)
Rear Fan
Front Fan
Measuring mic positioned 1m at diagonal angle left/front
of case.

With a higher maximum speed, the new fans measure considerably higher in SPL
than the earlier models. Combined, the front and rear fans of the R2 measured
only 15 dBA@1m at 12V. The R3 fans start out at 27~28 dBA and don’t reach 15
dBA until they are undervolted to close to 5V. The included fan controller can
only bring fans down to about 6V, so additional fan control measures are required
to make the R3 stock fans as quiet as the R2’s.

The new fans do sound better at comparable SPLs. The R2 fans had a noticeable
tick in their acoustic signature audible even at one meter distance. The R3
fans are far more pleasant, with no ticking at all, and only a slight droney
quality at higher fan speeds. They sound very smooth overall. We should also
note that the front fan position is quieter with the door guarding it.

The stock fans measure 14 dBA@1m at 5V, producing mainly low frequency noise at 400 Hz or lower.


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.


The new version of the Fractal Design Define case has a few notable improvements
over its predecessor. The bitumen sheets to dampen noise has an improved look
and finish. The rubber grommets that were the source of the smell that some
users compained about is gone. For users who wanted a little more airflow, the
updated model delivers minor improvements in ventilation and fans that are not
only faster but sound smoother overall. And lastly, the added hooks on the back
of the motherboard tray allow the use of more zip-ties and twist-ties to rein
in rogue cables.

We have but one minor quibble: The overall noise level of the new fans cannot
match the old ones without an undervolt to about 5V which the included fan controller
can’t quite deliver. If you want to use the R3 for a super quiet system, extra
measures will have to be taken to silence the stock fans. Front USB 3.0 ports,
quickly becoming a standard case feature, would also have been nice.

The Define R3 provides more airflow and better cooling than budget noise-conscious
cases like the Antec Sonata series and the NZXT
. It does not match the build quality or features of decked-out enthusiast
cases like the Antec P183 or
Silverstone Fortress/Raven
series, but with a street price of US$110, it is considerably more affordable.
With little competition in the midrange sector, we can recommend the Define
R3 without hesitation.

Recommended by SPCR
The Fractal Design Define R3 is Recommended by SPCR.

Our thanks to Fractal Design for the Define R3 case sample.

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NZXT H2 Classic Silent Midtower Chassis
Antec ISK 100 Mini-ITX Case
Zalman Z9 Plus ATX Tower Case
HDPLEX H10.ODD Fanless microATX Case
Lian Li PC-V354 MicroATX Mini Tower Case

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this article in the SPCR Forums.

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