Introducing the Fractal Design Define R3

One of the perks of this job is getting to see some up-and-comers get championed by our readership and then turn around and find out what the fuss is all about. Such is the "case" (pun wholly intended) with Fractal Design's Define R3 enclosure. This is a case that has shown up fairly regularly in comments practically since we started doing these reviews again at the beginning of the year, and now we finally have the Define R3 in house for testing. It carries the weight of the community behind it and to its credit, it's certainly an interesting piece of kit at first glance. Does it live up to the word of mouth?

Something that's been bugging me since I started doing these reviews is a stunning lack of enclosures that are engineered with silent running in mind. Very few seem to make provisions towards keeping noise in check, and as a result the competition in that arena can be slim. Yet what Fractal Design has done with the Define R3 suggests that the end user need not choose to build a silent machine or a cooling optimized one. Not just that, but they've driven south the price of acoustically optimized cases into a realm previously only really occupied by NZXT's H2.

Keep in mind that this is a $99-$109 case, though. In my experience there's been an unofficial rule in the enclosure industry: south of $200 you can get silence or great cooling, but not both. For that, you'll need to spend up on something like the SilverStone FT02 or Thermaltake Level 10 GT. The question then is whether the Define R3 can challenge that notion.

Fractal Design Define R3 Specifications
Motherboard Form Factor ATX, Micro ATX, Mini ITX
Drive Bays External 2x 5.25" (one 5.25" to 3.5" converter panel included)
Internal 8x 3.5"/2.5"
Cooling Front 1x 120mm intake fan, 1x 120mm fan mount
Rear 1x 120mm exhaust fan
Top 2x 120/140mm fan mounts
Side 1x 120/140mm fan mount
Bottom 1x 120/140mm fan mount
Expansion Slots 7
Front I/O Port -
Top I/O Port Mic and headphone jacks, 2x USB 2.0, eSATA
Power Supply Size ATX
Clearance 11.5" (Expansion Cards), 170mm (CPU HSF), 180mm (PSU)
Weight 27.56 lbs. (12.5 kg)
Dimensions 20.85" x 8.17" x 17.4" (529.5mm x 207.5mm x 442mm)
Price $109

The Fractal Design R3 may come with a bunch of fan mounts, but it also includes acoustic pads that are mounted inside the case to cover up the unused mounts. As a result, any turbulence inside the case is kept inside the case; use the fan mounts you want without worrying that the ones you don't want are going to be letting noise leak out. While there are plenty of fan mounts, the Define R3 comes equipped with two 120mm fans.

In and Around the Fractal Design Define R3
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  • Peskarik - Saturday, November 12, 2011 - link

    Define R3 is an older design, that was what Fractal told answered me when I mentioned the fixed drive cage, which I as well find to be a nuisance. Reply
  • Coup27 - Friday, November 11, 2011 - link

    For someone who hasn't kept pace with case designs for a long time, could somebody please explain why the PSU now goes at the bottom instead of the top? Reply
  • jrs77 - Friday, November 11, 2011 - link

    The PSU sits in the bottom to make it easier to cool and less noisy. Usually PSUs have a thermal-controlled fan, which then runs faster, if it sucks hot air from within the case. That's why they get mounted on the bottom, where they can suck in fresh air instead, running cooler and more silent. Also, this setup allows for fans being mounted in the top as additional cooling for the CPU, etc.

    BTT:

    The trick with the cable-routing is to rout the cables prior to installing the motherboard, then they'll fit through the grommets easily enough.

    Well, and for cooling and noise... using better and more fans (Scythe S-Flex SFF21D) to drop both, temps and noise-levels does help.
    The biggest plus for the Define R3 is the understatement and the sounddampening at a very low price.

    The allways mentioned CM Silencio doesn't have the top-fan-mounts, which are pretty good for installing a 240mm rad.
    Reply
  • piroroadkill - Friday, November 25, 2011 - link

    For one thing, it is becoming a heavier and heavier component with increasing power needs, and I don't think 4 screws at the back and just leaving it hanging is a great idea. With it at the top you'd end up with a big shelf splitting up the case to hold it, otherwise.

    Bottom is actually pretty good, and it means you don't have a big mains cable trailing across the back of all your other cables round the back of your machine.
    Reply
  • Casper42 - Friday, November 11, 2011 - link

    When will some half way decent Case Mfg eventually realize that when moving the PSU to the bottom, you should really move the Optical bays as well. It doesn't seem that bad in this case because its limited to 2 Optical bays, but every other case with a bottom PSU and 3 / 4 optical bays means that after installing a nice large GPU, you effectively have created a wall between the Fans pushing cool air in at the bottom and the CPU which is now way up at the top of the case.

    The Cooler Master Silencio 550 that someone in the comments mentioned is a PERFECT example of this.
    http://www.guru3d.com/article/cooler-master-silenc...
    Look at the side shot with the video card.
    So that tiny slit above the right side of the video card and a whopping 1" gap between the video card and the side panel is where your CPU gets its cool air from?

    Move the damn Optical bays to the bottom so they line up with the PSU (ideally only 2 bays like the R3) and now you have 2 x 120 or 2 x 140 pushing cool air in the front that line up perfectly with the components that need the best cooling. Upper fan cools the RAM and CPU and the lower fan cools the GPU(s).
    Reply
  • JonnyDough - Friday, November 11, 2011 - link

    and thought it might benefit you, the world.

    http://video.pbs.org/video/1050932219

    Please watch this video on PBS. It is, needless to say - quite interesting, particularly if you are not familiar with fractals.
    Reply
  • Gnarr - Saturday, November 12, 2011 - link

    Thanks for a great article :)

    I however want to point out that "Methodology" is the study of methods, so unless page 4 is supposed to be teaching us the methods of testing, instead of telling us what methods were used for testing, it should be called "Testing methods", not "Testing Methodology" :)
    Reply
  • JonnyDough - Saturday, November 12, 2011 - link

    Its no secret that the tech sites I read need better editors. Good catch. :D Reply
  • JarredWalton - Saturday, November 12, 2011 - link

    Nope. Methodology: http://www.thefreedictionary.com/methodology

    Only 1b suggests methodology as the study of methods. 1a and 3 both support the use of the phrase "Testing Methodology", though "Testing Methods" is equally acceptable.
    Reply
  • Death666Angel - Saturday, November 12, 2011 - link

    I don't really see anything special here.

    Since you mentioned the foam, can you make a an article about foam and how it effects temperatures and noise, if at all? I think the best you can do if you want a quiet PC is choose cool running, quiet hardware. A case does not make or break a silent/cool PC. Of course, that doesn't mean cases are unimportant, they can screw some things up if they are badly designed. But mostly, it's the components inside the case that should be of concern.
    Reply

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