Fractal Design Define R4 Mid Tower Review

 

A Closer Look - Exterior

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Fractal's cases have on occasion been described as "monolithic" in their appearance, and the Define R4 fits that description to a tee. This mid-tower is also available in white and titanium grey color schemes, but aye, we hath received the Black Pearl version for our review. The chassis has a very sleek and clean exterior without any major extrusions or cuts present on any side, with the exception of the intake grilles that form a perimeter around Fractal's signature brushed aluminum front panel door. Likewise, the surface of the top panel is only disturbed by two 140mm intake grilles. The whole chassis stands atop a set of polished metal feet, which round off the high-end looks. The rear feet are actually considerably smaller than the front pair to allow for the inclusion of a removable bottom filter. One of the main selling points of the Define R4 is its acoustic performance, and it's easy to see how Fractal achieved this characteristic by placing pads of extremely dense bitumen foam behind the front and side panels. Swing the front panel open, and you'll notice how the front fans are set slightly back from the grille cage to pill in air from the sides, top, and bottom. A fan control toggle located at the top right corner of the front panel lets you fix the fan voltage at 5V, 7V, or 12V, depending on the noise-to-cooling ratio you're shooting for. Those who prefer to let their machines idle rather than hibernate at night will appreciate the dead-silent 5V setting. Unfortunately, the fan controller only supports three fans, while the case can house a maximum of seven (five with the windowed side panel equipped).

design6bThe front panel/door assembly is easily removed by pulling outwards from the bottom to allow easy access to Fractal's new tool-less front fan rack and filter. The front covers of the 5.25" bays are easily swapped in and out and don't require any plastic tabs to be broken before they can be removed. There may be only two drive bays, but optical media is being gradually phased out, and there is the added benefit of moving the front fans upwards and in-line with the CPU socket. There is room for two 120/140mm fans up front and one 140mm Silent Series R2 hydraulic bearing fan is included with the case to fulfill basic cooling needs. At the top of the front panel we find a simple row of 6 I/O ports: a headphone and microphone jack, two USB 3.0, and two USB 2.0 ports. The power button is accentuated by two sets of blue LEDs that are extremely bright given their size; a characteristic that is painfully obvious in a darkened room. This problem is easily solved by simply unplugging the LED cable from the motherboard, but it does cost you on aesthetics.

The front panel/door assembly is easily removed by pulling outwards from the bottom to allow easy access to Fractal's new tool-less front fan rack and filter. The front covers of the 5.25" bays are easily swapped in and out and don't require any plastic tabs to be broken before they can be removed. There may be only two drive bays, but optical media is being gradually phased out, and there is the added benefit of moving the front fans upwards and in-line with the CPU socket. There is room for two 120/140mm fans up front and one 140mm Silent Series R2 hydraulic bearing fan is included with the case to fulfill basic cooling needs. At the top of the front panel we find a simple row of 6 I/O ports: a headphone and microphone jack, two USB 3.0, and two USB 2.0 ports. The power button is accentuated by two sets of blue LEDs that are extremely bright given their size; a characteristic that is painfully obvious in a darkened room. This problem is easily solved by simply unplugging the LED cable from the motherboard, but it does cost you on aesthetics.

design7The standard Define R4 sports a basic left side panel with a mounting point for one 140mm fan. If you prefer maximum silence to maximum cooling, the vent can be sealed up with a block of the same sound-dampening foam found throughout the rest of the case. Two more of these ModuVents are located in the top panel. The left side panel on our review sample includes a large, well-placed window that shows off the motherboard and main components, while leaving the less-attractive power supply The standard Define R4 sports a basic left side panel with a mounting point for one 140mm fan. If you prefer maximum silence to maximum cooling, the vent can be sealed up with a block of the same sound-dampening foam found throughout the rest of the case. Two more of these ModuVents are located in the top panel. The left side panel on our review sample includes a large, well-placed window that shows off the motherboard and main components, while leaving the less-attractive power supply and hard drive array out of sight. The absence of any rivets or plastic bezel ensures that the R4's sleek lines aren't interrupted. The windowed side panel lacks the foam padding of the standard panel, but size of the windows would nullify the foam's benefits anyways. I'm perfectly happy with making the trade given how great a clean build looks inside this case. Both the left and right side panels are constructed of the same sturdy steel as the rest of the case and attach via two thumbscrews.

The back layout of the R4 is very traditional, with the requisite cutouts for motherboard I/O, PCI cards, PSU, and a rear 140mm exhaust fan. An offset PCI slot gives builders other options, like using the I/O extensions that come packaged with many of today's motherboards. One noticeable difference between this new case and the Define R3 is the R4's lack of water cooling ports. This omission is easily forgiven as there is a big push in general towards internally mounted closed-loop systems. Given all of the dust and other particles that tend to find their way under our computers, the benefit of a removable PSU filter is obvious, and the one on the Define R4 is large enough to cover up the intakes for both the PSU and an optional bottom-mounted 120/140mm fan. The filter easily slides out without having to lift the case, which is a plus. Here it's easy to point out another one of Fractal's signature touches, the glossy white slot covers. They give a nice contrast against the matte black paneling, and there's a lot more where that came from on the inside of the R4.

 

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