Pros: Acoustic Foam Material, Included Fan Controller, Semi tool-less mounting, ModuVent system
Cons: No CPU Power cut-out, slightly lower thermal performance due to acoustic foam, not all cables sleeved
Today we're taking a look at Fractal Design's Define R3 mid-tower case. With a monolithic exterior, and an emphasis on silence, could this be a prime contender in the mid-range market? Read all the details after the break.
The Define R3 is quite aesthetically pleasing. It has a certain 2001: A Space Odyssey-esque look to it. It's a Mid-ATX case designed with silence in mind. Fractal Design's main competition in this arena are NZXT's H2 ($99), CoolerMaster's Silencio 550 ($99), and Antec's P280 ($119). Let's see how the R3 stacks up!
One of the main selling features of the R3 is the focus on silence. To achieve the type of noise level they were shooting for, Fractal Design lined the inside of the case (including both side-panels, the top, and the hinged front-door) with a sound-dampening foam - the look and feel is similar to the bottom of your basic mousepad. They even went to the effort of lining the power supply mount with a foam cutout.
I noticed some... we'll say... "quality control" issues with the foam material - It was not cut straight on any of the panels it was applied to. You may not mind this if you're an everyday user who seldom cracks the case open, but at this price-point, this should really be addressed.
Issues aside, the innovative "ModuVent System" is a nice touch. There are two fans included with the case, a front intake, and a rear exhaust. In each of the other vents, they have mounted extra foam to cover the empty vents. These are cut to fit near-perfectly, and can be easily removed or rearranged if more fans are added. One trade-off to having what is essentially insulation lining the case is that temperatures go up slightly - I measured a difference of 4° C ambient case temperature with the panels on versus having them off.
And that's not all
Fractal Design certainly covered their bases - in addition to the acoustic foam, they have included native USB 3.0 support and sleeved all of the interior cables with black sleeving.
They have also included a fan speed controller that allows you to throttle up to three fans via a single analog dial that is easily mounted in an empty expansion slot. The controller is powered by a single four-pin molex connector from your power supply. One missed opportunity was sleeving the fan controller cables - ouch!
Building in the R3
I had the pleasure of building a modest file server in the R3. The accessory box included several black zip ties for cable management, as well as more than enough mounting screws to load up all of the available drive bays. The hard drive trays are SSD-friendly - something I have grown to appreciate after working with several cases that are not. In the past I have used industrial strength adhesive velcro pads to mount SSDs, and I was pleasantly surprised to be able to properly mount one in this case. While not completely tool-less, the included hard drive screws were adequate, and the rubber vibration absorbing mounts were a welcome add-in. The drive trays felt very secure once they snapped into the enclosure.
The mounting system for 5.25in devices is a little less luxurious. They have included thumb screws as opposed to a tool-less system. The 5.25in bays are also limited to just two - something to keep in mind if you are someone who might have multiple CD/DVD/Blu-Ray drives, Sound Card front-bay devices, extra fan controllers, or just about any other front panel device.
My only other gripe about the case involves cable management. Fractal Design popped through five holes with rubber grommets on the motherboard backpanel for management of SATA, power, and fan cables, but failed to place one at the top above the motherboard for CPU 4/8-pin power connections - forcing you to string the connector across the motherboard, impeding airflow and eventually collecting dust.
Conclusion and Final Thoughts
All in all, the R3 is a great case, despite a few missed opportunities. If you're looking for a sleek and silent case at a great price-point, when you survey the field - with the aforementioned cases missing the mark on either aesthetics, build-quality, price-point, or little features like native USB 3.0 support without extension cables (gross!) - the Define R3 comes up as the top dog, and gains our seal of approval!