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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  • cjb110 - Friday, November 11, 2011 - link

    Given the sizes are standard, I'm surprised there isn't a third-party product, sheet of heavy ish metal with insulation of some kind. Reply
  • beginner99 - Friday, November 11, 2011 - link

    Seem weird. You say ambient is 71-74 F (= 21-23 °C) yet idle temps are exactly yin that range. CPU idles at ambient seems a little off to me? Reply
  • moep - Friday, November 11, 2011 - link

    But how did your review case smell?

    When I bought my R3 last year, it emitted a headache inducing stench that was too much to bear. I first thought that the bitumen mats were to blame, but Fractal later on told me that something went wrong during the production process of the rubber parts.

    I had to throw all the rubber grommets out.
    Reply
  • ckevin1 - Friday, November 11, 2011 - link

    They have fixed that. I read that they changed the rubber on the newer models because of that exact complaint. My new R3 arrived just yesterday, and I did not notice any bad smell with it.

    I was actually in the market for a potentially expensive case -- the FT02 and Raven were in consideration -- but the dealbreaker for me was the size of those cases. The spot under my desk can really only hold something about as long as the R3, maybe a little taller but not much. As far as I could tell, the R3 is about the nicest case you can buy of its size, without having to go significantly bigger.

    I would have liked another quarter inch of clearance behind the motherboard tray. There is some space back there, and ultimately I did get all the cables routed, but fitting the door was impossible until I laid the case on its side.

    The bottom fan intake for the PSU isn't going to have enough clearance on carpet, you'll probably need to put a hard surface underneath it. I really like the FT02 design in this area, with the flat bottom giving you an inch air gap on any surface.

    In general, the case seems quality. I was hoping the sound damping might do more to mitigate my noisy GPU fan, but it sounds about the same as in my old Sonata 3. I can't fault the case on that -- it's a really crappy card -- and I imagine I'll be able to appreciate the lower temps and low noise of the system fans once I replace that component, which is by far the noisiest thing in my build.
    Reply
  • geniekid - Friday, November 11, 2011 - link

    I've been waiting for this review forever! Thanks!

    I also dislike having the door, but if it helps keep thing quiet, I can live with it. This will probably be the case I use for my next gaming build unless the FT02 drops under $150 - pretty unlikely, I know.
    Reply
  • vectorm12 - Friday, November 11, 2011 - link

    I recently bought a couple of FD cases (R3+Define XL) what I cannot for the life of me understand is why the drivetrays are as flimsy as they are. They are made out of steel and as much have a tendency to bend and flex. After a couple of drive-swaps I've already been forced to correct some of the trays to keep them locking into the case. The ideal budget-drivetrays in my mind come from the HP Microserver(they are plastic but extremely sturdy).

    Secondly I hate the fact that not more cases come with hotswap capability (even as an option).

    If your like me building a home server aiming for Xen/Fileserver etc. Your gonna need plenty of HDDs. Even a dumb-backplane with SATA-connectors would be better than having to disassemble the case each time I need to switch out a bad drive.

    With the XL I could give up three of the 5,25" bays for a separe hotswap-bay but honestly it's far from an ideal solution. Again a backplane for the satadrives (even as an option) would have been a far greater idea considering you can fit 10 drives inside the XL, without using the 5,25" bays.
    Reply
  • vectorm12 - Friday, November 11, 2011 - link

    Half my kingdom for a edit button :)

    In any case despite these gripes this is in my opinion THE budget case to get. With improved fans this case is capable of running a system extremely quiet and still keep relatively cool.

    Not gonna bother correcting the few typos I made in my previous post :)
    Reply
  • xeizo - Friday, November 11, 2011 - link

    And I'm very happy with it. The build quality is not top notch, it is only ok, but the functionality is almost faultless. It housed my C2Q @ 3.84GHz very silently for the past year and now it houses my 2600k-rig @ 4.8GHz on water near silent(I use slightly higher speed ST1450-fans to get better performande from the radiator, the C2Q was aircooled with TRUE and Noctua 12P and more silent).

    Very easy to work with, lots of space. I use all the 140mm-fan positions occupied with FDs own 140mm fans @ 600rpm and they are totally silent compared to the Silent Typhoons which are the only fans making some kind of noise in the rig. All fans are intake except the two in the top, which makes the case an excellent chimney :)
    (the water radiator benefits from intake ie cooler air pasing through it)
    Reply
  • cjs150 - Monday, November 14, 2011 - link

    Interesting. Always though that the Arc Midi was a better choice for watercooling (or maybe just more flexible) but clearly R3 also works well.

    Are you cooling the CPU only or watercooling GPU+CPU?
    Reply
  • HaydenOscar - Friday, November 11, 2011 - link

    I have the R2, can anyone please tell me what has changed between these two versions? I can't seem to find an actual list anywhere. Reply

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