Introducing the Fractal Design Define R4

Around November of last year we had a chance to take a look at one of the most popular enclosures from up-and-comer Fractal Design, the Define R3. Impressions were good if not absolutely amazing, but it was easy to see how the case had gotten so popular. A competitive price tag, solid acoustics, understated aesthetics, and fairly flexible design all conspired to produce a case that could conceivably be a silver bullet for a lot of users.

Today Fractal Design is launching their next revision of the Define, the R4. It's easy to mistake it for its predecessor, but as is often the case, the devil is in the details. Fractal Design hasn't radically tweaked the formula, but they've rounded some of the edges and added more value to their design without making very many sacrifices in the process. They've done a lot to improve the Define in the R4, but have they done enough?

Incremental evolution isn't altogether unheard of in the enclosure business, but I'm used to seeing vendors release outright new models or heavily revamp existing ones instead of steadily iterating like Fractal Design has done with the Define. I can see users being a bit underwhelmed by the changes Fractal Design has made to the Define with the R4, and I myself am a bit underwhelmed, but let's see if we can't unpack things and get to the heart of what they've done and haven't done.

Fractal Design Define R4 Specifications
Motherboard Form Factor Mini-ITX, Micro ATX, ATX
Drive Bays External 2x 5.25”
Internal 8x 2.5"/3.5", 2x 2.5"
Cooling Front 1x 140mm intake fan, 1x 120mm/140mm fan mount
Rear 1x 140mm exhaust fan
Top 2x 120mm/140mm fan mounts
Side 1x 140mm fan mount
Bottom 1x 120mm/140mm fan mount
Expansion Slots 7+1
I/O Port 2x USB 3.0, 2x USB 2.0, 1x Headphone, 1x Mic
Power Supply Size Standard ATX
Clearances HSF 170mm
PSU 170mm with bottom fan, 270mm without
GPU 11.6"/295mm with drive cage, 430mm without
Dimensions 9.13" x 18.27" x 20.59"
232mm x 464mm x 523mm
Weight 27.12 lbs. / 12.3kg
Special Features USB 3.0 connectivity via internal headers
Removable drive cages
Integrated three-step fan controller
Support for 240mm radiator in top of enclosure
Price $109

The Define R4 is ever so slightly larger than the R3 and features essentially everything you already liked about the R3, making it a pretty direct replacement of its predecessor in much the same way as Antec's P182 obsoleted the P180. Fractal Design parted ways with eSATA in the I/O cluster in favor of a pair of USB 2.0 and a pair of USB 3.0 ports and it's a good transition. eSATA never seemed to quite catch fire; USB 3.0 offers most of the bandwidth with much easier connectivity and fewer hiccups. Meanwhile, I still don't think we're at the point where we can completely deprecate USB 2.0 in favor of 3.0, so having them both represented on the front of the case is appreciated.

In and Around the Fractal Design Define R4
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  • Dustin Sklavos - Friday, July 20, 2012 - link

    I bunged the NDA time on the review and had to bounce it an hour, that's what happened. :| I've normally been great about NDAs but for some odd reason this one just confused me stupid. Reply
  • themossie - Friday, July 20, 2012 - link

    Thanks, it happens :-) Reply
  • Olaf van der Spek - Friday, July 20, 2012 - link

    The case is huge, especially for the used motherboard. When do we get reduced depth cases? An unnecessarily big case seems bad for airflow, as the air has to travel farther.

    BTW, how's ports on top a compromise for cases on the desktop? It can't get worse than that.
    Reply
  • Spivonious - Friday, July 20, 2012 - link

    I can't be the only one here who has more than 2 drives.

    DVD-ROM
    DVD-RW
    X-Fi bay
    Card Reader (3.5")

    The rest of this case looks very nice, but I won't be able to use it.
    Reply
  • Death666Angel - Friday, July 20, 2012 - link

    I don't have more than 2 drives:
    - slim line optical drive with 2.5" bay and 2 USB ports
    - 6x2.5" bays
    And I only have those because I hadn't anything better to put in there. If you need more, buy a different case. Most people I know don't even need those 2. :)
    Reply
  • Olaf van der Spek - Friday, July 20, 2012 - link

    Not every case has to suit every build, has it? I for one wouldn't mind seeing one less 5.25" bay.
    What do you need both a DVD-ROM and a DVD-RW for though?
    Reply
  • piroroadkill - Friday, July 20, 2012 - link

    My monitor (Dell U2410) has a card reader built in, I don't have an x-fi bay, and I infact only have one 5.25" device in my Fractal Design Define R3: An LG HD-DVD/Blu-ray drive (rare now, glad to have one). Reply
  • Grok42 - Sunday, July 22, 2012 - link

    I think you are unusual in your need for so many 5.25" bays. The good news is that most mid-tower cases have four 5.25" bays with the next most popular being three bay configurations. You shouldn't have trouble finding a really good case that meets your needs. Those who would prefer to have better cooling, more 3.5" bays, more 2.5" bays or smaller cases are completely out of luck. This case is very unusual only having two bays and there are almost none with only a single bay. There are exactly two cases on the market with none.

    That said, you could easily go down to two bays. Not sure what the point of two DVD drives are unless you are copying a lot of one off DVDs. The best card readers are the USB stick converter ones. Much easier to deal with because you can insert the card much more easily. The X-Fi bay is a personal thing. I prefer my sound controls in a closer and more accessible place like on a remote beside my keyboard. My computer is on the floor and using a front panel for volume and headphones there would be awkward even if it was on my desk.
    Reply
  • casteve - Friday, July 20, 2012 - link

    ..Especially for trying out all three fan speeds. I liked the R3. Glad to see Fractal evolving the design. Reply
  • tribbles - Friday, July 20, 2012 - link

    I have an Antec P280 and would love to be able to (cleanly) block the top vents like Fractal has done with the R4. Does anybody make a standard 120mm fan mount cover? I've Googled it and haven't had much luck. Reply

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