Introducing the Fractal Design Define Mini

Good micro-ATX enclosures have actually been frighteningly rare of late; manufacturers seem to be going big or going home, and only letting either beefy XL-ATX cases or diminutive mini-ITX cases out to play. It's a weird situation when the micro-ATX form factor seems to be ideal for the majority of end users. Enter Fractal Design and their Define Mini.

The Define Mini has actually been on the market for about a year, but with few contenders really materializing in recent months outside of SilverStone's SG09 and Rosewill's Line-M, good options for micro-ATX builders have been somewhat wanting. That's why I sought out the Define Mini; Fractal Design's Define line of enclosures has always been a little wanting for air cooling performance, but they're attractive and popular, and they're easy to build. Getting some of that sweet acoustic padding in a smaller package is an enticing proposition.

Fractal Design Define Mini Specifications
Motherboard Form Factor Mini-ITX, Micro-ATX
Drive Bays External 2x 5.25" (includes 5.25"-to-3.5" adaptor)
Internal 6x 3.5"/2.5"
Cooling Front 1x 120mm intake fan (supports 2x 120mm)
Rear 1x 120mm exhaust fan
Top 1x 120mm/140mm fan mount
Side 1x 120mm/140mm fan mount
Bottom 1x 120mm fan mount
Expansion Slots 4+1
I/O Port 2x USB 2.0, 1x USB 3.0, 1x Headphone, 1x Mic
Power Supply Size ATX
Clearances HSF 160mm
PSU 160mm with bottom fan installed; 200-220mm without
GPU 260mm with top drive cage installed; 400mm without
Dimensions 8.3" x 15.6" x 19.3"
210mm x 395mm x 490mm
Weight 21 lbs. / 9.5 kg
Special Features USB 3.0 via internal header
Removable drive cage
Removable filters on front and bottom fans
Three-channel 3-pin analog fan controller included
Acoustic padding
Price $99

If you've been keeping track with the Fractal Design Define series of enclosures, there are no surprises in the Define Mini. Rather than integrating it into the case, Fractal Design includes a separate three-channel fan controller and a fifth expansion slot horizontally aligned above the fourth standard ones to mount it in. Fractal Design's "ModuVent" is accounted for, as well, but I'd've liked an extra vent in the top of the case and support for a 240mm radiator.

Finally, there's the acoustic padding we've come to expect and appreciate. The more time I've spent with the similarly padded Nanoxia Deep Silence 1 (and I have seriously pimped this particular ride), the more I've come to understand the role acoustic padding fundamentally serves and its relationship with case design at large. A good thermal design is absolutely essential to a silent case as the acoustic padding proves all for naught, but end users should also be careful to design with these limitations in mind. Acoustic padding doesn't muffle noisy components, but it will bring quiet ones down to even more comfortable volumes, and that makes it a desirable feature.

What does all this mean? It means that the Fractal Design Define Mini could theoretically serve a purpose that the other micro-ATX enclosures on the market can't.

In and Around the Fractal Design Define Mini
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  • marc1000 - Monday, April 22, 2013 - link

    agreed. cases this size are definitively not small. Reply
  • geniekid - Monday, April 22, 2013 - link

    I respectfully disagree. The "point of micro ATX" is to have a system smaller than ATX but without all the trade-offs of mini ITX. There's a lot of ground between these two extremes and there's definitely a market of people who want a large micro ATX case. I imagine it overlaps with the market of people who buy Galaxy Notes ;) Reply
  • antef - Monday, April 22, 2013 - link

    Yes, but as a few people have mentioned, this ISN'T really much (or any) smaller than many ATX cases. So why bother? You can put a MicroATX board in an ATX case if you want. If manufacturers want to produce several sizes and variations then that's fine, but they shouldn't even bother with the MicroATX form factor if they aren't going to try to build something smaller. Reply
  • darkfalz - Tuesday, April 23, 2013 - link

    Looks great in my home theatre setup. It's squat but long, so you don't notice the size from the front. Reply
  • lwatcdr - Wednesday, April 24, 2013 - link

    That is kind of an issue with this case. The R4 ATX case is actually cheaper than the Define Mini on Newegg and it supports 140mm fans. Reply
  • antef - Monday, April 22, 2013 - link

    I agree completely. If you want more room to work in then get a normal ATX case. MicroATX is for those who want compact. My SilverStone PS07 (sibling of the TJ08-E) is 14.7" tall and 15.7" deep (vs. 15.55" tall and over 19" deep for the Fractal) and I wouldn't want it any bigger. It's also only 11.46 lbs vs. 21! It's actually compact, light, and still plenty of space for my needs. I don't know why these MicroATX cases try to cater to users who need multiple optical drives and a half dozen internal drives. This is not typical and extreme overkill for the majority of users. Those who need that can buy an ATX case that's practically the same size as this Define Mini. Reply
  • anactoraaron - Monday, April 22, 2013 - link

    True the majority of users don't need multiple optical drives or half a dozen internal drives, but I DID. This lil' bad boy is containing my WHS 2011 with 5.5TB (5 1TB Raid 5 + 1.5TB pc backup drive)+ 40GB SSD (OS drive). I have it hidden away and needed a quiet case that could hold 6 internal drives.
    Not for everyone, sure. But for anyone needing a small & quiet case for a WHS box or other file sharing box it's perfect.

    I don't know why it wasn't mentioned but when I was running the cables in mine the rubber pieces that you run the cables through kept popping out and it was a major PITA putting them back in.
    Reply
  • marc1000 - Monday, April 22, 2013 - link

    if you use WHS you are already on some niche market. don't get me wrong, I'd love to have one box with it on my house, but because of all changes MS is making on the OS with win8 I gave up on the idea of buying a dated Server OS.

    but yes, 6 internal drives is one good use of this case. I have only 2 drives on my main rig, so my needs are different. most people even have only 1 drive, for them the space would be better used on the desk than on the computer case.
    Reply
  • otherwise - Monday, April 22, 2013 - link

    Considering this case is perfect for a 6-drive NAS, I really wish fractal design would start designing their cases so you could screw in backplanes like some other vendors. Reply
  • piroroadkill - Monday, April 22, 2013 - link

    Unless you need a full size board, you should get micro ATX and this. Built a machine for my girlfriend with this, a giant Noctua cooler, 3570k overclocked, Seasonic X-660, and so on and so on. So .. damn.. quiet. Looks great, has tons of drive bays. Highly recommended. Reply

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