Fractal Design Arc Midi: The Mid Tower You've Been Waiting For?by Dustin Sklavos on October 7, 2011 12:45 AM EST
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- Fractal Design
In and Around the Fractal Design Arc Midi
Good artists borrow, great artists steal, and excellent case designers are like Dr. Moreau, fusing elements from different competitors together to produce something the market has really been asking for. In that vein, Fractal Design's Arc Midi borrows a lot of fantastic ideas from a few different places and comes up with something very special.
First, I'm a huge fan of the aesthetic. While the front is only given the appearance of brushed aluminum (all of the advertising material calls it a "brushed aluminum like look"), that's actually almost better than just using brushed aluminum on just one part. I also like the choice to use just two 5.25" external bays and the discreet row of I/O and buttons at the top of the case. By only putting in two bays, Fractal Design frees up most of the front of the enclosure for air intake. The way the grille is recessed into the bezel is particularly pleasing, and this is a design cue that extends to the top of the enclosure. Note that both the front panel and the top grill are removable to allow the user to clean the fan filters as well as mount additional fans.
I do think this is the first time I've ever been unhappy to see a side intake fan vent, though I probably wouldn't be as bothered by it if Fractal Design had included a fan. Because of how nice the case looks otherwise, that vent breaks up the style a bit. It's a sacrifice for practicality's sake but aesthetically it's a little disappointing.
When you get to the back of the Arc Midi you'll see Fractal Design opted for white accents for the fan blades and the ventilated expansion slot covers. I actually really like the "7+1" expansion slot design, where there are seven in a row and then an eighth mounted laterally above the others. This is something Fractal Design seems to have borrowed from Cooler Master, and it's a great choice, giving you a place to mount the fan controller without having to sacrifice any expansion slots on the motherboard. I'm ultimately a bigger fan of eight expansion slots in a row, but this is still appreciated in a mid tower.
Opening up the Arc Midi reveals a thoughtful interior that takes a lot of cues from Corsair while improving a bit on their design. Fractal Design includes two drive cages with four drive sleds each, and the top drive cage can actually be either rotated ninety degrees or removed entirely. In the default configuration, the metal drive sleds (metal instead of cheap plastic!) orient the drives facing behind the motherboard tray.
That space behind the motherboard tray is another area where Fractal Design one-ups a lot of the competition: it's copious. The rubber-lined grommets surrounding the routing holes in the tray also stay in place; with other cases I've often just removed these because they've come loose so easily, but in the Arc Midi they're in relatively firmly and I never had any of them pop out during assembly.
It should be pretty obvious that I'm a big fan of how the Arc Midi is laid out. Fractal Design has taken some good exterior aesthetic ideas and combined them with an improved interior that ought to make Corsair take notice. Corsair has traditionally been my benchmark for ease of assembly, but the Arc Midi has all the earmarks of a smart internal design.
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Z Throckmorton - Friday, October 7, 2011 - linkThanks again, Dustin. I wholeheartedly agree that the Arc Midi is about as good as it gets for just under $100. I've used it for a handful of builds and it has become my go-to Benjamin case for many of the reasons you highlight - it's very good at stock and great when you take the time tweak it a bit (primarily, replace its fans or at least volt mod them). That said, I'm surprised that you'd put the IN-WIN BUC slightly ahead, or even really near the Arc Midi. In my opinion the BUC feels noticeably cheaper, it's harder to work with, and while looks are subjective, it's hideous compared to the Arc Midi. The Corsair 400R is a compelling alternative, but its rounded, bulbous, flared accents make it look like something the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man might design. The customers for whom I've assembled systems in the Arc Midi rave about it.
ckryan - Friday, October 7, 2011 - linkDustin, do you actually have time to do anything other than review cases?
I agree about the aesthetics of the 400R, but questionable styling is an epidemic in all case segments. I know that many of the readers here at AnandTech are more likely to enjoy understated and classic styling cues than ostentatious adornment. The Arc is not hideous, which is always a plus in my book. But I've taken a different approach than in the past, and I prefer to have as little venting as possible on the case sides, as well as the front and the back where possible. It sounds counter productive, but I've been able to achieve both high performance and almost-silence with just a little work and the right components. Sandy Bridge has gone a long way to getting performance to noise ratios down, and Seasonic's X series (with fan and without) make a huge difference, and going all SSD is fantastic if you can swing it. Perhaps the next generation of GPUs can bring the same level of performance and low noise to the table, as I think every one deserves a quiet system. The case will always make a huge difference, but the fans in cases are always going to be an issue -- I just plan on replacing them, and if I don't have to, then it's all the better.
Dustin Sklavos - Saturday, October 8, 2011 - linkYou'd be surprised. I'm almost done with Deus Ex: Human Revolution. I also play Magic, hang out with friends and my cat, and get swirlies from all the jocks who scream "NEERRRD" whenever I walk by.
ckryan - Sunday, October 9, 2011 - linkI'm AM so jealous! You mean the jocks actually talk to you?
I bet all the cool kids were copying off of you in that senior-level Case Review Dynamics class you had after homeroom.
KamikaZeeFu - Friday, October 7, 2011 - link"And while it looks like the enclosure is capable of supporting a 240mm radiator, clearance above the motherboard is pretty tight as it is, so I wouldn't recommend it."
Check again, the arc is the most dual Rad friendly case you can probably get. It's wider than other cases, and the top mounts are positioned to the left of the case.
This creates enough clearance for the thickest of radiators. The fractal design product page even has a picture of a fat Rad mounted with motherboard inside.
The case is wide enough that the Rad clears the ram easily, with a few inches of room even!
KamikaZeeFu - Friday, October 7, 2011 - linkAlso the top mounts allow a variety of fans being mounted, 2x120/140 or a 180 maybe even a 200
cjs150 - Friday, October 7, 2011 - linkYou beat me to it.
Really, really poor work by the reviewer, 5 mins on the Fractal Website would have given the reviewer a clue.
This is the first cheap case that is designed for water cooling. There are a couple of things I would change (start with the fans) but nothing major.
This is the case for my next build
ImSpartacus - Friday, October 7, 2011 - linkBut isn't a cheap water build kind of an oxymoron?
Perhaps its a growing market, but I still feel that water is pretty niche. Buying a $200 case is probably fine for those who already have the time and money to invest.
But it's always good to have more options in the market.
cjs150 - Friday, October 7, 2011 - linkSaving money on the case allows me to spend more on the other bits of water cooling.
Water cooling is for most of us - a bit of fun, an expensive hobby, good for silent computer and (when the **** thing leaks again) wonderfully frustrating
JarredWalton - Friday, October 7, 2011 - linkYou'll note that the review says, "While it looks like the enclosure is capable of supporting a 240mm radiator, clearance above the motherboard is pretty tight as it is, so I wouldn't recommend it." Not recommending something isn't the same as saying it won't work. For the record, I wouldn't recommend water-cooling at all. It isn't much better than air-cooling, and the potential for things to go really bad (i.e. leaking) is enough of a concern that I just wouldn't bother.
Given the appropriate choice of a radiator, motherboard, etc. you can certainly get everything to work well. However, spending $200 on water-cooling and putting it in a $100 case just isn't a common need or desire. It's not about it being a "fun hobby" or even silent; if you want silent you're going to want a better case in the first place. Not that this is a bad case, but thin metal and plastic won't be as good as thicker metal, no plastic, and sound dampening material. By the time you make a few judicious upgrades to the Arc Midi, you could have purchased a different case that already includes those "extras".