Conclusion: Almost Everything You Need

My title for this review stems from the feeling that I've finally tested an enthusiast-class quiet case that is capable of producing excellent acoustics and performance competitive with cases that don't share its acoustic allowances. The Fractal Design Define XL R2 is a beastly piece of engineering, but it's also a very pleasant surprise. If you eyeball large enthusiast cases but wish they had at least some padding to keep the noise down, Fractal Design may actually have you covered.

Fractal Design continues to carve out an aesthetic that's unique to them without being ostentatious. This is the look that got them attention on American shores in the first place and had you, the readership, clamoring for a review of the Define R3. Sometimes a look just works; Fractal Design had no real reason to redesign here, so they didn't. Meanwhile, though the interior design is a little dated, it's still functional and it gets the job done. This is conservative, but the thermals and acoustics really are among the best in class.

Yet for how fantastically the XL R2 performs, this isn't a clean sweep. While I would definitely argue that the $129 price tag is competitive at worst, and the XL R2 is ultimately a slightly better performer than Nanoxia's Deep Silence 1, by its very nature, the XL R2 does not eclipse Nanoxia's offering. The DS1 is cheaper and smaller, and the result is that the XL R2 winds up serving an ever so slightly different user base. Fractal Design needs to take some of the lessons learned by the XL R2's design as well as some of the lessons learned by their competitors and drill down to a basic Define R5.

There's also the fact that the XL R2 can be, at times, needlessly difficult to assemble. Fractal Design misses minor conveniences that are fast becoming standard in the market, and I think they could stand to add another fan controller though it's not strictly necessary. These are kinks that can be ironed out in another revision but they do merit mentioning. Despite my gripes about the motherboard and power supply installation, though, I have to at least thank them for using hinged panels instead of notched ones. Doing so makes the case much, much friendlier to end users who like to tinker.

Of course, for the reasonable $129 price tag, it gets a bit easier to put up with the Fractal Design Define XL R2's quirks. Truth be told, as far as acoustics in an enthusiast-grade case go, you're really going to have a rough time beating what Fractal Design has accomplished here. Other cases will cool better, sure, but the XL R2 still cools well, and it's able to snuff out a lot of noise in the process. The price is right, the performance is there, and it's exceptionally easy to recommend the XL R2 for a power user that still wants a quiet system. I think the design could use one more revision to bring it completely up to date with the state of the competition, but until we see an XL R3, the Fractal Design Define XL R2 is going to be as good as it gets.

Noise and Thermal Testing
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  • arthur449 - Wednesday, February 20, 2013 - link

    A useful review is one that compares an item against another using metrics that are important to the readers. Without a standard set of system components used in every review for every case in the comparison, a review turns into just another "I bought it, it works, I like it" write-up that other hardware sites like to pass off as "reviews."

    A solution to this could be Anandtech developing and using heating elements configured to produce similar amounts of heat and noise in similar locations to a standard ATX / mATX system. Then these elements could be adjusted to produce standard levels of heat output (65/77/95W) enthusiast heat output (130W/150W) and overclocked (200W+).

    Multiples of these heating elements could be placed in the larger cases to simulate high heat GPUs and determine exactly how much thermal capacity a given case has for such a scenario.

    But... custom fabrication, testing, and implementation of equipment such as this would be very spendy initially and the payoff questionable and unnecessary if the products in question fall into the disposable income category for your readership.
  • tim851 - Wednesday, February 20, 2013 - link

    The metrics have to be relevant, though.

    It's reasonable to assume people are not buying big towers because they need to fill their empty rooms, but because they have components that require a big case.
    And you can't tell me that one of the - if not THE - premier tech sites on the web is not able to get three different sizes of mainboards to their case reviewer and a bunch of toasty GPUs to Trip-SLI. They can go on eBay and buy an ageing Nehalem CPU and a set of GTX 285s for all I care.

    Testing this monster of a case with 3 HDDs, an mATX board and a little 560 makes no sense, because the only valid conclusion can be that it is too big.
  • Dustin Sklavos - Thursday, February 21, 2013 - link

    The problem at this point is that if I switch up to a full ATX board now, it destroys the comparative data I've accumulated over the past year. I've been working on a third, "full fat" level using this board, but ironically the board's second PCIe x16 slot isn't working and so I can't bump up testing parameters until I've sorted that out.
  • Skolde - Wednesday, February 20, 2013 - link

    Your case reviews are outstanding minus one thing:

    You should really consider using an ATX sized motherboard when reviewing full sized cases. I've noticed on previous reviews the habit of using small motherboards in larger cases, and it really doesn't give me a good feel for its target component size.

    ATX, Micro-ATX and mini-ITX boards should be used according to the size of the case being reviewed.
  • Hrel - Wednesday, February 20, 2013 - link

    Agreed. I've said this on other case reviews. Changing the size of the mobo but keeping the same chipset shouldn't affect any of the tests. There's really no reason not to. Unless you're buying a mimi-ATX case or smaller you are probably using a Full ATX motherboard, or larger. I stay with ATX for the expansion slots. Currently still running an old Nvidia 650 SLI chipset, but it has a USB 3.0 controller and SATA 6GBPS ports because of the expansion slots available in the motherboard. That computer is nearing it's end of life but with the SSD in it the CPU is actually the slowest part. Still run everything I do great and I have no intention of upgrading until it can't.
  • HisDivineOrder - Wednesday, February 20, 2013 - link

    Lots of people have been saying this over and over in every review like this at this site. I agree, it makes little sense to test the case with a small motherboard that most of us would never in a million years put in this case.

    But the reviewers are obstinate. They want you to be able to compare the reference system from a microATX case to a ATX XL case and see what the benchmarks say is the best case.

    For better or worse.
  • tim851 - Wednesday, February 20, 2013 - link

    I hate that methodology.

    People aren't choosing between mATX and XL-ATX.

    Car reviewers figured that out a long time ago. No sense pitting a Corvette against an Escalade and a Ford Fusion. Nobody will decide between these based on trunk size or fuel economy.

    There are fringe cases out there for sure, but the vast majority buys cases based on what they can do with them. In the case of a full towers that's stuffing it full of chips.
    If you have an mATX board, you get an mATX case. Chances are you bought it for the size or the prize.
    Either way, you ain't considering the Fractal Define XL R2...
  • Dustin Sklavos - Thursday, February 21, 2013 - link

    The reason I made this call and stand by it:

    What do you lose by going with an mATX board over a standard ATX board?
  • haplo602 - Thursday, February 21, 2013 - link

    It's not ATX vs mATX. This is an XL-ATX/E-ATX capable case, so some people will lose PCI-E slots and some even a CPU socket (my case) which is show stopper.

    There are plenty of cases that can fit an mATX board. It's the other end of the spectrum that's starved.
  • tim851 - Thursday, February 21, 2013 - link

    Ask yourself this: why is anybody choosing a full tower? An mATX board, single GPU and three hard disks fit into a Silverstone TJ08. Do you think there are people undecided between a TJ08 and a Define XL waiting for a comparative review?

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