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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  • Dustin Sklavos - Thursday, February 21, 2013 - link

    I'm working on putting together an SLI configuration for this testbed, but you guys really don't understand just how small an organization AT is. It's not like I can snap my fingers and just make hardware magically appear, and I handle a *lot* of reviews.

    Could I get a trio of GTX 285s? Probably. But then people would complain that I'm using outdated hardware, or that the cards being scrunched together doesn't somehow demonstrate how the case might handle cards that are properly separated by a slot or two slots.

    Of course I could just be frustrated because I've spent two nights now trying to get the testbed motherboard to actually recognize two cards in SLI with no success, trying to somehow appease an audience that is oftentimes unhappy no matter what I do, or will make irrational requests without thinking about whether or not there's any practical difference in what they ask for.
  • haplo602 - Friday, February 22, 2013 - link

    I don't think you are getting the point. We don't need FPS benchmarks on a working setup. We need accoustic,thermal and space/build checked.

    So you don't need tripple SLI o what not. Just scrape in 3 cards and load all of them (bitcoin comes to mind). You can even make bitcoin run on the cpu, so you have a realy HOT setup in the case. You need to generat head and fan noise, not pretty FPS numbers.

    Get ANY large mobo that will fit (you can get old dual opteron setups for peanuts on ebay) and mount it. Are there cable routing problems when the case is fully packed ? This kind of thing is critical for a big case. An mATX board will not help checking this out.
  • SVoyager - Tuesday, February 26, 2013 - link

    ^ This!

    Dustin, the review you did was great and even after seeing the picture of the case with your board mounted (a bit of a facepalm there when I saw it), most of the data of the review was quite useful.

    Still, in the quest of making things better, what haplo602 said above is spot on. Full towers are meant to be filled with things. Say, if I get both the drive cages full of drives, does this case fare better than another one with similar setups. Will the drive noise leak out from the front or will the door dampen the noise enough? Will the cage design affect airflow in a way to make things more efficient or will the air be blocked so much that the whole system temps take a huge hit? Will fully populated drive cages create cable management issues? etc.

    Keep up the good work, no need to be frustrated on this, the review is nice and the suggestions here can only make future reviews even better!

    Now fill that tower up! :-)

  • Hrel - Tuesday, March 26, 2013 - link

    You lose the ability to guage how well it fits. How much room there is to work with, from the pictures. How well do the cables reach. So on and so forth.
  • Hrel - Wednesday, February 20, 2013 - link

    Probably gonna be my next case. Unless they can pull off a smaller one (mid tower) with the same acoustics, or better. Sexy as fuck, this is how a case should look. Fractal Design doing it right.

    Curious though, why do you make such a big deal about fan controllers? Do you never buy fans that automatically adjust their speed based on temp? Antec has some really good ones. I highly recommend them. Makes a dedicated fan controller silly and pointless.
  • Dustin Sklavos - Wednesday, February 20, 2013 - link

    1. Buying fans that would automatically adjust their speed based on temperature would mean having to replace what comes with the case.

    2. I personally prefer a constant, low volume to fans ramping up and down depending on load.
  • Hrel - Wednesday, February 20, 2013 - link

    But... if you're just going to keep them at the lowest possible speed, or medium or whatever, then why so you need a fan controller? The fans in most cases never change speed, they just run. Scythe has some very nice low RPM high CFM fans for cases. That's what I normally use as intake fans. I prefer to buy cases with as few fans as possible already in them though; then put in what I want. I guess in this price range you expect to not have to do that. Based on your acoustic testing though I'd say the fans in this are well balanced.
  • kmmatney - Thursday, February 21, 2013 - link

    I prefer just buying cheap fans, and inserting a resistor cable. I recently bought a set of 5 resistor cables for something like $4 shipped to my door. Then I can buy any cheap $3 fan, and make it silent. I have a large Antec P182 case, and it's completely silent with an overclocked i3570K and HD6800.

    Every time a see these reviews I think about upgrading, but I really can't complain about my existing case - it's big and silent. That's the nioce thing about a case - it can last a long time, through several upgrades. I'm on my 4th motherboard since I bought my case.
  • NeoReaper - Wednesday, February 20, 2013 - link

    is it me or this just an old antec p180? how is this different?
  • The0ne - Wednesday, February 20, 2013 - link

    It is extremely similar. I've built so many with the P180's for others that it came to mind immediately just looking at the front :) I wouldn't be surprise if the design was just slightly changed from the P180. Love the P180 and thus this performs and functions identical. In fact, my nephews' P180s are so quiet sometimes they turn off the computer thinking it was off hahaha

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