In and Around the Fractal Design Define Mini

If you're used to seeing the other Fractal Design Define enclosures, looking at the Mini may actually hurt your brain a little bit. The Define XL, Define R4, and Define Mini all look fundamentally the same in terms of style and aesthetic, but each one goes a little funhouse mirror in the process. Without examining its dimensions or putting it next to another enclosure, it might be hard to appreciate the slightly smaller form factor of the Define Mini.

The front of the Define Mini sports a padded door that swings open to the left along with ventilation on both sides of it to allow air to flow into the intake fans (and thus into the case) without letting the noise from the intakes escape. There's the familiar LED notch and ring just above it, along with the power button and I/O cluster, all right on the front edge just like the other Defines. Fractal Design hides the reset button behind the door, next to the pair of 5.25" bays. Below those bays are the two intake fans, with doors of their own that swing open to allow you to both change out the fans but also remove their filters for cleaning.

Examining the top, sides, and back of the Define Mini reveals few surprises. The left side includes the traditional ModuVent removable panel to allow the end user to install a 120mm or 140mm side intake fan, while the right side is blank. Meanwhile the top of the case has another 120mm/140mm ModuVent. I'm never really unhappy to see this feature in a case, especially as it's proliferated. Something like this adds flexibility to the case design. Finally, the only hiccup in the back is the fifth expansion slot aligned vertically, presumably for mounting the included fan controller.

Fractal Design uses a pair of thumbscrews to hold each side panel in place, and unfortunately the side panels are notched instead of hinged. I'm never happy to see this, but the Define Mini is at least small enough to prevent the panels from being too difficult to replace.

The motherboard tray is business as usual, with fairly smartly laid out routing holes for cabling. Unfortunately we're only looking at about 160mm of clearance above the motherboard, which makes installing any radiator in there a tight fit; the 120mm exhaust fan also means you'll have to orient any radiator carefully with the hoses above or below the mount.

Everything else inside the Define Mini is Fractal Design par for the course. Of the two drive cages, the top one is removable, but inexplicably, the bottom one is not. Fractal Design opted to use rivets instead of screws to mount the bottom cage, but there's no real reason not to make this something the end user could remove. Thankfully they continue to use their metal drive trays, which are among the best and most secure I've seen.

While the Define Mini is really surprise free for anyone familiar with Fractal Design's cases (and thus knowing what to expect), there's one tremendously goofy wrinkle: only one USB 3.0 port. It uses the full internal motherboard header, but every time I see something like this it seems like such a waste, especially when there's obviously space in the fascia to include a second. Outside of this, though, the Define Mini is at least superficially what you expected and were hoping for.

Introducing the Fractal Design Define Mini Assembling 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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