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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  • tzhu07 - Monday, April 22, 2013 - link

    I own this case. It's the perfect balance between size and workability. It's also very quiet and looks beautiful. Reply
  • TrackSmart - Monday, April 22, 2013 - link

    I'm confused. Is this a typical size for a micro-ATX case? It is LARGER than my Antec Sonata III, which is a standard-size ATX case.

    Fractal Define Mini: 8.3" x 15.6" x 19.3" = 2499 cubic inches
    Antec Sonata III 500: 8.1" (W) x 16.7" (H) x 18.2" (D) = 2462 cubic inches

    I like the case. If it had existed 3.5 years ago, I would have strongly considered it for its quiet operation and nice design (assuming I was going micro-ATX). But it just doesn't fit the "mini" description very well, given that its the same size as many standard ATX cases.
    Reply
  • A5 - Monday, April 22, 2013 - link

    The (now discontinued) Antec P180 Mini was the same way.

    What this design style does is let you have the bottom-mounted PSU in a case that is the size of a normal mid-tower, as opposed to the super-tall cases that have that feature and take full-size ATX boards.
    Reply
  • DanNeely - Monday, April 22, 2013 - link

    The spots where it's bigger than old cases are all cases where changing design requirements have triggered growth to meet. Making it slightly wider is needed to route cables behind the mobo tray. The increased depth is mostly used putting fans in the front and to give them side intakes for noise control; with a removable drive cage (to allow really big GPUs and make connecting sata cables easier) taking a bit as well. It could have been made another Inch shorter but that would have precluded space for a top fan.

    The Define mini is a MiniATX case designed for building a high performance system and keeping it cool. The Sonata III 500's design was optimized for making a full ATX system as small as possible; having used other cases with just enough clearance from the drive cages to stuff the mobo in connecting sata cables with the board screwed down is a PITA and full length GPUs are difficult to impossible to fit..
    Reply
  • DanNeely - Monday, April 22, 2013 - link

    Also, putting the PSU at the bottom instead of the top means you no longer have a big space at the top for optical drives to extend past the front edge of the motherboard without obstructing anything. Even without the fans and removable drive cage that would probably limit the case from getting any shallower. Reply
  • TrackSmart - Monday, April 22, 2013 - link

    Thank you to DanNeely and A5 for the insights about case size and design. I can see the niche for this case based on your description. Basically, by shrinking the motherboard area you can better utilize the remaining space to allow for a higher performance machine in a (relatively) small package. If you are building something with modest power requirements (all of my builds), it probably doesn't matter, but for someone who is going to stuff an overclocked i7 and high-end GPU into the case, I can see where this would make a world of difference. Reply
  • DanNeely - Monday, April 22, 2013 - link

    Broadly speaking I think the main target customer for this case is people who have historically built relatively high end desktops; but who have realized they don't need a full ATX board for a single GPU but who don't want the overclocking, etc limitations imposed by mITX. Reply
  • A5 - Monday, April 22, 2013 - link

    Yeah, that's me exactly. Reply
  • antef - Monday, April 22, 2013 - link

    I disagree that modern design goals necessitate these sorts of dimensions. My SilverStone PS07 is significantly smaller and still meets all the needs of a high performance system while keeping it cool. I'll go through each of your points:

    1) Width is the same between the Define Mini and PS07, so nothing to say there.
    2) The SilverStone is only 15.7" deep and fits front fans, an HDD cage, and the biggest GPU you want just fine. There is no top fan mount but there is a top exhaust that you can direct the PSU's exhaust through. It's able to accomplish this since the GPU sits on top of the drive bay instead of trying to fit behind it. SATA cable access is fine but is especially easy when you remove the drive cage. If the case you used couldn't fit large GPUs then that was a fault of that particular case's design.
    3) The SilverStone's PSU is top mounted which I don't see as a problem. This permits space for optical drives, and below that space for the motherboard, large GPU, front fants, and drive cage all in 15.7" of depth as mentioned above. You can also choose to not bother with optical drives at all, and remove the drive cage entirely and still be able to have 1 SSD and 1 HDD in the case.

    Yes, it's a little tighter to work in, but today's systems can get away with a lot less components than in the past, giving you the ability to still keep the internals very clean and uncluttered. If you need more space, ATX is there for you.
    Reply
  • mherbst55 - Monday, April 22, 2013 - link

    Was interested in this article until I got to the case dimensions. Why not just go with a standard full-sized ATX case and stuff a uATX board into it? At 8.3 x 15.6 x 19.3 isn't that what's being done here?

    Frankly, the best uATX case ever made was the SG03 by SilverStone. Dimensions are a svelte 12.28 x 7.87 x 14.17. Moreover, if SilverStone had been forward thinking and dropped the legacy 3.5" form factor HDD drive bays from the design (stuffed in the bottom of the case) they could’ve shaved an inch from the height. Interestingly in spite its diminutive size, because the SG03 can be stripped almost to the frame, building a clean system is actually quite simple. I discovered that a little pre-planning of the layout produced a build that was almost a work of art. Also, the flow-through design made cooling the interior a snap. For the life of me I can’t figure out why SilverStone didn’t continue to refine the design (add a removable motherboard tray, dual 3.5” cutouts for 2.5” form factor mobile racks for a total of 4 HDD drive bays, etc). It would have become the preferred uATX case for the vast majority of systems builders.
    Reply

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