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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  • Icehawk - Tuesday, April 23, 2013 - link

    I have this case, it has a high build quality and very quiet - not the best cooling in stock form, true, and I think that is due to weak intake design and the damping material acting as insulation. I get little airflow even without the middle drive cage installed, my RAM gets pretty toasty - definitely been the source of a few crashes. I have a Corsair H70 (blowing out), a triple fan GTX670, and fanless 500W PSU which all run within comfortable temps. My system is just about silent under the desk which was my goal, I think with one more fan the system would run plenty cool but as you will see in my next comment the spot where a fan would do the most good for me is unusable.

    One design flaw, at least for me, is the location of the side panel fan cutout - it's too far towards the back of the case and because of this I cannot put a fan here as it interferes with my H70 radiator. If it was a little farther forward this would not be a problem and would also put it in a better location to cool the mobo.

    Two comments about the review - first, do you REALLY care about built-in standoffs? IMO it's a tiny "upgrade", it saves about 2 minutes max the first time you build a machine. Second, I was able to route all of my cable behind the mobo from the included fans & controller... barely. It IS doable but you may need to cut some wiring sheaths and get creative with routing.

    At $100 I think it's great value in terms of build quality, materials, etc - I can't believe I've been buying $50 junk boxes all of these years when for not a lot more the boxes are way nicer. Would love to see a revised model that improves cooling and cleans up the front design with a more minimal drive setup.
    Reply
  • Peroxyde - Tuesday, April 23, 2013 - link

    Bought a Fractal Design R4 Mid Tower 2 days ago. This case is a jewel. Heavy, less sensitive to vibration. Everything in this case has been thought carefully: cable management, filter, noise reduction, paint job, even down to the screws and the metal rulers hiding expansion card slots. It is way better than more expensive case from Antec and Cooler Master. This company should make more marketing. Even better, it look nice! Even my wife finds that it looks beautiful. Reply
  • darkfalz - Tuesday, April 23, 2013 - link

    I have the Define Mini. It's a nice case. It's heavy (sturdy) and very quiet. Having to manually adjust the fan is a bit annoying (and believe me, you will want it on max for gaming and min for anything else). It takes a stock 680 GTX so it handles a longer card than the specs specify. I added a second front fan as I have 5 HDDs inside (4 in RAID 5). LED is too bright (lights up the room in standby with blinking blue) and no HDD LED unfortunately. Reply
  • cpupro - Wednesday, April 24, 2013 - link

    It is for mATX motherboards but it is not small case, my other mini tower case with ATX board inside is only about 1 cm taller than Define Mini, including standoffs. Only cons with this case is irritating bright blue LED (I assume also red LED in white cases), it burn eyes, nothing minimal here as article suggest. Don't need to mention LED suspend mode blinking or bright blue LED when watching films in dark room.
    Overall, well built, quality case.
    Reply
  • freedom4556 - Wednesday, April 24, 2013 - link

    My big problem with my Fractal Define Mini is that I bought it hoping to go to a 'smaller' computer, but I didn't really check the dimensions before I did it versus what I had. I was coming from an Antec 300 and I wanted a bottom power supply intake, some sound deadening, and a few tool-less amenities along with downsizing from an ATX board in that build to an mATX board in the current build. It only cut two inches off the height, but got an inch wider and over an inch deeper in the process. So while I can understand that these builds are "small" in comparison to things like 800D and HAF X, they still aren't 'small' when you compare them with more 'budget' full-ATX offerings. I feel like all I lost in the transition was the flexibility of three extra slots while gaining some noise reduction at almost twice the cost. I also wish the door opened wider, and my front intake fan has starting buzzing against the frame after only a few removals for cleaning. Reply
  • stanwood - Friday, April 26, 2013 - link

    I used a Define Mini for my most recent build. Totally silent under my desk. Very sturdy and looks good. I have been very happy with it. Only pet peeve is I wish the front door swing were reversible (PC sits to my right but door swings open to the left).

    Dustin, it would be nice if you'd make sure to include a picture of the final rig as tested, with GPU, so we're clear how you set it up. I have left the middle drive cage in rotated to funnel air flow over my CPU. Did you try that out and see any difference?
    Reply
  • Sladeofdark - Monday, April 29, 2013 - link

    I was just talking about how good this case was. I got it for my girlfriend in White because the Corsair case is still too pricey right now. This case was all sold out and i had to order the one with a window kit because i liked it so much. I have used it in 3 builds just this year. Great Case. The front door likes to act up, but if you are a veteran builder you will have the parts on hand to reinforce the mechanism that catches the door and makes it stay closed with a click. Reply

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