Introducing the Fractal Design Define Mini

Good micro-ATX enclosures have actually been frighteningly rare of late; manufacturers seem to be going big or going home, and only letting either beefy XL-ATX cases or diminutive mini-ITX cases out to play. It's a weird situation when the micro-ATX form factor seems to be ideal for the majority of end users. Enter Fractal Design and their Define Mini.

The Define Mini has actually been on the market for about a year, but with few contenders really materializing in recent months outside of SilverStone's SG09 and Rosewill's Line-M, good options for micro-ATX builders have been somewhat wanting. That's why I sought out the Define Mini; Fractal Design's Define line of enclosures has always been a little wanting for air cooling performance, but they're attractive and popular, and they're easy to build. Getting some of that sweet acoustic padding in a smaller package is an enticing proposition.

Fractal Design Define Mini Specifications
Motherboard Form Factor Mini-ITX, Micro-ATX
Drive Bays External 2x 5.25" (includes 5.25"-to-3.5" adaptor)
Internal 6x 3.5"/2.5"
Cooling Front 1x 120mm intake fan (supports 2x 120mm)
Rear 1x 120mm exhaust fan
Top 1x 120mm/140mm fan mount
Side 1x 120mm/140mm fan mount
Bottom 1x 120mm fan mount
Expansion Slots 4+1
I/O Port 2x USB 2.0, 1x USB 3.0, 1x Headphone, 1x Mic
Power Supply Size ATX
Clearances HSF 160mm
PSU 160mm with bottom fan installed; 200-220mm without
GPU 260mm with top drive cage installed; 400mm without
Dimensions 8.3" x 15.6" x 19.3"
210mm x 395mm x 490mm
Weight 21 lbs. / 9.5 kg
Special Features USB 3.0 via internal header
Removable drive cage
Removable filters on front and bottom fans
Three-channel 3-pin analog fan controller included
Acoustic padding
Price $99

If you've been keeping track with the Fractal Design Define series of enclosures, there are no surprises in the Define Mini. Rather than integrating it into the case, Fractal Design includes a separate three-channel fan controller and a fifth expansion slot horizontally aligned above the fourth standard ones to mount it in. Fractal Design's "ModuVent" is accounted for, as well, but I'd've liked an extra vent in the top of the case and support for a 240mm radiator.

Finally, there's the acoustic padding we've come to expect and appreciate. The more time I've spent with the similarly padded Nanoxia Deep Silence 1 (and I have seriously pimped this particular ride), the more I've come to understand the role acoustic padding fundamentally serves and its relationship with case design at large. A good thermal design is absolutely essential to a silent case as the acoustic padding proves all for naught, but end users should also be careful to design with these limitations in mind. Acoustic padding doesn't muffle noisy components, but it will bring quiet ones down to even more comfortable volumes, and that makes it a desirable feature.

What does all this mean? It means that the Fractal Design Define Mini could theoretically serve a purpose that the other micro-ATX enclosures on the market can't.

In and Around the Fractal Design Define Mini
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  • Sleepingforest - Monday, April 22, 2013 - link

    Dustin, how would you say this compares to the TJ08e? They have essentially identical price points and both promise quiet performance.
  • smellykaka - Monday, April 22, 2013 - link

    I have a TJ08e and I can't imagine how it could be called quiet. Its single fan on low setting is very audible. My main PC (in a Fractal Design R3) with 6 case fans (and a water pump, and four GPU fans) is considerably quieter at idle.
  • EnzoFX - Monday, April 22, 2013 - link

    It can be quiet. It's loud just like any open? case with direct airflow. So it's up to your components. The big 180mm? fan on the TJ08e can be undervolted and be set quiet, it's 180mm! so it'll still pump out good air. After that it's up to your components, so pick a good cpu hs/f, quiet gpu, HDD's that don't vibrate too much, etc, etc.

    But yes, if you don't want to approach it this way, a case like this will be the best bet in terms of quiet potential, without having to try too hard.
  • Sleepingforest - Monday, April 22, 2013 - link

    Weird. Even in games, mine is totally silent. Maybe you're pushing your hardware harder?
  • serrin - Monday, April 22, 2013 - link

    That's probably because the noise of your games is masking the noise of your case. The TJ-08E is great* quiet case, with the caveat being that you need to undervolt that sucker of a 180mm fan. Although that's not too hard given that you can buy them from fleaBay for a couple of bucks if you don't want to weld some resistors to a bit of wire.
    The Define Mini also is easier to assemble than the TJ-08E, but it's also 10cm longer and thus, heavier.
    Six of one, half a dozen of the other.
  • Sleepingforest - Monday, April 22, 2013 - link

    The TJ08e is definitely a pain to muck around in because of the cramped space. My hands are pretty big, so squeezing them into case to mess with fan headers is pretty close to impossible. I wish it was just an inch bigger in each dimension.

    I have the fan undervolted pretty considerably, so even with the game sounds off, I don't really hear what's happening. Or being under a fume hood for too long has desensitized me to fan noise...
  • JPForums - Monday, April 22, 2013 - link

    I agree. The loudest component in the most recent TJ08e based build I've put together is the Zalman 9900CNPS and that's not particularly loud. However, the case is seriously a pain to work in for someone with big hands. I'm actually putting together two builds based on the Define R4 and Define Mini this weekend. I don't know how the noise will compare, but I've opened up the chassis and I'm fairly certain the Mini will be easier to build in than the TJ08e. I can't imagine its thermal performance will be quite as good though.
  • Metaluna - Monday, April 22, 2013 - link

    The hard drive cage in the TJ08e also has major interference issues with many full-sized tower coolers. It's virtually impossible to mount a 3.5" HD in this cage with anything but a smallish (90mm) tower cooler, or maybe a 120 with the fan flipped to the other side (which in my situation had other interference issues on the other side of the board).

    On the plus side, it does have more height clearance for taller coolers. But overall I agree it's a PITA case to work in.
  • Death666Angel - Tuesday, April 23, 2013 - link

    I have big hands (1.95m here) and no problem with the TJ08-E. But then again, I don't use 3.5" drives. All my drives are in the 5.25" trays (2.5" ones, 7 total). That's all I need. And the space freed up is great for water cooling (pump and controls). :) The front intake fan is loud even in lowered setting though. It runs at ~700rpm on the low setting, but I have my fan control throttle the fan to ~500rpm to be inaudible. :)
  • Dustin Sklavos - Monday, April 22, 2013 - link

    I don't want to be a jerk, but have you tried changing the fan's setting? There's a switch on the side of the case, I believe, that's easy to miss, but on the low setting the TJ08-E is borderline inaudible.

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