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Fractal Design Define R4 Mid-Tower Chassis Review

Date: January 18, 2013
Author(s): Ryan Perry

Where desktops are concerned, some may consider bigger to be better, but sometimes, there’s nothing quite as satisfying as a simple, classy-looking PC that you can barely hear. Helping to make that scenario a reality is Fractal Design, with its sound-dampened mid-tower Define R4. Let’s check it out.



Introduction

While most people are excited about what’s happened at this year’s CES in Las Vegas, I’m sitting here pumped about today’s review, because I’m finally getting my hands on a piece of kit from a company that has impressed me since I first stumbled across it a few years back.

Sweden-based Fractal Design has been releasing cases, power supplies, fans and accessories for years and we have one of its newest products, the Define R4 mid-tower case, on the review table today. The R4 is the 4th generation Define and aims to further improve on previous models.

Many of Fractal Design’s cases might fly under the radar of some enthusiasts since they choose to go with a “less is more” approach, at least on the outside. Luckily, our radar does a pretty wide sweep, so let’s get started.

The Define R4 comes in three flavours; Titanium Grey, Arctic White and Black Pearl – the latter of which being the model that we’ve received. It’s made primarily of steel and can support mini-ITX, micro-ATX and ATX motherboards.

Fractal Design Define R4 Mid-Tower Chassis

As always, we’ll start at the front where the plastic foam-lined door has been textured to give it the look of brushed aluminum. It opens from the right to reveal two vented 5.25″ bay covers and the 3-channel, 3-speed fan control switch to the right. The rest of the front panel is taken up by a large removable dust filter that hides Fractal Design’s own 140mm Silent Series R2 fan with room for another 120mm/140mm fan if needed.

Fractal Design Define R4 Mid-Tower Chassis

Our review sample has mounting points for an optional 120mm/140mm fan on the solid left panel, but there is a windowed model available. Just in front of the side panels are additional vents that run down the plastic trim to provide extra air flow.

Fractal Design Define R4 Mid-Tower Chassis

Around back at the top is a vented area, the motherboard I/O opening and another 140mm fan with mounting points for a 120mm unit. Further down are the seven white PCI slot covers, a vertical PCI slot to the right and the power supply opening at the bottom.

Fractal Design Define R4 Mid-Tower Chassis

The right panel is completely solid so we’ll move up to the top where the I/O area is located along the front edge. From left to right are the 3.5mm microphone and headphone ports, the reset and illuminated power buttons, two USB 3.0 ports and two USB 2.0 ports. Towards the rear of the top panel are two removable covers that can be replaced by 120mm/140mm fans or, depending on the configuration, even a 240mm radiator.

Fractal Design Define R4 Mid-Tower Chassis

With the case upside down we see the four rubber feet to help absorb any vibrations, the mounting points for an optional 120mm/140mm fan and a removable dust filter that covers the fan and power supply intake areas.

Fractal Design Define R4 Mid-Tower Chassis

Before looking at the interior, have a gander at the inside of the side panels. Each is coated in a sound-dampening material that looks like a rubber compound on the outside with a thin foam insert. Even the fan area on the left panel (as well as the two on the top panel) has an extra thick, removable foam insert to help keep sound trapped inside the case.

Fractal Design Define R4 Mid-Tower Chassis

With the panel off we see that the hard drive cage at the front is in two sections, so users can remove either one based on their needs. Each of the eight, white drive trays can support 3.5″ or 2.5″ drives, while 5.25″ drives can be mounted without tools in the bays above. The motherboard tray features large, grommet-lined holes across the top, bottom and down the right side and a large cut out around the CPU area.

Fractal Design Define R4 Mid-Tower Chassis

Included with the R4 are all of the screws needed to keep components secure, motherboard standoffs, zip ties, extra rubber washers for mounting the optional fans, a manual and a notice about returning the case to Fractal Design rather than the retailer if there are any issues.

Fractal Design Define R4 Mid-Tower Chassis

Up next we install our newly modified test system and see how Fractal Design’s latest creation performs.

Installation & Testing

The Define R4 made installation a breeze, but there was one snafu. When installing a 3.5″ drive into the top slot of the cage, the two screws used to secure the plastic guide made contact with the top of the drive. This is due to the fact that the drive sits on thick rubber washers used to absorb vibrations, which raises it slightly.

Fractal Design Define R4 Mid-Tower Chassis

There are a few ways to get around this, the easiest of which is to use the second tray down. The other options are to remove the two screws and grind them down 1/16″ or not use the rubber washers at all so the drive rests directly on the tray.

We decided to go with the first option and installed our test drive into the second bay. Everything else lined up perfectly and there was ton of room to work. The build quality was also incredible with no flexing observed anywhere.

There’s almost a full inch of clearance between the back of the motherboard tray and the right panel, so tucking cables away shouldn’t be a problem either.

With everything in and all of the wires connected, here’s what most folks can expect to see when all is said and done.

Fractal Design Define R4 Mid-Tower Chassis

As mentioned earlier, we’ve made a change to our test system and have swapped out the Corsair H60 all-in-one liquid CPU cooler in favour of the Thermaltake Jing air cooler. This change was made so that we can get a more accurate read on just how well a case can radiate and vent heat to the outside.

Please note that even though the Jing looks a little skewed, CPU contact is perfect as the pressure is equal all the way around and the base is large enough to cover the entire chip.

Testing

All of our testing is performed in a near steady 20°C ambient environment with readings taken before and after with a standard room thermometer. AIDA64 Extreme Engineer is used for monitoring and recording all system temperatures throughout the testing process.

Windows is allowed to sit idle for 10 minutes after startup to ensure all services are loaded before recording the idle CPU and GPU temperatures. CPU load temperatures are generated by performing a 20 minute run of OCCT LINPACK using 90% of the available memory, while GPU load temperatures are generated by OCCT’s built in test, also for 20 minutes.

Stock CPU settings were obtained by setting the AI Tweaker option with the BIOS to Auto and the maximum stable overclock frequency of 4.0GHz was obtained after extensive testing to ensure stability. The final clocks for the GPU are 760MHz on the core and 1000MHz QDR (4000MHz relative) for the memory with the voltage increased to 1.087V using MSI’s Afterburner overclocking utility. As with the CPU overclock, testing was done prior to ensure full stability.

AIDA64 Extreme Edition MSI Afterburner

OCCT 3.1.0

The components used for testing are:

 Techgage Chassis Testing System
ProcessorIntel Core i5-661 – Dual-Core (3.33GHz)
MotherboardASUS P7H55D-M EVO mATX – H55-based
MemoryCorsair Dominator 2x2GB DDR3-1600 7-8-7-20-2T
GraphicsEVGA GeForce GTX 470
StorageWestern Digital 2TB Green
Power SupplyAntec TP-750 Blue
ChassisCooler Master Cosmos II
Cooler Master HAF 932 Advanced
Cooler Master Storm Scout 2
Corsair Carbide 400R
Corsair Obsidian 550D
Corsair Obsidian 650D
Corsair SE White 600T
Fractal Design Define R4
NZXT Switch 810
Silverstone Raven RV03
Thermaltake Chaser MK-1
Thermaltake Level 10 GT
CPU CoolingCorsair H60 (Exhaust Configuration) (All but Define R4)
Thermaltake Jing (Only Define R4)
Et ceteraWindows 7 Ultimate 64-bit

Fractal Design Define R4 Mid-Tower Chassis

Fractal Design Define R4 Mid-Tower Chassis

For the sake of time, we weren’’t able to retest other cases that we’’ve looked at in the past using this new configuration, but have included those numbers so readers can compare. After seeing the results, it looks like this change is doing exactly what we expected. We are now relying solely on the case fans to vent the warm air and not the CPU cooler.

If we look at the Antec SOLO II, which is another “silent” case that had a similar stock cooling setup, but used the H60, we see that the Define R4 matched the overclocked load temperatures, although the SOLO II used 120mm fans whereas the Define R4 uses 140mm.

Our CPU stayed under the thermal limit (69.8ºC) and GPU temperatures remained on par with testing thanks to a very powerful, but very noisy fan.

Speaking of the GPU fan, it sounds like a leaf-blower when temperatures exceed 90 degrees, but thanks to the foam on the front door, lining on the side panels and the inserts over the unused fan areas, the R4 stayed as quiet as possible. While we didn’t measure sound levels with any instrumentation, from my experience it proved to be the quietest case we’ve ever tested.

Did my first experience with a Fractal Design case meet or exceed my expectations?

Final Thoughts

Hell yes! This case has it all.

On the outside, the clean, subdued look is a hit with me and I love the fact that the door was made to look like brushed aluminum instead of being left as a boring chunk of shiny plastic. It really takes a low cost item and makes it look richer. The basic, uncluttered front I/O looks great as well with just enough flash in the form of the illuminated ring around the power button and accent in front of it.

On the inside there are enough features to keep everybody happy. There’s loads of room for hard drives, enough space behind the motherboard tray to neatly tuck meters worth of cables, support for large radiators, and sound-dampening material in just about every location to keep noise to a minimum.

Fractal Design Define R4 Mid-Tower Chassis

The fact that this material is thinner and denser than the typical foam commonly used means that less warm air is trapped within it, which can drive temperatures up.

Aside from the clearance issue with top 3.5″ bay, the fit and finish was perfect. I’m not sure if the screws being too long is an isolated occurrence, but it’s something that Fractal Design should have a look at because it’s such an easy fix.

Of course, we have touch on the price-point, which is about on par for what you get. One popular online retailer has the windowed model listed for $119 US, while the non-windowed version is going for $109. Shopping around a little, I found the model that we received on sale for $99 CDN, so for a case like this to break the sub-$100 mark is a real steal.

Fractal Design Define R4 Mid-Tower Chassis

The Define R4 would be a top candidate if I were in the market for a new case so it’s certainly worth a look if you are.

Pros

Cons


Fractal Design Define R4

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