Date: August 31, 2012
Author(s): Greg King
With mass storage being available at reasonable prices, the desire to build home servers, NAS boxes and so forth has never been stronger. Some might choose the pre-built NAS route, but for those pro-DIY, Fractal Design has its Array R2. Interested in a mini-ITX chassis that can support up to 6 hard drives and 1 SSD? Read on.
It’s been an entire year since we published our review of the Fractal Design R3. While the R3 has enjoyed almost universal praise from the review community, it’s not the only offering from Fractal Design. In the time since that review, another CES has come and gone and Techgage has posted over 100 additional reviews and editorials.
One project that I have personally been working on for much of that time has been my FreeNAS build. Since we last posted about the open source, do-it-yourself NAS, I have shelved the platform and patiently waited for 8.2 to release (now released and downloadable). While I waited, I began to work with another offering from Fractal Design, the Array R2, as a home for Windows Home Server 2011.
Designed and marketed as a home NAS or server chassis, the Array R2 was built to house mini-ITX motherboards. Built entirely out of aluminum and rivaling Lian Li for quality and style, the Array R2 can house an astounding 7 hard drives (6x 3.5″ drives and 1x 2.5″ HDD or SSD) and ships with a Fractal Design-branded 300W SFX power supply. With the option to house that much storage, I’m interested in seeing how well the chassis allows work within the case.
The Array R2 is an entirely aluminum, all black enclosure with no distinguishing feature aside from a silver power button centered on the lower front of its face. Measuring 7.8″ x 9.8″ x 13.7″, the Array R2 is certainly of a diminutive stature. Designed without room for an optical drive, Fractal Design has built what it hopes is the perfect home server / NAS-specific chassis.
The sides of the R2 are riveted in place and cannot be removed. This is because the sides and back of the chassis are made of one continuous piece of aluminum. This keeps the overall appearance of the case clean but I immediately questioned whether or not this would impact the ease of building once it comes time to install the hardware. At the front of the chassis, running the entire height of it, are oblong ventilation holes. They are positioned to allow air intake for the huge 140m fan sitting between the front of the case and the hard drives. Stationed at the bottom of both sides are twelve rows of ventilation holes. These run almost the entire depth of the mini-ITX motherboard area inside the case and should supply an adequate amount of airflow once the machine is powered on.
Following its minimalistic design, the back of the Array R2 has an opening for the motherboard I/O shield, ventilation holes above it and an area to mount the included SFX PSU. Running vertically along the right side of the back are a pair of expansion slots that allow a double-height GPU to be installed if your build requires it.
The top of the Array R2 is comprised of one single sheet of aluminum, held in place by six small screws. This is the only way into the chassis and given the intended purpose behind the Array’s design, this should be a case rarely opened.
Opening the R2 up, the most notable feature about the case is the large aluminum drive housing. Allowing for the installation of an impressive six hard drives, the cage even allows the installation of an SSD or notebook hard drive on its underbelly. With rubber grommets to cut down on vibration, the hard drive cage itself sits on rubber strips. These strips are slightly sticky so you need to take care when pulling the hard drive cage out of the case.
As mentioned before, a 140mm fan that sits between the front of the case handles cooling and the hard drives. Pulling cooler air in from the side vents and forcing it across the installed drives, it is rated at 9dBA, spins at 600 RPMs and is capable of pushing 39 CFMs.
With the cage removed, we see more than enough room to get the mini-ITX motherboard into place. There won’t be much in the way of cable management so the only installation step I can offer is to install the CPU heat sink onto the motherboard before placing it in the Array R2. The interior of the Array R2 does provide ample space to install the power, reset and activity LED headers that run from the front of the case.
Fractal Design brands the power supply with its logo but I am unsure if it manufactures the unit itself. I am inclined to think it’s a rebadge, but I can’t state it with certainty. The PSU is custom however. With shortened cables, the cable management should take little effort. Keeping the unit cool is an 80mm fan that exhausts warm air from the inside of the chassis.
Onto the installation.
As the Array R2 is marketed as a home server or NAS machine, a lot of the niceties of an ATX chassis are missing. Compared to the Define R3, with its removable drive bays and handy cable management, the R2 was designed to allow you to install your gear and forget about it until the time comes to move it or bounce it. With that in mind, we used the following hardware.
Removing the hard drive cage is accomplished by removing four small screws. With these out of the way, the cage can be lifted up slowly and with a bit of force. The additional force is needed because the mounting brackets will stick to the rubber strips that the cage rests on. Once removed, the motherboard can be installed.
Placing the motherboard on the four spacers is an easy task and there is plenty of room to put it into place. As mentioned earlier, it’s recommended by this editor to install your heatsink before installing the motherboard but you are free to go about this however you see fit. Regardless, this tip needs mentioned once more. After the board is in place, connecting the power, reset and activity LED headers all required minimal effort. The last thing we did before putting the hard drive cage back into place was connect the SATA cables to the motherboard. Doing this beforehand can save you a tremendous amount of hassle and frustration.
Getting the hard drive cage back in the case is the trickiest task in the entire build. With the power supply having shorter cables, I had to rest the cage on one of the corners of the Array R2 while I connected the SATA data and power connectors. With everything connected, we had to take special care to position the hard drive cage back into the chassis. This is because there is very little clearance between the SATA data connectors and the tail end of the power supply. If you aren’t careful, you can break off one of the connectors, rendering your HDD useless.
With everything in place, you can see how tight the Array R2 becomes. While not the easiest case to work in, a pass can be given to Fractal Design simply because of all it managed to fit into the design of the chassis. If you are uncomfortable with working in tight spots, the Array R2 might not be the best choice for your small computing needs. Given that the case has been designed to be setup and placed out of the way, never to bother you unless a reboot is required, this editor happily accepts the potential inconveniences of working within the Array R2.
Testing the cooling capacity of the Array R2 was done in a similar fashion to other chassis reviews I have done over the years. For the R2, I started a pair of instances of CPU Burn-in (one for each core). While an older app, it has always served me well when trying to stress a CPU to get a temperature reading under load. As always, the procedure is me running it for a set amount of time; in this case, 30 minutes. At the tail end of the run, I record the temperatures of the CPU using Real Temp. The two cores were then averaged.
While not stellar, the temperatures are well within the Intel-specified thermal envelope, and keep in mind, this was with the tiny stock fan that came with the CPU. I would say that given the limited capabilities of the stock Intel heatsink, the Array R2 is more than able to feed cooler outside air, allowing even a minimal cooling solution to work at a reasonable level.
The hard drives faired just as well, never fluctuating more than a couple of degrees in either direction. The two WD Green drives hovered around 42°C during testing and the WD 640 Caviar was a tick higher at 44°C. The drives certainly benefitted from the 140mm fan at the front of the Array R2 and never ventured anywhere near dangerous territory.
With testing done, what did we think?
The Fractal Array R2 is an exceptional case when used for what it was designed for. As stated earlier, one could install a double slot GPU, assuming it will fit lengthwise – but the option is there. This opens up the chassis to other, more adventurous souls and could potentially make a great LAN box if you can keep your hardware below the level that the PSU can power. That said, we used the R2 as a home server machine, running Windows Home Server 2011 for our testing and in that scenario, the Array performed admirably. It was a bit cramped but nothing that would cause me to personally shy away from choosing it for my next small form factor build.
The Array R2 will fit right at home with those of you that run more than one than a couple of machines on your home network. Those of you that are interested in NAS, and want to build it from the ground up, keep the R2 in mind. It’s one of the few mini-ITX cases available that can hold the amount of hard drives that it can. With the potential to stick 18TB of raw storage in the hard drive cage and still keep it all at a reasonable temperature, it’s extremely difficult to look past the Fractal Design Array R2.
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