Introducing the Fractal Design Define R3

One of the perks of this job is getting to see some up-and-comers get championed by our readership and then turn around and find out what the fuss is all about. Such is the "case" (pun wholly intended) with Fractal Design's Define R3 enclosure. This is a case that has shown up fairly regularly in comments practically since we started doing these reviews again at the beginning of the year, and now we finally have the Define R3 in house for testing. It carries the weight of the community behind it and to its credit, it's certainly an interesting piece of kit at first glance. Does it live up to the word of mouth?

Something that's been bugging me since I started doing these reviews is a stunning lack of enclosures that are engineered with silent running in mind. Very few seem to make provisions towards keeping noise in check, and as a result the competition in that arena can be slim. Yet what Fractal Design has done with the Define R3 suggests that the end user need not choose to build a silent machine or a cooling optimized one. Not just that, but they've driven south the price of acoustically optimized cases into a realm previously only really occupied by NZXT's H2.

Keep in mind that this is a $99-$109 case, though. In my experience there's been an unofficial rule in the enclosure industry: south of $200 you can get silence or great cooling, but not both. For that, you'll need to spend up on something like the SilverStone FT02 or Thermaltake Level 10 GT. The question then is whether the Define R3 can challenge that notion.

Fractal Design Define R3 Specifications
Motherboard Form Factor ATX, Micro ATX, Mini ITX
Drive Bays External 2x 5.25" (one 5.25" to 3.5" converter panel included)
Internal 8x 3.5"/2.5"
Cooling Front 1x 120mm intake fan, 1x 120mm fan mount
Rear 1x 120mm exhaust fan
Top 2x 120/140mm fan mounts
Side 1x 120/140mm fan mount
Bottom 1x 120/140mm fan mount
Expansion Slots 7
Front I/O Port -
Top I/O Port Mic and headphone jacks, 2x USB 2.0, eSATA
Power Supply Size ATX
Clearance 11.5" (Expansion Cards), 170mm (CPU HSF), 180mm (PSU)
Weight 27.56 lbs. (12.5 kg)
Dimensions 20.85" x 8.17" x 17.4" (529.5mm x 207.5mm x 442mm)
Price $109

The Fractal Design R3 may come with a bunch of fan mounts, but it also includes acoustic pads that are mounted inside the case to cover up the unused mounts. As a result, any turbulence inside the case is kept inside the case; use the fan mounts you want without worrying that the ones you don't want are going to be letting noise leak out. While there are plenty of fan mounts, the Define R3 comes equipped with two 120mm fans.

In and Around the Fractal Design Define R3
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  • Dustin Sklavos - Friday, November 11, 2011 - link

    Everyone's a comedian.
  • Peskarik - Friday, November 11, 2011 - link

    Swedish design. :-)

    Very nice case, good materials, many possible fan mounts, good cable management.

    I installed:
    Asus P8Z68-V Pro/Gen3
    Intel Core i7 2600K
    Noctua CPU-Cooler NH-U12P SE2
    be quiet! STRAIGHT POWER, E8 CM 680W 80plus Silver
    Corsair Vengeance Red, 2x4GB, DDR3-1600, CL9@1.5V
    Seagate Momentus XT, 7200rpm, 32MB, 2.5", 500GB
    OCZ SSD Vertex 3 60GB, SATA-3, 2.5"
    extra fan at the bottom: Noctua 120mm NF-S12B FLX-Series
    will install another fan on the top: Noctua 140mm NF-P14 FLX-Series

    I do not have any graphics card in the case now, but with side open and the case 30cm from my head I hear only the CPU fans, the case fans and the bottom Noctua fan are very quiet.
    For me the problem with the case is non-removable drive bay rack. There is only one rack running from top to bottom with space for 8 drives. I wish the rack was 2-piece (4 + 4) and removable, so that I could remove the rack for the bottom 4 drives and get free air flow from the lower front fan.
  • Peskarik - Friday, November 11, 2011 - link

    Oh, I forgot, the front eSATA is now replaced with USB 3.0, and the HDD light is integrated into the power button light (I like this a lot).
  • UNHchabo - Friday, November 11, 2011 - link

    I thought the Power light was far too bright to be on constantly, so I just plugged the power LED leads into the HDD LED header. Works perfectly for me...
  • Malih - Friday, November 11, 2011 - link

    exactly, i'm using Define Mini, they have pretty much the same design, and I don't care much for power LED, HDD LED is more important to me.
  • Peskarik - Saturday, November 12, 2011 - link

    Thanks for the suggestion!
  • FlyBri - Friday, November 11, 2011 - link

    I've been looking at either getting the Define R3, or a BitFenix Shinobi w/ sound dampening material installed (I'm a bit curious to see if the Shinobi would perform the same, better, or worse than the Define R3).

    Anyway, what wasn't mentioned in the article is that for the longest time now, the only vendor in the US that sells the Define R3 is NewEgg. While NewEgg is a great site, they are currently charging around $23 for shipping. Add to that the fact that I live in CA, and thus have to pay sales tax on it, and I'm looking at a total cost of $142.65. While this is a good case, to me, that's too much to pay for it.

    If NewEgg ever offers a free shipping promotion on it (or even like a $5 shipping promotion), I'd definitely reconsider, but seeing as I haven't seen them do it ever (and I've been checking periodically for months), I'm not expecting it to happen anytime soon.

    So Fractal Design, if you're reading this, you have a VERY popular case in the Define get some more U.S. vendors on-board please!!!
  • piroroadkill - Friday, November 11, 2011 - link

    This is practically perfect.

    The 8 3.5" side facing drive sleds me me want to jizz.

    My current system uses an Antec P182, which I've had for a few builds now, but there are annoying issues. No hole where the cooler backplate is, making it a dick to swap the cooler. Bottom drive cage is horrible (yes, I already removed the middle fan, with that it's almost impossible to work in.
    Too little space behind the motherboard!

    I have 7 hard drives and an SSD in my P182, along with one HD-DVD/Blu-ray drive, so I could use every single one of those 8 sleds and leave one 5.25" bay left over, and it would look fantastic.

    That said, I just finished my build back in my P182 and I can't be bothered to switch.. But damn, this is an extremely nice case for a reasonable price.
  • Peskarik - Friday, November 11, 2011 - link

    "odds are you're not going to be fitting an AMD Radeon HD 6990 or ASUS Mars II in here, but if you can afford either of those, why are you buying a $100 case?"

    I disagree with this logic.
    R3 is nice and would fit 6990 no problem, if the drive bay rack were split and removable.
    The fixed non-splittable rack is The big miss in R3 for me.

    The rest was fine, fitting MB was no problem, but like you've wrote, the standoffs were not mounted and since this is the first time I build a machine on my own it took me some time to understand how to mount the MB correctly (specifically, where those shiny standoffs should go). :-)
  • JarredWalton - Friday, November 11, 2011 - link

    You disagree with which part of the logic? That people buying a $700 or $1400 GPU that uses a metric ton of power would likely be shopping for a larger case? Because that seems very reasonable to me; I don't get why people are uptight about us pointing out that a $100 case may not be the best choice for what will presumably be a dream system in the rest of the components.

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