Fractal Design DEFINE XL R2
When one is considering what chassis to use for their home theater or server build, a lot of factors come into play. In the past a traditional home theater PC build contained a small or desktop (horizontal) style chassis to help blend in with the AV stack, but that has evolved as the demands for storage and silence--as well as big screen PC gaming--has grown in importance. The Fractal Design Define XL R2 does not fit under the SFF category, as it is a full size ATX with tons of bells and whistles. The attraction for our needs is that the Define XL R2 does not sacrifice noise nor aesthetics to achieve its mission. Suitable for either the living room or closet (although what a shame that would be as it is quite attractive), we will be analyzing the merits of it to see if it is suitable of a person with more than your average HTPC needs.
As usual, we begin with the system specifications to the Fractal Design DEFINE XL R2. Although we're reviewing the "black pearl" version, an identical "titanium grey" is available as well.
- ATX, Micro ATX, mini-ITX, E-ATX and XL-ATX motherboard compatibility
- 4 - 5.25" bays
- 8 - 3.5" HDD trays - all compatible with SSDs
- A total of 9 expansion slots
- 3 - ModuVent™ plates – two in the top and one in the side
- 7 - Fan positions (3 fans included)
- Filtered fan slots in front and bottom
- CPU coolers up to 170 mm tall (when no fan is installed in the side panel)
- PSU compatibility: ATX PSUs up to 190 mm deep when using the bottom fan location; when not using this fan location longer PSUs (up to 345 mm deep) can be used
- Graphics card compatibility: Graphics cards up to 330mm in length with the top HDD cage installed - With the top cage removed, graphics cards up to 480mm in length may be installed
- 26 mm of space for cable routing behind the motherboard plate
- Thick rubber grommets on all holes on the motherboard plate
- Colors available: Black Pearl, Titanium Grey
- Case dimensions (WxHxD): 232 x 559 x 560mm
- Net weight: 16.4kg
- Package dimensions (WxHxD): 322 x 637 x 655mm
- Package weight: 19kg
The Fractal Design Define XL R2 was boxed with a good amount of packaging that stood up to the abuse of UPS. There was a major gash in the box when it was received, but the chassis was unscathed and pristine. Included with the chassis was the user manual and an 'Attention' insert, notifying you to contact the reseller of Fractal Design before returning the case; "Most issues can be quickly and easily solved through our Support Team. Most case parts are removable and are easily replaced by spare parts."
Black Pearl is a bright black; It doesn't give off the sheen of a brushed aluminum, but it stands out more than a matte finish. If you needed to run down to Home Depot or Lowe's and color match a "true black" for whatever you're painting, you'd take this case (alright, given its weight, you probably wouldn't take the whole thing, maybe just a side panel). I've noticed that oils from my hands have smudged onto the case, but I only noticed that after staring at the case and combing through the fine details of the Define XL R2.
The front interface is found on the top of the chassis; From left to right: Audio In/Out, Reset Button, Power Button (in the middle, with a blue power LED directly below, running to the front of the case), two USB 3.0 inputs, and two USB 2.0 inputs. Staying on top, towards the back of the Define XL R2 are two vents for 120mm or 140mm fans (not included), and that position also supports slim radiators (if you're looking to run a water cooled system). The back of the chassis has plenty of ventilation; an open vent near the top, a mounted 140mm hydraulic bearing Silent Series R2 fan, eye-popping-white vented expansion slot covers plus some added vents above the expansion slots and a bottom mounted PSU configuration. At the bottom of the case, there's even more ventilation, with a removable particle filter directly below where the PSU resides and another mounted 140mm Silent Series R2 fan near the middle. Have I mentioned the ventilation in this case? And while the pictures won't do it justice, the feet are beautiful chrome-like standoffs, much like you'd find in high end home audio/video equipment, and many of the home theater PC cases, large feet in the front with a pair of smaller ones at the rear.
Cracking open the Fractal Design Define XL R2 was like discovering a matryoshka doll, one new discovery after another as I peeled back each layer of the chassis. The front faceplate is solid with approximately a half inch of "high density noise-reducing material" (the "noise-reducing material" can also be found on each side panel as well as inside the top of the case). Opening the front door reveals four 5.25" bays, a three-speed fan controller switch to the right of the bays and more ventilation beneath the bays. Like a Sherlock Holmes crime scene investigation, I ran my fingers down the edges of the front ventilation and discovered another door that revealed the tool-less front fan holder, which is removable, with the third Silent Series R2 fan installed (and room in the holder for one more). The side panels are solid - rigged, yet not heavy - and the "high density noise-reducing material" is found on each one, along with one of Fractal Design's patented ModuVent plates above the CPU.
Once the side panels are off, there's a full view and easy access to the entire interior of the spacious chassis. Supporting ATX, Micro-ATX, mini-ITX, E-ATX and XL-ATX motherboards, Lewis and Clark would need a second expedition to map all of this space (but Fractal Design was kind enough to do that for you in the User Manual). You won't need to go on a perilous journey to discover the almost-limitless configurations the Fractal Design Define XL R2 has to offer; You can mount the PSU right-side-up, or upside-down (depending on your point of view) for negative or positive air pressure, or even go with a fanless and drop an extra case fan beneath it. There's two removable quad-bay 3.5" HDD that the cages can be configured in a number of different ways (Adaptable hard drive cages). And with all that territory in the chassis, it's easy to find practical routes for all of your cables with the numerous management ports and you can lay claim your motherboards backplane through the CPU access window.
If Bugatti were to make a tank, the Fractal Design Define XL R2 would be the chassis equivalent - a culmination of such extraordinary craftsmanship combined with immense size. With a shipping weight of 40.2lbs and a product weight of 36.2lbs, it would be an understatement to say that this modern sophistication of alloy is refined and elegant. I could come up with endless synonyms and adjectives to tell you about the Fractal Design Define XL R2, but, if you're a follower of Missing Remote, you don't need me to remind you that Fractal Design offers magnificent beauty in sleek functioning form, and the Define XL R2 is no exception.
When it comes to installation, it couldn't get any easier with the Fractal Design Define XL R2. If you've ever installed a large, heavy heat sink or water cooling that requires bolting a bracket to the backplane of the motherboard, you know all too well the process of breadboarding your system before mounting anything in the case. The Define XL R2 eliminates the whole 'breadboard' process with the nice backplane access window. You no longer have to defy PC building basics and drop your CPU into your motherboard before you've screwed it into your case. And while I didn't have to utilize this often overlooked feature, it makes the thought of upgrades down the road a less stressful.
The size and capacity of the chassis made transferring my ATX motherboard, with an attached tower heat-sink-fan, simple and painless - I didn't have to play Tetris with my case and scrape my knuckles to get my motherboard + HSF in place. The cable management ports are well positioned and trouble-free to utilize - I was worried the cables of my older PSU wouldn't traverse the case, but the management ports allowed the cables to be run in a short route, with interfering with any other components. I can't overstate this enough, everything about installation was easy, a majority of my efforts were exerted moving the case around to gain a better angle of whatever I was working on.
EVGA P55 FTW
Intel Core i7-870 2.93Ghz
ASUS GeForce GT 440 1GB
4 x 2GB (8GB Total) Corsair XMS3 DDR3 1600
1 x OCZ Vertex 4 128GB SSD
1 x Seagate ST3000DM001 (3TB)
I've adopted a silent PC mentality for more than a decade. I strive to build my systems to operate quietly enough to sleep peacefully in the same room. The integrated fan controller is useful to help you choose your own adventure when it comes to being cool, or being quiet. The included Silent Series R2 fans are excellent stock fans, that provided very low noise levels, while delivering great cooling when setting the fan controller to its lowest setting (5V).
Here are the temperature results from my testing:
Low Setting (5V)
Where does the Fractal Design Define XL R2 belong in the HTPC eco-system?
I had it set up in my living room, connected and set up next to my TV stand for two days, and while I didn't stub my toe on it from sticking out so much from everything else, it just consumed far too much real estate in that area of my home. I set it up as my desktop, for a day, but I kept knocking my knees on it under the desk when I attempted to swivel out of my chair and get up.
Server it is…
For me, the Fractal Design Define XL R2 would serve far greater as my home server chassis than for my HTPC. I could build out a homemade NAS, going nuts populating the drive bays and adding a few extra fans, while keeping everything quiet. It's just a shame that the beauty of this chassis wouldn't be showcased in my home like other Fractal Design offerings.
- Size: Capacity & Space
- Ventilation: There's plenty + Three included 140mm case fans
- Quiet: Solid insulation combined with integrated fan controller
- Modular Drive Cages
- Limitless Configuration
- Cable Management
- Motherboard Backplane Access Window
- Tool-less Design
- Size: Space-eater
- Weight: Make sure you find a Free Shipping deal
Thanks to Fractal Design for providing the review unit.