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Fractal Design Define XL Case Review

Rating: 8.0.

We’ve recently reviewed a number of mid-range cases that fall in the just over £100 mark from the likes of Corsair and Lian Li which impressed us greatly.  So when we were offered a similarly-priced case from a lesser known manufacturer, we jumped at the chance so we could see how they compare.

Today we are going to look at the Fractal Design Define XL Case which is designed to keep noise to a minimum.  The ‘XL’ part of the cases’ name is certainly reflective of the size of the case which is quite a lot larger than the other £100+ cases we’ve looked at recently.

Features

  • Stylish design
  • Pre-fitted with noise absorbing material
  • Configurable thermal chamber design
  • Great cooling possibilities, 3x fans included (2x 140mm, 1x 180mm)
  • 10x HDD slots
  • Unique ModuVent™ design in side panel

Specification

  • 4x 5,25” bays, 1x 5,25” to 3,5” converter included
  • Mini-itx, micro ATX, ATX and E-ATX motherboards
  • 10x HDD trays. 4x HDD trays in the HDD cage in the main chamber. This HDD cage is removable and rotatable.(Space ~330mm with HDD Cage and without ~480mm) 6x HDD trays in the lower HDD chamber. These HDD cages are fixed.
  • A total of two 140mm fans and one 180mm fan included. Front 140mm fans are mounted with removable, washable filter. A fan controller is included, for mounting in one of the rear expansion slots.
  • Pre-fitted with dense noise absorbing material in both side panels.
  • ModuVent™ feature, allowing the user to choose between an optimal low noise level, having the cover mounted or optimal airflow by removing the cover and mounting a fan for intake.
  • On top of front panel: 4x USB 2.0, 1x eSATA and Audio I/O
  • Case size (WxHxD): 232x560x561.3mm
  • Net weight: 17.95kg

Cooling System

  • 2x 140mm fans (one 140mm included, one optional) with removable and washable filters, in the front. Recommended for intake of air.
  • 1x 120mm fan optional with removable and washable filter, in the front. Recommended for intake of air.
  • 1x 180mm fan included in the top of the case. Recommended for exhaust of air.
  • 1x 140mm fan included in the rear of the case. Recommended for exhaust of air.
  • 1x 120/140mm fan optional in the side of the case. Recommended for intake of air.

We were pleasantly surprised at the quality of the packaging surrounding the Define XL.  The sizable black box that is pictured above is very attractive and is actually supplied within an outer brown cardboard box for extra protection.  Inside these boxes we find the case, wrapped in plastic and sandwiched between two pieces of polystyrene.

The bundle of accessories that is supplied with the Define XL is quite plentiful.  Unfortunately, the screws aren’t supplied in seperate bags which can make it difficult when you are looking for specific sizes.  But there are plenty of screws provided alongside a number of cable ties.  Fractal also include a fan controller which lets you control the speed of the three included case fans using an adapter which fits into an add in card slot.

There are two colours of the Define XL available on the market; Black Pearl and Titanium Grey.  The sample we received is finished in ‘Black Pearl’ and we think it’s extremely attractive. Even though some of the product photos on the web make it look like the case is aluminium in construction, it is actually only the front panel that is finished in brushed aluminium.

The front of the case is actually a door which opens to reveal the optical drives and the front intake fan.  This means, when closed, the front of the case consists of a single sheet of unbroken brushed aluminium that creates a minimalist visage akin to that of cases we’ve seen from Lian Li in the past.  These intake fan is a 140mm model which is situated next to an additional fan vent so you can install a further intake fan.

On the top of the case at the front we find the power button alongside a generous selection of front panel connections.  These consist of four USB2.0 ports, an eSATA port and headphone and microphone jacks.  The lack of USB3.0 ports in the front panel is a little dissapointing considering the price of the case but these can easily be added at a later date using a 5.25″ adapter.  The circular power button is located in the centre and is surrounded by the LED blue power light.

Unlike most cases these days, there isn’t any roof exhaust vents in the top of the case.  Instead, the 180mm roof fan exhausts out of the back of the case alongside the 140mm rear exhaust fan.  Fractal have added some flare to the design by colouring the add-in card covers white which contrasts with the black used for the rest of the case.  These have slots in to help improve cooling.

On the underside of the case there is a vent for the PSU intake fan which is covered with a filter to prevent fluff and dust from your carpet from being sucked in.  On the left side panel of the case there is space for a further 140mm fan if desired.

The true size of the Define XL is apparent when the side panel of the case is removed.  This is very simple and only requires the removal of two thumbscrews.  Due to the steel construction of the case, the side panels are very heavy and can quite easily slip out of your hands.  Although the installation procedure itself isn’t any more difficult than with other cases, the installation guide is one of the worst we’ve experienced as it only has vague instructions and is completely unillustrated.

Fractal have compartmentalised the interior of the case to improve airflow and to force you to manage the PSU cables effectively.  Installing the PSU is a relatively simple process, requiring us to screw the PSU into a bracket in the back of the case.   We found we had to reinstall this bracket the opposite way up so that the PSU intake fan was positioned in front of the vent on the underside of the case.  There is a large cutout next to the PSU which provides ample room to route all your cables behind the motherboard tray.  This was perfectly positioned for our Corsair TX650W PSU but longer PSUs may obstruct part of this cutout.

In the bottom part of the case there are also six hard drive bays with removable trays.  The trays are coloured white to match the white highlights in the rest of the system.  There are three additional hard drive bays in the main compartment for the small proportion of people who will require more than six hard drives.  We decided to use a 128GB Kingston SSD in our system which is easily attached to the hard drive tray using four screws in the bottom.  Installing 3.5″ devices is just as simple, requiring four larger screws into the bottom of the tray.

Before we install the motherboard into the case, we are required to screw the motherboard standoffs into the motherboard tray.  The motherboard can them be screwed in on top of these.  To facilitate CPU cooler installation, there is a large cutout in the motherboard tray.  This is covered by a flap which is secured with a thumbscrew behind the motherboard tray.  Along the right hand side of the motherboard tray there are four cutouts for cable routing with a further one at the top.  Unfortunately there isn’t one above the CPU power connector due to the angled roof exhaust but the other cutout at the top can be used for this provided your cables are long enough.

There are also no cutouts at the bottom of the motherboard tray which makes it a little more complicated to route the front panel cables.  So we are forced to route all the cables through the four holes to the right of the motherboard unless we remove the plate between the PSU compartment and the main compartment.

At the back of the case, the seven add-in card covers are secured using thumbscrews.  There is an additional cover mounted vertically which is perfect for the fan controller that Fractal include in the bundle.  But we found that that thumbscrew was secured too tightly to undo by hand and we couldn’t get a screwdriver in there without removing the fan.  So we ended up installing the fan controller in the bottom add-in card slot.

We decided to use the AMD Phenom II X6 1090T Black Edition processor for testing alongside the very quite Noctua C12P CPU Cooler.  We have also chosen to use a Zotac GTX 470 GPU as we feel it reflects what those who buy a case at this price level will be using.

Test System

Chassis: Corsair Graphite 600T
Motherboard: Asus M4A89GTD Pro/USB3
CPU:
AMD Phenom II X6 1090T Black Edition
Memory:
Kingston HyperX 4GB (2x2GB) 2133MHz
PSU:
Corsair TX650W
Graphics Card:
Zotac GeForce GTX 470
Cooler:
Noctua C12P
Thermal Paste:
Arctic Cooling MX-3
Hard Drive:
Kingston SSDNow V+ 128GB

Windows 7 Home Premium 64 Bit
Furmark
Prime95
Everest Ultimate

For the temperature tests we installed a Samsung Spinpoint F3 hard drive into the system.  We overclocked the system by 10% to 3.5GHz using a baseclock of 220MHz and upping the core voltage to 1.35V. During the test we found that all the core temperatures were identical and moved together so the one listed value is correct for all six cores.  For the duration of the test, the room temperature was maintained at 20c.  The temperatures we achieved are on a par with what we’ve experienced with other cases at this price level.  But the noise emitted by the case is much lower even with the fans on maximum.

As for noise level performance, we weren’t actually able to record any worthwhile results.  For these tests we removed the GTX 470 from the system and replaced it with a passively cooled HD 5550 as we’ve found it to distort results in the past.  The Define XL is so quiet that it didn’t register on our noise level meter which means that it is below 30 dBA.  This was the case when the fans were turned up to their maximum speed – and turning them down made the case even quieter.

The Fractal Design Define XL certainly brings a lot to the table.  Even though the case is constructed mainly of steel, the aluminium front panel makes the Define XL a very attractive case.  It’s also free of the vibrations we’ve experienced in the past with Lian Li cases that can increase the noise level quite considerably.

The thermal performance of the case is also impressive, cooling our test system very effectively and with an inaudible noise level.  The latter of these is the most impressive quality for us as it really differentiates the Define XL from the competition which are far noisier on the whole.

The Fractal Design Define XL can be yours for a shade over £100 at Aria.co.uk.  This makes it quite good value for money and perfect for those looking to build a powerful air cooled system that remains very quiet even under load.  Those who are looking for a case with water cooling support should consider one of the alternatives, though, as there isn’t space for anything more than a 120mm radiator.

KitGuru says: A whisper quiet case that is built well and wont break the bank.

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