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Fractal Design’s Define R3 chassis, which we reviewed in January 2011, impressed us with its combination of functionality and customizability at a low price. The Define R4 is an updated version of that chassis, and like its predecessor is tricked out for noise control—if not enthusiast building.
The first question you’ll ask yourself when you unscrew the thumbscrews and remove the side panel from the Define R4 will probably be, “Where are the 5.25-inch bays?” Like its predecessor, the R4 comes with just two. That’s not the best of news for those looking to do anything but slap an optical drive into their rigs. Water coolers will have to look elsewhere to place a reservoir. Unlike in the R3, the cage holding the top five (of eight) 3.5-inch bays slides right out of the case—perfect for those needing a bit of extra room for a long videocard, a pump/reservoir setup, or just good ol’-fashioned airflow. The back of the motherboard tray can hold up to two SSDs, but the mounting system amounts to a few extra screw holes in the tray. Hardly fancy.
The Define R4 isn't much to look at on the outside, but Fractal Design has made some good tweaks to the system's insides to take it above and beyond its predecessor.
The drive trays require four screws each to secure your drives into place through rubber washers. The case’s 5.25-inch bays also require screws. In other words, there’s nothing toolless about this case, except the process of snapping fans onto the chassis’ front, which can accommodate two clip-in fans or a slimline 240mm radiator.
The case comes with the standard armada of rubber-grommeted cable-routing holes around the motherboard area, as well as a larger CPU backplate cutout than was found in the R3. The routing holes are smaller than on many other cases; at least there are a number of them to work with. The rubber grommets have been beefed up from the flimsy ones found in the R3. A built-in fan controller, while a convenient touch, requires a Molex connector for power. On the plus side, it makes it a lot easier to hook up the case’s two major fans: 14cm intake and exhaust fans (no LEDs).
We love sound-dampening foam, especially when it doesn’t hurt a case’s ability to keep your system cool.
Installing the motherboard standoffs was a bit of a pain, given that one of the drilled-in standoff holes was too big for the standoff itself. Those looking to install additional cooling into the case at the expense of silence can unscrew two top panels to add additional 12- or 14-centimeter fans or a slim 240mm radiator (though you’ll have a tight squeeze). Otherwise, the foam-covered panels stay put. It’s a great method for giving builders the best of both cooling and soundproofing. A similar setup can be found on the case’s side panel, which builds in room for a single 14-centimeter fan.
Two front-panel USB 3.0 ports and two USB 2.0 ports (found on the top of the case) are all the connectivity you get on this system. And that’s just fine with us, especially since the USB 3.0 is an internal header instead of a pass-through.
With the stock fans in place, the Define R4’s thermal performance was around the middle of the pack—nothing to write home about, which is good news for a case designed to be quiet, since they can often run a little hot. Though it isn’t perfect, it’s hard to deny the pleasantness of Fractal Design’s Define R4 case if silence and savings are your big concerns. It’s essentially the same case as the R3, with some modest but much-needed improvements.
Plenty of drive storage; built-in fan controller; good connectivity (and lots of fan mounts).
Nothing’s screwless; tougher design for more extreme system builds; limited 5.25-inch bay support.