Fractal Design’s Define R3—the first Fractal case that will be widely available in the States—marries cool Scandinavian design with a hefty dose of acoustic foam and lots of nice touches.
It’s easy to install a 12cm or 14cm fan on the side panel in place of that acoustic damping foam.
The Define R3 is available in four colors: black, grey, silver, and white. We chose the white one because, damn, something about an all-white case with a great paint job just gives us the warm-and-fuzzies. And it really is a great paint job—it’s all smooth and glossy on the outside and matte on the inside, like the gods intended. The case’s frame and panels are all steel, and the side panels are quite heavy—due in part to the dense sound-absorbing foam panels they include. The case includes a nicely weighted front-panel door (with the hinges on the left), with acoustic foam on the inside and side vents so the front fans can continue to pull air into the chassis.
The Define R3 ships with just two 12cm fans (front and rear), but it has room for five more. Behind the front door are two easy-open filtered fan bays—the top one is unoccupied, but easy to clip a second fan into. The top panel has room for two 12cm or 14cm fans, but by default those openings are covered with black plastic-and-foam acoustic damping panels; there’s another of these setups on the left side panel. The panels can be loosened to allow some airflow, or removed entirely, so you can either mount fans in the spaces or leave them empty for increased airflow (and noise). Up to three fans are controllable by a variable-speed fan controller that mounts in one of the case’s seven PCI-E expansion slots.
The eight hard drive trays are nice (and can hold SSDs, too), but we’d trade a few of ‘em for enough room to run a Radeon 5970.
The motherboard tray includes a cutout for CPU coolers and several grommeted cable-routing holes. Unfortunately, the routing cutouts are rounded rectangles, and the grommets are very easy to knock out and hard to put back in. They’re also awkwardly placed. [Edit: see update below] One, which is in a perfect position to route the 8- and 24-pin ATX power cables behind the motherboard tray, can only do so for standard-size PSUs. Longer PSUs are still supported (if you remove the fan mount at the bottom of the case). There are several cable tie-downs on the back of the mobo tray, but due to the acoustic padding there’s not much room between the side panel and the mobo tray.
With the stock fans and ModuVent panels in place, the case is very quiet, even with our CPU cooler running full blast. GPU temperatures were quite high, which is to be expected from a case without a side air intake (though that can be added easily), while CPU temperatures were on par with the NZXT Phantom (reviewed in the January issue). CPU temperatures dropped further when we removed the ModuVent panels—adding more fans would help, too.
Despite a few quirks, overall build quality is great, and with the Define R3, Fractal’s done a great job of reducing case noise while still allowing for easy insertion of more fans. At $120 for the white version and $110 for the others, the Define R3 is priced to move. If the understated and classy design of the Define R3 speaks to you, it’s nice to know you don’t have to choose between acoustic performance and the potential to add more fans.
Update 06 Jan 2011 12pm PST: We spoke to Fractal Design, and they told us that the rectangular grommeted cable-routing holes have been improved and that all Define R3 chassis sold in the United States will have the new updated design. We plan to meet with Fractal on Saturday and will report back about the new cable routing holes at that point.