Posted by Chris Scott Barr on Mar 6, 2013

Review – Fractal Design R4

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The chassis you choose for your PC can have a lot of impact on the rest of your gaming system. Obviously, the size will determine just what components will fit in. But things like your system temperature and noise will be greatly determined by the case. We’ve taken a look at a number of cases over the years, however, today we’re going to look at our first one from Fractal Design.

Exterior

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They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Depending on who is looking at the Define R4, it might be called anything from plain to elegant. Personally, I think that in a world of flashy cases, Fractal Design manages to find that balance of understated beauty. You’ll find no fancy windows or colored fans here. In fact, the only light you see are a single ring around the power button, and a strip just in front of that same button.

The front of the case is a plain, brushed aluminum, while the rest of the case is a traditional matte black. While the smooth front face looks great, it does attract fingerprints very easily. You shouldn’t be touching it too often, as you’ll open the door by gently using two fingers on the side of it (there is a small cutout for grasping the door). Behind the front cover you’ll see more black, but this time everything is plastic.

You’ll find two 5.25” covers, which you can use for optical drives (or other devices). Next to those is a three-way switch that lets you adjust fan voltage. You can select 5V, 7V or 12V here. Just below the drive bays is a large plastic vent. By pressing in on two spots, you can fold out the vent to reveal a pair of 140/120mm fan slots, one of which is already used by a 140mm fan. You’ll also have access to the air filters, which are in front of the fans.

On the reverse side of the door is a thin pad of noise-reducing material. While you might be concerned that this would impede airflow, the front fans direct air out of vents in the front of the case, on either side of the door.

On top of the case you’ll find space for a pair of 120/140mm fans. Neither is used by default, so they have been covered with a plate on the inside to reduce noise. At the front you’ll find your power button at the center, with the reset button and audio jacks to the left. On the right are two USB 3.0 ports, and a pair of USB 2.0 ports.

The left side panel has room for a single 140mm fan, but is covered just as the ones on the top are. The right side panel is plain, with no discerning features.. The back is fairly basic, with a single 140mm fan (included), and an additional expansion slot to the right of the standard PCI slots. Underneath the case are four rubber feet, a single 140/120mm fan slot, and a removable fan filter.

Interior

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Inside, you’ll find room for two 5.25” drives, and up to 8 3.25” or 2.25” drives. What’s interesting is that the hard drive bays are broken up into two different cages. The top cage holds five drives, and the bottom holds three. Either can be removed to accommodate larger graphics cards and the like. The bottom one can even be repositioned a couple of inches away from the front of the case. This is likely to make room for a front-mounted radiator. The top cage can be rotated 90 degrees, should you prefer the older style of drive mounting. You could actually remove both hard drive cages. Normally, you wouldn’t want to do that, as you’d have no place to put your hard drives. We’ll address that in just a minute.

I like the fact that the hard drive bays are actually metal. Some manufacturers will skimp on this and go with a plastic tool-less design, that usually involves awkwardly bending the plastic drive holder to get the drive to pop into place. You’ll need to use screws with these, and they do include rubber “feet” for 3.5” spinning hard drives. This adds a layer of padding that helps reduce a bit of noise in your case. As for removing the drives, you just pinch together the two tabs that stick out, and pull. When putting them back in, each one locks into place with a satisfying “click.”

On the back plate you’ll find an open area where the CPU would normally sit, which always makes it easier when swapping out a CPU cooler. There are three different cutouts for cable management, each with rubber inserts. If that’s not enough, the entire area behind the drive bays is open, so you can run cables back behind the motherboard from there.

Like most cases these days, your power supply mounts at the bottom on the Define R4. They have included a set of rubber feet for the PSU to sit on, and lined the rear opening with the same materials. This serves to dampen any vibrations that might be caused by the fan, and reduce noise. Speaking of noise-reducing material, both side panels are covered with this.

Around on the other side of the case, you’ll be very happy to find a full inch of space for routing cables. This is probably one of my favorite features, as I spend a lot of time on each build making sure that cables are routed properly and looking good. I’m more than happy to have a case that’s a little wider than the rest, if it gives me that extra space for running cables.

Normally, that would be all of interest on the flip side of the case. However, Fractal Design decided to add a little something special back here. Really, it’s only eight additional holes in the motherboard plate. However, these are in place so that you can mount two SSD’s, which allows you to completely remove all eight of the drive bays from their normal spots.

While this does seem like it could be a great feature, there is a downside to mounting your SSD’s back here. The screws you’ll use enter from the other side of the motherboard tray. This means that your drives can only be added or removed before the motherboard has been installed. I’m a guy that likes to plan ahead, and plan for worst-case scenarios, so I really don’t like the idea of having to remove my video card, and motherboard, just to swap out an SSD. If you aren’t worried about that sort of thing, utilizing this additional mounting area can add to an even cleaner and less-cluttered case.

Conclusion

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The Define R4 from Fractal Design is a great case for those who don’t like a lot of flash, but do want a solid case. Aside from the front cover, virtually everything on the case is metal, which I love. Sure, it’s a bit heavier to tote around to LAN parties, but I like feeling as though my case is built like a tank.

The case has a surprising number of useful features, despite its ordinary appearances. You’ll find sound dampening in several places, and dust filters on the intake fans. Depending on what components you have, there are eight different ways you can arrange the two groups of hard drive bays, including removing them all, and mounting an SSD to the back of your motherboard plate.

A fan controller for the three included fans makes sure that you get the proper balance between airflow and noise. Fractal Design has taken a number of measures to make sure that cable routing will be a piece of cake, including giving you roughly an inch of space between the motherboard plate and the side panel.

The biggest negatives that most people will find with this case are the weight, and plain design. Personally, I see these as positives, but it really just comes down to personal preference. Some people might complain about the $130 price tag on something that isn’t terribly flashy. I think it’s worth the money, however. Overall, it’s a solid case, with enough features to make most builders very happy.

 

Written by Chris Scott Barr

Born and raised in Indiana, Chris grew up on a healthy diet of video games and Magic: The Gathering. He worked a number of jobs in the IT field before deciding to pursue his passion by founding GamerFront in 2007. You can follow him on Twitter here.

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