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Fractal Design's Define R5 case reviewed

Boxy but good
— 8:01 PM on February 22, 2015

Design is a big deal in technology products these days, no matter where you look. "Designed by Apple in California" is a household phrase, thanks to the iPhone, iPad, and iPod. Google used a significant portion of its last I/O keynote to philosophize about its new Material Design toolkit. The box of the Dyson vacuum tells the story of its genesis in exacting detail. If a company wants to make its products stand out these days, having a Jony Ive, James Dyson, or Matías Duarte on staff seems to help.

Fractal Design's Define R5 is the latest in the company's Define series of enclosures. Although I'm not aware of a celebrity designer on Fractal's payroll, the company still makes a big deal of its design chops, and the evolutionary progression of the Define series is very Apple-like. Aside from the fact that "design" is right there in the name, Fractal's website and product literature are rich with discussions of Scandinavian design philosophy. The R5 itself has "Designed in Sweden" stamped into its sheet metal, in case you weren't getting the message.

To paraphrase a Steve Jobs-ism, however, it's important to remember that design isn't just about how something looks, but also how it works. Companies can pay as much lip service as they like to the idea of good design, but the rubber has to hit the road at some point. Let's see whether Fractal Design's Scandinavian approach has produced an enclosure that measures up.

The Define R5 seems to follow the same design principles as the Ikea furniture in my home: clean, understated, and perhaps a little plain. If Corsair's Graphite Series 380T is the Ferrari 458 Italia of cases, the Define R5 is the Volvo 740 wagon. The only real flourishes on the R5 are the contrasting white expansion slot covers and fans, plus four chrome feet. Even the twin USB 3.0 ports are colored black instead of the eye-catching blue most other cases use. Fractal emphasizes quiet as a major goal of the Define series, and that theme extends to the R5's visual presence.

Those black USB 3.0 ports are up top along with the usual headphone and mic jacks, a pair of USB 2.0 ports, and a large power button flanked by a tiny, sunken reset button. If the non-standard USB 3.0 port coloration might cause confusion, at least it's hard to reset the R5 by mistake. A combination power and disk activity LED is nestled into the center of the front panel, as well. Fractal uses a blue LED here, though it's mercifully not the eye-searing kind of blue that's tainted so much hardware in recent years.

I haven't built a PC with a front door in a long time (remember Antec's P180?), but the concept has lived on in the Define series. Not only does the door help to keep the exterior clean-looking, but it's also the first line of defense in the Define R5's silencing features. Opening the door reveals a foam-lined interior, similar to the Cooler Master Silencio 652S that Cyril recently reviewed. Fractal Design has lined the side and top panels of the R5 with this foam, too. While the door might look like it's made of metal, it's really just thick plastic with a metallic veneer.

Behind the door is an easily removable dust filter, a single Fractal Design Dynamic GP14 140-mm fan, and two 5.25" bays. The door can be easily swapped to open from either side of the case, although it's not a tool-free process. The switch for the Define R5's built-in, three-speed fan controller can also be found here.

Around back, there's another 140-mm spinner, seven expansion slots, and a mount for the power supply at the bottom of the case. No surprises there.

One other thing that caught my notice out of the box: the Define R5 is dense, likely thanks to all of the sound-deadening foam inside. Despite being a little smaller than my own Corsair Obsidian 450D, the R5 weighs almost 10 pounds more, at 24.7 lbs (11.2 kg) versus the Obsidian's 15.4 lbs (7 kg). That's even heavier than the massive XFX Type-01 Series Bravo Edition, which weighs in at 23 lbs (10.4 kg).

Here's the spec sheet for the Define R5, for easy cross-referencing with our other reviews:

  Fractal Design Define R5
Dimensions (W x H x D) 9.1" x 18.2" x 20.9"  (232 x 462 x 531 mm)
Supported motherboards Mini-ITX, microATX, ATX
3.5" drive bays 8
2.5" drive bays 10 (8 2.5" or 3.5" combo bays, 2 dedicated)
5.25" drive bays 2
Fan mounts 8
Included Fans 1x Fractal Design Dynamic GP14 140-mm front intake
1x Fractal Design Dynamic GP14 140-mm rear exhaust
Front panel I/O 2x USB 3.0
2x USB 2.0
Max. graphics card length 12.2" (310 mm) with top 3.5" cage installed
17.3" (440 mm) with top 3.5" cage removed
Max. CPU cooler height 7" (180 mm)
Gap behind motherboard 1.5"

The Define R5's base price is $109.99, placing it squarely in competition with our favorite mid-tower, the Corsair Obsidian 450D. I may sound like a broken record when I compare the cases I test to the 450D, but we really like Corsair's midrange mid-tower here at TR, and as of yet, we haven't found another enclosure that matches its solid mix of virtues.

The Define R5 I'm reviewing today has two optional features: a windowed side panel and a titanium-colored front panel. The base R5 comes in black or white finishes and lacks the windowed panel. Adding a windowed panel to the black or white R5 is a $10 extra, while the titanium-finished version is $119.99, windowed or not.

Now that we've seen the exterior of the Define R5, let's see what Fractal's design chops have wrought inside.