Under the hood
I said it once before, but it's worth mentioning again. The inside of the Define R3 is just plain pretty. The two-tone theme, with its white drive trays, fan blades, and slot covers accenting a black powder-coated interior, provides a visual wow factor not found among the case's competitors.
Inside, you'll find eight 3.5" drive trays, which should give hard drive pack-rats a warm fuzzy feeling inside. Rubber mounts are included on all of the trays to reduce vibration noise. Holes are also provided in each tray to accommodate a 2.5" SSD or mechanical hard drive, which is a welcome future-proofing feature. You don't get vibration damping for the 2.5" mounts, but solid-state drives don't need it.
Those who can't be bothered to pick up a screwdriver will be disappointed to learn that the R3 has few tool-free amenities. All drives must be affixed to their sleds using old-fashioned screws, as must any devices mounted in the 5.25" bays. Even the thumbscrews that are sprinkled throughout the case will require a helping hand to loosen up initially.
Two 5.25" bays are available for optical drives, card readers, (flush) fan controllers, or retractable cup holders. An adapter and faceplate are included to facilitate mounting a single 3.5" external device, as well. The frugal external bay count may be a deal-breaker for some enthusiasts, but for most usage scenarios, two slots should prove sufficient.
Other niceties found inside the Define R3 include a foam-coated power supply mount and a generously proportioned cutout in the motherboard tray for mounting aftermarket CPU coolers. Five rubber-trimmed cable management holes are also present in the motherboard tray; happily, the rubber is rigid enough to prevent the grommets from dislodging as cables are routed through them.
Despite shipping with only two fans, the Define has immense airflow potential. From the factory, you get one 120-mm fan up front and another around back. The case can accommodate up to five additional fans, including one more 120-mm unit in the front, two 120- or 140-mm spinners up top, one 120- or 140-mm fan at the bottom, and another one in the side panel. Fractal also includes a simple rheostat fan controller that's mounted in an expansion slot and is capable of managing the speed up to three fans with a single knob.
Building a system inside the Define was an almost entirely pleasant experience. The R3 can accommodate ATX, microATX, or Mini ITX motherboards alongside graphics cards up to 11.5" (290 mm) in length. High-end cards like the Radeon HD 6970 and GeForce GTX 580 will slot in without issue. However, the non-removable hard drive cage inhibits the use of longer dual-GPU designs like the Radeon HD 6990. Incidentally, removable drive cages are featured in Mini and XL versions of the Define, which offer more than 15 inches of graphics card clearance.
Speaking of clearances, the PSU bay can handle power supplies up to 6.7" (170 mm) long without conflicting with the bottom fan mount. Longer PSUs will fit, but you won't be able to add a bottom-mounted fan alongside them.
It really is the little things that seem to make or break the building experience. Are there any sharp edges lurking inside, thirsty for blood? Do the motherboard standoff holes line up precisely and have smooth, sturdy threads? Has powder coating gummed up the screw holes throughout the case? Happily, the R3 is stellar on all counts. The steel frame's rolled edges make it difficult to mutilate one's hands, and the standoff points and screw holes are exact and resistant to cross-threading. The sense of cheapness I experienced inside the BitFenix Shinobi case we reviewed recently was simply non-existent when working with the Define R3.
Unfortunately, the Define does fall a little short when it comes to cable management. There is very little room behind the motherboard tray to tuck cables away, and the acoustic material, while thin, reduces that available space even more. The resulting gap between the tray and right side panel is only wide enough to accommodate the thickness of a 24-pin motherboard power connector. With little room to spare, I was unable to hide all of our test system's excess cabling behind the motherboard tray—a first among the cases I've reviewed. Owners of modular power supplies will probably be able to maneuver their excess cabling into position behind the motherboard tray, but the monstrous tentacles of our OCZ unit proved to be more than the R3 could handle. I had to stuff them behind the hard drive bays, which is less than ideal.
Cable management is further hampered by the fact that there are no cut-outs along the top of the motherboard tray to allow the auxiliary 12V power cable to be routed cleanly. Tie-downs for cabling are in short supply, as well, and the meager supply of six puny cable ties included in the case's accessory kit is an apt metaphor for the overall cable management experience. Few management considerations are built into the design, and where they do exist, they come up short compared to other cases in this class.
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