Look, ma, no drive cages
The Define S is strikingly different inside compared to any other ATX mid-tower I've used. The main chamber is completely open from front to back, with no provisions for storage devices of any kind. Cutting out the drive cages seems mostly like a cost-cutting measure, but Fractal uses the space freed up this way to make some interesting provisions for custom liquid-cooling setups.
The sheet metal in front of the motherboard tray, where drive cages would typically go, is instead perforated with groups of pegboard-like holes. These holes can be used to mount a liquid-cooling pump or reservoir using a set of included brackets. The open design could benefit air-cooled builds, too: airflow from the front fan mounts has an unobstructed path to the rest of the system. Out of the box, a single Fractal Design Dynamic GP14 140-mm fan blows air into the case, and another at the rear handles exhaust duties.
The motherboard tray of the Define S is inset like its fancier sibling's, though it's not as complicated a stamping. I really like this design, since it makes room for taller tower-style air coolers without making the case itself wider. A ring of large rubber grommets surrounds the tray for clean cable routing.
Here's the Define S's party trick: Fractal puts three 2.5" or 3.5" combo sleds behind the pegboard area, plus another pair of 2.5" sleds behind the motherboard tray. This design makes perfect sense, but I'm curious to see what effect it has on drive temperatures, since there's no direct airflow to any of the storage mounts—just some vent holes in the front panel of the case.
This is also all the room you get for storage. There's no way to add drive cages to the main chamber without some custom work. Be careful about adding too many 3.5" hard drives into your cart if you're building a system around the Define S.
Fractal includes its trademark hook-and-loop cable straps behind the motherboard, but room for cable routing here is rather sparse compared to the Define R5's generous 1.5" all-around. In the 3.5" drive area, there's about 1.6" (40 mm) of cable space, but directly behind the motherboard, clearances fall to about 0.8" (20 mm). Most cables should be able to run through the roomier drive area, so the tight clearances might not be a problem in practice. We'll see in a moment.
Popping out the ModuVents up top reveals a series of offset fan and radiator mounts. The offset design leaves two inches (50 mm) between the motherboard tray and a 140-mm radiator, while 120-mm heat exchangers clear the tray by 2.8" (70 mm). Fractal cautions that 140-mm-based radiator stacks shouldn't exceed 2.2" (55 mm) in thickness here, though 120-mm-based setups aren't subject to that limitation.
On the floor of the case, there are the usual rubber mounting feet for PSUs along with another 120-mm or 140-mm fan mount. Up front are mounting points for a liquid-cooling pump. Fractal says a wide range of Laing DDC and D5-type pumps can be mounted here, but be sure to check the mount's dimensional drawing in the manual before buying any parts.
Putting it all together
Building a system in the Define S is remarkably easy. The only way it could have gone better is if the case had put the PC together for me. Get on that, Fractal.
Without a liquid-cooling loop in the Define S, a lot of space in the main chamber goes unused. That certainly makes for a more open airflow path, but this case really cries out for a custom loop. The pegboard area and pre-drilled pump mounting holes are expressly designed to make the installation of that equipment easier.
Unfortunately, I don't have a custom loop on my parts shelf, but I am going to test out the next-best thing. Cooler Master's Nepton 240M fits nicely on the Define S's top panel, and I've set it up as an exhaust here. After popping out a pair of ModuVents, installing the 240M was a snap. (This picture is from the Define R5, but the two cases use identical top panels.)
Storage mounting and cable routing are both effortless in this case, aside from one minor point: the inset motherboard tray doesn't work with right-angle SATA cables, so make sure to have some regular ones on hand. The built-in hook-and-loop straps work great, and I had no problems getting the right side panel back on, even with a full complement of power and data cables running behind the motherboard.
With the Casewarmer system in place, let's move on to cooling and noise performance testing.
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