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Our testing methods
Here are the specifications of our test system:

Processor Intel Core i5-6600K
Motherboard ASRock Z170 Extreme7+
Memory 16GB (2x8GB) G.Skill Trident Z DDR4-3000
Graphics card Asus Strix Radeon R9 Fury
Storage Two Kingston HyperX 480GB SSDs
WD Black 1TB 7200 RPM hard drive
Power supply Seasonic SS-660XP2
CPU cooler Cooler Master MasterAir Pro 4
OS Windows 10 Pro

Our thanks to ASRock, G.Skill, Asus, Kingston, Western Digital, and Cooler Master for contributing parts to our test rig, and to Fractal Design for providing the Define C for review.

Our case-testing cycle consists of the following phases:

  • 10 minutes idling at the Windows 10 desktop
  • 10 minutes running the Prime95 Small FFTs CPU torture test
  • 10 minutes running Prime95 and the Unigine Heaven GPU benchmark
  • 10 minutes idling at the Windows desktop

We use the following software in our case tests:

  • Prime95 version 28.10
  • AIDA64 Engineer 5.80.4000
  • Unigine Heaven 4.0

Cooling performance
Here are the results of our cooling tests, plotted over time:

And here are the minimum and maximum temperatures of our test system's components during each testing stage:

You'll have to excuse us for a couple weird results in these tests—it seems an application was loading our graphics card in the Define C during its idle phase, and AIDA64 didn't gather hard-drive temperatures in the Define S. Even so, we think we have a pretty good picture of the cooling performance of these cases.

Despite the Define C's compact size and smaller fans, it's no less effective at cooling the system inside compared to the larger Define S and its 140-mm spinners. Both cases keep our test system's components within a couple degrees Celsius of each other, and none of the numbers suggest reason for worry.

Noise levels
Here are the noise levels we measured during the idle and load phases of our tests. Each measurement was made 18" from the top, left, right, and front of the cases being tested using the Faber Acoustical SoundMeter app running on an iPhone 6S Plus.

At idle, the Define C and Define S are both flirting with the noise floor of our testing environment. The only audible noise from either case is the sound of the hard drive motor in our WD Black 1TB drive. The Define S does emit more noise from its right side than the Define C does, however, possibly thanks to the close proximity of its hard-drive mounts to the right side panel. Under load, these Defines deliver practically identical sound pressure levels at every measurement point. That performance is in keeping with the Define C's thermal figures: it's not working any harder than the larger Define S to keep the components inside cool.

From a subjective standpoint, the Define C's included fans are just as good as the 140-mm fans in the Define S and Define R5. They're inaudible at any reasonable distance while the system inside idling, and they only add the slightest whooshiness to the case's noise character under load. That whooshiness is eclipsed by the sound of the graphics cooler on our Asus Strix R9 Fury card, so it's not a concern for folks trying to minimize component noise.

Honestly, if minimizing component noise is a priority, the best thing one can do for either of these cases is to ditch the hard drive. I measured a 28.5-dBA idle SPL from the left side of the Define C with the hard drive off—a major improvement considering how quiet these cases are to begin with. With the 3.5" mechanical drive out of the picture, these cases deliver near-silent computing.