It’s no secret that the RGB LED phenomenon that’s sweeping through the PC hardware world is, to put it mildly, not for everyone. Fractal Design seems to recognize the disdain some enthusiasts harbor for the blinkenlights. Its latest case eschews them completely in favor of a feature they hope will appeal to the more refined PC gamers out there. Marmot.
Yes, marmot. Faux marmot, thankfully, but still, we’re talking about a PC case covered in fur. I’m skeptical, but as it turns out, the inside of the Fractal Design Fur E is actually identical to the Define Nano S that we gave our coveted Editor’s Choice award to early last year. That leaves the primary difference served up by the Fur E as just the, uh, reskin of the outside. With that prestigious pedigree established, we’re going to focus this review on the Fur E’s rather dubious namesake. Without further ado, let’s find out whether or not you’re getting fleeced by getting fleeced.
There’s no hiding the fact that this is weird
Digging into the box
Things get hairy as soon as we start to check out the Fur E (literally—it sheds a bit). Fortunately, the marmot fur doesn’t impede access to the case in any way. All of the fur is attached to the four removable panels at the left, right, top, and front of the case. With the panels removed, the remaining frame bears none of the hallmarks of its name. It just looks normal. I know what you’re thinking, and we’ve already asked. Yes, Fractal is considering selling what it calls a “confursion” kit to existing Nano S owners who are itching to upgrade to the Fur E.
Believe it or not, these make a big difference
Besides the case itself, there are a few other goodies littered amongst the Fur E’s box. Of course, we find the traditional case hardware such as zip ties and mounting screws. Logically, but less traditionally, a pair of combs is thoughtfully included so you can style the case’s exterior to match your mood, your fan-speed profile, or whatever else blows you hair back.
The truth is, a little grooming really makes a difference. It was one of the weirder things I’ve ever done, but the combs transformed the somewhat disheveled looking case in the animation above into the rather dapper looking beast below. It seems to have sprouted some appendages along the way as well.
Featured in the picture above are the “soft-wears” that Fractal designed to accompany the case. The “tailganizer” is exactly what it sounds like: a cable organizer shrouded in fur. It attaches to the back of the case and purportedly alleviates some of the stress that cables and ports can experience while also keeping them tidy. Personally, I think it only exists to elicit attention, because I didn’t find it particularly useful. Your mileage may vary.
Finally, we have the repositionable ears. It seems to be a growing trend for PC cases to offer up a method of storing headphones, and at first, I thought these clearly cat-inspired ears existed for that purpose. However, it turns out they are merely a cosmetic touch. Chalk them up as slightly ridiculous but completely harmless. I did have to ask Fractal, though: why use faux marmot when the tailganizer and ears are obviously feline in nature? The company told me that “covering a case with fake cat fur would just be weird.” There you have it, folks.
I’m not much of a stylist, but I managed to produce a mohawk
Where to begin? Let’s just get this out of the way. I really like this crazy thing. There’s something about it that’s so obnoxiously charming that all my practical sensibilities go out the window. It would be easy to leave it there, and dismiss the Fur E as nothing more than evidence of overzealous marketing and underfunded R&D, but I think there’s at least some merit to the marmot-madness.
Believe it or not, Fractal isn’t the first PC hardware company to embrace the softer side. Noctua did some experimenting with flocked fans a few years back (in an effort to reduce noise) but the fuzzy fans never made it to market. That’s not the only example, though. Oculus and Google are currently pulling the wool over your eyes, so to speak, by selling VR headsets covered in fabric. That’s basically all faux fur is, fabric. Even CPU coolers have gotten peltier again lately. At any rate, whether it’s through headphone covers, computer chairs, or wrist rests, chances are you’re in contact with PC-specific fabric right now, so why not cases?
After spending some time with with the Fur E, it turns out there are a few reasons “why not cases.” We’ll get to them later, though, because I have a surprising number of positive things to cover.
Inside the enclosure: A new look at case reviewing – Spherical Image – RICOH THETA
Fish Labs does not have access to the monitoring equipment or exact PC hardware that we usually use for thermal and noise testing. Unfortunately, that means I don’t have any empirical data to share about the Fur E’s characteristics in those measures. I expect that the Fur E’s purrformance would be similar or identical to the Nano S, though. Eagle-eyed gerbils will note that the 360-degree photo above betrays that the Fur E’s accessory box sports a Nano S description. They really are the same case on the inside.
As you can see from the inside and out, the faux marmot doesn’t appear to block the intakes or the exhaust of the case. I also highly doubt its insulating factor is significant considering the constant airflow. What was noticeable, however, was the impact the Fur E had on ambient noise. In a sparsely decorated room, with a hard floor, it acted like a four-sided anechoic panel and lowered the noise floor more than a little. Neat.
Artist’s rendition of what the proper test rig would have looked like
We complain about shiny surfaces being finger print magnets on a regular basis. The industry seems to have gotten the hint as of late and choices for matte surfaces are plentiful. Fractal seems to have fully cracked the code, because the Fur E’s coat is both glossy and completely immewn to fingerprints. Furthermore, unlike cleaning up fingerprints, if the Fur E starts to look a little shaggy, it’s actually kind of soothing to pet the hair back into place. That psychological boost is also nice to have at hand in the event of a BSOD, ranked match loss, or when dealing with comment trolls.
Along those lines, there’s a bit more to know about the care and feeding of the Fur E. We all know that any case that’s worth its salt will filter the air that goes into it through some kind of mesh or screen. The Fur E goes one step further because its hair exponentially increases the case’s surface area and thus, the amount of dust, it can hold on the outside of the case. That’s great, because any dust that’s clinging to the Fur E isn’t floating freely around the rest of your house. Moreover, we’re talking about a case that will practically never appear to be dusty. Like a real cat, though, that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t periodically get a bath. Here’s how to clean it.
Curious to hear what aspects of the Fur E I didn’t like so much? Well, you know what they say about curiosity and cats. This story starts and ends on a positive note but I’m putting it in the “against” column to serve as a minor warning. The Fur E’s cat approval factor is high. Our cats seemed to recognize that it was not competing with them for food or attention. They quickly discovered that it was much more comfy than an ordinary computer case and adorably began laying on top of it (as one does). This wouldn’t really be a problem save for the fact that the Fur E inherited a top-mounted power switch from the Nano S. See where this is going?
It turned out not to be a case of curiosity killing the cat, but the cat’s curiosity killing, or at least turning off, the PC. With the hard drive LED tantalizingly positioned right in front of the easily-activated button, and one cat or another nearly constantly occupying the most sought-after perch in the house, using the PC was nigh impossible. It was simply being turned off all the time. I reached out to Fractal to find out if it had experienced the same problem during testing. Remarkably, the reply I received not only confirmed that the problem wasn’t a specific incomcatibility with my own household’s pride, but that Fractal had already produced a solution. I pounced on the chance to test it out.
Behold, the Paw Guard!
In this case, the solution was a simple bumper that protects the power button from cat-strikes and vaguely resembles a paw print. It also blocks the blinking hard drive indicator from the perspective of any cat on top of the case. It is simply attached to the case by means of double stick tape. Here’s how it looks in action.
The results were effective and the guard prevented further catastrophe. Since the guard will only be necessary for some users, it is not included with the case. The .3mf part file is freely available, though, and anyone that wants to print one for themselves can do so. I’m fortunate enough to have a few friends with 3D printers so it was no trouble for me to get ahold of the final product. If the printers you have access to are dimensionally challenged, you can order up the part using the 3D Builder app from the Windows Store or other 3D printing service of your choice.
If that all seems like a bit much, I have a pro-tip for Fur E owners with problematic cats to try instead. When you assemble your PC, don’t connect the power switch to the front-panel header on the motherboard. Instead, connect the reset switch to the power switch pins. It’s much smaller and much less likely to be accidentally(?) triggered by a cat’s paw.
Speaking of assembly, one thing you should definitely do if you ever build a PC into a Fur E of your own is immediately remove all the panels from the case and stash them far away from the assembly area. The case’s dust filters should keep case’s own hair at bay during normal use, but you don’t want the fur flying anywhere near exposed CPU pins, DIMM slots, or other defenseless internal connections.
One more minor complaint about the Fur E is that the thumbscrews on the side panels can be difficult to operate. It’s easy to get the fur pinched between them and your fingers. This isn’t a dealbreaker by any means, but there is a cut-out on the front panel to allow the hard drive indicator LED to be visible. It would be nice if the area around the thumbscrews had been given the same amount of thoughtfulness.
More than skin-deep?
How do you write a TL;DR summary of a PC case that’s fuzzier than 5-year old frame time graphs? Suffice it to say that with the Fur E, Fractal has really gone out on a limb. The classic black and red “gamer colors” alone are a bit of a stretch for a company that traditionally favors monochromatic styling. I don’t know what kind of maniacal mind dreamed this up, or how the chain of command allowed it to come into existence, but I’m really glad it’s here for me to share with you today.
Ultimately, my initial positive response to the Fur E stuck with me just like the hair it sheds. Sure, it has some strange idiosyncrasies, and the list of tangible benefits is within a whisker of being completely fabricated. I’m perfectly comfortable with that, though (there’s some self-editing even Tim Gunn would be proud of). A couple cautionary tails aside, the Fur E is firmly in, “well, it doesn’t really hurt anything” territory. I think even mildly-eccentric gerbils would be happy to have the Fur E purring away at their desk.