Got my new desktop up and running yesterday, and thought I'd share some first impressions as this forum has been a crucial source of information and support for my two silent-PC builds so far.
The system is an i5-750 backed up by Asus Direct-CU HD5850 and 4GB of Corsair Dominator DDR3 on an Asus P7P55D-E PRO mobo. It's all neatly tucked in the Fractal Define R2 case, which is the primary subject of this short review. The whole shebang is powered by a Corsair TX650W psu.
To clarify where I'm coming from, and equally what I'm going for, this is my second attempt at building a quiet (not necessarily silent) gaming and media center PC. The first one was an Antec P180 wrapped around two passively cooled 7600GTs and an Athlon X2 CPU, which modestly speaking has been the quietest gaming rig I've ever had - or seen anyone else have, for that matter.
While the primary uses of the system in everyday use are movies and music, it is also intended to serve as the primary gaming platform even for the latest titles whenever required. Thus, the aim is yet again to have a reasonably powerful gaming platform without too much audible idle noise.
Without going into too much detail, the components specified above were selected primarily not for their silent potential, but for their good performance-to-cost ratio. Most care regarding quietness was taken in the selection of the GPU, in that I avoided buying a card with the ATI reference cooler. This time around I was forced to ditch the idea of having a passively cooled GPU due to there simply not being any in the targeted performance category. However Asus' offering with its proprietary heatpipe-fan-design did reasonably well in reviews and user commentaries, and had a competitive price to top it all, so I leaped at the chance. I knew in advance that, forgoing the passive alternative, this would likely be the loudest single component in the system. Still, no after-market cooler at least yet.
Cooling for the processor is provided by the Noctua U12P with a single fan on the heatsink and the second placed as the case exhaust fan. Case cooling is provided by two supplied 120mm fans at the front, as well as one Scythe 120mm on the bottom intake.
Other components worthy of mention are the WD Caviar Green 1.5TB hard drive, selected in no small part due to recommendations received from SPCR. Quietness was favored over extreme performance here as well, but I didn't want to go to the other extreme by selecting a 5400rpm drive or a notebook drive. The OS and programs run on Kingston SSDNow! V+ drive, that won the bid over a Corsair drive only because the latter was not available.
The last item to be mentioned is the horrific, years old Samsung Writemaster DVD-drive that I threw in temporarily just for the installation process. The thing sounds like a gas-turbine Cessna - not when reading and writing during installation, but when spinning up on idle with a disk in the drive. I plan to replace it with a Plextor PX800A that has served me remarkably quietly in the old Antec build.
The case itself was probably the toughest single selection I had to make. I knew the Antec P180 intimately, and had worked the P182 on another build as well, so the P183 was my first object of desire. I read on alternatives but the only one to match up was the Fractal Define R2. I knew that in many aspects it was like P180-lite, lacking some of the improvements of P183, but ultimately it was the price and my own curiosity that tipped the scales in its favor.
The R2 did not let me down. I could wrap this review up in short by saying that it far surpassed my expectations on the acoustic front, and is one superb case easily on par with the more expensive Antec cases. But let's go a little further.
The first thing to impress me was the build quality. Based on some early reviews and the price I expected something cheap and flimsy-ish. But the case is really sturdy and well-crafted, and oozes quality. No shame in leaving this in plain sight.
Once you get into the installation phase, however, some minor glitches do present themselves. First, while installing the mobo, the great idea of having a hole in the back panel to ease CPU cooler installation proved not so great in execution. The hole is too small and slightly misplaced for the P55 chipset and Intel socket. The back plate for the CPU cooler did not fit in the hole reserved for it, nor did it fit between the mobo and the case back panel. So the cooler had to be installed out of the case, and then the CPU socket back plates would push against the edges of the hole in the back panel of the case, and bend them slightly backwards when the mobo was tightened with screws. Somewhat higher stand-offs to give more room between the mobo and the back panel would be needed.
The second minor glitch was with the mobo IO panel. The hole reserved for it was again slightly misplaced (by a couple of mm or so), so that the IO panel did not quite match the ports on the motherboard. The result is a slightly bent IO panel and partly obstructed ports. No biggie though, as its purely a cosmetic issue.
The case surprised me positively with the ease of installation. For such a small case (compared to the P180) there's plenty of room to work with. The cable management is excellent (although the rubber around the holes could be stiffer) and there's good room for excess wiring. The only minor issue is the narrow space between the motherboard back panel and the case side panel. Still, with cable ties and some planning even the thick, round wires of the Corsair PSU fit in nice and tidy.
One thing the R2 lacks are the plentiful soft-mounting opportunities that the Antec cases offer. I thought this might be a defining deficit, as all of the case fans, not to mention the optical drive, are bolted directly onto the metal frames of the case. The only component to have softening rubber grommets is the HDD. However, given the tight fitting of the fans, I noticed no vibrations or resonance whatsoever. Sitting beside the P180 with it's all soft-mounted fans, I think the R2 actually has a quieter profile when it comes to fan noise. The rigid case and the thick bitumen pads inside really give a great acoustic environment. Still, it would have been nice to be able to fit some rubber between the optical drive and the case, especially when the drive doesn't sit as firmly in the cage as the fans and HDDs do.
My last gripe with the case is with the intake filters, great as they are in (hopefully) keeping the system dust-free in a positive air pressure setup (not so great in a conventional negative pressure setup, as the intake air would be sucked in from holes everywhere, bypassing the filters). The filters are removable, but they are fastened with screws and are mounted together with the fans. This makes cleaning arduous, having first to detach the fan and then unscrew the filter housing. I would have preferred quick-detachable filters separate from the fan mounting, like on the P180.
Despite all it's small faults the Define R2 is a superb case. It's neat and sturdy and sports excellent acoustic dampening. The loudest part of the system proved to be the Radeon HD5850 with its stock Asus cooler, as was expected.
Still the case succeeded in keeping all the parts cool and quiet at the same time. With an aftermarket cooler on the GPU the system would be close to dead-silent, apart from a very soft swoosh from the air traveling through all the fans. That's quite a feat from a gaming rig, and it's in no small part due to the case. I should note that both of the top exhausts and the side panel intake were sealed with the provided bitumen mats, so the acoustic profile of the case might be drastically different if another cooling setup was used.
The case design is great for a positive air pressure build given the three filtered air intakes at the front and at the bottom, and the way the PSU is mounted for independent intake and exhaust. Still it's great that the case offers plenty of potential for alternative and more aggressive cooling solutions - up to 7 fan vents is not something that even Antec cases can better, and three filtered intakes into a single space is three times more than in the P180, where one of the two filtered intakes was only for the separate PSU/HDD compartment.
To summarize, the price and quality of the R2 are both excellent. There are small flaws that Fractal would do good to address in future revisions, but none of them are deal-breakers and the basic design is more than sound. I'd have a hard time to justify the purchase of the P183 given what the Define R2 has to offer at less than half the price.
8 / 10