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Fractal Design Array Mini ITX NAS Case

Fractal Design Array Mini-ITX NAS Case

April 26, 2010 by Lawrence Lee

Product
Fractal Design Array

Mini ITX NAS Case
Manufacturer
Market Price
£128 (US$196)

The Swedish company Fractal Design scored a hit with their Define
R2
tower case, a canny blend of quality, functionality, noise reduction
and usability. Thus we were naturally excited when Fractal's other case showed
up on our doorstep. The Array is completely different kind of case, a mini-ITX
enclosure described as a NAS case for the Home Server/DIY NAS market.


The Fractal Design Array.

Like the R2, the Array is stylish demeanor and constructed out of aluminum
rather than steel. Its overall form is that of a Shuttle-style breadbox, but
as it lacks an optical drive bay, it really looks like a plain box more than
a PC. The top panel has a brushed finish and is secured with six small screws.
Intake is provided on both sides by a column of slits running down the front
of the case and a horizontal vent positioned at the bottom closer to the rear.


Rear angle.

The back of the case reveals a SFX12V power supply hanging above a large vent
and the motherboard I/O panel cut-out. There is a single full-sized expansion
slot, but it is better suited for a SATA/RAID card rather than a graphics card.
(Editor's Note: Two expansion slots in the latest R2 version.)
The Array's biggest draw is its 6-bay hard drive cage, but most mini-ITX motherboards
have fewer than 4 SATA ports. An add-on card is likely necessary to take full
advantage of the case's storage potential.

FLASH



As this article was being posted, news came from Fractal Design of a small
upgrade to the Array. Revision 2 features:



- Improved 140mm fan mounting in front, so that re-circulation is decreased.
In our own tests, we measured that the re-circulation was minimal, but
since users’s still think it can be an issue, we have modified it.

- One extra expansion slot, so that Mini-DTX cards can be fully supported.
In the Array you got, Mini DTX cards are supported, but cannot use the
second expansion slot.

- Silicone grommets instead of rubber ones in the HDD cage.



Provided accessories.



Product Details: Fractal Design Array

(from the
product web page
)
Case Specifications * Built in high quality
aluminum

* Silent, efficient 300W SFX PSU included

* Room for six silicone mounted 3.5-inch HDD

* Room for one SSD

* Removable HDD cage for easy mounting

* Silent Series 140mm fan included in front, with washable filter

* Space available for CPU cooler: circa 90mm height

* Space available for expansion card: circa 140mm length

* Fits Mini ITX motherboards

* One Two expansion slots

* Case dimensions (WxHxD): 230x223x350mm

* Net weight: 4.1kg
PSU Specifications * 80 PLUS rated SFX 300W
PSU

* Silent, temperature controlled fan

* 7x SATA-connectors, 1x Molex, 1x 4-pin and 1x 20/24pin

* Meets CE, TUV safety requirements
DC Output Max load Max output
+3.3V 20A 125W (combined +3.3V and
+5V)
+5V 22A 125W (combined +3.3V and
+5V)
+12V1 14A 216W (combined
12V1 and 12V2)
+12V2 16A
-12V 0.5A 6W
+5VSB 2.5A 12.5W
Total combined power 300W
Fan Specifications * 140mm Silent Series

* Dimensions: 140 x 140 x 25mm

* RPM: 600 +/- 10% RPM

* Noise: 9 dBA

* Airflow: 39 CFM, 66 m³/h

* Connection: 3-pin

* Power: 2.52 W +/- 10%

* Textile covered electrical cable
Additional information * EAN/GTIN-13: 7350041080411

* Product code: FD-CA-ARRAY-BL

* Gross weight: 4.3kg

* Outer package dimensions (WxHxD): 330x265x430mm

INTERIOR

The Array measures 230 x 223 x 350 mm (H x W x D) or 9.1 x 8.8 x 13.8",
and weighs 4.1 kg or 9.0 lb.


The case's single fan is located at the front blowing air through
the hard drive cage toward the power supply.



The 140 mm fan is screwed down to a metal frame that is held on by
two tiny screws above and two more on the underside. The fan holder only
has a small amount of room behind it; air is drawn in from the side vents.



A SFX power supply hangs over the I/O shield at the rear.



The power supply's connectors are as follows: 20+4-pin ATX, 4-pin
AUX12V, two chains with 3 x SATA each, and one chain with 1 x SATA and
1 x molex. All the cables are very short, which is probably ideal.



The power supply is an 80 PLUS certified 300W unit manufactured by
FSP Group.



The fan holder has a large hole at the bottom for routing the power
switch and LED connectors, and there is a removable mesh filter behind
the fan.

SYSTEM ASSEMBLY

As the Array is meant to house a NAS system, we assembled the test system with
the Intel DG45FC,
the only mini-ITX board we had at our disposal with more than 3 SATA ports.
The processor was a Core 2 Duo E7200 cooled by a Scythe
Big Shuriken
, one of the best lower profile heatsinks on the market.
We loaded it with one, two, and three hard drives.


With the power supply, fan, and hard drive cage removed, the interior
is as plain as can be. There are some some screws at the bottom of the
case that suggests the floor and side panels can be removed, but there
are rivets holding them in place.



The short power cables shouldn't be a bother for most systems, but
in our case the AUX12V connector was hidden underneath the CPU cooler
so we had to connect it before laying the board down. The case can take
CPU heatsinks up to 9 cm in height.



The hard drive cage is about 1.4 mm thick and has silicone grommets
to dampen vibration.



The cage is mounted using two screws on each side of the case.



The cage has to be tilted inward into the case but with our setup,
it ran into heatpipes of the Shuriken. Even without the heatsink,
it may have bumped into the RAM installed in the second DIMM slot. We
had to remove the system fan temporarily in order to create enough room
to finesse the cage in. Securing the fan holder afterward was difficult
without access to the case floor to align the mounting holes at the
bottom.



System fully assembled.

TESTING

System Configuration:

Measurement and Analysis Tools

Stock Fan Measurements

140 mm Fan Specifications
Manufacturer
Power Rating
2.52 W
Model Number
FD-FAN-140
Airflow Rating
39 CFM
Bearing Type
?
RPM Rating
600 RPM
Corners
Closed
Noise Rating
9 dBA
Frame Size
140 x 140 x 25 mm
Header Type
3-pin
Blade Diameter
129 mm
Start Voltage
~6.0 V
Hub Size
45 mm
Weight
150 grams
Data in green cells provided by the manufacturer or observed;
data in the blue cells were measured.

The included 140 mm fan is the same model provided by Fractal for our Define
R2 case review. It measures a very low 11 [email protected] in open air, but up close,
it is noticeably clicky.

140 mm Fan Measurements
Voltage
Speed
SPL @1m
12V
690 RPM
11 dBA
9V
520 RPM
<11 dBA
Measuring mic positioned 1m at diagonal angle from
the intake side of the fan.

Ambient noise level: 11 dBA.

Baseline Noise

The air cavity resonances inside a case amplify fan noise, as do any vibrations
transferred from the fan into the case, so these measurements can be regarded
as the baseline SPL levels for the case, fan and power supply.

Baseline Noise Level
140 mm Fan
PSU
12V
off
15 dBA
off
on (no load)
16~17 dBA
12V
on (no load)
18~19 dBA
Measuring mic positioned 1m at diagonal left angle
to top/center of case.

At one meter the front fan measured 15 [email protected] mounted in the case, while the
power supply switched on without any load measured 16~17 dBA. Both were relatively
quiet though the clicking from the front system fan was audible as was the growly
nature of the PSU fan at one meter's distance.



The power supply fan exhibits tonality at 350 and 600 KHz.

Test Results: Single Drive

System Measurements
State
Idle
100% CPU Load
System Fan
off
12V
off
12V
19~20 dBA
21 dBA
21 dBA
21~22 dBA
Core Temp
42°C
39°C
61°C
59°C
HD Temp
35°C
31°C
36°C
31°C
AC Power
33W
33W
68W
65W
Ambient temperature: 21°C.

Ambient noise level: 11 dBA.

CPU fan @7V.

By desktop standards, our test system with a single hard drive was fairly quiet,
measuring 19~20 [email protected] when idling with the system fan off, and only an extra
1~2 dBA with it on. The noise is best described as a gentle mechanical hum.
The power supply is the most dominant source of noise, though its tonal elements
were less evident when combined with the system's other fans and the hard drive.
The PSU fan did speed up when the CPU was placed on load, but the difference
in noise level was small. It also produced the occasional high-pitched chirp,
but only when idle, when the power draw was below 35W measured from the wall.
We attribute this to the power supply as we never experienced this previously
with this processor and motherboard combination.

CPU temperatures hovered around 40°C when idle and 60°C on load, which
are perfectly acceptable numbers. The system's low speed 140 mm fan made only
a minor impact. Our WD Green hard drive also stayed pretty cool at about 35°C
without the fan, and 31°C when actively cooled.



The system measured 21 [email protected] when idling with the CPU fan @7V and
the system fan @12V.

Test Results: Multiple Drives

Test Drive Noise
Drive
Vibration

1-10 (10 = no vibration)

Airborne Acoustics @1m
A: WD Green 750GB (5400 RPM)
7
14 dBA
B: Seagate LP 2TB (5900 RPM)
6
14 dBA
C: Seagate DB35.3 250GB (7200 RPM)
6
15~16 dBA

For our multiple drive tests, the WD Caviar
Green 750GB
was joined by a Seagate
LP 2TB
and a Seagate DB35.3 250GB, the quietest drives we had
on hand. The idle noise level of the LP 2TB is the same as the WD Green, but
the DB35.3 is a 7200 RPM model designed for DVRs and produces an extra 1~2 dBA.
The Seagates are one step below the WD Green in vibration, a subjective rating
generated in accordance with our standard
hard drive testing methodology
.

System Measurements (Idle)
Drives
A
A+B
A+B+C
21 dBA
22 dBA
22~23 dBA
CPU Temp
39°C
40°C
42°C
HD Temp
31°C
32°C / 35°C
33 / 37 / 36°C
AC Power
33W
39W
45W
Ambient temperature: 21°C.

Ambient noise level: 11 dBA.

CPU fan @7V, system fan @12V.

The use of multiple drives had only small thermal effects on the system, with
minute increases in CPU and hard drive temperatures. The large intake fan, despite
its low speed, kept the drives well below 40°C. If you plan to fill all
six bays, you will want to keep your coolest drives at the edges as only the
center four drives are positioned in the fan's path. A pair of 92 mm fans might
have been a better choice as it would provide better coverage.

When we added a second drive, subjectively the system's acoustics did not sound
much different though it measured 1 dBA higher. Putting the third drive into
the mix made vibration an issue, as we started to hear rhythmic pulsing coming
from the system once it was installed. This was pretty much a best case scenario
too, as we used the quietest drives at our disposal — a single loud drive
may be enough to produce this effect. You can stick to quiet drives likes the
WD Caviar Green, Seagate LP and Samsung EcoGreen, but eventually once you have
enough drives inside, the case will begin to resonate.



A well placed pad reduced both noise and vibration, more subjectively
than the measured 1 dBA drop.

The silicone grommets may help, but they are rather small and cannot overcome
the Array's thin, light panels. We found that the top cover was a problem, too,
as placing a damped weight on it (like a heavy book) created a marginal improvement
in acoustics. After some experimentation, we found the best way to deal with
this issue was to place a foam pad on top of the hard drive cage, not to dampen
it, but to push against the top cover to create a tighter seal. This tweak resulted
in the system noise lowering by one decibel and though we could still hear and
feel the vibrations, the resonant sound was less audible.



The system measured 21~22 [email protected] when idling with three drives and
padding on top of the hard drive cage.

AUDIO RECORDINGS

These recordings were made with a high resolution, lab quality, digital recording
system inside SPCR's own 11 dBA ambient anechoic chamber, then converted to
LAME 128kbps encoded MP3s. We've listened long and hard to ensure there is no
audible degradation from the original WAV files to these MP3s. They represent
a quick snapshot of what we heard during the review.

Each recording starts with ambient noise, then 10 second segments of product
at various states. For the most realistic results,
set the volume so that the starting ambient level is just barely audible, then
don't change the volume setting again while comparing all the sound files.

FINAL THOUGHTS

The most noteworthy aspect of this unusual case is its poorly designed hard
drive cage, which is supposed to be its main selling point. On most small cases,
the top cover comes off, the hard drive cage/tray is lowered in and lazily screwed
in from the top with relative ease. For the Array, you must tilt one end in
first, maneuver the entire cage inside, line up the mounting holes on the side
and then hold it still with up to six drives attached to it. With your other
hand, you have to try to fit in tiny shallow threaded screws from the outside
— this can be an excruciating chore. In addition, with our test configuration,
the cage interfered with the Big
Shuriken
CPU cooler, one of the lowest profile heatsinks, so we had
to remove the front fan first to get the cage into position. Putting the fan
back in proved troublesome as we could not properly screw the fan in at the
bottom without access to the case floor. Adding, removing, and/or replacing
drives ate up a considerable amount of time. Since many users will start with
one or two drives, and then add more drives as the drives get filled, the inconvenience
of the HDD cage design is a serious issue.

Then there are the design's noise issues. Fractal's fans ship with fan isolators
to keep vibrations down, but the Array's stock fan is screwed into a big metal
plate, which is a no-no for acoustics, and the fan doesn't have any direct source
of ventilation either. (Editor's Note: Although Fractal says the
latest version is improved in this regard.) The case's aluminum construction
gives it an attractive look and makes it very light, but it doesn't make that
much sense for enclosure designed almost purely for storage. We would have preferred
a case built out of heavy duty steel that wouldn't vibrate as much with multiple
hard drives inside.

There's a bit of a question about where this case is meant to be situated in
actual use. Its cube-like form suggests a desktop or deep shelf, but if it held
six 3.5" HDDs as intended, the resulting noise would definitely be too
loud for any noise-sensitive user. Perhaps a more conventional mini-tower style
box would make more sense. There's no need for NAS to be atop a desk or even
close to the user, and a mini-tower is actually easier to position — on
the floor beside a desk, an audio-video stand or perhaps on a shallow shelf
inside a small closet.

The core concept of a mini-ITX case with multiple hard drives cooled by a big
slow speed fan is sound — the demand for this type of NAS box is surely
there in this day of massive media file collections. There is no denying that
the Array delivers good thermal performance given the overall noise level. Further
to their credit, Fractal employed a reasonably quiet 80 PLUS power supply and
stock fan, but little attention has been paid to the internals and how the system
is assembled. Perhaps we were expecting too much given the positive experience
with the much more user-friendly Define
R2
tower.

The Fractal Design Array is not yet available in North America, but it is currently
selling for approximately £128 in the UK and €150 in
Europe, which after conversion is close to US$200. It's an extravagant
price given the quantity of materials involved and the absence of extra features
and niceties. However, as far as we can tell, it is the smallest mini-ITX case
that can hold six drives, so in that sense it is unique. (Editor's Note:
There are very few mini-ITX based NAS boxes for the home/DIY market.) If you
consider it to be the only case it in its class, then its monetary value suddenly
becomes less tangible.

Fractal Design Array
PROS



* Looks great

* Well cooled

* Supports 6 drives

* Quiet stock fan

* PSU quiet enough, efficient
CONS



* Poorly designed hard drive cage

* Poorly designed fan holder

* Prone to vibration

* Front USB would be handy

* Expensive

Our thanks to Fractal
Design
for the Array sample.

* * *

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* * *

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