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Fractal Design Define Mini MicroATX Tower

Fractal Design Define Mini

December 6, 2011 by Lawrence Lee

Product
Fractal Design
Define Mini

microATX Tower Case
Manufacturer
Street Price
US$100

We've recently seen an influx of interesting microATX cases, particularly from SilverStone and Lian Li, but the overall selection is still very poor, especially when it comes to towers. It's an unfortunate reality that you can have your pick of more than a dozen solid feature-rich ATX towers for US$100, while there might be only a couple of microATX models worth considering for the same price. We've always felt that microATX has been under-appreciated given how many high-end ATX builds have just a single hard drive and graphics card stuffed into a laughably big case — what a waste of space!


The package.

The Define R2/R3 ATX tower has been very successful, the flagship product of the fledgling Swedish manufacturer Fractal Design. We would describe it as a budget jack-of-all-trades type case with a classy minimalist look and silencing features reminiscent of the Antec P180. The Define Mini is essentially the microATX version, with only a few minor changes. There's a big hole in the microATX market for a simple chassis with all the trappings and conveniences of a modern ATX tower and the Define Mini might just fill it.


The Define Mini.

The Define Mini is truly, almost literally, a smaller version of the Define R3. From the outside it's difficult tell them apart — the R3 is two inches taller and one inch deeper and has two fan placements on the ceiling rather than one. The Mini is only available in black with no white, silver, or grey option at the moment. Inside, the case has space for four expansion slots, six hard drives, two optical drives, six fans (two included), and supports front USB 3.0.


Accessories.

Inside the accessory box we found a bag of screws and standoffs, an external 3.5" drive adapter, a pair of reusable zip-ties, and a a manual fan speed controller that fits in a PCI expansion slot, complete with a molex power cable and a three-way 3-pin fan splitter.

Fractal Design Define Mini: Product Details

(from the
product web page
)
Key Features
Stunning front panel design
Patent pending ModuVent™ design, allowing the user to either have optimal silence or optimal airflow
Pre-fitted with dense, noise absorbing material
6(!) white painted HDD-trays, with silicone mounting
A total of 6 fan slots (2x120mm in front, 1x 120/140mm in top, 1x120mm in back, 1x 120/140mm in side panel, 1x 120mm in bottom)
Two 120mm Fractal Design 120mm fans included
Fan controller for 3 fans included
Upper HDD cage is removable and rotatable
USB3 support in the front panel
Excellent cable routing and cable routing covers
Supports graphic cards with lengths up to circa 400mm when upper HDD bay is removed
Extra, vertically mounted expansion slot, suitable for fan controllers or non-input expansion cards
Cooling system
Fan controller for 3 fans included
1 rear Fractal Design 120mm @ 1200rpm included
1 front Fractal Design 120mm @ 1200rpm included
1 front 120mm fan (optional)
1 bottom 120mm/140mm fan (optional)
1 bottom 120mm fan (optional)
1 side panel 120mm/140mm fan (optional)
Specifications
6x 3,5 inch HDD trays, compatible with SSD!
2x 5,25 inch bays, with 1x 5,25>3,5 inch converter included
On top of front panel: 2x USB2, 1x USB3 and Audio I/O
Removable filter below PSU (No PSU included)
M/B compatibility: Mini ITX and Micro ATX
4+1 expansion slots with sleek white painted brackets
Supports graphic cards with lengths up to ca 260mm when removable HDD-bay is in place
Supports graphic cards with lengths up to ca 400mm when HDD-bay is removed
Supports CPU coolers with height of ca 160mm
Supports PSU's with a depth of maximum circa 170mm, when using bottom 120/140mm fan location. When not using the bottom 120mm fan location, the case supports also longer PSU's, typically 200-220mm.
Case size (WxHxD): 210x395x490mm
Net weight: 9,50 kg

EXTERIOR & LAYOUT

Compared to most microATX cases, the Define Mini is quite large, weighing in at 9.5 kg or 20.9 lb and measuring 21.0 x 39.5 x 49.0 cm or 8.3 x 15.6 x 19.3 inches (W x H x D) for a total case volume of approximately 40.6 L.


Like its bigger brother, the main source of intake airflow is a column of slits on each side of the front bezel.



Front USB 2.0/3.0 and audio ports are located at the top of the case along with round power button which has a nice resistive feel to it.



Though two inches shorter than the Define R2/R3, they still managed to fit the same pair of 5.25" bays and front accessible 120 mm fan mounts. The fan placements are covered with ventilated doors and mesh filters while the inside of the door is lined with foam.



Nothing notable is visible at the back except for the presence of an extra expansion slot on the side. It's a perfect place for the included fan controller to reside without taking up one of the usual slots.



A large removable air filter under the chassis covers the power supply fan vent along with an optional 120 mm fan mount on the case floor. The small metallic damage-prone case feet on the bigger R2 have been replaced with the standard rubber variety.



The side panels are lined with noise absorbing sheets, measuring about 2 mm thick. There's also a piece with thick foam
covering a 120/140 mm side fan placement which Fractal Design calls a "ModuVent."


INTERIOR

The Define Mini has the same construction as the R2/R3 but being a smaller chassis with smaller and thus stiffer panels, it exhibits a bit less flex and feels more solid all around. There are six hard drive bays instead of eight, a single fan placement at the top rather than dual, and even the cutout for CPU heatsink backplate installation has been shrunk.


The only notable change on the inside is the hard drive cage has been split in two, and the upper compartment can be removed and rotated.



The cleverly designed age has mounting brackets on adjacent sides and four round equal-distant spacers are used to brace the cage and ensure a snug fit.



Placing the drives parallel to the expansion slots makes better use of the intake fan, with less airflow impedance, while the perpendicular position results in easier access.



For exhaust a 120 mm fan with sleeved 3-pin connector is in the rear. There also an optional 120/140 mm placement covered with a ModuVent on the top panel.



Short stubby pads raise the power supply up, giving its fan some clearance between it and the honeycomb grill underneath.





Compared to the R2/R3, the grommeted cable management holes are a bit larger and there's an extra one in the top/rear corner for awkwardly placed 4-pin/8-pin power connectors. There is also no gap between the motherboard tray and the drive mounts.


ASSEMBLY

As microATX cases go, the Define Mini is rather spacious making assembly relatively pain-free. Our only annoyance came when dropping screws — black screws on a black background are ridiculously difficult to find. White screws would have fit in perfectly with Fractal Design's cookies and cream color scheme.


The familiar Fractal Design dampened bottom-mounted hard drive tray.



Test system assembled with the fan controller placed on the side. There was about 9 mm of space above the Noctua NH-U12P CPU heatsink (with the foam of the side ModuVent compressed) making total clearance about 16.7 cm.



Video card clearance was limited to 27.8 cm due to interference from the non-removable hard drive cage. This is an issue for boards where the PCI-E 16x slot is not at the very top. The 16x slot of our test board is in the second position.



The fan controller knob is quite long but as the side expansion slot has a large recess, it doesn't stick out too much.



A few more hooks for routing cables would be useful, but we managed with what was provided. Note how the CPU heatsink cutout is a little too small for our board. Again, it's manageable, but not ideal.



There was only 18 mm of space behind the motherboard tray (after taking into account the thickness of the side dampening mat) — we had some difficulty closing the panel as a result.



The Define Mini has a pair of blue LEDs, though they don't shine nearly as brightly as pictured. It's actually a rather pleasantly subdued glow.

TESTING

System Configuration:

Measurement and Analysis Tools

System temperatures and noise levels were recorded with SpeedFan and GPU-Z
at idle and on load using Prime95 (large FFTs setting) and FurMark, an OpenGL
benchmarking and stability testing utility.

Stock Fan Noise



The 120 mm exhaust fan.

The Define R3 had different fans than the R2 with higher speeds (1350 RPM vs. 1000 RPM) and different blade design, and they've switched it up once again with the Define Mini. The two included fans inexplicably have the same model number as the old ones (FD-FAN-120) but are 150 RPM slower and have 11 blades rather than 7.

Baseline Noise Level
Fan Voltage
Front
Rear
Combined
12V
21~22 dBA
25 dBA
26~27 dBA
9V
17 dBA
20 dBA
21~22 dBA
7V
14 dBA
16 dBA
17~18 dBA
5V
11~12 dBA
12 dBA
13 dBA
Measuring mic positioned 1m at diagonal angle left/front
of case.

The new fans have a similar acoustic character, being quite smooth at any speed, but we noticed the front model had a noticeable clicking noise. This might be because it was mounted to a plastic frame, which in turn was clipped onto the case. The fan controller can be adjusted from 12V down below 4V, until the fans stop spinning completely. Altogether, they produced 26~27 [email protected] at full speed and were close to inaudible at 5V. This wide range makes the fans and the controller versatile enough to complement gear with varying levels of noise.



The sweet spot for the stock fans was 7V where they measured 17~18 [email protected] inside the case.

TEST RESULTS: AMD Radeon HD 5450

Our first test configuration features a low power passively cooled graphics card, a Radeon HD 5450. Our test configuration only gives us temperature data on the CPU and hard drive(s), so the HD 5450 gives us an extra data point from a different location within the case.


Our test system with a Radeon HD 5450.


System Measurements (Radeon HD 5450)
System State
Idle
CPU + GPU Load
System Fan Speeds
off
5V
7V
CPU Temp
25°C
67°C
62°C
59°C
HD Temp
36°C
36°C
33°C
32°C
GPU Temp
39°C
65°C
61°C
59°C
14~15 dBA
15 dBA
16 dBA
19 dBA
System Power
47W
155W
154W
155W
CPU fan set to 9V.

Ambient temperature: 22°C.

Without out any assistance from the case fans, our test system heated up considerably under load, with CPU temperature hitting 67°C mark. Running the fans at just 5V resulted in a substantial improvement, chilling down the CPU and GPU by 5°C and 4°C respectively. The system was very quiet, emitting just 16 [email protected], 1 dB less with the stock fans turned off. We also did not notice any acoustic effects caused by hard drive vibration. At 7V the components cooled down slightly at the cost of an additional 3 dB. The sweet spot seemed to be 5V.



Our HD 5450 test system on load measured 16 [email protected] with the stock fans at 5V.


Radeon HD 5450 Configuration: Comparison (Load)
Case
Lian Li
PC-V354*
SilverStone TJ08-E
Fractal Define Mini
SilverStone FT03**
System Fan Speeds
3 x 6V (two intake)
low/9V
2 x 7V
3 x 5V
CPU Temp
56°C
60°C
59°C
56°C
HD Temp
28°C
25°C
32°C
36°C
GPU Temp
65°C
56°C
59°C
68°C
18 dBA
19 dBA
19 dBA
20 dBA
*PC-V354 tested with Noctua NH-C12P heatsink rather than the NH-U12P due to incompatibility.

**FT03 tested with a Seasonic X-650 power supply rather than the Cooler Master M700 due to incompatibility.

CPU fan set to 9V.

Ambient temperature: 22°C.

Against previously tested microATX models using our HD 5450 test system, the Define Mini is an average performer, matching the SilverStone TJ08-E in noise level, but losing in both hard drive and GPU temperature.

TEST RESULTS: Asus EAH6850 DirectCU

To simulate a more demanding gaming system, our second test configuration uses an HD 6850 graphics card from Asus. The 6850 uses about 100W more than the 5450, creating a hotter, more stressful environment.


Our test system with an Asus EAH6850 DirectCU.


System Measurements (Asus EAH6850 DirectCU)
System State
Idle
CPU + GPU Load
System Fan Speeds
7V
9V
GPU Fan

Speed*
1670 RPM
1670 RPM
1670 RPM
CPU Temp
21°C
68°C
65°C
HD Temp
31°C
32°C
31°C
GPU Temp
37°C
89°C
89°C
GPU VRM Temp
45°C
91°C
90°C
20 dBA
20 dBA
23 dBA
*set as low as possible to maintain a GPU temperature of ~90°C.

CPU fan set to 9V.

Ambient temperature: 22°C.

We started testing our HD 6850 configuration with the stock fans set to 7V, a level that surprisingly allowed our system to be tweaked to run adequately cooled with a noise level of just 20 [email protected] both idle and at load. Taking the GPU fan off automatic control, we lowered it until the core temperature reached about 90°C. To our amazement, we were able to bring the fan speed all the way down to the 1670 RPM, the minimum allowed. Turning up the case fans to 9V resulted in a 3°C improvement in CPU temperature but the rest of the system was unaffected.


Our EAH6850 test system on load measured 23 [email protected] with the stock fans at 9V.


Asus EAH6850 DirectCU Configuration:

Comparison (Load)
Case
Fractal Define Mini
SilverStone TJ08-E
SilverStone FT03**
Lian Li
PC-V354*
System Fan Speeds
2 x 9V
low/10V
3 x 7V
3 x 9V (two exhaust)
GPU Fan Speed
1670 RPM
2330 RPM
1790 RPM
1740 RPM
CPU Temp
65C
59°C
58°C
60°C
HD Temp
31°C
25°C
35°C
26°C
GPU Temp
89°C
89°C
89°C
89°C
GPU VRM Temp
90°C
87°C
88°C
76°C
22~23 dBA
24~25 dBA
25 dBA
26 dBA
*PC-V354 tested with Noctua NH-C12P heatsink rather than the NH-U12P due to incompatibility.

**FT03 tested with a Seasonic X-650 power supply rather than the Cooler Master M700 due to incompatibility.

CPU fan set to 9V.

Ambient temperature: 22°C.

The Define Mini really shone with a more powerful GPU; our HD 6850 configuration was 2 dB quieter than the SilverStone TJ08-E. It wasn't a clear-cut victory, as the TJ08-E's 180 mm fan gave it a significant advantage in both CPU and hard drive cooling. Adding a second fan at the top of the Define Mini might turn the tide but the TJ08-E also has a spare exhaust fan placement.

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

Compared to the Define R2/R3, the Define Mini is two inches shorter, sheds two hard drive bays, three expansion slots, and one optional fan placement on the ceiling. The smaller dimensions makes it seem sturdier even though the build quality is about the same. It's also a bit more versatile thanks to the removable (and rotatable) hard drive cage that allows for long graphics cards, though the motherboard must have its PCI-E 16x slot in the top position to take advantage of the extra length. Cable management is slightly improved and the fragile metallic rear case feet from the R2 are gone.

The Define Mini performed fairly well against previously reviewed microATX cases, but the SilverStone Temjin TJ08-E is the only competitor we've tested that has as much broad appeal. The TJ08-E has an edge in CPU and hard drive cooling thanks to its strategically placed 18 cm intake fan. The larger Mini is a better all-rounder that gives lower GPU temperatures (important, as the GPU fan is often the biggest noise generator in a quiet PC), a more spacious interior, more HDD and fan support, dampened side panels and covers for unused fan vents. The stock fans are fairly quiet especially when dialed down using the included controller. It's a valuable extra that handles up to three 3-pin fans and can be placed unobtrusively in the extra expansion slot.

Fractal Design didn't reinvent the wheel with the Define Mini, sticking closely to the formula for Define R2/R3, with a few alterations for the microATX form factor. It doesn't blow us away, but with the absence of competition in the microATX market, the Mini stands out. The Mini puts all the elements of brand name ATX towers, support for six easy-to-access hard drives, six large fans, large CPU heatsinks, long graphics cards, cable management holes, etc. in a more compact package along with some silencing features. As microATX cases go, the Mini is a premium product yet it it can currently be purchased for a very reasonable US$100.

Our thanks to Fractal Design for the Define Mini case sample.

Recommended by SPCR

The Fractal Design Define Mini is Recommended by SPCR.

* * *

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Antec Solo II: The Legacy Lives On

SilverStone Temjin TJ08-E: MicroATX Evolved

SilverStone Fortress FT03 mATX Tower: Redux

SilverStone Fortress FT03 microATX Tower

Lian Li PC-V354 MicroATX Mini Tower Case

* * *

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