Introducing the Fractal Design Define XL R2

Amusingly and appropriately enough, the wave of silence-oriented enclosures that have been popping up recently haven't really drawn attention to themselves as a trend. Yet all of a sudden, we have results from a couple of solid contenders from Nanoxia and a few less expensive (and more readily available) also-rans. For a little while, this was a wave that Fractal Design was riding high, but the Define R4 wound up being a little underwhelming. As it turns out, they might just have something better lying in wait.

We never had a chance to play with the original Fractal Design Define XL, so it's tough to draw a direct comparison there. Yet one look at Fractal Design's page for the original tells you that while the Define R4 didn't change much from the R3, the Define XL R2 is a major shift. The original XL didn't support E-ATX; it was more just a conventional Define with a separate drive compartment. This R2, on the other hand, really is a giant Define R4. As it turns out, that bump in size and modest increase in cooling capacity may very well have been all the Define R4 needed.

There are two dead horses I need to bludgeon before we progress any further with this review. First, the quiet chassis to beat are the Deep Silence 1 and 2 from Nanoxia; availability notwithstanding, those two offer the best value and best balance of performance and acoustics. In the XL R2's price bracket, the Deep Silence 1 is basically the bar. Keep in mind, though, that the DS1 is a smaller case than the XL R2, so if you need the extra space, Fractal Design may just win by default.

The other thing to keep in mind is that designing a quiet chassis is basically one of the hardest things a vendor can do. What you're essentially trying to do is get the system inside the case to a noise level low enough that the sound dampening material can do the rest of the job. High end enthusiast cases tend to be very quiet because of their copious high power, low noise airflow. What we want is a case that can get below that already low noise floor. The problem is that doing so means closing off a lot of ventilation; capturing sound means capturing air, and reduced airflow means reduced thermal performance.

Fractal Design Define XL R2 Specifications
Motherboard Form Factor Mini-ITX, Micro-ATX, ATX, E-ATX, XL-ATX
Drive Bays External 4x 5.25"
Internal 8x 2.5"/3.5"
Cooling Front 1x 140mm intake fan (mount supports 120mm; second 120/140mm fan mount below)
Rear 1x 140mm exhaust fan (mount supports 120mm)
Top 2x 120mm/140mm fan mount
Side 1x 120mm/140mm fan mount
Bottom 1x 140mm intake fan (mount supports 120mm)
Expansion Slots 9
I/O Port 2x USB 3.0, 2x USB 2.0, 1x Headphone, 1x Mic
Power Supply Size ATX
Clearances HSF 170mm
PSU 190mm
GPU 330mm
Dimensions 9.13" x 22.01" x 22.04"
232mm x 559mm x 560mm
Weight 36.16 lbs / 16.4 kg
Special Features Removable fan filter
USB 3.0 via internal header
Three step fan controller supports three fans
Acoustic padding on the interior and side panels
Modular, rotatable drive cages
Price MSRP $129

Consider that the two Deep Silence cases are already pretty heavy and well built in their own right, then add another ten pounds and three inches. The Define XL R2 is made almost entirely of steel with really the bare minimum of plastic used in its construction, and you definitely feel it. This is a big case, but Fractal Design was able to hit a very aggressive price point with it. The last generation Define XL cost a full $40 more.

In and Around the Fractal Design Define XL R2
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  • Dustin Sklavos - Thursday, February 21, 2013 - link

    I'm working on putting together an SLI configuration for this testbed, but you guys really don't understand just how small an organization AT is. It's not like I can snap my fingers and just make hardware magically appear, and I handle a *lot* of reviews.

    Could I get a trio of GTX 285s? Probably. But then people would complain that I'm using outdated hardware, or that the cards being scrunched together doesn't somehow demonstrate how the case might handle cards that are properly separated by a slot or two slots.

    Of course I could just be frustrated because I've spent two nights now trying to get the testbed motherboard to actually recognize two cards in SLI with no success, trying to somehow appease an audience that is oftentimes unhappy no matter what I do, or will make irrational requests without thinking about whether or not there's any practical difference in what they ask for.
    Reply
  • haplo602 - Friday, February 22, 2013 - link

    I don't think you are getting the point. We don't need FPS benchmarks on a working setup. We need accoustic,thermal and space/build checked.

    So you don't need tripple SLI o what not. Just scrape in 3 cards and load all of them (bitcoin comes to mind). You can even make bitcoin run on the cpu, so you have a realy HOT setup in the case. You need to generat head and fan noise, not pretty FPS numbers.

    Get ANY large mobo that will fit (you can get old dual opteron setups for peanuts on ebay) and mount it. Are there cable routing problems when the case is fully packed ? This kind of thing is critical for a big case. An mATX board will not help checking this out.
    Reply
  • SVoyager - Tuesday, February 26, 2013 - link

    ^ This!

    Dustin, the review you did was great and even after seeing the picture of the case with your board mounted (a bit of a facepalm there when I saw it), most of the data of the review was quite useful.

    Still, in the quest of making things better, what haplo602 said above is spot on. Full towers are meant to be filled with things. Say, if I get both the drive cages full of drives, does this case fare better than another one with similar setups. Will the drive noise leak out from the front or will the door dampen the noise enough? Will the cage design affect airflow in a way to make things more efficient or will the air be blocked so much that the whole system temps take a huge hit? Will fully populated drive cages create cable management issues? etc.

    Keep up the good work, no need to be frustrated on this, the review is nice and the suggestions here can only make future reviews even better!

    Now fill that tower up! :-)

    Cheers!
    Reply
  • Hrel - Tuesday, March 26, 2013 - link

    You lose the ability to guage how well it fits. How much room there is to work with, from the pictures. How well do the cables reach. So on and so forth. Reply
  • Hrel - Wednesday, February 20, 2013 - link

    Probably gonna be my next case. Unless they can pull off a smaller one (mid tower) with the same acoustics, or better. Sexy as fuck, this is how a case should look. Fractal Design doing it right.

    Curious though, why do you make such a big deal about fan controllers? Do you never buy fans that automatically adjust their speed based on temp? Antec has some really good ones. I highly recommend them. Makes a dedicated fan controller silly and pointless.
    Reply
  • Dustin Sklavos - Wednesday, February 20, 2013 - link

    1. Buying fans that would automatically adjust their speed based on temperature would mean having to replace what comes with the case.

    2. I personally prefer a constant, low volume to fans ramping up and down depending on load.
    Reply
  • Hrel - Wednesday, February 20, 2013 - link

    But... if you're just going to keep them at the lowest possible speed, or medium or whatever, then why so you need a fan controller? The fans in most cases never change speed, they just run. Scythe has some very nice low RPM high CFM fans for cases. That's what I normally use as intake fans. I prefer to buy cases with as few fans as possible already in them though; then put in what I want. I guess in this price range you expect to not have to do that. Based on your acoustic testing though I'd say the fans in this are well balanced. Reply
  • kmmatney - Thursday, February 21, 2013 - link

    I prefer just buying cheap fans, and inserting a resistor cable. I recently bought a set of 5 resistor cables for something like $4 shipped to my door. Then I can buy any cheap $3 fan, and make it silent. I have a large Antec P182 case, and it's completely silent with an overclocked i3570K and HD6800.

    Every time a see these reviews I think about upgrading, but I really can't complain about my existing case - it's big and silent. That's the nioce thing about a case - it can last a long time, through several upgrades. I'm on my 4th motherboard since I bought my case.
    Reply
  • NeoReaper - Wednesday, February 20, 2013 - link

    is it me or this just an old antec p180? how is this different? Reply
  • The0ne - Wednesday, February 20, 2013 - link

    It is extremely similar. I've built so many with the P180's for others that it came to mind immediately just looking at the front :) I wouldn't be surprise if the design was just slightly changed from the P180. Love the P180 and thus this performs and functions identical. In fact, my nephews' P180s are so quiet sometimes they turn off the computer thinking it was off hahaha Reply

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