Introducing the Fractal Design Define Mini

Good micro-ATX enclosures have actually been frighteningly rare of late; manufacturers seem to be going big or going home, and only letting either beefy XL-ATX cases or diminutive mini-ITX cases out to play. It's a weird situation when the micro-ATX form factor seems to be ideal for the majority of end users. Enter Fractal Design and their Define Mini.

The Define Mini has actually been on the market for about a year, but with few contenders really materializing in recent months outside of SilverStone's SG09 and Rosewill's Line-M, good options for micro-ATX builders have been somewhat wanting. That's why I sought out the Define Mini; Fractal Design's Define line of enclosures has always been a little wanting for air cooling performance, but they're attractive and popular, and they're easy to build. Getting some of that sweet acoustic padding in a smaller package is an enticing proposition.

Fractal Design Define Mini Specifications
Motherboard Form Factor Mini-ITX, Micro-ATX
Drive Bays External 2x 5.25" (includes 5.25"-to-3.5" adaptor)
Internal 6x 3.5"/2.5"
Cooling Front 1x 120mm intake fan (supports 2x 120mm)
Rear 1x 120mm exhaust fan
Top 1x 120mm/140mm fan mount
Side 1x 120mm/140mm fan mount
Bottom 1x 120mm fan mount
Expansion Slots 4+1
I/O Port 2x USB 2.0, 1x USB 3.0, 1x Headphone, 1x Mic
Power Supply Size ATX
Clearances HSF 160mm
PSU 160mm with bottom fan installed; 200-220mm without
GPU 260mm with top drive cage installed; 400mm without
Dimensions 8.3" x 15.6" x 19.3"
210mm x 395mm x 490mm
Weight 21 lbs. / 9.5 kg
Special Features USB 3.0 via internal header
Removable drive cage
Removable filters on front and bottom fans
Three-channel 3-pin analog fan controller included
Acoustic padding
Price $99

If you've been keeping track with the Fractal Design Define series of enclosures, there are no surprises in the Define Mini. Rather than integrating it into the case, Fractal Design includes a separate three-channel fan controller and a fifth expansion slot horizontally aligned above the fourth standard ones to mount it in. Fractal Design's "ModuVent" is accounted for, as well, but I'd've liked an extra vent in the top of the case and support for a 240mm radiator.

Finally, there's the acoustic padding we've come to expect and appreciate. The more time I've spent with the similarly padded Nanoxia Deep Silence 1 (and I have seriously pimped this particular ride), the more I've come to understand the role acoustic padding fundamentally serves and its relationship with case design at large. A good thermal design is absolutely essential to a silent case as the acoustic padding proves all for naught, but end users should also be careful to design with these limitations in mind. Acoustic padding doesn't muffle noisy components, but it will bring quiet ones down to even more comfortable volumes, and that makes it a desirable feature.

What does all this mean? It means that the Fractal Design Define Mini could theoretically serve a purpose that the other micro-ATX enclosures on the market can't.

In and Around the Fractal Design Define Mini
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  • tzhu07 - Monday, April 22, 2013 - link

    I own this case. It's the perfect balance between size and workability. It's also very quiet and looks beautiful. Reply
  • TrackSmart - Monday, April 22, 2013 - link

    I'm confused. Is this a typical size for a micro-ATX case? It is LARGER than my Antec Sonata III, which is a standard-size ATX case.

    Fractal Define Mini: 8.3" x 15.6" x 19.3" = 2499 cubic inches
    Antec Sonata III 500: 8.1" (W) x 16.7" (H) x 18.2" (D) = 2462 cubic inches

    I like the case. If it had existed 3.5 years ago, I would have strongly considered it for its quiet operation and nice design (assuming I was going micro-ATX). But it just doesn't fit the "mini" description very well, given that its the same size as many standard ATX cases.
    Reply
  • A5 - Monday, April 22, 2013 - link

    The (now discontinued) Antec P180 Mini was the same way.

    What this design style does is let you have the bottom-mounted PSU in a case that is the size of a normal mid-tower, as opposed to the super-tall cases that have that feature and take full-size ATX boards.
    Reply
  • DanNeely - Monday, April 22, 2013 - link

    The spots where it's bigger than old cases are all cases where changing design requirements have triggered growth to meet. Making it slightly wider is needed to route cables behind the mobo tray. The increased depth is mostly used putting fans in the front and to give them side intakes for noise control; with a removable drive cage (to allow really big GPUs and make connecting sata cables easier) taking a bit as well. It could have been made another Inch shorter but that would have precluded space for a top fan.

    The Define mini is a MiniATX case designed for building a high performance system and keeping it cool. The Sonata III 500's design was optimized for making a full ATX system as small as possible; having used other cases with just enough clearance from the drive cages to stuff the mobo in connecting sata cables with the board screwed down is a PITA and full length GPUs are difficult to impossible to fit..
    Reply
  • DanNeely - Monday, April 22, 2013 - link

    Also, putting the PSU at the bottom instead of the top means you no longer have a big space at the top for optical drives to extend past the front edge of the motherboard without obstructing anything. Even without the fans and removable drive cage that would probably limit the case from getting any shallower. Reply
  • TrackSmart - Monday, April 22, 2013 - link

    Thank you to DanNeely and A5 for the insights about case size and design. I can see the niche for this case based on your description. Basically, by shrinking the motherboard area you can better utilize the remaining space to allow for a higher performance machine in a (relatively) small package. If you are building something with modest power requirements (all of my builds), it probably doesn't matter, but for someone who is going to stuff an overclocked i7 and high-end GPU into the case, I can see where this would make a world of difference. Reply
  • DanNeely - Monday, April 22, 2013 - link

    Broadly speaking I think the main target customer for this case is people who have historically built relatively high end desktops; but who have realized they don't need a full ATX board for a single GPU but who don't want the overclocking, etc limitations imposed by mITX. Reply
  • A5 - Monday, April 22, 2013 - link

    Yeah, that's me exactly. Reply
  • antef - Monday, April 22, 2013 - link

    I disagree that modern design goals necessitate these sorts of dimensions. My SilverStone PS07 is significantly smaller and still meets all the needs of a high performance system while keeping it cool. I'll go through each of your points:

    1) Width is the same between the Define Mini and PS07, so nothing to say there.
    2) The SilverStone is only 15.7" deep and fits front fans, an HDD cage, and the biggest GPU you want just fine. There is no top fan mount but there is a top exhaust that you can direct the PSU's exhaust through. It's able to accomplish this since the GPU sits on top of the drive bay instead of trying to fit behind it. SATA cable access is fine but is especially easy when you remove the drive cage. If the case you used couldn't fit large GPUs then that was a fault of that particular case's design.
    3) The SilverStone's PSU is top mounted which I don't see as a problem. This permits space for optical drives, and below that space for the motherboard, large GPU, front fants, and drive cage all in 15.7" of depth as mentioned above. You can also choose to not bother with optical drives at all, and remove the drive cage entirely and still be able to have 1 SSD and 1 HDD in the case.

    Yes, it's a little tighter to work in, but today's systems can get away with a lot less components than in the past, giving you the ability to still keep the internals very clean and uncluttered. If you need more space, ATX is there for you.
    Reply
  • mherbst55 - Monday, April 22, 2013 - link

    Was interested in this article until I got to the case dimensions. Why not just go with a standard full-sized ATX case and stuff a uATX board into it? At 8.3 x 15.6 x 19.3 isn't that what's being done here?

    Frankly, the best uATX case ever made was the SG03 by SilverStone. Dimensions are a svelte 12.28 x 7.87 x 14.17. Moreover, if SilverStone had been forward thinking and dropped the legacy 3.5" form factor HDD drive bays from the design (stuffed in the bottom of the case) they could’ve shaved an inch from the height. Interestingly in spite its diminutive size, because the SG03 can be stripped almost to the frame, building a clean system is actually quite simple. I discovered that a little pre-planning of the layout produced a build that was almost a work of art. Also, the flow-through design made cooling the interior a snap. For the life of me I can’t figure out why SilverStone didn’t continue to refine the design (add a removable motherboard tray, dual 3.5” cutouts for 2.5” form factor mobile racks for a total of 4 HDD drive bays, etc). It would have become the preferred uATX case for the vast majority of systems builders.
    Reply

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