In and Around the Fractal Design Define XL R2

If you're familiar with Fractal Design's aesthetic for the Define series, the Define XL R2 isn't going to bring any surprises. Fractal Design continues to offer their cases in black and gunmetal finishes, and I continue to be pleased with the gunmetal; it's a gray that doesn't clash with computer hardware, but keeps the box from looking too bland. We're really in an age where we've replaced the beige box with the black box.

The front of the XL R2 features a padded door which opens to the left and conceals four 5.25" drive bays with ventilated snap-in/snap-out shields. The entire front fascia is ventilated on the sides just like the other Define cases, allowing plenty of cool air to enter the case without letting noise escape. Next to the drive bays is a three-step switch for the fan controller; you can run fans connected to the controller at 5V, 7V, and 12V. Below the bays are two intake fan mounts; Fractal Design includes a 140mm fan in one, but you have to add your own fan to the second. These fans are hidden behind a fan filter and are easily removed and replaced.

When we move to the top of the XL R2, we find the power button and reset button along with the I/O all placed on the front edge of the case. The remainder of the external shell of the XL R2 is flat, matte black, though there are 120mm/140mm fan mounts on the top and side of the case (two on the top, one on the side panel). In true Fractal Design fashion, these mounts are blocked off with removable acoustic padding.

Someone at Fractal Design must have been paying attention to my recent complaining (I'd like to think they were though it probably isn't true), because the side panels are hinged instead of notched. Per usual, two thumbscrews hold them into place, but they're very easy to put on and take off.

The interior of the Define XL R2 is nothing new; this is very much just a larger Define R4. The two drive cages are both modular, and can be removed or rotated to suit your airflow needs. Alternatively, you can mount a single cage where the bottom intake fan is and install a radiator in the front of the enclosure. Fractal Design continues to employ their tried and true white steel drive sleds, and I'm not complaining. I've seen enough vendors nail every other part of the design and then screw these up fantastically that I appreciate when someone has them down about as good as they'll get.

The remainder of the XL R2's interior isn't bad by any stretch of the imagination, but it's still a hair behind the times. We do get a 140mm intake fan on the bottom of the case and the case itself stands up high enough that only the shaggiest of carpet will block it off, and Fractal Design actually includes additional clearance above the motherboard tray expressly for mounting 240mm/280mm slim radiators. Where they fall behind is the lack of an extruded channel around the tray for cable management (as well as helping the case slim down a touch) and no preinstalled motherboard standoffs or alignment studs.

It's tough to complain too much, though. This is effectively the same ATX interior cooling design Nanoxia and everyone else enjoys, it's just bigger. I do think it's unusual that Fractal Design opted to go for a bottom intake instead of using that third fan in the open front mount, but "unusual" doesn't necessarily mean "bad." As I mentioned, the XL R2 does actually stand far enough off of the ground to make this intake a useful one. A bottom intake's noise can be easily muffled by its direction and proximity to the ground.

Introducing the Fractal Design Define XL R2 Assembling the Fractal Design Define XL R2
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  • ymrtech - Wednesday, February 20, 2013 - link

    I have the first version of the XL and I love it.
    Gigantic, but quiet as hell when combined with aftermarket 120mm GPU (x2) fans and a Noctua nd-h14.
    My fans never increase in speeds, even under load, and the temperatures are always low.
    Reply
  • reemrevnivek - Wednesday, February 20, 2013 - link

    You wrote:
    > Unfortunately, installing a full size hard drive into the top slot
    > of the cage will result in it scraping against the bottoms of the
    > plastic pegs that allow for the rotatable cage mounts.

    I just got this case (and agree with most all of the review) but this wasn't a problem I encountered. I installed a WD Caviar Blue 1TB hard drive and had no such troubles. I slipped the drive sled out, turned the mounting screws in securely, and slid it back in. Turning down the mounting screws caused just a bit of compression on the rubber grommets, but not enough to allow the drive to interfere and break off a plastic peg. The spec sheet for your Deskstar drive says it's the same height (26.1mm/1.028") as the WD drive, which is pretty standard.

    With these two data points, I am suspicious that the pegs were somehow moved in your removal and re-installation of the drive cages, and this is one of . Could you check this? I'll make measurements of the clearances on my case when I get home tonight for comparison.
    Reply
  • arthur449 - Wednesday, February 20, 2013 - link

    I encountered this problem recently with WD Red 3TB drives and a Fractal Design Arc Midi. Care had to be taken when inserting 3.5" drives into the cage or the screws of the drive above would scrape the top of the drive below. Reply
  • arthur449 - Wednesday, February 20, 2013 - link

    Apologies for the double reply, but it should be stated that I had the same issue with Samsung F4s, WD Greens, and ancient Seagate 7200.11s. I screwed the mounting screws in as tight as they would go, causing your noted compression on the rubber grommets, but it still didn't give me the clearance needed to insert a drive beneath another without manually lifting the drive in the tray above when inserting the drive beneath. Reply
  • rrohbeck - Wednesday, February 20, 2013 - link

    Stupid question, but did you use the right screws? I never had that problem mounting 9 drives in my Define XL. Reply
  • arthur449 - Wednesday, February 20, 2013 - link

    It's entirely possible that the Arc Midi has less space between the drive trays than the Define XL, but I'm glad to see at least someone else is having clearance issues with 3.5" drives and Fractal Design cases.

    I only mounted seven 3.5" drives in the Arc Midi, but I double and triple checked that the screw placement and grommets were properly attached to the trays and that the screws were threaded as far into the drives as they would go (however, the threads of the included wafer head screws stopped well shy of the depth available in the HDD housing.)

    Perhaps this is simply an issue with the screws provided with the case.
    Reply
  • reemrevnivek - Wednesday, February 20, 2013 - link

    The threads of the wafer head screws were able to go completely into my three assorted drives. They've got 0.2" of thread and a 0.2" shank. The drives all have at least 0.25" of thread depth, and the wafer head screws seat at the shank, which slides through the bushing providing vibration isolation. Do you have threads exposed when there's a bushing on the shank? Reply
  • reemrevnivek - Wednesday, February 20, 2013 - link

    OK, the promised measurements:

    - Sled metal + paint thickness: 0.030"
    - Height of grommet + sled metal + screw head*: 0.247"
    - Delta between fingertight mount screws and torqued down hard: 0.021" (reduces above height to 0.226)

    Maximum drive thicknesses:
    - Hitachi HDT721075 SLA 360: 0.993"
    - Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 750 GB: 1.017"
    - Western Digital Caviar Blue WD10EALX: 1.011"

    Drive + sled thickness:
    - Hitachi HDT721075 SLA 360: 1.227"
    - Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 750 GB: 1.248"
    - Western Digital Caviar Blue WD10EALX: 1.233"
    *These aren't precisely 0.021 + drive height, but I didn't do a thorough statistical sampling of each corner of each drive...it's close.

    And the most important measurements:
    - Inter-sled spacing: 1.254", +/- 0.02" over all 8 drive sleds
    - Grommet to plastic spacer (top hard drive max height): 1.017"

    It looks like I was simply lucky to have a set of drives and cages that fit well. My original comment was posted from work based on recollection of yesterday's assembly. As an electrical engineer with a little bit of mechanical design experience, the tolerance levels I see here aren't sufficient for a sheet metal manufacturing process, especially when you add painting/powder-coating variance into the mix.

    Looks like this is a tiny manufacturing oversight by Fractal Design, it was manufactured to use 1" high drives (they're not all precisely 1", 26.1mm is fairly common) and 0.25" thick grommets and wafer head screws, requiring 1.25" of spacing between sleds. This really needs to include some extra spacing for manufacturing errors, clearance fitting for easy assembly, and air flow here wouldn't hurt drive temps either.

    (PS: "and this is one of ." was supposed to be "and this is one of the things I didn't do." in the previous comment. I have now installed and removed the cages, and unless the whole cage was bent in your extraction (unlikely), it seems impossible to change the thickness.)
    Reply
  • Vatharian - Wednesday, February 20, 2013 - link

    That was nice review, but I'm sorry, it lacks something: What's the point of testing mediocre (in terms of noise output and required/generated airflow) system in such big case? It is valid of course, as it gives reference point, but it's not so useful without a comparison. And that would be fitting at least full ATX, or yet better EATX (to test clearances for cable management in cases that support it (it's easy to route cables if you're putting mini-ITX board in CosmosS, like I did some time ago), with a couple or trio of loud (470 or 5850? FX-5950XT :D). Old 920-equipped X58 or some AM3 130W-140W Phenom I/II with three 470s or 5850, couple of 7.2k rpm drives and stock intel/AMD cooler, as a noise dampening torture test, and then a reasonable system (what was tested here is quite good), that's what should be done with every case. Purpose: It will give idea how good the case is in range of systems (interpolation, yo!), and when choosing a case, we get wider array of features we can compare. What's the cheapest case out there? Which is the quietest case? Which one is best for effectively cooling my high-end hardware? Which has the most useful-to-me feature-rich case, or with highest build quality? And, my favorite: What's the cheapest (with acceptable aesthetics, as per taste) case that will quietly house my hardware? That's why two sets of hardware should be included in case tests. Reply
  • Sabresiberian - Wednesday, February 20, 2013 - link

    I agree; a huge case like this isn't really for the guy who builds a standard rig, it's for the person intending to fill it with a large MB loaded with graphics cards. At least one of the cards known to be rather noisy would be a better test here.

    And, I still want to know if the case will actually hold an XL-ATX comfortably, if it claims to be able to. You don't need to run the whole test with a board you can't fit in smaller cases, just put a couple of screws in it to see if it actually fits in, and if you have to do something like move the PSU from a bottom to top mount.

    I don't want to make this sound too negative - Anandtech does a great job with case reviews! These are just suggestions for ways to improve a bit. :)
    Reply

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