It seems all of the kinks have been worked out with the relationship between TweakTown and Fractal Design. I can only assume they approved of my review of the Define R3 because they keep sending me cases like the one I am about to bring to you today. Only having one product to view in the beginning hadn't really delivered the hype of what Fractal Design was getting all over the forums. As I took a look at the latest submission after seeing a few other manufacturer submissions, I do see some qualities that do make me think the Fractal Design cases are a step above others in their league. By this I mean that there is a "feel" and a "presence" that the Fractal Design cases offer, that took me a bit to fully appreciate.
These things may be subtle and most users may think "ah, I don't need that sort of thing", but let me tell you, when compared to other choices on the market, there are things that make the Fractal Design solutions sit on top of that hill of cases you have to look through when making the decision to buy a new case. In these cases, there is a really rigid frame and thickness to the elements that comprise these builds. I would almost go as far as to compare it to the liking of a professional grade tool versus something you get on eBay for $1.99; it just has that secure and sturdy feel to it that makes you think you could use it as a footstool, although I don't suggest you do that.
Then of course there is the sound deadening solutions built into the Define chassis that I can really appreciate. Even if you don't think you need it, once you use a chassis with measures taken as in these chassis, it makes the rubber pads installed on panels look like a joke. Here the matting used is like when we used to hang carpet in the basement to deaden the sounds of my drums. There is a huge difference to not be heard with these solutions.
Today, as the title alluded to, I am going to be looking at the smaller chassis to carry the Define name, the Fractal Design Mini. This chassis offers pretty much everything of what the R3 brought us, but this time the form factor of the chassis has been dropped into a design for Micro-ATX and Mini-ITX motherboards. The reason I addressed the two points I did above was to also show that just because they made the case smaller for people who base builds off of smaller motherboards and room is an issue, you don't have to give up any quality or integrity to what makes the Fractal Design cases what they are.
What is that exactly? It is a clean and subtle exterior look as well as sound proofing that is as important of a part as the design as the thick and sturdy construction is, to deliver you a chassis you will use for years to come.
Specifications, Availability and Pricing
Since Fractal Design covers the fans first, let's start there. There are two 1200 RPM fans installed inside of the chassis when you get it. There is one in the front delivering the inflow of air to the Define Mini, while the other is in the back working to exhaust the hot air. Besides that pair of fans, Fractal integrates three other locations to place fans as well. One goes in the floor of the case, one can go in the left side panel and one can go in the roof of the Define Mini. Due to the incorporated sound matting and the pair of removable covers, you do need to remove the one from the door and the one out of the roof before placing fans there or even to use them for passive ventilation. The whole design of the front of the case, the way it takes in the air and the padding on the doors, really takes care of internal vibration and fan noises from the users ears.
Inside the chassis you will find room for two 5.25" devices and in the lower bay there is an adapter included for a floppy drive or card reader. Under those you will find six locations to install both 2.5" and 3.5" storage drives broken up into two three drive cages. The top of these cages is removable to allow for longer video cards. The internal layout of the motherboard tray offers room for a Micro-ATX or Mini-ITX motherboard and has a 4+1 expansion slot configuration in the back. The I/O offers things like the power and reset buttons and the LED lighting, but it also offers both USB 2.0 and native USB 3.0, too. And with the front door that covers the front of the Define Mini, you are left with a sleek looking little tower with all the functionality one would desire in a mini-tower design.
The thing that is currently going to be doing the most damage for the Define Mini is the listed prices I am seeing currently. As I looked around the best deal seems to be the listing at Newegg.com for $116.99 and there is $15 shipping to add to that. Essentially you can get the Define R3 mid-tower case for less than this mini-tower and that just doesn't make any sense to me. This is a pretty big thing to over look, but I still plan to bring you my views of what the case offers and see if it is worth your money.
For me I don't have any space issues and I use mostly ATX motherboards, so the Define R3 is the obvious choice for me. I do however understand that space can be at a premium and you may be willing to pay a little extra if the case is a perfect fit to your needs.
Well, if that is what you are in search of, continue on and see what Fractal Design does with the Define Mini.
The Define Mini arrives in a box much like the one we saw with the R3. They both have the grey strip at the top of the box and the black with an image of the chassis on the front with the name set on the bottom edge of the grey line.
Under the Fractal Design name and logo there is a box denoting the part number and it denoted its black color even though it is the only choice at this moment.
On the back of the box the left hand side discusses what to expect in the Mini and the strength of the Define name. It then lists the specifications and the bit about Fractal Designs and their site address. The right side offers an image of the inside with three windows around it pointing out the top fan option with ModuVent cover, the compatibility of the drive trays for storage and the trio of USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 connections on the I/O panel.
The last side is pretty blank and only offers the company name and the name of the chassis while the rest of the panel is left shiny black.
Inside of the box, the Define Mini is packed with Styrofoam end caps and a plastic liner on it. There is also a layer of static cling plastic applied to the aluminum front panel to give it an added layer of protection should anything bad happen in transit. As for the sample I received, it arrived in perfect condition.
Fractal Design Define Mini
Our first glance at the Define Mini shows that simple lines with not a whole lot to distract the eyes can be a very pleasing visual appearance. The front door is made with a brushed aluminum panel in a plastic frame while the rest of the chassis is steel and painted inside and out.
Right behind the front door is a layer of foam to keep the fan noise at bare minimum. The air comes in from the sides to fill the chassis through the slots in the bezel so the fact the fan covers are not very open matters little to the flow.
I like that you have access to everything from the outside of the case. The pair of 5.25" bay covers pull right out with the release of a clip and the pair of fan covers give you access to the fan filters, one of which is backed with a 120mm fan.
The I/O panel is at the top of the chassis just behind the larger centered power LED. In the panel you get 3.5mm jacks for a MIC and set of cans, a power button and the two USB 2.0 ports and the single USB 3.0 port.
The top of the chassis is mostly solid except for the raised, honeycomb style, mesh area that allows of either a 120mm or a 140mm fan to be installed once the ModuVent panel is removed that is in the hole now.
The left side of the chassis also offers a ModuVent area that also allows for both 120mm and 140mm choice of fan to place here. You also get a better look at the depth of the front bezel and just how easy it is for the fans to pull air through this venting system.
In the back you see there is a pair of holes at the top for smaller tubing to go through above the exhaust fan. There is the 4+1 expansion slot system that jumps right out with the white covers currently installed and that leaves the PSU being installed at the bottom.
Fractal Design uses a rubber padded foot with aluminum on the side to support and dress up the design a touch. The PSU area as well as the optional fan area in front of it is both covered by the removable dust filter for simple maintenance and a clean interior.
Inside the Define Mini
Inside of the left panel you get to see the soundproofing used that goes as far as possible to the edges without causing issues with the panels fit. The ModuVent panel is removable and under it the soundproofing is cut away to allow a fan to be installed. The right side panel looks just like this minus the ModuVent panel - it's completely covered.
Looking inside the Define Mini, you can tell the case is definitely shorter than most, but the white on black theme continues with Fractal Design. I would also like to point out the hardware in the hard drive bays as the black box is rather inconspicuous there.
The pair of 5.25" bays are not tool-less as far as fancy latches go, but do use thumbscrews to mount devices here, so it isn't a complete pain to get them installed. The bottom bay has the tray for a floppy drive adapter mounted in it that we saw when I opened the door and removed the cover on the front.
If you leave the chassis as it is shipped to you, you have the option to install up to six storage drives in any combination of 3.5" or 2.5" drives in the while trays. The thumbscrews above and below the top section alludes that the section is removable.
Removing the screws allows you to slide the top section out and make room for much longer video cards and with the cage out of the way, the cards get direct injection from the 120mm intake fan.
The motherboard tray is pretty well laid out. It offers six locations to pass wiring and each of those holes has a grommet in it to take thing to that next level. Along with ten supplied places to tie wires too, there is quite a large hole behind the CPU for such a small case.
Inside the back of the Mini there is the eleven blade fan installed and the 4+1 slot configuration that allows for an additional slot for the fan controller if your board will do multi video cards within the first four slots. Otherwise use it for whatever you want, like lights.
Behind the tray there is 25mm of room except where the left edge of the tray meets the drive area. There is a bend of the steel that does limit the depth here a few millimeters, but there is plenty of room to work around any issues with wiring here.
The cabling is quite long and includes native USB 3.0 and a dual USB 2.0 connection along with the HD Audio/AC'97, power LED, reset and the power button connections.
Accessories and Documentation
Since I am going to breakdown what is in the goodies box, I will discuss the manual here. I hope your reading skills are good, because there isn't a single image included inside of the manual no matter what language it is in. While the text does give you some idea of what to do, some images to go along with the discussion never causes issues for inexperienced builders. I think a little more effort here could have gone a long way.
On the back of the packaging containing the hardware you get a list of its contents with images so when you dump out the contents you should count everything up to make sure you are good to go with the build.
There is an "L" shaped screw driver to work with any of the screws in the chassis. You get a separated bag for the motherboard risers and screws, but the rest of the screws for the ODD bays, the HDD trays, PSU, FDD and SSD screws are all thrown into a bag together.
The rest of its contents include the front panel adapter for a floppy drive, two wire management ties and a fan controller with all of its needed wiring and a mounting screw if you want to use that over the thumbscrews in the case.
Mounting a 3.5" drive in the tray requires the longer screws to run through the rubber anti-vibration mounts installed in each tray. To install a SSD or any 2.5" drive, grab up some of the tiny screws and use the holes provided in the middle of the tray.
The Build and Finished Product
As I get ready to spin it around once again, but this time with parts included, I figured I would start with the front with the door open to show the drive installed. Once the door is magnetically closed, you don't have to look at this at all.
I left the hard drive bay out as I do with most of the builds with that option and you can see it adds quite a bit of length to the options of cards that can go in here. Everything got through the chassis well as far as the wiring goes and leaves a clean build that allows the air to flow freely through the interior.
I opted to put the fan controller in the lowest expansion slot and I do like having the ability to change them. The one issue I do have is the cleanliness of the kit once it is installed. It just laves a mess laying there, but I guess that might be a reason there isn't a window on this chassis.
My m-ATX motherboard doesn't have a native USB 3.0 header on it so I tucked that way for now, but I was able to run quite a bit of wiring back here and pretty cleanly I might add. It's almost as if they knew this was the build I was going to do as the wiring sort of naturally fell into place and the tie points were very well placed.
Once the door is closed the Define Mini, it looks no different than when we pulled it out of the box for its debut images. To me that is a good thing, though. Too many times the installation of an ODD will break up the look and with the sound insulated door on here, it not only keeps noise pollution down, but eye pollution as well.
With power the only way you are going to know this is on is from the bright glare of the power LED that shows through the front bezel. While this one light is pretty darn bright, I don't think it will cause issues making it uncomfortable to sleep with it in the room at all and that is audibly and visually. Even as an HTPC chassis, the light could get annoying if placed directly in front of you, but I don't think it's a deal breaker.
Everything about the Define Mini won me over in the end. The structure is very solid; even with the side panel off there wasn't any flexing to be had to this design. The soundproofing, ModuVent panels and the front door all work in harmony to give you a silent user experience. The interior is well thought out and appointed for such a small design that it made my time building the computer a pleasure without any frustrations.
Most importantly to anyone buying a chassis is the looks and I got to say I liked the Define R3 and with this just being smaller and keeping the aesthetics the same. I like the Mini just as much for my m-ATX system and from the perspective of what the case offers and how it is laid out, I can't find fault in the Define Mini or its design.
I do have a bone to pick and the more obvious price point to consider, though. While I do like that there is an optional fan controller shipped with the chassis, I think it can be done much cleaner. Either add longer leads to the fan or design something to hide that nasty wiring. Even when I try to hide it and add the power to the lead, it just ends up lying on the floor of the case and across my PSU. I know there isn't a window, but the fan controller's mess almost takes away from how nice the case is before you add it. The second issue and it's a pricey one, is that the larger sibling of this pair is actually the cheaper of the two to get. Any way I spin that around, unless like I said you are space limited, I still can't see opting for this over the R3 unless you find a smoking hot deal on one that I am unaware of.
On its own, the Define Mini is a great case, even if it is a bit more expensive than other solutions. You could go buy a smaller NZXT, or a Corsair, or even a BitFenix, but I assure you the Fractal Designs case at bare minimum feels in the hand like it is a much sturdier build, overall quality is higher, along with the attention to finer details.
I agree that sometimes to get exactly what you want it is going to require you to go a little deeper into your wallet to achieve that goal. This just happens to be one of those instances where Fractal Design is offering the "perfect fit" opportunity with the Define Mini. For near $120 I feel the Mini delivers good satisfaction to buyers and gives you a sleek and silent chassis in return. It is a shame I can't award this case, as I really do like it, but it just doesn't pull ahead on its own in any specific category worthy of said awards.
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At Fractal Design, our mission is to deliver products with an extraordinary design level, without compromising the important factors of quality, functionality and value. The MSRP of the Define Mini is $99USD as compared to the Define R3's MSRP of $109USD. Our partners have the flexibility to determine product pricing as well as shipping costs on Fractal Design products as it relates to their market and customer base. As such, product pricing can differ and may at different times may be priced either greater or less than MSRP. The current pricing on the Define Mini as of 4/25/2012 on Newegg is $99USD with $9.99 shipping and can be found at http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16811352011.