In the same conversation I sat down for with Josh Smith from Fractal Design at CES during our meeting there, I was told that by the time I arrived back to my house, this chassis should be waiting there for me. As I was finally able to play catch up with some of their cases last year, one chassis I missed sadly was to have a look at the Define XL. From what I have seen in their other products, I can only imagine this chassis was a beast just like all the rest I have had a chance to look at. Even not having actually seen the chassis, I did venture back in time a bit and read a few other reviews of the original Define XL, just to brush up on its offerings and do a little bit of a compare and contrast.
When someone says they are doing a chassis revision, a lot of time I have to turn those samples down, because adding a fan or two, or painting it another color, does not warrant a full review. Here that isn't the case at all, excuse my pun. Fractal took the original chassis, but did not do much to the outside of the chassis, as to keep the sleek looks that made the original such a success. This new revision made five major changes to the interior that I could come up with in just a couple of moments looking through the specs list. In my opinion, making a whole new chassis, and well worth its own series name, but since it is in the same clothing, Define XL it is.
Some of the changes to look for in the newly released Define XL R2 from Fractal Design are things like the fan controller, the hard drive bay configuration, the lack of the second floor, the lack of the odd fan duct at the top, more expansion slots, and another form factor of motherboard to add to the compatibility list. As you can see, just in what I listed there, there have been a lot of changes to this revision, and well worth the time and effort to go over this new chassis with a fine toothed comb.
Join me as I take a walk around the Define XL R2 and see just what Fractal had up their sleeves when designing this revised chassis.
Specifications, Availability and Pricing
Since the original has been put out to pasture and discontinued now, let's move right into the second revision of the Define XL. The chassis keeps the same thick and heavy steel construction that put almost a "professional-grade" impression on you as you get to look closer at the chassis. The front of the chassis is again all enclosed behind a door, and said door has an aluminum plate installed in to the plastic bezel to dress up the front, while just behind that plate, air is being sucked in through vents on the sides. This is also a chassis that sorts three ModuVent covers, two on the top and one in the left side, as well as heavily sound proofing both of the removable side panels. The last thing I want to say about the outside of the Define XL R2 is that is stands on some very sturdy legs, of which are natural aluminum in color and are padded to keep this chassis in place.
Inside a lot has changed, and some things stayed the same. In the front you still get four 5.25" bays at the top for optical devices or any bay device for that matter. Below that is where the changes start. Instead of three drive cages allowing for ten drive placements, this chassis offers two removable cages that can house eight in total. Behind the cages you will see a motherboard tray that now supports XL ATX motherboards on top of its previous compatibilities. The false floor has been removed, so that there is more room for the motherboard and wire management options, but also to allow the increase from a 7+1 expansion slot setup to now offering nine slots to fill with cards. The last thing Fractal Design has to brag about on the inside is that that awkward fan duct from the top of the chassis has been removed, and the fan has been placed in the floor this time, leaving both ModuVent panels in place to fill the pair of holes in the roof of the chassis.
It took me a moment to actually locate this chassis for sale. I Google'ed for a moment with the search of "Fractal Design Define XL R2", and while I got news and listings of posts pertaining to the case, nothing was showing up for sale. As I then searched it by "FD-CA-DEF-XL-R2-BL", I was finally able to find four listings for this chassis. A place called CostCaptain.com is listing this case at $118.99 on the low end, and at the high end is a listing of Neobits.com with a price of $129.95. Even if you have to buy at the high end of the scale, $130 isn't out of the realm of reasonable for a full-tower chassis with a lot to offer.
Hang tight as we look at how the packaging did getting it here, so we can start to look at the Define XL R2 in fine detail and see if this is the next must-have case for you.
This is just what I like to see in a package, a brown box with basic print and imagery. In today's world you don't need fancy packaging, unless you buy at the store, and even then who doesn't have a phone with internet these days? Fractal exemplifies this with just the name, a rendering of the chassis, some site info, and the snowflake logo on the front.
The company and product names are placed above the handle, and on this side you are looking at the specifications chart for the Define XL R2.
On the back they explode the Define XL R2 in this rendering and point out eight specific things. From the front door at number one to the front I/O at number eight, this image and listing should get you very well associated with what this chassis offers.
This side gives you the name, and states that this is a computer case. Under the handle it denoted whether you have the Black Pearl as I do, or if you got the Titanium version instead. Just below this you get one last look inside of the chassis with this rendering.
The box looked pretty rough, and the one side was muddy as if they had to drag this across my yard. As you can see the inner packaging took a pretty big hit supporting the chassis inside. The other piece is also fractured, but not completely broken.
Until I removed the Styrofoam ends completely, I had no idea the bottom took damage too, just looking at what is missing, I hoped things were still okay. What I found after thorough examination is that even though the parts of the packaging were broken, it did the job that was asked of it. The front panel wasn't damaged, neither was any of the front bezel. In fact, I couldn't find a single scrap of plastic that had broken on impact or even a stripped screw. Fractal shows that they not only build a tank in their cases, but the job they do packaging them is just as good as the product, even if it is in a plain brown box.
Fractal Design Define XL R2 Black Pearl Full-Tower Chassis
From the front of the XL R2 you see only the thinnest of plastic trim around the edges and the right side is slightly inset to allow grip to open the front panel. What you are left to look at here is just the LED top center and a large expanse of black brushed aluminum.
Inside the door there is foam to deaden noises to the user. Behind the door you have four bay covers that are removable from the outside of the case. Below those bays you have another door that will sling left that is a dust filter for the pair of fan spots in the ray that you can pull out and clean.
In the original, Fractal Design sent a basic fan controller that you had to install. With the XL R2 you now just have to get in behind the door, and you can flip the switch mounted there to control up to three fans inside the case at 12V, 7V, and 5V for customizable cooling and noise level.
The front I/O is part of the front bezel, but since you don't have to remove the bezel, it is of little consequence. It does offer HD Audio on the left of the tiny reset button. Centered are the power button and LED and then you have a pair both of USB 3.0 and USB 2.0 ports to finish things off.
Further back on the top of the XL R2 you will find room for a pair of 120mm fans. Even with the honeycomb mesh cut into the steel, these are currently backed with sound proof panels as part of the ModuVent system.
Looking now at the left side of the XL R2, you get a lot of the familiar thick and heavy steel in this panel. It also offers a ModuVent opening at the video card level if you want to add a 140mm or 120mm fan there. You can now also see the venting I was describing in the side of the bezel.
In the back is room above the rear I/O to allow for water cooling up there. Next to the I/O is the rear exhaust fan, and below it are nine expansion slots to use. That leaves the opening at the bottom for a power supply.
The right side of the chassis looks almost exactly like the left side. Instead of offering room for a fan you are left with just more steel panel on this side.
Under the chassis you can see larger feet are used in the front, but to offset for the removable fan filter, smaller feet were needed in the back. There is nothing to worry about though; I assure you there is proper footing with this set up.
Inside the Define XL R2 Black Pearl
Looking inside of either of the panels you will see it is covered from edge to edge with sound absorbing materials. In the instance of the left side panel, there is a cut out of the one part of the material to allow for the ModuVent cover screwed into the panel until you want to install a fan.
Taking a quick look inside, Fractal does a great job of managing the wires for transit with then resting on the floor for the trip. In the lower section of the HDD racks is where you can locate the hardware box.
They opted out of tool-less clips on the 5.25" bays. There is a bag of thumbscrews to be used in these bays for a solid and secure mount with no chance of vibrations or loosening up over time.
These two removable racks hold four drives each in those white trays. Each tray will mount both 2.5" and 3.5" drives through the bottom of the tray into the drives.
If you don't need the extra storage space, or had plans on more water cooling, that is why these can disappear. You can easily fit a dual 120mm radiator in here, along with a reservoir and pump- combo unit on the floor.
As I mentioned, covering the two fan mounts in the roof are these ModuVent panels. This way, if you want more silence, you leave these in place. If you don't mind noise or just need more cooling, remove these and install fans as needed.
The motherboard tray changed too. The grommets in the management holes aren't square, there are more tie points in it, and it can house Mini-ITX, Micro-ATX, ATX, E-ATX, and now XL-ATX.
On the floor of the chassis, in front of the PSU, there is a 120mm fan installed with a grill on it so nothing gets into the blades. Along with a tall pair of rubber risers to support the PSU, there is a gasket on the back of the case, both isolating any vibrations from the chassis.
Looking into the back of the chassis you can plainly see the 11 white blades in the black frame of this 120mm exhaust fan. Below are the nine white expansion slot covers and they are held in place with thumbscrews, and is what you mount cards with as well.
Fractal even does some of the management for you if you like the way they have it routed. Otherwise there is plenty of room back here, and since I am in need of an 8-pin EPS cable extension, I have a plan to attempt to fill this area up and possibly cause an issue with the door panel, but I doubt highly I will have an issue.
All of the wiring is black to help it disappear in the chassis. It includes USB 3.0, USB 2.0, HD Audio, the front panel connections and even the fan controller connections in the back.
Accessories and Documentation
The top of this box is just as shiny and pretty, but I flipped it over this time to show you the parts list included on the back of these boxes.
All of the parts come separated in their own bags to make life that much more simple. With PSU screws on the far left, there are the ODD thumbscrews, rubber spacers, risers and a socket, SSD screws, HDD screws and the motherboard screws. You also get six wire ties to help manage the back of the tray.
As their manuals typically are, this one is very basic in its content as well. It will answer some questions you may have, but the chassis is very simple to figure out anyways. You also get the red card telling you to return damaged products to Fractal Design and not the point of purchase.
The Build and Finished Product
By opening the door, putting a finger behind the latch, lifting up, and then removing the cover, I was able to get the DVD drive in without removing the bezel. I also pulled the lower cover to show where I installed the SSD so I could leave the bays out of the case to show how much room is in here.
This case is immense. I mean it takes a full ATX motherboard and a HIS Radeon HD 7950 and makes it look like a Micro-ATX kit. I got a good sized air cooler, and I can still fit a radiator above it. This thing is just full of space for options later on down the road as your skill levels progress and back account increases.
In the back I found that the I/O shield is snug and fits well, I also had no issues with the card like I did in the Node 605. As for the PSU, it is a bit awkward at first until you get a screw in it, but then it gets snuggled right up to the gasket for a solid installed feel.
As you can see I tried really hard to fill this area with as much wiring and thick connections as I could. Funny thing is, even with all this going on back here, I just set the front edge of the door in the chassis and closed it right over these wires without even the slightest resistance. There are also loads of places to help manage the wiring - everything is tied down somewhere.
With the chassis all back together now, and essentially just waiting for me to plug in the power cord, you can see that from the outside absolutely nothing has changed. What you see from the first moment of opening the box is exactly what you have when you finish; no surprises.
Once I turned the chassis on, while the fan controller was set to 12V, the blue/white glow of the LED slot in the front and the ring on top weren't the only things telling me the case was on. The fans at this point are in the 45dB range if you were within a couple of feet of the chassis. The nice thing is though, the chassis cools so well, the turning it down to 7V cures the sound issue and still offers cooling ability that most users need.
It may sound a bit cliche to say this, but WOW. I am truly sad I missed the original, as I do wish I had more of a hand on comparison, but there was only so much you can get from a picture and a list of specifications. I really do hope that I caught all of the new additions in this chassis and have shown you just like Fractal Design has just shown me, they aren't afraid in the slightest to stay relevant and give the consumer what they desired from listening to the requests and following trends over time. The Fractal Design XL R2 is not only a huge step above the original design, this case is leaps and bounds better than most other offerings at this price.
The aesthetics are great. The feel of the chassis, even when completely stripped of what braces most other cases, you still feel like you would put a 300 pound guy on it to help you reach something high in the room. There are very few cases I can say this about, and honestly, fully assembled, I would not be shocked if Fractal Design told me this can hold 600 pounds and not crush it; it is just that solidly constructed. At full speeds, the cooling is more than adequate, even with the three ModuVent panels left in place. Even when I turned the fan speeds down to 5V and 7V, the cooling was sufficient for stock or mild overclocked rigs, but offers silence at both settings where the 12V setting is definitely audible, even at a slight distance. The box was roughly shipped by the couriers, the Styrofoam broke, but the case is perfect, and was a true pleasure to look at and work in through the whole process. There really isn't anything more you can ask for unless you just have to have a hot-swap exposed bay. While convenient, I always find mine unused and full of dust, so no loss at all with me in this design, to me it would detract too much from its awesomeness.
I'm going to split the difference in the pricing and go with a price of $125 for the purpose of this review. That puts you into the price range of the aging Phantom cases, the GRone, Thor2, I mean even the original HAF 932 is getting $139. I cannot argue one bit that Fractal Design has placed this chassis into a market at an amazing price. If anything, the Define XL R2 looks the best of them all, can fit in any room better, and can't be beat in structural strength, since the new internal layout offers what most cases today bring to the table along with a few things some don't. What I do know is that if I was digging in my wallet, there is no question in my mind that not only do I get the best of the group with Fractal Design, when I outgrow the cases, if I ever could, I could repurpose it as a jack stand for my 1978 Bonneville.
Anyone looking for a full-tower chassis needs to check this out, and for those who want sleek and clean with enough room for water cooling and a serious gaming rig, the Fractal Design Define XL R2 Black Pearl is all of that, and definitely gets my recommendation.
PRICING: You can find products similar to this one for sale below.
United States: Find other tech and computer products like this over at Amazon.com
United Kingdom: Find other tech and computer products like this over at Amazon.co.uk
Australia: Find other tech and computer products like this over at Amazon.com.au
Canada: Find other tech and computer products like this over at Amazon.ca
Deutschland: Finde andere Technik- und Computerprodukte wie dieses auf Amazon.de