Fractal Design ARC XL Full-Tower Chassis Review

Fractal Design ARC XL Full-Tower Chassis Review

If the elements of the ARC Mini or ARC Midi made a great impression, but didn't offer enough room, Fractal Design offers the cure with the ARC XL.

@chad_sebring
Published Wed, Oct 23 2013 9:01 AM CDT   |   Updated Tue, Apr 7 2020 12:32 PM CDT
Rating: 97%Manufacturer: Fractal Design

Introduction

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Those that follow most of my chassis reviews will remember the story of my search for the perfect chassis to house my backup rig. The requirements were pretty simple for me, as I had a Micro-ATX based system, and I only needed to fit one dual radiator for cooling. The other aspect that I wanted was that I didn't want a typical squared off chassis as I was looking for something to go well with the round styling, and I kept ending up back at Fractal Design looking at the ARC cases they offered. While I did end up finding the perfect solution to my needs, what if you needed more room?

The people over at Fractal Design have thought of that, and this is the reason we are here today. Almost everything externally is a dead on match to what attracted me to the ARC Midi R2, so if you already liked the aesthetics there, this chassis gives you much more of the same design. Of course being a full-tower chassis this time around, there are a few minor changes outside of the increased size of the chassis. The front of the chassis offers two more 5.25" bays, and in the back there are now nine expansion slots, versus the four of the Midi R2. One other thing that is changed is that since the chassis is so much bigger now, the window on the left side has also increased in size to allow a view of even more hardware in this newer design.

For those of you who aren't acquainted with what Fractal Design has produced in the past, there are some things I have come to expect with their designs. They always have white on the interior in the form of fans, HDD trays, and even the blades of the equipped fans that come in their cases. They have almost stupidly thick door panels, ones that will easily take a blast from a shot gun with some bird shot in it, and after being shot at, they sit an laugh and ask for more.

That sort of attention to detail also leaves users with a very solid chassis frame, that even with panels and components out of the chassis; it can still offer rigidity and a solid feel to their designs. All of these points, along with the feature set, the aesthetic appeal, and the cost will be considered to see if the new ARC XL from Fractal Design is the case for you.

Specifications, Availability and Pricing

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The ARC XL can house quite a few motherboard form factors from Mini-ITX up to Extended and XL-ATX. The optical bays have been doubled to now include four 5.25" bays, and for storage, there are eight 3.5" trays and a pair of 2.5" trays behind the motherboard too. Speaking of behind the motherboard, this ARC XL offers 26mm there. There are nine expansion slots in the rear of the chassis , room for seven fans, offers dust filters in the front, bottom, and top of the chassis, even the ventilation in the back is opened more all to take advantage of what could easily be dead spaces in this design.

The cooling is handled out of the box with three Silent Series R2 140mm fans. One is placed in the front for intake, one is in the back for the exhaust, but just above the rear fan is a third to blow heated air straight through the top. There is also room for water cooling in this design. You can of course still install a dual radiator in the front like in the ARC Midi R2, but here you can also add a 360mm radiator across the top or it also offers the option for a 280mm radiator.

Also to aid in controlling the stock fans, or any three fans for that matter, there is a built in fan controller that offers 5V, 7V and 12V switch positions, found in the front I/O panel. Since we are discussing the I/O panel, there are also two USB 3.0 ports, two USB 2.0 ports, power button with integrated LEDs for power and HDD activity, and of course there is also a pair of 3.5mm jacks for audio.

What I really like, on top of the design and implementations going on with the new ARC XL has to be the pricing. While most locations are sticking to or charging more than the MSRP of $129.99, there is still a good deal to be had. As I looked around at all of the locations, sitting at the low-end, all by alone, at $30 under MSRP is Newegg. There the ARC XL is priced at $99.99 at the time of writing, and to make the deal even sweeter, they do have free shipping available on this chassis as well.

At this sort of pricing, the ARC XL is not only priced better than expected, but at $99.99 it takes on many mid-tower offerings, and I'm sure you will see soon enough that Fractal Design and the ARC XL may in fact be the full-tower chassis you have been waiting for and it is easily within anyone's grasp at this price.

Packaging

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While Fractal Design boxes the chassis in plain brown cardboard with black printing on it, the transit company really took their shots at the packaging here. There are five key things on this panel, there is the chassis name, company name, a rendering of the chassis, the web address, and the snowflake logo all displayed here.

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This side of the packaging is where Fractal Design decided to add a specifications chart and a cooling system chart. These should immediately tell potential buyers if this chassis offers what t you need in a full-tower design.

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The back of the box offers an exploded diagram of the chassis with components of the design being numbered. The text to the left side then explains what each part is or does.

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This last panel starts off showing us that the FD-CA-ARC-XL-BL-W is inside of this box. This means that we are getting the ARC XL in black, and it does include a windowed side panel. With said panel removed from the chassis, they then deliver a rendering of the inside of it.

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With holes in the box, and once I took the chassis out and found the top Styrofoam cap was broken, I thought things may not be so nice under the plastic liner. I am pleased to say that the chassis inside is in perfect condition, and even while the packaging was worse for wear, it did exactly what it is intended for, and protected the investment.

Fractal Design ARC XL Full-Tower Chassis

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The front of the ARC XL is completely plastic, but even so, they have added what looks like a brushed aluminum texturing to it to spice things up a bit. In this bezel, there are four removable bay covers, and the large mesh area at the bottom with the Fractal Design naming on it.

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The mesh panel has two clips to release at the top, the mesh will then flop out, and you can lift it from the two tabs at the bottom holding it into the bezel. This allows access to clean the front filter as well as changing or adding fans to the front of this chassis.

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The front I/O panel is house at the top and stays in place when the front bezel is removed. Offered here is the fan controller, audio jacks, power button, tiny reset button, and USB connectivity at the right.

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The remainder of the top of this chassis is taken up with a plastic framed top that has way more mesh that it does plastic. This panel is removable to gain access to mounting fans or radiators under it.

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The left side offers a flat steel door with a very large window. I like that they kept the irregular shape to match the other ARC cases, and it is also slightly tinted.

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At the top, there is a pair of screws to remove the top, and just below it the passive cooling mesh gets an added line to it from the Midi and Mini. There is then the rear I/O and room for a 120mm or 140mm fan, nine expansion slots, and a bottom mounted PSU with a dust filter.

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The right side of the chassis just offers a large flat steel panel to close things off, and since you will want to look in through the window, it is likely this will face a wall anyways.

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Under the ARC XL, there are large front feet, but to make room for the large dust filter under the PSU and optional fan location, the ones at the rear of the chassis had to be much smaller. The ARC XL still has a solid grasp on things, and even with smaller feet it is very stable.

Inside the ARC XL

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Doors now off the ARC XL, we get to peer inside. The wiring is tied down and run through one of the grommets to keep it in one place for transit. The hardware can be found in the black box inside the HDD rack, but the paperwork is found outside the chassis, at the top, under the foam.

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There are four 5.25" bays offered in this design, and even with the lack of tool-free clips, Fractal sends thumbscrews to make mounting here still easy and fast without having to grab a screwdriver.

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There are eight total white trays that will allow for both 3.5" drives as well as 2.5" drives to be mounted with screws through the grommets you can see on each tray. The bays are then broken up into two cages, and one or both of them can be removed from the case to make room for other components.

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Removing the pair of thumbscrews, the entire panel will slide back, and be able to be lifted off. There is room for a pair of 140mm fans off to the left, and if using 120mm fans, you can get three in the top.

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They do supply a single 140mm fan in the top of the chassis, but if you look to the right, you can see that the 120mm fan option is centered in the bays to allow both fans and radiators to go there, at the expanse of a bay or two.

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The motherboard tray offers a large CPU cooler access hole, six holes with grommets for wiring, and room for large motherboards with standoff holes all the way to the right side of the tray.

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The floor of the chassis has a pair of stands for the PSU to rest on, and even includes a gasket at the back. In front of the PSU, you have the option for a 120mm or 140mm fan. At the back, there is also one more management hole that has a grommet in it to take the wiring from the PSU to the back of the tray.

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The third and final installed fan is the 140mm in the rear of the chassis. All three are also powered via 3-pin connections. Below that there are nine white expansion slot covers that are held in place with thumbscrews.

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The wiring is pre-routed if you want to use it like this, and you can see the fan controller power and fan lead connections at the top. There is also a pair of SSD trays that screw into the motherboard tray to take up wasted space in most designs.

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The wiring is a bit on the shorter side than what is usually provided, but on the flip side, all of these wires will make it to the required spot on the motherboard and still be able to be routed cleanly and out of the way.

Accessories and Documentation

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The box that houses all the hardware is also where the parts checklist is placed. You will not find it repeated in the manual, so you will need to use this to verify you have all the hardware needed to finish the build.

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Everything we just saw is indeed included. There are the tie straps, standoffs with a socket, ODD thumbscrews, and PSU screws down the left side. In the middle there are SSD screws and long fan screws. That leaves the short fan screws, the HDD screws, and the motherboard screws at the right.

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There is also the manual and some paperwork to discuss. While we will get to the manual soon enough, Fractal Design offers a red slip like Corsair does telling buyers to contact them not the retailer if there is damages to your product.

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Inside of the manual things start out with a story behind the ARC XL design, and gets right into things like the fan controller and dust filters. It also shows off the HDD rack modularity and also covers the water cooling possibilities inside of the ARC XL.

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The last bit this manual discusses is the SSD trays behind the motherboard tray. It then goes on to discuss the two year warranty before the manual changes over to French.

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At the very back of the manual, there is also this fold out page to find. This is again the exploded diagram of the ARC XL we saw on the box, but this is much easier to keep around when building than the box is.

The Build and Finished Product

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To gain access to the removable bay covers, the front bezel needs to be removed. Once there you have access to the tabs that lock them all into the bezel. Also notice that the front I/O is still on the frame of the chassis with no wiring to deal with.

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With the build fast forwarded to completion, we now see the ARC XL with the bezel back in place and it has the ODD added. The drive is flush with the face of the chassis and does not take away from the design since the bezel surrounds it with a mock brushed aluminum finish.

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The inside of the chassis was gutted to show how much room is available for those using SSDs. There is plenty of room for a dual radiator in the front along with the pump and reservoir to sit there too. There is quite a bit of distance from the top to the motherboard for another radiator, and the ARC XL makes this ATX board look small.

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Out here, the rear I/O shield snapped right into place, the PSU fits snug against the gasket at the bottom, and I did not have to flex the back of the chassis to align the video card screws.

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I did need to rearrange the wiring, but connecting the fan controller and the chassis wiring is pretty simple, gets where it needs to, and is clean looking when tied up. Since this area is so deep, there is no issue getting the 2-pin along with a bunch of other wiring tied to it and still get the panel on without any conflicts.

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With the darkness of the tinted side window, it is difficult to see much behind the glass, if you will. What you are left with is a very similar thing to what came out of the box, and I really like that about certain chassis designs, this one included.

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Using the power button to bring the ARC XL to life, you will immediately see the blue LED backlighting the power icon. What I wasn't able to time correctly was catching the red LED to its right flashing when the HDD was active.

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Since the lighting is on top, and the darkness of the window makes seeing a spinning fan more difficult, you would assume maybe some fan noise would let you know it was on. In this instance with the ARC XL, even to get an accurate measurement of the 29dB of noise from the fans, I had to be within six inches of the chassis to obtain it.

Final Thoughts

Of course, I am a bit partial to this design from its onset, and this is why I actively hunted down the ARC Midi R2 for my backup machine, but I am also looking at this with open eyes. But the same things I loved about the smaller version are found in this design as well, just now it accommodates for much larger motherboards, more water cooling options, and room for more of those components that need to go with the radiators. Otherwise, you are given the same styling not only on the front, but the window even stays within the same shape, it just got enlarged to fit the size of the larger door panel. If I had based my system on an ATX or larger motherboard, the ARC XL would have definitely been my choice of cases to use.

The provided cooling is more than adequate, and even while delivering very little noise to its surroundings, the flow from the trio of 140mm fans left the temperatures inside of the chassis of my components a bit lower than the average results. Imagine if you decide to fill all seven places with 140mm fans, if using more of these Silent Series R2 fans, you will have the utmost in air flow, and not raise the audible level much at all. While I noticed in the manual that they only showed dual radiators in the top and bottom, you can also have a dual in the front if you remove the hard drive racks, and there is room for a 360mm in the top at the expense of 5.25" bays, and you can still use a single 120mm or a 140mm in the back.

What can I say about a chassis that I couldn't find any major or minor flaws with? In every aspect, strength, rigidity with the panels off, feature set, modularity, wire management, ease of use, I mean they hit the nail on the head everywhere you look in the ARC XL. Then when you factor in the low price point of $99.99 to get this to your door, Fractal Design made my job really tough when looking for defects or mistakes, as I am just unable to find any. There is just no reason to pass up on the opportunity to own this chassis, especially for those looking to house larger motherboards including some dual socket models, you can pack some seriously powerful components into this machine with multiple video cards, and still have room for a complete water cooling loop.

So, not only does the list of features and things that are done right go on and on, it seems the same is said for the amount of components you can install into this full-tower chassis, without taking up half the room it sits in to do so. If most or any of what I have delivered here applies to you, then I strongly suggest you ponder the Fractal Design ARC XL, as it is the most economically-friendly chassis I have seen with this range of compatibility.

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After a year of gaming, Chad caught the OC bug. With overclocking comes the need for better cooling, and Chad has had many air and water setups. With a few years of abusing computer parts, he decided to take his chances and try to get a review job. As an avid overclocker, Chad is always looking for the next leg up in RAM, cooling, as well as peripherals.

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