Introduction, Specifications, and Pricing
While we may have missed out on getting our hands-on the original design, we have still seen the Define chassis grow into something really great. With help of users, and a close ear on the pulse of the market, Fractal Design has yet to fail to impress us with this series of cases. From the very beginning of the Define Series, Fractal Design set out to offer the masses very solidly constructed cases with great airflow, and virtually no noise emitted into the environment. Of course, along the way there have been minor changes here and there to trim, layout, or the customizability of the design, but the model we are looking at today has to be the largest evolution in the Define series since it was launched.
So, what did Fractal Design think the masses wanted this time? Well, it seems just about everything in the chassis has been "touched" in some way or another. To keep up with the competition, Fractal Design made changes all around. On the exterior, there is a new ModuVent system deployed on the roof, and this time around, the front panel door is easily reversible. On the inside, the entire front can be stripped of bays, or reconfigured to suit your build, and the motherboard tray has been changed with new openings and tie points. On top of all of that lovin' from Fractal, everything was done with water cooling potential in mind, and as you will soon see, they pulled out all the stops to make this happen.
For all of you that have had, or currently have the pleasure of housing your gear in a Fractal Design chassis, this chassis will not be a hard sell to you at all. You will very much appreciate what has gone into this design, and with very little more than a few pictures, we are sure you will be off to find this chassis for your next build. For those of you that have never had the pleasure of owning a Fractal Design chassis from any series, we feel that you will want to take a long hard look at what their latest chassis has brought to the market.
As the NDA lifts, we are proud to bring you the Define R5, the latest, and likely greatest of the Define Series. If there was ever a time to jump in with both feet and try out a silent chassis with all the bells and whistles, this is it. We have high expectations of cases that can be shot with a shotgun and still sit there smiling back at you, and we were in no way disappointed with the chassis you are about to see.
The top section of the chart notes the R5 offers a pair of removable 5.25" bays, and eight 3.5" bays that are removable and re-locatable; all of the trays will accommodate 2.5" drives as well. If you have no plans to keep the bays in your build, there are also two dedicated 2.5" drive locations on the back of the motherboard tray. At the back of the chassis, there are seven expansion slots, and the motherboard tray is capable of housing an ATX, a Micro-ATX, or a Mini-ITX motherboard.
Just touching on the cooling, we see there are nine locations, but the second bit of the chart takes it much further. Along with the included parts of the front I/O panel, we start to find limitations like 180mm for the CPU cooler, some PSU limitations (depending on fans and HDD layout), and 310mm worth of video card will fit with the HDD rack in the chassis.
The chart then moves on to spacing behind the motherboard tray, and it also mentions the Velcro tie straps, the option to switch the front panel swing, and the cool latch system for the left door. The chart also informs us that we will be able to find this chassis in black, titanium, and white, all of which will have the option of a solid panel or a windowed panel. Moving into weights and measures, we see that the R5 is 232mm wide, 451mm in height, 531mm deep, and weighs in at 10.2 kilos while empty.
The lower half of the chart explains all of the cooling options that are designed into this chassis, as well as the built-in features that will help simplify things. In the front of the chassis, there is room for a pair of 120 or 140mm fans, and there is a single FD Dynamic GP14 fan installed that will cruise along at 1000 RPM. The rear of the chassis will also allow for a 120 or 140mm fan, but only one, and this is where the second GP14 fan is preinstalled. After the ModuVent is removed, the top of the chassis will allow for up to three 120mm or 140mm fans to be installed. Depending on PSU length and HDD cage installation, the floor of the chassis has room for another pair of either 120mm or 140mm fans. The ninth, and final fan location is in the left side of the chassis, near the bottom of the panel, but as the chassis is shipped, this location is blocked with a ModuVent cover. Of course, all of these areas also support radiators. Additionally, the chassis offers a three fan, three position fan controller built into the front bezel, and the front and floor of the chassis are covered with easily accessible and removable dust filtering.
Since the NDA is just lifting, availability of the Define R5 will be quite low for a week or so. We are told that stock should be arriving in early December, so you can acquire your own Define R5 before the end of the year. We also like the intended MSRP for both the standard non-window version that we received, as well as for the windowed versions. On this side of the pond, you should be able to locate the windowless version in any of the three colors for $109.99. For those of you who want the side panel window, it will only set you back an additional portrait of Hamilton, as the MSRP for those three versions is set at $119.99. In our opinion, both versions are priced near the top of where we feel a mid-tower chassis can still sell at, but the feature set and design have to be top-of-the-line to pull it off well. However, from what we have seen, the Fractal Design Define R5 is very much worth the investment.
Sticking to the basics, Fractal Design packs the Define R5 in plain cardboard with black screen printing for the naming across the top, a rendering of the chassis in the center, and the company logo and web address at the bottom.
Here we find the chassis naming at the top once again, and near the middle, we see the FD-CA-DEF-R5-BK model number is checked off, denoting we have the black model, and not white or titanium. Just below this, we find a rendering of the internal layout as it is shipped.
Around back, we find nine features listed, including the chassis' silent operation, H2O support, ModuVent system, GP14 fans, dust filters, HDD cage modularity, hidden drive bays, front panel, and the quick release panel. The rendering at the bottom shows the chassis, notes where things are located, and how to remove or access them.
The last panel of the package offers both of the charts we discussed, and makes customers fully aware of the cooling and water cooling options by separating those specifications from the rest of the chassis specifications.
There is nothing super special about the inner packaging, yet the use of a thin inner liner, and Styrofoam end caps was more than enough to take the hits the box shows in the images. The Define R5 inside arrived damage-free, and in great shape.
Fractal Design Define R5 Mid-Tower Chassis
There are two parts that make up the bezel on the front of the Define R5. First, there is the part that attaches to the chassis that affords room for the front I/O panel, the removable bay covers, dust filter, and side entry ventilation. Then there is the thinner flat door panel, which is made mostly of plastic, but offers a brushed metal appearance.
As shipped, the panel opens to the left and exposes the removable 5.25" bay covers under the PC power light and fan controller switch. The lower section has a plastic cover that pops out to allow the dust filter behind it to be removed and cleaned. Also note that the back of the front panel has sound deadening material applied to diminish noise coming from the front of the chassis.
At the top of the chassis, we find the front I/O panel as part of the bezel. The Define R5 offers 3.5mm HD audio jacks to the left, a tiny reset button, a large power button, and a pair each of USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 ports to the right.
Where older designs had room for only two fans, there is room for up to three 120mm or 140mm fans in the R5. To cover this area, and keep the silence in check, Fractal offers this three-piece ModuVent system to cover the honeycomb mesh below.
Moving right along, we have run into the left side of the Define R5. Here we see the side ventilation in the bezel, tight lines around the panel, and some chromed feet at the bottom. We also see a ModuVent panel covering an optional fan location to provide fresh air to the video cards.
At the back, we see a slight offset at the top before running into the rear I/O area and adjustable fan location. Below those, we find seven expansion slots with ventilation next to them, and room for the PSU at the bottom. To the right, the panel offers a pin and latch system, so the thumbscrews aren't needed once the chassis is on a stable surface.
The right side of the chassis is very much like the left side, with the ventilation in the bezel, and an expansive black steel panel. This panel is secured by removable thumbscrews, and both panels swing in and out like car doors.
Under the chassis, we find four round feet placed near the corners, and the feet have rubber pads for added grip and protection. We also find one long dust filter that slides out of the front, and this will also provide you with access to HDD cage screws, and allow you to install optional fans.
Inside the Define R5
On the inside of both of the side panels, almost edge to edge, you will find this heavy, multi-layered, sound deadening material. You can easily pull the screws and remove the ModuVent panel to install a fan of your choice.
Since the front I/O panel is molded into the top of the bezel, the wiring for the ports on the panel and the leads for the fan controller are all attached. So, be sure to install drives and get the tinkering done here long before you wire the chassis.
With the bulk of the interior in black, and the bays, slot covers, and fan blades in white, the chassis screams Fractal Design. As we take our first look inside, we find the wiring is bundled and passed through the motherboard tray for transit, and there is a hardware box in the lowest drive bay.
At the top of the chassis, there are two 5.25" drive bays that use thumbscrews for mounting drives and devices. Keep in mind that both of these bays can be removed to provide additional room for radiators and fans at the top.
For now, the HDD cages are set in two sections, one cage of five, and another of three bays. Of course, they are all removable, and either section can go in at the top or bottom where you see them now. If the PSU isn't too long, you could even attach them to the floor just to the left of their current position.
Along with the ODD and HDD bays, there is yet another panel at the top that can be removed to fully open the top for a trio of fans. We also get to see the installed intake fan, and just how much room this R5 has to play around with.
The top of the chassis will allow for thinner radiators and fans without obstruction to the motherboard. In this image, we find two things. First, we can see the size of the mesh won't block much flow at all, and we also see that there are squeeze clips for releasing the ModuVent.
Rather than offering a flat tray, the motherboard tray is inset to provide more room for wiring, and will not allow for anything larger than an ATX motherboard. The tray offers a large access hole, four well placed management holes, and is clearly marked for the three motherboard sizes and standoff installation.
Of course, the floor of the chassis offers room for the PSU, but it is also open to rearranging the HDD cages in the middle, or possibly even a fan. Once the cages are completely removed, two fans should fit on front of the PSU.
Inside of the back of the R5, we find the same three-pin powered GP14 fan we saw at the front of the chassis. The expansion slots and future cards are, and will be secured by the thumbscrews seen there.
Off to the left, there is plenty of room for any wiring needed, but to the right, Fractal has done a bit of the wiring for us, and tended to it with the Velcro straps sporting their name. We can also see the two dedicated 2.5" trays that slide on and off the back of the motherboard tray.
As for the chassis' wiring, what we see here is only part of it. All of this is done up in black sleeve, including the LED, buttons, the USB leads, and HD audio cable; there are also a few three-pin fan power leads, and a SATA power connector for the fan controller.
Accessories and Documentation
This is part of what we found in the hardware box. There are five zip-ties, a nylon socket for the eight standoffs, including the helper standoff that is already in the center of the motherboard tray. There are also eight motherboard screws, and four PSU screws in this image.
The rest of the kit contains four long fan screws for the front of the chassis, and thumbscrews for ODD installation or locking in the HDD trays. There are also a handful of rubber grommets for the HDD trays to mount 3.5" drives, and screws below them to secure the drives. At the bottom left is yet another handful of screws for 2.5" drive installation.
Outside of the chassis, we found another bag containing all of the paperwork for the Define R5. This includes the very comprehensive manual (around thirty or so pages) that shows everything there is to know from how to get inside the chassis to removing, rearranging, and building just about anything you can dream up in this chassis. Fractal shows you how to get all of that done. There is also a red insert that offers support and other information for various countries Fractal supplies cases to.
Just in case the description in the specifications and the tour around the chassis left you a bit confused, here is one last look at the fan locations. All of them are made to fit both 120mm and 140mm fans.
As for radiators, this image pretty much sums it up. Also, note that along with length of the radiators that are supported, in the front and at the bottom, they also depict thicker radiators fitting, and thin ones at the top only, for a total of 55mm of fan and radiator.
Case Build and Finished Product
Since we left the interior stripped behind the front panel, we appreciate the bay covers, but if you want a triple radiator in the front, then you may want to remove them. We also went ahead and swapped the swing of the front panel, which took all of moving two screws and clips from one side to the other.
Since we do not have a window, leaving a few of the wires inside is not such a big deal, and allowed us to keep things really clean. There is plenty of room for all of our gear, and plenty more room for much more to be installed in the future.
Installing the dust shield was easy enough, and there was no flexing of the back of the chassis needed; the GPU lined right up with the holes, and even the PSU was a cinch to get installed.
Using one of the dedicated 2.5" drive trays allows us to gut the front of the chassis and still have everything we need. The wiring trail is mostly occupied by the front panel and controller wiring, and that does not leave a lot of room for PSU wiring, but we still managed to pull off a very clean build.
Once we bundled the chassis back up to get ready for testing, we found that our Define R5 looks exactly as it did when we started, and the only real difference is that it is much heavier now.
If not for the bright blue light peeking out through the slit in the front panel, we wouldn't be able to tell if the Define R5 was running after we fired it up, as we heard absolutely nothing when we took this image from three feet away. In fact, you practically have to be within an inch or two of the chassis to hear anything from inside of it.
As we have watched the Define Series from Fractal Design grow up in the last few years, we have no doubt that the Define R5 is the pinnacle of all the models delivered to date. This model keeps all the things we have come to like in the Define Series, like silence in operation, a simplistic exterior, the use of sound absorbent materials, and it is built to take on anything that a chassis will go through, and then some.
On top of all of this, there are still more features to come. The fan controller is sort of expected from Fractal Design, but the new top panel design and what it offers in both ModuVent panels and potential water and air cooling support is a pleasant surprise. The ability to completely gut the front of the ODD and HDD bays is also nice for the optional support it offers, and having a pair of 2.5" drives on the motherboard tray means there is less need for those bays. To sum it up simply: there isn't one bit of the installation process or the rearranging of the chassis that was in any way troublesome.
If there is anything to complain about with the Define R5, it would have to be the stock airflow. While it did give us near average results on our CPU and GPU, the chassis is in definite need of more airflow for a gamer or heavy user to be happy in the long term. To sort of counteract that though, this model is intended to have users go all out, as the chassis is designed to handle it, and the stock fans may not even stay in the build at all.
The other thing that we need to point out, even though we expected it, is that once the bays are all out of the chassis, there is a fair bit of torsion flex when you try to move the chassis around without the panels on. Considering we removed most of the cross bracing by taking the bays out, we were fine with the amount of flex, and once the panels are back on, this flex is reduced to almost nothing at all, even if you opt to forgo the thumbscrews and just use the latch and pins on the left side.
As for the limitations in the Define R5, if you can even call them that, we feel that even the most powerful system builders will find enough room for any needs in water cooling components, or even opting to use air cooling. With 180mm of room provided, the majority of coolers will fit without issue. The real issue that anyone will run across is what you want to do in the floor of the chassis. If you plan to pull the bays and set them side by side, or to run two fans in the floor, then you are going to need a very short PSU to accomplish this, and will require the right planning ahead of time.
Considering everything we have just seen, and the undeniable fact that this is the best laid out and most feature rich of the Define Series chassis to date, the Define R5 shows that you can get quite a bit for your hard earned dollar. As tested, you should be able to get this chassis for a mere $109.99 when they hit shelves in December, and even if you want to opt for the windowed version, it will only cost another $10. Also keep in mind, if black is not your thing, this chassis will also be available in white and titanium as well, and both with have the windowed panel option.
It is rare that we find a chassis that is well appointed, strong as an ox, and offers many ways to keep volume from the chassis at bay all at once, but the Define R5 does it all. Fractal Design has broken the mold and shown that they are indeed still relevant, and ready to take the market and its customers head on with this new Define R5 mid-tower.
|Quality including Design and Build||100%|
|Bundle and Packaging||98%|
|Value for Money||97%|
The Bottom Line: Fractal Design stepped up its game and delivered a chassis with great structural integrity, packed with features and options, silence, and a great price! The Define R5 is Fractal Design's best chassis yet.
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