GIVEAWAY: Gaming peripherals upgrade thanks to Corsair worth $280

Fractal Design CORE 500 Mini-ITX Small Form Factor Chassis Review

Fractal Design CORE 500 Mini-ITX Small Form Factor Chassis Review

Limited by space but don't want to be limited by what you can do with your PC? Check out the Fractal Design CORE 500 Mini-ITX SFF chassis.

@chad_sebring
Published Mon, Jun 27 2016 12:05 PM CDT   |   Updated Thu, Jul 30 2020 4:20 PM CDT
Rating: 97%Manufacturer: Fractal Design

Introduction, Specifications, and Pricing

Fractal Design CORE 500 Mini-ITX Small Form Factor Chassis Review 99 | TweakTown.com
VIEW GALLERY - 38 IMAGES

The "shoe box" style PC chassis has been around for a while, and with more and more users downsizing their desktop PCs these days, we do not see this market reaching its end of life anytime soon. A few years ago, if you had asked us where to get some of the better cases in this category, we would have likely pushed you towards Cooler Master or Thermaltake designs, but as time goes on, features improve, and what were significant cases in their day, are left by the wayside. This allows companies you may not think of like Fractal Design, to take what we loved from their larger designs and drop it all into a much more compact form factor.

There was, of course, the NODE 304 we reviewed some time ago, in which Fractal Design took their first shot at making a "shoe box" style SFF chassis, but there are two significant differences in what we have today. First of all, the NODE series is made to look outstanding as a piece of art, sitting out in the open in the home theater realm. The second key thing about the 304 was that the interior was packed with drive bays and again, with the intent being for mass amounts of storage that usually comes along with a media PC. Today things may come in a similarly sized chassis, but the intent is to offer a chassis this time for the gamers. While space is a premium commodity in cases such as these, Fractal Design uses every square inch to their advantage and deliver their latest take on what an SFF chassis should be in today's market.

When we bring up the CORE series that Fractal Design is so well known for, our minds immediately recall that all previous designs have been mid-tower or larger. This is their first chassis, of this stature, to sport the CORE naming. This CORE 500 Mini-ITX Small Form Factor chassis keeps the brushed front panel with angled sides, it offers modular systems which many love, and they also delivered a chassis, which while compact, offers compatibility for water cooling as well. With a market producing tons of options, let's see if Fractal Design and their CORE 500 can get you into something more affordable.

Fractal Design CORE 500 Mini-ITX Small Form Factor Chassis Review 01 | TweakTown.com
Fractal Design CORE 500 Mini-ITX Small Form Factor Chassis Review 88 | TweakTown.com

The specifications of the CORE 500 are laid out well by Fractal Design and covers everything you need to know. Here we find that this Mini-ITX and Mini-DTX compatible chassis comes in black, it is only 19.5 liters in size, measuring in at 250mm wide, 203mm tall, 380mm in depth, weighing in at just 4.4 kilograms. This steel and ABS plastic chassis delivers room inside for two expansion slots at the back, and at the front are room for a 5.25" drive and a spot below that for a 3.5" or 2.5" storage drive. The other pair of storage drive locations is found on the right side of the chassis. We also find that in this section, they cover the limitations inside of the chassis. There they mention that CPU coolers can be 170mm in height, standard ATX PSUs can be used if they are shorter than 170mm if you want to install a video card that is near the 310mm left in the chassis for that.

In the CORE 500, we see that it is shipped with a single Fractal Design Silent Series R3 fan in the back. This 140mm fan is made to stay quiet but still deliver ample air flow at just 1000 RPM. As for the rest of the chassis, there is also room in the top of the chassis for a pair of 120mm or 140mm fans, and both the top and the rear of the chassis are water cooling compatible. While they do make mention that if the pump is on the radiator of particular AIOs, they will not fit, but what they do bring up is that the fan and radiator combination can be up to 100mm in thickness. The left side of the chassis is ventilated to offer any video card ample area to breathe freely, while the right side provides a smaller area near the front to allow the PSU to exhaust. To help keep things clean on the inside, dust filters are offered on the top and left side of the chassis, both of which are magnetic. There is a third screen that sits under the PSU, and it slides out for easy cleaning.

The last bit of the specifications delivers information on the front interface, commonly addressed as the front I/O panel. On the CORE 500, Fractal did not want to limit your options and delivered what many cases do. You do find a pair of USB 3.0 ports, which of course will work with older devices, but you will need native USB 3.0 on the motherboard. There is also a pair of HD Audio 3.5mm jacks. All that is left then is the backlit power button, the HDD activity LED, and the reset button.

What takes the cake for us this early in the review, has to be the pricing. Not only can you install water cooling, not only were they sure to devise secondary locations for storage devices, but you also get cable management options, modular systems to make room for all of this, and an aesthetic that only the CORE Series brings. With all things considered, when we looked for this chassis to check out pricing, not only are they found practically everywhere, the price is more than reasonable. While Amazon is reaching a bit deeper into your pocket asking near $72 for this chassis, Newegg is listing it at $59.99, along with quite a few other locations. So for just a mere $60, you too can sport this attractive, compact chassis, which has more to offer than first impressions lead to.

Chad's Chassis Test System Specifications

Packaging

Fractal Design CORE 500 Mini-ITX Small Form Factor Chassis Review 02 | TweakTown.com

The black ink on plain cardboard is nothing new, but it does deliver quite a bit in its simplicity. We are given the company and product naming along the top of the front panel, with a large rendering of the CORE 500 right ion the middle. Along the bottom we see the snowflake logo, and they also provide their site address.

Fractal Design CORE 500 Mini-ITX Small Form Factor Chassis Review 03 | TweakTown.com

With the name at the top and a rendering of the inside of the chassis in the middle, the main point of this panel is to deliver the FD-CA-CORE-500-BK model number.

Fractal Design CORE 500 Mini-ITX Small Form Factor Chassis Review 04 | TweakTown.com

On this panel, we find an exploded diagram with six numbers on it. These numbers correlate to the text to the right, where it addresses the water cooling support, storage locations, its room for 170mm CPU coolers, dust filters, the included fan, and the sleek looking front panel.

Fractal Design CORE 500 Mini-ITX Small Form Factor Chassis Review 05 | TweakTown.com

While they do leave out the front I/O panel features in this chart, the middle of this panel does offer up the relevant specifications to anyone buying this from a brick and mortar store.

Fractal Design CORE 500 Mini-ITX Small Form Factor Chassis Review 06 | TweakTown.com

Considering how small this chassis is, after wrapping it in plastic, the size of the Styrofoam end caps seem enormous. The CORE 500 ships very well protected, and allowed our sample to arrive in perfect shape.

Fractal Design CORE 500 Mini-ITX Small Form Factor Chassis

Fractal Design CORE 500 Mini-ITX Small Form Factor Chassis Review 07 | TweakTown.com

The CORE 500 sports a similar bezel to the rest of the series. The center offers a single 5.25" bay cover, and the Fractal Design name at the bottom, of this vast expanse of brushed aluminum-like look with the texture, applied to the face of it. Off to either side, the bezel is angled, and venting is added, but in this instance, it is not actually functional.

Fractal Design CORE 500 Mini-ITX Small Form Factor Chassis Review 08 | TweakTown.com

At the top of the bezel, we find the front I/O panel. From left to right, we find the power and reset buttons, a tiny HDD Activity LED, the HD Audio jacks, and then we see the pair of USB 3.0 ports. None of which is connected to the bezel, it all stays on the chassis.

Fractal Design CORE 500 Mini-ITX Small Form Factor Chassis Review 09 | TweakTown.com

The top of the chassis offers small round holes, tightly oriented to provide ventilation for optional fan locations below it. We can also see that the top and both sides are one solid panel.

Fractal Design CORE 500 Mini-ITX Small Form Factor Chassis Review 10 | TweakTown.com

The left side of the chassis offers the same texture paint treatment we found at the top, but this time, the ventilation has been offset from the center of the panel. This is to correspond to the video cards placement inside so that it too can breathe easy.

Fractal Design CORE 500 Mini-ITX Small Form Factor Chassis Review 11 | TweakTown.com

Looking at the back of the chassis, we find four thumbscrews used to hold the tri-panel onto the frame of the chassis. We also see that 140mm fan takes up a lot of the room for ventilation, and below that we find the rear I/O area. Off to the left of it, we see the end of a PSU extension cable, and to the right is a pair of expansion slots.

Fractal Design CORE 500 Mini-ITX Small Form Factor Chassis Review 12 | TweakTown.com

The right side of the CORE 500 is more mundane, but we do still see more ventilation used on this side as well. It is shifted to the front this time and allows the front mounted PSU a way to blow the warmer air out of the chassis.

Fractal Design CORE 500 Mini-ITX Small Form Factor Chassis Review 13 | TweakTown.com

Under the chassis we see four round feet, pushed out to the corners as far as possible, to give it a secure footing. There is a PSU dust filter that slides out the front of the chassis, and we also see the hole in which to grip the bezel for removal.

Inside the CORE 500

Fractal Design CORE 500 Mini-ITX Small Form Factor Chassis Review 14 | TweakTown.com

As we removed the top and sides of the chassis, when we flipped it over, we noticed the dust filters. The long section at the top, as well as the one on the right in this image, they are backed with magnetic dust filters. While it may not look so hot, these could also be moved outside, and make maintenance that much easier.

Fractal Design CORE 500 Mini-ITX Small Form Factor Chassis Review 15 | TweakTown.com

The front bezel offers a snap out cover for the 5.25" bay, and we can see through the ventilation at either side. However, with a mostly solid front to the frame, not much air will come from the front of this chassis. We also see wire tie points down the left side, as well as a couple of holes to run wiring through.

Fractal Design CORE 500 Mini-ITX Small Form Factor Chassis Review 16 | TweakTown.com

The PSU extension cable, as well as the front I/O wiring is all tied together, but there is nothing for them to damage, like a window, in this design. We can also see a small bag tied to the left side of the PSU support, which has our hardware in it.

Fractal Design CORE 500 Mini-ITX Small Form Factor Chassis Review 17 | TweakTown.com

Inside of the front of the CORE 500, we are given a 5.25" bay, which is not tool-free, and it has a thinner bay below it for either a 3.5" or 2.5" drive. If you plan to water cool, this can be removed, simply by removing screws behind the bezel, and wiggling it out of the top support rails.

Fractal Design CORE 500 Mini-ITX Small Form Factor Chassis Review 18 | TweakTown.com

Below the bays is where the PSU will reside. We can see the cable is long enough, as it wraps its way inside of the chassis. We also find a pair of pads to support the front of the PSU, while the support at the back holds the PSU off the chassis floor there.

Fractal Design CORE 500 Mini-ITX Small Form Factor Chassis Review 19 | TweakTown.com

The top of the chassis sports this handy removable rack. While it can take on fans and supports water cooling, its removal affords much better access inside of the chassis when it comes to the installation.

Inside the CORE 500 Continued

Fractal Design CORE 500 Mini-ITX Small Form Factor Chassis Review 20 | TweakTown.com

The motherboard tray is at the bottom of the CORE 500, and it offers only the four standoffs that are preinstalled. If your cooler uses a back plate, be sure to get that on before installing the motherboard. We also see that the front edge offers plenty of tie downs, making sure to keep the front panel wiring out of the way of the video card.

Fractal Design CORE 500 Mini-ITX Small Form Factor Chassis Review 21 | TweakTown.com

The back of the chassis houses the 140mm; 3-pin powered exhaust fan. We also see the ventilated slot covers, and to remove them, you need to loosen the screw in the gap filler plate, and then remove the screws that release these covers.

Fractal Design CORE 500 Mini-ITX Small Form Factor Chassis Review 22 | TweakTown.com

The right side of the chassis has a few tricks as well. The bottom is left open for the PSU to vent out of the chassis, but the support rail not only holds a pair of storage drives, but they were also sure to cut out the middle to make wiring easy to do.

Fractal Design CORE 500 Mini-ITX Small Form Factor Chassis Review 23 | TweakTown.com

Four screws hold in the bays, and they slide back a bit, and will fall out of the top rails. The top rail system also uses four screws, and the front lifts away to allow the back edge to come out of the chassis. You may also install optional cooling to the rack outside of the case, simplifying that task as well.

Fractal Design CORE 500 Mini-ITX Small Form Factor Chassis Review 24 | TweakTown.com

Lastly, we come down to the chassis wiring. The wiring is long enough to be tied down cleanly and still got to every connection on our motherboard. Coming from the bottom of the front I/O panel, we are given a ribbon cable for the LEDs and switches, and HD Audio connection, and a native USB 3.0 connection.

Hardware & Documentation

Fractal Design CORE 500 Mini-ITX Small Form Factor Chassis Review 25 | TweakTown.com

The largest screws with the flat heads are used to install 3.5" drives, and are used in conjunction with the grommets pre-installed in those areas. The set of screws to the right of the HDD screws are used then for 2.5" drive installations. This leaves the four at the bottom, to mount the motherboard with.

Fractal Design CORE 500 Mini-ITX Small Form Factor Chassis Review 26 | TweakTown.com

In that same bag, we also found a set of four thumbscrews, to be used for installing a 5.25" device. Fractal sends us six cable ties, to help manage the wiring, and the hex-head screws are intended to be used when installing the PSU.

Fractal Design CORE 500 Mini-ITX Small Form Factor Chassis Review 27 | TweakTown.com

Outside of the chassis, there was a bag we found when opening the main packaging, and in it, we found these. There is the manual to guide you through the build and covers ever facet of it. To the right, in bright red, is an insert asking you to contact the manufacturer of there is a defect, while below is a pamphlet on the two-year warranty, as well as a product catalog.

Fractal Design CORE 500 Mini-ITX Small Form Factor Chassis Review 28 | TweakTown.com

Just in case we were not clear in our description of the cooling features, this section of the manual covers it well. In three images they cover fan locations, dust filter locations, and just what sort of water cooling support the CORE 500 delivers.

Case Build & Finished Product

Fractal Design CORE 500 Mini-ITX Small Form Factor Chassis Review 29 | TweakTown.com

Without the use of a card reader, fan controller, or an optical drive for our test systems, the front of this CORE 500 stays just as classy as it was when we first saw it. Something to consider here is that the gap behind the front panel, while not sucking in air, can be used to tuck wiring into for a cleaner interior.

Fractal Design CORE 500 Mini-ITX Small Form Factor Chassis Review 30 | TweakTown.com

We had an inclination that our PSU of choice may cause some issues due to its length, and it did when it comes to the video card. So we took the time to stick in our GeForce GTX 970 AMP from ZOTAC to show that with the right PSU choice, you can get a lot of video horsepower in here.

Fractal Design CORE 500 Mini-ITX Small Form Factor Chassis Review 31 | TweakTown.com

In reality, this is what we ended up using since our PSU is longer than recommendations state. We still had room for the Mini-ITX board from MSI, and still had room for the PSU and modular connections on our PSU. We also noticed that in the last two images, there is room at the front of the chassis as well as above the card, making various power setups a non-issue with this design.

Fractal Design CORE 500 Mini-ITX Small Form Factor Chassis Review 32 | TweakTown.com

The rear I/O fills right up with our motherboard in place, and while we do not have the dust shield, we test fitted another and found no issues there. We do still need to replace the gap filler above the video card, but with it out of the way, our card snapped into the motherboard and aligned right with the holes in the back of the case.

Fractal Design CORE 500 Mini-ITX Small Form Factor Chassis Review 33 | TweakTown.com

With plans to use an AIO, we needed to keep the front bays out of the CORE 500. That is fine for us, as we had no intentions of installing an optical drive, and with the option to hang drives here, our storage needs were met.

Fractal Design CORE 500 Mini-ITX Small Form Factor Chassis Review 34 | TweakTown.com

After double checking that everything was connected properly, we installed the AIO to the fan supports, and with the fan sucking into the chassis, we keep the flow inside the chassis correct. Standard gear should go in easily, but with thicker setups like this H80i, you do need to be careful of tubing, and where it runs.

Fractal Design CORE 500 Mini-ITX Small Form Factor Chassis Review 36 | TweakTown.com

Since the outside of the CORE 500 looks the same from this angle, powered or not, we went right to the powered system image. At this point, you can just hear the 140mm fan, but only when behind the chassis. Also, the power icon lights up on the power button, and the white LED that flickers with HDD activity is bright when it is active.

Final Thoughts

There is a ton to like in such a small chassis. On the outside, the CORE 500 offers a brushed metal-like texture to the front, and along with it being flanked with strips of mesh to either side, it has an appeal that a lot of potential customers will like. The rest of the chassis is pretty plain looking, but all the mesh that are used for intakes, are backed with dust filtration.

This brings two benefits. One, it is easy to clean the filters, by sliding the one out from under the CORE 500, and detaching the magnetic ones in the removable panel. The second advantage to that is that you won't need to be getting in through tiny spaces to clean the gear permanently mounted in the chassis. Even though this chassis is only 19.5 liters in size, we had plenty of options for video cards with the room left there, everything installs without issues, and we even took advantage of the water cooling capabilities without much struggle at all. There is also the fact, that while you only get one fan to cool this chassis, it is sufficient inflow to keep our system comfortable, and it made the least noise out of anything we put in the chassis using a fan.

Our last look at an SFF chassis from Fractal Design is a case in a whole other realm of PC builds, and we love the changes made to deliver the masses a chassis that is flexible enough to allow plenty of storage, and still offer water cooling support, enough for two loops even. For most gamers, an SSD and one spinner for mass storage are plenty to get by on, and we can download anything the ODD drives are used for, so we were not at any loss removing the bays from the front of the chassis. We do want to remind you that PSU choice is key in this build, and if you have plans for a video card longer than the motherboard, you need to stick to their 170mm limit. With how compact this design is, we would have assumed we would be busting knuckles and struggling to get our gear inside of it, but we ran into none of these issues, leaving us with not one bad thing to point out about this design.

We do know that you can find these "shoe box" cases for next to nothing when it comes to pricing, but with those solutions, most will bang you up and make you struggle just to get the main components inside of it. In this realm of case design, not many offer water cooling support, and not to this extent. Most will make room for a single 120mm AIO and likely has to be the thinner options out there. In the CORE 500, we got away with a thicker radiator, thicker tubing that does not want to flex as much.

Simply put, for $59.99, it is tough to detract from this design in any way. It may have taken us a while to get to reviewing this chassis, but we are glad we did, as there are not many cases of this stature that are this easy to work with.

Chad's Chassis Test System Specifications

TweakTown award
Performance94%
Quality including Design and Build97%
General Features98%
Bundle and Packaging95%
Value for Money99%
Overall97%

The Bottom Line: For such a compact design, possibilities are quite good in this SFF chassis. Modularity where it is needed, a sleek exterior, and water cooling potential will make this affordable solution from Fractal Design a hit with any gamer with limited space.

PRICING: You can find products similar to this one for sale below.

USUnited States: Find other tech and computer products like this over at Amazon.com

UKUnited Kingdom: Find other tech and computer products like this over at Amazon.co.uk

AUAustralia: Find other tech and computer products like this over at Amazon.com.au

CACanada: Find other tech and computer products like this over at Amazon.ca

DEDeutschland: Finde andere Technik- und Computerprodukte wie dieses auf Amazon.de

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.

We openly invite the companies who provide us with review samples / who are mentioned or discussed to express their opinion. If any company representative wishes to respond, we will publish the response here. Please contact us if you wish to respond.

Related Tags

Newsletter Subscription
Latest News
View More News
Latest Reviews
View More Reviews
Latest Articles
View More Articles