Scandinavian Approach in Chinese Implementation: Fractal Design System Cases

Products of the Swedish Fractal Design Company appear on our web-site for the first time. Let’s find out how good these system cases really are. We will check out four models: Core 3000, Arc, Define R3 and Define XL.

by Dmitry Vasiliev
04/16/2012 | 12:18 PM

Fractal Design system cases seem to be targeted at gamers. They are large, have a lot of preinstalled fans and provide a lot of places to put more fans into. Today we’ll examine both seriously-looking products with a front door and conventional gaming solutions with a meshed façade. System cases of these kinds are widely available on the market and come in many shapes and colors to suite everyone’s taste, so it takes something special to stand out among competitors.

 

What’s special about these Fractal Design products? Well, three of them have an unusually large number of disk bays and allow installing 8 or 10 devices of both 3.5- and 2.5-inch form-factors. The fourth model isn't far behind the others with its six disk bays, either. So, they look like a perfect solution for a large multimedia collection.

A roomy interior is not enough, though. A good system case is supposed to be easy to install components in and provide efficient cooling. Let's see if the products of Scandinavian engineering thought manufactured in China are up to our strict requirements.

Testing Participants

Fractal Design Core 3000

The first product from Fractal Design we’ve got for our tests is the Core 3000 model. It’s got the simplest packaging of all – the box is smaller and not glossy as the others.

  

There’s hardly anything original about the exterior design of the Core 3000. It is a regular black box with a large-mesh front panel typical of gaming system cases. Take note that it has only two open 5.25-inch bays (that’s enough for 99% of users) whereas its buttons, I/O ports and indicators are all placed on the top panel, suggesting that the Core 3000 is supposed to stand on the floor or in a desk niche.

There is a box with fasteners and accessories inside the chassis. The printed user manual looks pretty but is not very detailed.

There is one accessory that’s included with each of the four Fractal Design products. It is a fan speed controller. The bracket with the rheostat knob is fastened in the back panel. The circuit is powered by a PATA power connector of the PSU. Using the included splitter, you can attach as many as three fans with 3-pin connectors to this controller.

This controller design is used for each system case, the only difference being the size of the controller knob. The knob is small here because you can only install the controller instead of a standard expansion-slot bracket.

The Core 3000 has a lot of I/O connectors but not many interfaces: four USB 2.0 ports and two audio connectors (microphone and headphones). The USB ports are placed rather too close to each other, so you may have problems plugging in and using concurrently large flash drives, for example.

A blue indicator is built into the Power button and a small red indicator of disk activity is placed nearby. The tiny Reset button in between them can hardly be pressed with a finger. You need some small-tipped object for that.

Although the junior model in the ATX system case series from Fractal Design, the Core 3000 betrays no signs of cost-cutting measures like single-use expansion-slot brackets or solid plastic feet.

The only cheap thing we can find about this product is the primitive fastening of the side panels (it’s used in every other model save for the Define XL, by the way). The panel can be closed easily enough unless pressed against a bulging tangle of cables behind the mainboard’s mounting plate.

 

The interior design of the Core 3000 is more interesting than its looks, but one thing must be noted right away. Trying to reduce the height of the system case as much as possible (it actually equals the height of the PSU plus the mainboard plus the top 25-mm-thick fan with almost no gaps in between), the engineers seem to have overdone it in their drive for compactness. An extra couple of centimeters wouldn’t make the Core 3000 detestably large or much more expensive to manufacture, but would certainly help make a cutout in the corner of the mainboard’s mounting plate for a CPU power cable. As a result, you have to route that cable through the main compartment of the chassis.

 

There are some other assembly related problems we can note. The threaded bushings for the mainboard go in so tight that you have to screw some of them in with pliers. The mounting screws of the expansion card brackets are also hard to tighten up, although they are thumbscrews. Their threading breaks in after a couple of uses, though, so you can do without a screwdriver afterwards.

The Core 3000 comes with an adapter that lets you install an external 3.5-inch device into a 5.25-inch bay. Some makers of system cases omit to provide such an accessory.

The HDD rack is split up in two parts. The top one is removable while the bottom one is stationary. The gaps between the disk bays are larger in the bottom rack, so it is not easy to grasp the point of the developer's decision to equip the top of the rack with a preinstalled fan. The air does not flow easily there.

Perhaps that decision can be explained by the fact that the top half of the disk rack can be positioned in two ways: with the disks oriented lengthwise or across the chassis. In the first case you can improve the cooling of your disks since the sides of the rack won't get in the way of the air flow from the front fans. In the other case, you can get a couple of extra centimeters for your expansion cards (the Core 3000 can accommodate cards up to 27 centimeters long then).

And if you need to install even longer expansion cards and can do with only three disks, you can take the top half of the rack off altogether, making the Core 3000 compatible with cards up to 420 millimeters in length.

Both halves of the rack have identical guides for disks. Like the back-panel brackets, they are painted white, which looks rather incongruously in a black system case. Fractal Design seems to make a point of mixing and matching black and white elements in its products, though.

The guides are compatible with both 3.5- and 2.5-inch disks, the latter using the smaller mounting holes you can spot in the photos.

3.5-inch disks are installed via vibration-absorbing rubber pads.

Although the mainboard’s mounting plate doesn't have a cutout for a CPU power cable, it has a rather large window for a CPU cooler's back-plate. It is large enough for installing and uninstalling most coolers without taking the mainboard out of the system case.

The cooling system consists of three preinstalled fans: two 140mm (on the front and top panels) and one 120 mm fan (on the back panel).

There are places for optional 120mm fans on the front and bottom panels of the case. You can also add 120 or 140mm fans to the top and side panels.

The preinstalled fans have a Fractal Design logo although their characteristic black-and-white coloring and the pointed edges of the blades resemble Arctic Cooling products. There are differences in terms of dimensions and the number of blades, though.

Connected to the speed controller, the 7-blade 120mm fan was about as fast as 620 RPM at its bottom speed and 1250 RPM at its top speed. The 11-blade 140mm fans have a bottom speed of 580 RPM and a top speed of 1040 RPM.

The front fans are protected against dust in a conventional, although hardly optimal, way. There is a sheet of foam rubber behind the front panel.

It doesn’t look neat from the outside and it hinders the flow of air towards the fans.

The PSU bay is equipped with an easily removable fine-mesh filter in a plastic frame.

We had no problems assembling our PC configuration in the Core 3000 except the ones we’ve mentioned above. The assembled Core 3000 looks like this:

Highs:

Lows:

Fractal Design Arc

 

The exterior design isn’t much different from the Core 3000. The Arc is somewhat larger, has a different front and features a meshed decorative panel above the chassis. These small changes make the Arc much more serious and imposing visually than the Core 3000.

We must confess we felt somewhat disappointed when we took the Arc out of its box. Its front looks as if made of brushed aluminum in the photos, but it’s actually plastic. Fortunately, this small and rather subjective disappointment is in fact the only downside we can note about the Arc. It’s definitely better than the above-discussed Core 3000 otherwise and free from most of the latter’s shortcomings.

The selection and position of the I/O connectors are generally the same although there are some differences from the Core 3000.

The Reset button can now be pressed without special tools. The activity indicators have both moved into the Power button. There are only three USB ports now, but one of them is USB 3.0. The ports are still very close to each other, so you may have problems plugging in several thick USB flash drives simultaneously. The good news is that the Arc is the first system case we've ever tested whose front-panel USB 3.0 is connected to a mainboard’s header rather than to a back-panel port.

We must also note that, according to the manufacturer’s website, every Fractal Design product, except the Core 3000, comes with a front-panel USB 3.0 port. However, the Arc was the only one of our samples that actually had it. The rest of them must have come from earlier production batches.

The accessories are almost the same as you get with the Core 3000. Instead of half a dozen single-use plastic ties there are two reusable ones. There are more fasteners for disks because the Arc has more disk bays.

There’s a list of accessories right on the box that contains them. Although similar to those included with the other Fractal Design products, this set of accessories seems to be the best of all. There is even a wrench designed like a hex key for furniture among them. It is handy for fixing an expansion card in the upright back-panel slot.

The regulator knob of the fan speed controller is larger here.

The knob is longer because the controller is designed for the upright back-panel bracket which is sunken into the case. With the Core 3000’s controller, it would be difficult to turn the knob around.

  

Besides its external advantages, the Arc is superior to the Core 3000 in its internal aspects. It is roomier, particularly wider, and features a more powerful cooling system.

The Arc stands on solid-looking composite feet with metalized coating.

 

Each of the two disk racks available in the Arc can accommodate up to four HDDs or SSDs. As opposed to the Core 3000, the gaps between devices in the fixed bottom rack and the detachable top rack are the same size.

 

Like in the Core 3000, the detachable rack can be installed in two positions, with the devices oriented lengthwise or across the chassis.

If there are long expansion cards in the system, the rack can be turned around so that the drives’ connectors are at the side, like in the Core 3000. You can then fit in graphics cards up to 290 millimeters long.

If you don’t have such a long expansion card, you may want to orient the disk rack lengthwise. This will reduce the maximum length of graphics cards by about 30 millimeters, but should be beneficial in terms of cooling because the sides of the rack won't resist the air flow.

The disk guides have the same design but seem to be made of thicker metal than those of the Core 3000 and can be additionally fixed with thumbscrews in the disk bays. They are also shaped somewhat differently and this lack of unification is rather surprising.

The familiar mix of black and white has remained intact, though.

Besides the questionable aesthetics of the combination of two contradicting colors, we can see the two types of paint fight each other: black of the rack and white of the guides. The white paint seems to be on the losing side: although the guides leave whitish trails on the interior of the rack, the black smudges on the guides are far more conspicuous. We can tell you that the system case was completely new when we received it and we had moved the disk in and out of the rack only a couple of times before making the photos.

The abovementioned lack of unification can also be observed with the 5.25-inch adapter. It is completely different from the one included with the Core 3000.

Another improvement we can find in the Arc design is its dust protection. Instead of a sheet of ordinary foam rubber there is now multilayered synthetic material behind the front panel which doesn’t resist the air flow that much.

The top panel has got similar protection, too. We can find the same material under the decorative grid. Take note that there is a place for a third 120/140mm fan below the top panel.

The purpose of this filter may seem questionable because the top fans exhaust the air out of the chassis and thus do not really need a filter which is going to weaken their air flow. However, when the computer is turned off, this filter will keep the dust from falling down and into the system case. After all, few users run their home computers on a 24/7 basis, so the filter makes sense after all.

The PSU bay at the bottom of the cassis and the bottom fan seat are also equipped with a large and easily removable fine-mesh filter.

You can check out the size of the mesh by the zoomed-in fragment of one of the 15 filter sections. Thus, there is only one fan seat lacking a dust filter in this system case. It is the seat for an optional 140/180mm fan on the side panel which is designed like the side panels of the Core 3000.

 

The Arc is much easier to assemble a computer configuration in compared to the Core 3000. The hole for a CPU power cable in the mainboard's mounting plate helps a lot. The cable compartment is also larger, so even the primitive design of the side panels doesn't provoke any problems with putting them in place. The bushings for the mainboards do not resist your screwing them in as much as in the Core 3000. The expansion card fasteners are easier to deal with, too.

The cutout for the CPU cooler’s back-plate has become larger compared to the Core 3000 and is thus compatible with more coolers.

Like the Core 3000, the Arc is cooled by three fans by default. All of the fans are 140 millimeters thanks to the wider chassis. Like in the Core 3000, you can use the included rheostat to control the fans. The sloppy design of this speed controller we’ve noted above showed up with our Arc: the fans wouldn’t start up when the controller was set to the minimum. And after starting up, only one out of the three fans could keep on working at the minimum voltage set with the controller.

The minimum speed at which the fans could start up and work normally was about 560 RPM. The maximum speed was about 1100 RPM. That’s the settings we used in our tests.

The assembled Arc looks definitely better than the Core 3000:

 

Highs:

Lows:

Fractal Design Define R3

 

As soon as you take off its protective packaging, you get blinded by the brilliant whiteness of the Define R3 in its Artic White coloring. This system case has a more restrained exterior than the previous two. It lacks any fancy grids or anything. You can only see the straight lines of the plastic front door and the snow-white gloss of the side panels.

It must be acknowledged that the white coloring makes the Define R3 the most elegant product among the four.

 

The Define R3 has a blank front door which has a layer of foam rubber on the inside for soundproofing.

Behind the door you can find two smaller doors leading to cooling fans, faceplates of two 5.25-inch bays, and a small Reset button which is separate from the I/O connectors.

The 5.25-inch faceplates have a latch that helps install and remove them easily from the outside.

You have to use your screwdriver if you want to remove the dust filters of the front fans.

The design of the I/O connectors block is different from the previous two products but, like with the others, it's on the top of the system case. One of the Arc's USB 3.0 ports is replaced with an eSATA connector here. The connectors are placed with the same spacing as on the Core 3000.

The Define R3 lacks a LED indicator of disk activity, but features beautiful highlighting of the Power button. It is a shiny rim with a beam that is visible from the front.

The manufacturer’s website offers an upgrade kit for the Define R3 to replace both USB 2.0 connectors with USB 3.0 ones which are connected to mainboard's headers. There's also a newer version of this system case, called Define R3 USB 3.0, which has a USB 3.0 port instead of the eSATA connector.

The accessories are almost the same as those of the previous model.

The speed controller’s knob isn’t long. It needn't be because the Define R3 lacks an additional sunken-down expansion slot bracket.

 

The front feet are larger than the rear ones, as in the Arc model, but their design, although composite like in the other products, is different, showing the manufacturer's utmost neglect of unification.

  

As you may have guessed from the descriptions of the other Fractal Design products, there are black disk guides and some other black elements inside the otherwise white interior.

The disk rack lacks a top removable section but still offers the same eight disk bays as the Arc.

Like the rest of the Fractal Design products, the Define R3 provides vibration-absorbing elements from below and a soft pad on the rear panel.

The Define R3 is overall far more advanced than the above-discussed pair in terms of soundproofing. The foam rubber behind the front door is just one in a series of noise-suppressing measures.

The interior of the side panels is covered with a layer of soundproof material.

Every empty fan seat, save for the bottom one, has a thick cover made of soft soundproof material, too.

The mainboard’s mounting bracket has an opening for a CPU power cable but it's rather far from the corner of the case and you may find the cable to be too short to be routed behind the mainboard.

The cutout for the CPU cooler’s back-plate is the smallest among the four system cases, but the Define R3 is the only one to have the protective rubber edging on it.

 

We couldn’t help installing a matching power supply into this milk-white system case.

It offers as much space for expansion cards as the Arc: you can install devices up to 30 centimeters long. However, the width of the Define R3 is smaller, including the compartment for cables behind the mainboard's mounting plate. As a result, you may find it difficult to close the appropriate side panel, especially as it still has the same primitive fastening mechanism.

The cable compartment is smaller than in the Arc, so it’s hard to close the side panel with the cables under it.

 

The disk guides follow the same design concept but are shaped differently compared to the ones we’ve seen in the previous two products.

The 5.25-inch adapter is identical to the Core 3000’s except for its color.

For all its elegance, the Define R3 turned out to have a few defective elements. We can show you a couple of them here:

One of the rivets that fasten the chassis is skewed.

The cable from the eSATA connector bends and gets in the way of the optical drive you try to install into the 5.25-inch bay.

This is the product assembler’s fault rather than a manufacturing defect because the eSATA cable can be oriented in such a way as to provide free access to the 5.25-inch bay.

There’s an ugly piece of polyethylene film between the sheets of plastic.

One corner of the cover of the top front-panel fan comes off when closed.

The ventilation system has got weaker compared to the Arc. The Define R3 comes with two preinstalled fans, on the front and rear panels, both of the 120mm form-factor.

The bottom speed of the fans when connected to the included speed controller was about 640 RPM. The maximum speed was about 1270 RPM (although the declared speed is 1350 RPM).

We can understand the manufacturer’s desire not to put too many fans into a system case which is optimized for maximum acoustic comfort, but there are quite a few opportunities left for users who prefer to have their computer ventilated well. There's a place for a second 120mm fan on the front panel and as many as four places for 120/140mm fans elsewhere (one on the bottom panel, one on the side panel and two at the top).

The color scheme employed by Fractal Design permits using black components in conspicuous places, yet we guess a white optical drive would be a better match to this system case.

The shining Power indicator is the only thing that shows that the assembled Define R3 isn’t empty but has components inside.

Highs:

Lows:

Fractal Design Define XL

 

Take a Define R3, stretch it along each of its three dimensions and cover the front door with film which imitates a brushed aluminum surface – here is the cooking recipe for the Define XL!

Well, they aren’t exactly identical, we must confess. It’s not only about size. There are some minor design discrepancies between the two products.

The Define XL is the only Fractal Design case which has four open 5.25-inch bays.

The 5.25-inch faceplates are identical to the Define R3’s except for their color.

Instead of two separate front-fan covers, there is only one now and it fits perfectly, unlike in the Define R3.

There is a shared dust filter for the front-panel fans and you don’t need a screwdriver to take it off.

The Define XL gives you the opportunity to install a 120mm fan into the 5.25-inch bays if you don't use them. With this fan installed, you'll only be able to have one 5.25-inch device, but that's going to be enough for most PC configurations.

Like the pair of main front-panel fans, the additional fan seat opposite the 5.25-inch bays has a meshed dust filter.

The I/O panel has a different design again. Compared to the Define R3, the eSATA connector has moved away and turned around by 90 degrees. There are as many as four USB 2.0 ports now while the highlighting of the Power button is blue.

Like the Define R3, the Define XL supports the USB 3.0 upgrade kit available at the manufacturer's website. It helps replace two USB 2.0 with USB 3.0 ports connected to the mainboard's onboard headers. The most recent version of this system case, called Define XL USB 3.0, offers the upgraded configuration right out of the box, though.

We can see a different set of feet in this system case, too. They are as good as in the other products, though.

The side panels are designed differently in the Define XL and we like that. You don’t have to align the panel’s numerous tabs with the slits in the chassis, so it is much easier to install the panel above a bulging heap of cables.

The panels themselves are thicker than in the other Fractal Design products and feature soundproof coating similar to that of the Define R3.

Like the other Fractal Design cases, this one comes with a printed user manual (it’s pretty but not very detailed) and a box with fasteners and accessories.

Notwithstanding the additional upright back-panel bracket which is sunken into the rear panel (similar to the Arc), the speed controller’s knob is short, which is not handy if you install the controller instead of that bracket.

The interior design of the Define XL resembles Antec’s Performance One series with two distinctly outlined compartments: one for the mainboard and another for the power supply unit. There are discrepancies, however, and they are not in favor of the Fractal Design solution.

As opposed to Antec products, there is no opening in the partition that separates the mainboard and PSU compartments, so if you need to route even a single cable directly from one compartment into another, you have to remove the partition altogether. With our components, we had to do this in order to connect the CPU power cable which turned out to be too short to be routed behind the mainboard’s mounting plate. The latter has a hole for it, but it's not located in the right place because the better position is blocked by the frame of the top 180mm fan.

Similar to the mentioned Antecs, a PSU is mounted onto a special plate with vibration-absorbing pad. The plate can be attached to the PSU in one way only (as opposed to the mounting holes of the other Fractal Design cases) but you can turn it around by 180 degrees together with the PSU.

We guess this solution only makes the system case more expensive and difficult to deal with (in the Antec products it is necessary to ensure compatibility with standard ATX power supplies as well as with Antec's exclusive CP series PSUs).

The PSU bay is protected with a dust filter from below.

The hole for routing power cables into the hidden compartment behind the mainboard’s mounting plate is going to be partially blocked even by a standard-size PSU. You won't be able to use that opening at all if your PSU is longer than standard.

We can’t say that the developer has forgotten about long PSUs altogether. The maximum supported length is 180 millimeters (which isn’t much for a system case of that size, though) and the vibration-absorbing elements are designed for that length. But again, it’s going to be difficult to route the power cables into the completely blocked opening in the mainboard’s mounting plate even if your PSU is no longer than 180 millimeters. We just wonder why the developer couldn't have moved that opening forward by just a few centimeters.

 

Here’s another questionable innovation to you: the cutout for the CPU cooler’s back-plate has a plastic cover. We just can't find anything useful about this solution.

The cutout itself is somewhat larger than in the Arc and the largest among the four Fractal Design products.

All in all, this is not an Antec. We don’t get the feeling of high quality and thought-through design as with Antec products. On the other hand, the Define XL is considerably cheaper whereas the acoustic comfort of the Define series is superior thanks to the lower speed of the fans and more efficient (by our subjective impressions) soundproofing.

The top removable disk rack is designed in the same way as the Arc’s. It has four bays and can be turned around by 90 degrees.

The dual bottom rack looks like two bottom racks of the Core 3000 placed next to each other. There is no bottom fan seat due to the lack of space.

The disk guides are the same as in the Core 3000.

The 3.5-inch adapter is identical to those of the Core 3000 and Define R3.

  

The Define XL offers the largest interior among the four system cases: 33 centimeters for expansion cards if the top disk rack is installed and as many as 48 centimeters if it’s removed. This should be more than enough for any cards.

Thanks to the large dimensions, the case is equipped with 140mm fans on the front and rear panels (660 RPM to 1040 RPM: the minimum speed varies again between different samples of the speed controller). There’s also a 180mm fan at the top.

Unfortunately, the efficiency of the biggest fan is far from high. It blows right into the top of the case, the air being driven along a narrow path that ends in a modest-sized grid at the top of the rear panel. This solution helps make the system case look better by removing vent grids from its top panel but at the expense of cooling efficiency. Moreover, there is still a conspicuous vent grid in the side panel.

The Define XL has fewer places for optional fans than the other Fractal Design products. You can add two front-panel fans (one 120/140mm fan opposite the bottom disk rack and one 120mm fan opposite unused 5.25-inch bays) and one 120/140mm fan on the side panel.

 

As is the case with most PC enclosures that have a front door, the only difference between an empty and assembled Define XL is in the shining Power indicator.

Highs:

Lows:

Testbed and Testing Methodology

We test assembled system cases at a constant ambient temperature of 23°C maintained by an air conditioner. As we assume that most users prefer low-noise computers, we set the speed of the CPU and system fans (those connected to the mainboard’s 3-pin connectors) into Silent mode (the quietest mode in the mainboard’s BIOS). If a system case has its own speed controller, we switch it to minimum speed, too. We do not change the default configuration of air flows determined by system case design.

The following components are installed into each system case:

We test system cases with their bundled PSUs if they have one. If not stated otherwise, the HDDs are listed in the order of their placement from the top main HDD bay downwards without any gaps.

The temperature of the CPU is measured with Core Temp 0.99.8. HDD, GPU and mainboard temperatures are measured with CPUID Hardware Monitor. The speed of the fans is measured with an optical tachometer Velleman DTO2234. There are the following test modes:

Every temperature is read after the system has worked for half an hour in the current test mode. The following table shows the temperatures of the components if the system is assembled without an enclosure (“open testbed”).

The noise level is evaluated subjectively.

Performance

The system cases from Fractal Design having similar disk racks, the only exceptions being the Define R3 which lacks a detachable section and the Define XL with a double-row bottom rack, we want to check out different places for our hard disks.

As a rule, we try to place HDDs as close to preinstalled fans as possible and we did so with three HDDs in the Core 3000 and Define XL. However, the fourth HDD was put into the most distant bay from the fan.

Why did we choose these two system cases? The actively cooled rack of the Core 3000 accommodates only three disks and we were interested to compare the temperature of these well-cooled HDDs with that of the most distant HDD.

As for the Define XL, we were curious to watch the behavior of an HDD in the most distant bay that lacked active cooling. This is important since six out of the Define XL’s 10 disk bays are in that rack.

The disk rack was oriented lengthwise in the Arc as opposed to the other system cases whose rack can be turned around.

You can check out the positioning of the HDDs using the photos of the assembled systems above. We tested the system cases in the same way as they are shown there.

The tests were carried out at the minimum and maximum speed of the fans connected to the speed controller included with each system case. The minimum speed differed between the system cases despite the identical fans. And, as noted above, we had to manually find the lowest speed with the Arc because its fans wouldn’t start up with the controller’s knob set to its minimum.

Fan Rotation Speed: Low

Let’s compare the system cases at the minimum speed of the fans.

Fractal Design Core 3000 (low)

Being the simplest in design, the Core 3000 is good in terms of the CPU and chipset temperature and not too bad in terms of the HDD temperature.

We can note that the middle HDD in the top rack and the HDD in the bottom rack, which is as far from the cooling fan as possible, have the same temperature. This must be due to the accumulated heat from the other two HDDs in the top rack. Moreover, the foam-rubber dust filter of the front fan weakens the air flow, especially at low speeds.

Fractal Design Arc (low)

The more expensive and roomier Arc is somewhat worse than the Core 3000 in terms of the chipset temperature, but keeps the temperature of the HDDs at a lower level (the middle disks are warmer when idle compared to the Core 3000, but become colder than in the Core 3000 at the maximum disk subsystem load). This might be expected since the front filter doesn’t hinder the air flow and the rack is oriented in such a way as to cause less resistance to it, too.

The Arc is roughly comparable to the Core 3000 in terms of the CPU and graphics card temperature.

Fractal Design Define R3 (low)

The Define R3 is inferior to the two previous products in cooling, except for the HDDs.

Fractal Design Define XL (low)

The larger front and rear fans coupled with an added 180mm top fan do not help the Define XL much in comparison with its junior cousin. Although the temperatures are lower overall, the CPU has the highest temperature among all the tested products under high load.

The HDD installed separately from the others into the bottom rack is but slightly hotter than the HDDs in the top rack with active cooling, but we are not sure the results are going to be the same if all of the six bottom disk bays are filled with devices.

The following diagrams compare the system cases at the minimum speed of their fans:

 

Fan Rotation Speed: High

And now it’s time to test them at the maximum speed of the fans. Fortunately, this is not very high speed and you don’t feel any discomfort, especially with the soundproof Define series.

Let’s start with the junior model again.

Fractal Design Core 3000 (high)

The Core 3000 improves in every temperature after switching to the maximum speed of its fans: by 1-2°C for the main components and 3-4°C for the HDDs. That's not a dramatic improvement, but anyway.

Fractal Design Arc (high)

The higher speed of the fans has a bigger effect on the Arc in terms of the HDD temperature which lowers by 7-9°C. Thus, the optical solution would be to set the front fan to its maximum speed and leave the other fans at the minimum speed.

Fractal Design Define R3 (high)

At the maximum speed of its fans the Define R3 lowers the CPU temperature by 2°C in every operation mode and also drops the chipset temperature by 1-2°C. As for the HDDs, their temperature is reduced by 5-7°C. Considering the good noise insulation of this system case, it is quite possible to increase the speed of its fans above the minimum level. It's up to the user to decide how much.

Fractal Design Define XL (high)

The largest of the Fractal Design system cases benefits the most by increasing the speed of its fans. The temperature of the CPU, GPU and chipset are 2-3°C lower in most operation modes. The HDDs do not get much colder, though.

Considering the low maximum speed of the fans and the good soundproofing of this system case, you can run the fans at their highest speed without compromising your acoustic comfort.

The following diagrams compare the system cases at the maximum speed of their fans:

 

Conclusion

The abundance of functionally identical elements with different design (disk guides, fasteners, fan filters, chassis feet, etc.) make us suspect that Fractal Design is still trying different solutions in practice in search of the best one. The current products are but a testing ground for the Perfect System Case of the future.

Choosing among what we’re offered right now, we'd prefer the Arc. If it had the same side panels as the Define XL and if its USB connectors were farther apart, it would be almost perfect in its midrange category. Well, the Arc is actually one of the best offers in its price range even in its current, slightly imperfect, form.

Being the most affordable of the four, the Core 3000 is of course simpler than the Arc, yet is as good as the latter in terms of ventilation (except for HDDs, yet it's HDD results are not too bad, either). Some assembly-related inconveniences and the lack of USB 3.0 (even optionally) are made up for by its modest price.

The more expensive Define series products leave fewer positive impressions. They do look good and are very quiet, but that’s about all of their advantages. The numerous manufacturing defects of our Define R3 (hopefully, other samples are free from them) and the design flaws of the Define XL, combined with their mediocre ventilation, can hardly make them interesting for ordinary users who are not bent on making their computers absolutely silent.

As a final remark to this review, we can note the irony of these system cases, each of which can accommodate a large number of hard disks, coming to our test lab right at the time when there is a sharp rise in HDD prices!