Purpose Of This Rig/Introduction
The primary role of this rig will be a home server. Essentially, the priority order of requirements are:
- Media server (not HTPC)
- Some non time critical video rendering
- itunes for an iphone, ipod and ipad
Given the price difference between an i5-2500 and the i5-2500K, we elected to go with the 'K' as it will give us more options later and also allow us to check out overclocking in the case.
From left to right, we have:
- 16 GB of Corsair Vengeance DDR3 Blue Low Profile RAM
- ASUS P8Z68-V Pro Gen3 Motherboard
- Silverstone CP06 4-in-1 Sata Power Adapter x2
- Intel i5-2500K Sandy Bridge CPU
- Fractal Design Define R3 Case - White with USB 3
- Intel Series 510 SSD - 120GB
- Corsair HX-650 Power Supply
- Noctua NH-D14 CPU Cooler
- WD Elements External 2TB USB3 Hard Drive
- WD Green 2TB SATA Hard Drive
What you don't see is that we decided to cannibalise some parts from another PC that we had in the office.
These parts are as follows:
- 4xWD Green 2TB drives
- Noctua NF-S12B FLX 120mm Fan
- Noctua NF-P14 FLX 140mm Fan
- Samsung 320GB HDD
- Gigabyte GTX580 with reference cooler
* Please note that the GTX580 was a late addition and included because we wanted to test the thermal properties of the Fractal Define R3 case as it has the sound proof material on the inside of the panels.
That's right - no optical drive to be seen. As per the recent tech blog on optical drives, we're not a big fan of the optical drives these days and as such, didn't see the need for one in this build. There is a Samsung external USB DVD drive floating around the office that we will use for the rare occasion when we need to use optical media.
The Case: Fractal Design Define R3
Starting with the case, we went for the Fractal Design Define R3 because of the hard drive layout and its reputation for being a quiet case. We went with white purely for aesthetics and in our opinion, this is a visually understated but still feature rich case.
This is the view from the front, straight out of the box with plastic film still over the door. (we might leave that on until the build is done just in case...)
What's behind door number 1? Doors 2 and 3... and a layer of sound proofing foam. In all seriousness, without an optical drive and having a power button on the top of the case at the front, we doubt there will be much need to open the front door at all.
As you can see, the case comes with one front 120mm fan fitted as stock in the lower bay. We elected to take the other stock fan from the rear of the case and mount it in the front upper bay when preparing the case. The main reason for this was aesthetics, (which seems stupid on reflection as we won’t be opening the front door, let alone the inner ones).
The sound proofing
rubber material on the inside of the side panels and roof is actually bitumen (thanks Heili at Fractal for pointing out our mistake) and is much more dense and very different to the front door of the case. It gives the panels a solid heavy feeling. First things first – we need to look at where our cables are going to go and the configuration of our fans before we even look at any of the other components.
So we installed a Noctua 120mm fan in the back and moved the stock fan to the front, routing the cables into the gap behind the motherboard tray. It’s worth noting that this gap isn’t exactly huge and there is only one access hole along the top. To push any cables through this hole with a motherboard installed and a top mounted fan won’t be much fun but it’s possible.
We’d also like to note at this stage that the grommets are great but they are a little loose for our liking and we were often re-aligning them with the holes as our cables snagged them. Perhaps we were too rough with it but it’s one of the few things that we found less than perfect with the build quality.
The Power Supply: The Corsair HX-650
The Corsair HX-650 is a semi modular power supply with the 8pin and 24pin power cables fixed to the main unit. In previous builds, we have used it’s predecessor, the Corsair HX-620 and the mighty AX-850 which IS fully moduar.
The thing to remember is that you always need the motherboard power leads so it shouldn’t really matter if the power supply has these fixed or not, the only benefit we can see is routing these cables and making adjustments once all of the components are in. With Careful planning, you should be able to work around this and save some money with a cheaper semi modular power supply.
Fitting the Motherboard
The Facepalm moment
The brass motherboard stand offs were next to go in, although we thought we got them all, we did actually miss one *facepalm*. Realising this during the motherboard install was a minor PITA so it really is worth taking the 15 seconds we didn’t and just doing a quick check against the mobo when you think you’ve got them all in.
With the fans in and the HX-650 mounted we encountered our first challenge – routing the 8pin motherboard cable. As with other cases (eg. The Cooler Master CM-690II Advanced), if this cable is routed behind the motherboard tray and through the top grommeted hole, it will struggle to reach the 8 pin plug on the motherboard.
There are 2 solutions that immediately come to mind:
- Purchase an 8pin extension cable for about $10
- Rout the cable through the CPU cut out in the upper half of the motherboard tray.
We elected to go with option 2 and pass the cable through the cut out. When installing the motherboard, you have to clip the cable into the mobo during the placement so it is easier with a second set of hands.
A Gamble that Paid Off
The Corsair HX-650 comes with enough SATA power connectors for our needs but as a bit of an impulse buy at PCCG, we grabbed 2 of the Silverstone 4-in-1 Sata power connectors. The spacing on these looked like it would suit the R3’s Hard drive bays. These things are great, the cabling looked great at the end and it meant less leads running through the case. We’ll be adding more of these to our kit bag for future builds – kudos to Silverstone!
Installing the CPU & Checking the Mobo
We had heard a few stories about people receiving a mobo with bent socket pins so we checked it carefully before doing anything else. There was also a full A4 sheet in the box with the motherboard that told us to check the pins first. All pins were fine so we quickly checked the alignment corner of the socket with the new CPU and installed it.
Fitting the Cooler
Installing the Noctua NH-D14 starts with the backplate which was easy to install. The only potential gotcha we saw was the alignment of the bracket to the socket screws on the right in the picture above. If you’re not paying attention, you could get the orientation wrong but it is covered in the instructions pretty clearly.
Next was the RAM and the Blue Corsair Vengeance was a close match to the heat sinks on the motherboard and clipped in without a problem. We had to go low profile RAM due to the behemoth NH-D14, and even with the low profile RAM we had to install it first because the NH-D14 overhangs the slots.
When installing the motherboard in the case, we had some issues with the I/O backplate popping out so it pays to really make sure it’s in and not going anywhere. Sometimes these plates go in without a fuss, other times like this one they play up a bit – patience is your friend here, if it pops out, back off and sort it out then refit the board.
Motherboard installed with power connectors fitted. Note the 8-pin cable at the top left section of the motherboard, running under the motherboard rather than through the grommet in the middle at the top. There was a temptation to install the NH-D14 prior to fitting the board to the case but we decided that we had enough room to do it in this order and we also had 2 sets of hands in case it got fiddly.
The next step was to route and fit the USB headers, front panel audio and fan controller.
Above the power supply, there is a small hole just big enough to pass the front panel audio cable and heads through. To keep cables neat, it’s really important to pass them through, behind the motherboard tray as much as possible. Out of sight, Out of mind certainly applies here.
Noctua NH-D14 installed. We also installed 2 Hard drives to do an initial test to make sure everything was OK.
At this stage, if there is a hardware issue, it’s better to know before you put all your drives in as it’s easier to remove parts.Initial tests were done using the onboard intel HD3000 graphics as this is how the server will be used in the long term.Once the tests were done, we loaded the remaining drives in, connected them up and also installed the discrete Gigabyte GTX580.
Here is the Fractal Define R3 with everything installed. Our only regret here was that we didn’t have another GTX 580 – we were surprised how much room we had left after installing a NH-D14, 7 Hard Disks and an SSD. With the side panel on, the ultra low noise adaptors on the NH-D14 and the 3x120mm fans on the middle setting of the included fan controller, the case was still very quiet.
The loudest part of the above rig is the GTX 580 as it has a stock cooler. For normal use, the GTX580 will be removed and the home server will then be barely audible.Heat was our next concern. There have been a number of posts on forums asking about heat in the R3 and how suitable it could be as a gaming rig. Time for some thermal testing!
'Dude can you hear that?'
There was one thing about this case that caused much irritation to Phil. Just some background here, Phil is one of those people who can’t tolerate noises like a dripping tab, rattles, resonance or buzzing – these things are guaranteed to drive him nuts.
You guessed it, there was a buzzing intermittent vibration in the case that presented itself on the first day. We were instantly disappointed because the build quality was otherwise fantastic.
Before long, the cause of the vibration was discovered. the face plate in the 5.25 and 3.5 inch bays at the top of the case were vibrating. These are the parts that you can remove if you want to use these bays. After removing the temporary plates, the vibration noise stopped and has not been heard in the 2 weeks that followed. If there was resonance or vibration to be heard, Phil would have noticed it :)
Pete was considering an R3 as a replacement case for his current gaming rig. At the time of writing, he plays a fair bit of BF3 which belts his i7-920 and GTX 580 around like a red-headed stepchild. So, to satisfy his curiosity, the CPU was overclocked to 4.5GHz @ 1.288v, fans left as is (meduim setting on the fan controller and ULNA fitted to the NH-D14). We then ran Prime95 for 2 hours solid.
Idle temps are around the 33 degree mark. Under this kind of load, the temps hit a maximum of 69 degrees on the hottest core. The next test was Unigen. The important thing to note with this test is that the GTX580 uses a reference cooler which runs hotter than after market coolers but dumps the air out of the back of the case. Most non reference coolers will use multiple fans to cool the card but dump the air inside the case, relying on the case airflow to remove the hot air. This increases the ambient case temp and will impact on the air that gets passed over the CPU cooler.
In the Unigen tests, the temperatures remained the same. The GTX580 hit 87 degrees at its hottest point which is the same result as when it was tested in a Cooler Master CM-690II. These tests were done on a cool day in Autumn. The ambient temperature varied between 21 and 23 degrees. We do wonder how this case will go on a 40 degree summer day but were not keen on increasing the central heating or our carbon footprint to test this out.“That’s only benchmarks!” we hear you say.
Well it would be remiss of us at PCGamers.net.au not to actually game with this puppy and check out real world performance. So under sufferance (NOT), we subjected this rig to 2 weeks of regular long sessions of Battlefield 3 and Skyrim. We used CoreTemp to record the thermal performance and the max temperature of any CPU core did not break 69 degrees.
After 2 weeks of use, we thought we'd check the dust filters. Keep in mind that we wanted the worst result possible in the 2 weeks allocated so we ran the rig 24/7 on a carpet floor for a week, then inspected the dust filters. They work. They work enough to prove that you do get airflow through with the door shut and the fan controller on medium and that the filters catch the dust.
We hope you enjoyed our build log of the Fractal Design Define R3 as much as we enjoyed building it.
As Phil mentioned, I'm looking at upgrading my Thermaltake case - the R3 is a good option for build quality, practical interior design with cable management and low noise. I like freebies and I was pleasantly surprised with the fan controller addition and overall I'm impressed with what Fractal Design have released. - Pete