The Define R5 is the fifth iteration of what we consider to be the signature case from Fractal Design. In our opinion, the Define R5 is the best ATX case from Fractal Design to date and suitable for any situation from a home server to a heavy duty gaming rig. Read on to see why we are so taken by the latest member of the Define 'family...
The designers took an ambitious approach with the Define R5 in that they accommodated an increased airflow and cooling whilst still staying loyal to the Define heritage of low acoustics. The good news for consumers is that Fractal Design also took an ambitious view when setting the goals for this case. They wanted it to be:
- Simple and Elegant in design
- Affordable and competitively priced
- Consistent in attention to detail.
We received our review sample a few weeks prior to launch so we had enough time to really get to know the Define R5 using it in a practical/test build for gaming and some load testing. Our review unit is the black version with solid side panel (i.e no window). The Define PC chassis is recognisable by its low key appearance rather than trademark bling and known for it's low noise profile. The older Define R3 case was indeed unassuming in appearance and also very quiet but cooling options were limited - The R5 has a remarkable compatibility list when it comes to both radiators, fans, graphics cards and hard drive/SSD placement.
The gallery below are the promotional shots from Fractal Design, ours will follow later as we walk through the Define R5.
Images courtesy of Fractal Design
The official specifications of the Define R5 are listed below including the extensive cooling options.
The immediate design inclusions that caught our attention were:
- the shape of the motherboard tray
- The new MODUVENT panel covers for fans
- Heavy and dense noise dampening material
- Removable drive trays and the ability to totally gut the case
- Side latch for the left side panel
- Adjustable rear fan mount in both 120 and 140mm holes
- New GP14 140mm fans
Fractal Design Define R5
|Drive Bay Capacity||
- 2 x 5.25" bays (removable)
|Cooling & Ventilation System||
- 9 Fan positions (2 Fractal Design Dynamic GP14 140mm fans included)
- 2xUSB 3.0
|Graphics Card Compatibility||
- Graphics cards up to 310 mm in length with the top HDD cage installed
Plain with MODUVENT or Window depending on model
-232 x 451 x 521 (mm)
-ATX PSUs up to 190/170 mm with a bottom 120/140mm fan installed-When not using any bottom fan location longer PSUs up to 300mm can be used
|Net Weight (kb)||
- 20 to 35 mm of space for cable routing behind the motherboard plate
Cooling System - Fans
2 – 120/140 mm fans (included is 1 Fractal Design Dynamic GP14 fan, 1200 RPM speed)
1 – 120/140 mm fan (included is 1 Fractal Design Dynamic GP14 fan, 1200 RPM speed)
3 - 120/140 mm fan (not included)
2 – 120/140 mm fan (not included)
1 – 120/140 mm fan (not included)
Cooling System - Water Cooling Compatibility
360, 280, 240, 140 and 120 mm radiators of all thicknesses.
120 or 140 mm radiator
420, 360, 280, 240, 140 and 120 mm radiators.
120 or 240 mm radiator
- Define R5 computer case
- Accessory Box
- User manual
The Define R5 is available in the versions set out below. As impressive as the Define R5 Black version is, I'd personally buy the standard white version but with 6 model variants on the market there should be something there for everyone.
- Fractal Design Define R5 Black (FD-CA-DEF-R5-BK )
- Fractal Design Define R5 Black Window (FD-CA-DEF-R5-BK-W)
- Fractal Design Define R5 Titanium (FD-CA-DEF-R5-TI)
- Fractal Design Define R5 Titanium Window (FD-CA-DEF-R5-TI-W)
- Fractal Design Define R5 White (FD-CA-DEF-R5-WT)
- Fractal Design Define R5 White Window (FD-CA-DEF-R5-WT-W)
Construction / Build Quality
The powder coat and general finish on our unit was perfect. All panels lined up perfectly without any gaps or raised edges - this was also true for the MODUVENT covers that are screw-less. The side panels are heavy due to the lining of noise dampening material and there is minimal flex. The latching on the left panel also felt like it was built to last despite being made of plastic. The Define R5 feels like a premium product.
When looking at the grommets, they were well fitted and the cable management velcro was also good quality and nicely finished off with Fractal Design branding rather than looking like off-cuts.
The 140mm fan cables were not braided which cheapened the look of the fans so it's a good thing that they do their job really well. The fans are the new GP14 model that is geared towards optimising the airflow/noise balance. Despite the cosmetic cable braiding observation, when it came to performance we had no complaints at all.
Dust filters are not flimsy and hold in place well. All hard drive trays have rubber rings to reduce vibration. Interestingly, the USB3.0 ports don't have the tell-tale blue tongue but both sets of ports are clearly labelled.
The finish of the case does show up finger prints but no more than any other case we've seen and both the plastic front door and powder coated side panels wipe clean easily
Fractal Design has been using the less glossy more environmentally friendly boxes for a while now. Despite being plain to look at, the packaging has all the specifications of the Define R5 and the case itself is well protected inside by plastic film and Styrofoam.
The panels are all simple and plain, our case had the solid left panel with a MODUVENT cover instead of a window but there is a variant available for those who are after the side panel Perspex option. The MODUVENT is basically a removeable tool-less panel with dense sound dampening on the inside that covers the grills where a 120 or 140mm fan could be fitted. The simple design won't appeal to everyone and although there is some scope to pimp it out, (especially with a window variant), this is not a "flashy" case - intentionally.
The side panels lock in at the front first and then basically pivot closed to be secured at the back of the case - like doors. On the right side of the case, this is handy if you do have any cable bulge. It's also a better alternative to the panels where you have to line up locking tabs at the top and bottom before sliding/locking into place. The right panel is secured by a pair of thumb screws, the left side has a latch and thumb screws if you want to make it more secure. The latch is really convenient if you do change components regularly.
The top panel has 3 more MODUVENTs. When looking at the rear of the case, there is plenty of ventilation, especially above the PCIE slots which will help for aftermarket graphics cards that don't exhaust most of the hot air like a reference blower cooler. When these are removed, we noticed that it's one place for sure where the noise escapes. That said, it's a good way to give the system builder the option of roof mounted cooling without excluding those that want a closed roof.
The base of the Define R5 has a full length dust filter that slides out easily. Also on the base of the Define R5, we see the feet which are chrome-like plastic with rubber discs to protect your table or floor and they also give the case enough height (~17mm) from a flat surface for airflow.
MODUVENT is much easier to work with than previous panels that needed to be secured with screws - these are held in place with plastic tabs and the join lines are subtle. It means that the central part of the outer roof casing is plastic but the frame that the removable panels countersink into is powder coated metal.
Last and by no means least, the front of the case as the solid front door that can be easily configured to open either left or right with noise dampening on the inside. Like the previous versions, the power button is centred and has an LED surround housing power and HDD activity lights. I/O interface ports include 2xUSB 2.0, 2x USB 3.0 ports, reset button and headphone/mic 3.5mm jacks. Inside the door, there is an easy to remove fan grill with dust filter, 3 5.25" bay covers and a 3 stage fan controller at the top. The ventilation around the sides of the front panel is subtle but effective - most importantly, it allows the case to have a flat front surface without suffocating the components inside.
The cages themselves didn't initially strike us as amazingly new or innovative but there have been a couple of tweaks here that are worthwhile.
All drive cages and the optical bays are easily removable and the middle 3.5" drive cage can also be rotated - although I can't imagine why you would want to. If the optical bay cage is removed, the middle drive cage can be raised to the top of the case.
The drive trays themselves have been redesigned to have a lower profile - meaning that when empty, they don't impede front intake airflow as much as the previous design.
We make every effort to undertake a practical build inside any case that we review - it's our belief that we don't really fully appreciate the design and build quality unless we have actually built a rig in it and used it for a period of time. In this review, we used our ASUS Maximus VI Gene motherboard from the standard test bench but we also had the opportunity to check out some other new kit as well. The full parts list can be found below.
The test components we used are listed below
|Motherboard||ASUS Maximus VI Gene|
|CPU Cooler||Fractal Design Kelvin S24 (240mm AIO Water unit)
Cooler Master Nepton 120XL (120mm AIO Water Unit)
|Memory||16GB Corsair Vengeance Low Profile - Black (4x4GB)|
Seagate Barracuda 750GB & Samsung Evo 240GB SSD
Fractal Design Integra M 750W PSU
MSI GTX 760 HAWK (Initially)
Mionix Nash 20 (using onboard audio) via front panel I/O
Direct connection to the cable modem &
|Optical||Samsung USB external DVD drive|
The Build Experience
When building our test rig, we noted some positive attention to detail in the Define R5.
Central Motherboard stand-off
The central stand-off has a ball head instead of a screw thread - this is great for fitting the board and holding it in place while you insert the remaining motherboard screws. Hopefully this becomes more common in the future.
No more MOLEX fan controller!
The power connector for the fan controller is a SATA connector - this is about damn time! The only thing I ever need a MOLEX connector for is fan controllers (or maybe LEDs) and when using a modular power supply like the Integra M, it means that you don't need to use a whole cable just for a pair of fans. The fan controller is inside the front door - this wasn't an issue for us as we left it on low speed for general use and gaming, medium for SLI.
SSD mounting behind the motherboard tray
SSD mounts under the motherboard tray - big thumbs up to the designers here. The tray is really easy to work with and in the case of our Integra M power supply, it uses a flat 8 PIN CPU power cable which can be neatly tucked in behind the SSD. Installation was a breeze and the way the trays swing in to be secured by a thumbscrew just works - it's simple but really effective.
It's also worth noting how big the CPU cut out is and we are firm believers that more is better here. The motherboard tray is rigid so there is no structural issue with sizing the cutout for maximum compatibility and convenience.
Improved hard drive trays
Hard drive trays in the R5 have a much lower profile so they allow more air to pass through them with less impedance when empty. There was nothing wrong with the previous drive cage design that we have seen in the Fractal Design cases released over the past 12 months, you could still remove the 3.5" drive cages, rotate the middle cage and the drive trays had rubber vibration dampeners. This is an area that we were not expecting to see any improvement but the lower profile drive trays and easily removable optical drive bay are welcome changes for system builders who want better airflow or high end water cooling.
Cable routing made even easier
The cable routing system behind the motherboard tray is awesome. The motherboard tray is not perfectly flat in that there is an angled section on the right side where the vertical cable grommets are and along the bottom of the case. There are also Velcro strips in place to keep those cables neat. My cable management job was done in haste and still came up looking pretty neat. Cable routing was really easy and the pathways for the cables along the base of the case in the front edge of the motherboard tray worked really well. The velcro strips are well placed and make reconfiguration much easier than zip ties. This is a different approach from the traditional flat motherboard tray. Fractal Design has also included more than enough anchor points for zip ties but we found ourselves using less zip ties on this build than usual.
Fractal Design have made the most of the angles and it's deceptive as there is more space back behind the motherboard tray than it looks.
The space around the power supply is ample. We used a 140mm power supply and I'd recommend it if you plan on moving the drive cages around to take more advantage of the floor space.
Swing out side panels
The side panel on the right side of the case (under the motherboard tray) is a swing panel that pivots from the front of the case rather than a sliding panel. This also helps if your cables are a little tight and there is some minor squashing required. A slide-lock panel can be tricky if you have any cable bulge back there but the swing/pivot panel makes life a bit easier if you have this problem. The thumb-screws don't come completely out of the panel either so you won't be losing them anytime soon. They un-screw far enough for the panel to open but they don't completely detach - convenient
The Define R5 has enough head room to easily reach that top 8-PIN CPU connector and CPU Fan headers and it provides a generous amount of clearance for fans or radiators. The offset is also well implemented to clear CPU power connectors, motherboard heat sinks and memory modules so that you can use a standard radiator, thicker radiator or go push pull with the fans.
A few things caught our attention here, the rear fan mount, CPU cooler clearance and a ventilation panel.
That rear fan mount for a 120/140mm case fan or AIO water unit is brilliant. Rather than just using a standard set of appropriately spaced holes, the designers implemented a set of 'sliding' brackets that allow you to adjust the vertical placement of the fan or fan/radiator combo. This means that if you have a roof mounted radiator setup, you can easily shift the rear fan down a bit to avoid any clashes.
We tested the Define R5 with both a roof mounted 240mm AIO water cooler (Fractal Design Kelvin S24) and a rear mounted 120mm water cooler with push/pull fan configuration (Cooler Master Nepton 120XL).
The max CPU height in the Define R5 is 180mm - I've never seen a cooler that tall before but the space is there.
There is a vent at the back/right above the PCIE slots that provides a meshed area of 55mmx140mm. This will work well with graphics cards that have non-reference coolers as it will give the warmer air somewhere to go if the top MODUVENT panels are in place.
There are 2 dust filters included, a full length filter fitted in the floor of the case and a double fan filter in the front. These are really important if you plan to use the Define R5 for a home server or HTPC that is on most of the time. It's amazing how much those filters catch, even in a 'clean' house. You will never eliminate dust in your rig but these filters will make a difference and they come out easily for cleaning.
At the end of a build, there is usually a compromise or oversight that we identify - after working with the Define R5, there was only one.
The top cable hole/grommet for the 8-PIN CPU power is a little too small with the grommet fitted. During the build, we had to displace the grommet to get the cable through and then pass the grommet over the head of the 8-Pin plug and re-fit it into the hole in the tray. It didn't take long but is worth noting. If you buy this case, run the 8-pin CPU power cable before you install the motherboard.
The completed build came together quickly and easily. I could have been obsessive about the cabling but settled for 'neat' instead. The shots below are what you can achieve with minimal effort but some forward planning.
On the low and medium settings, the included 140mm GP14 case fans are barely audible and on high, although you can hear airflow, we couldn't pick out the case fans over other components in the case. There is a difference when all panels and MODUVENT covers are in place - so the design works. With the top covers off, we were able to hear the hard drive a little more as well as the pump on our Kelvin water cooler. With the covers in place, any noise from our Nepton 120XL, MSI Frozr V GPU cooler and hard drive was certainly dampened.
When locked down with all covers in place and our 120mm Cooler Master AIO water unit in place at the rear of the case, the system wasn't an obvious source of noise in our quiet test lab area.
The case itself is basically silent and it does a good job of keeping the components less audible than other cases.
We tested the Define R5 with a pair of SLI GTX670 graphics cards and found the airflow on low to be adequate but medium is a more conservative option. Overclocking our CPU generated extra heat but didn't cause us any issues either. If I was building a rig with multiple graphics cards in this case, I'd make sure to have 2 front fans and probably run them either on medium via the case fan controller or control them off the motherboard with software like ASUS Fan Xpert 2.
The fan/radiator compatibility is what we would expect from more open style cases and it was a surprise to see the options available with the Define R5. With Drive cages fitted, 310mm is a sufficient allocation for graphics cards. If anyone needs the full 410mm that's available when you remove the drive cage please drop me an email with the details of your graphics card!
Attention to Detail
It's hard to know where to start here so I'll just list all the things that we found really handy when building in the Define R5.
- Cable Management
- Build Quality
- SSD Mounting
- Hard Drive Cage configuration and airflow when empty
- Ease of re-configuration
- Subtle appearance
- Extensive fan and radiator options
- Well fitted easy to clean dust filters
At the time of writing this, the Define R5 is under NDA and the street price unavailable but the Recommended Retail Price from Fractal Design is AUD$149 for the Define R5 without a side window and AUD$159 for a model with a side window. When we looked at the features, versatility and build quality on offer, we had to give this a value award.
The Define R5 has achieved everything Fractal Design were aiming for. It is simple and elegant, highly configurable, affordable, quiet and there is obvious attention to detail. The design and manufacturing teams nailed this one.
We really liked the clean look, practical versatility and build quality of the Define R5. This is a case that is easy to install, easy to clean and quiet to run.
As far as recommending this case, I really liked the Define R3 back in 2012 and used it for my home server. That Define R3 is still in service but I will be replacing it with a Define R5 in the very near future.
Fractal Design Define R5
|Cable Management dream
Highly configurable in terms of cooling, drive options and a reversable door
Versatile: Gaming, Home / Small Office Server, HTPC
Quick and easy to build with