In and Around the Fractal Design Arc Midi

Good artists borrow, great artists steal, and excellent case designers are like Dr. Moreau, fusing elements from different competitors together to produce something the market has really been asking for. In that vein, Fractal Design's Arc Midi borrows a lot of fantastic ideas from a few different places and comes up with something very special.

First, I'm a huge fan of the aesthetic. While the front is only given the appearance of brushed aluminum (all of the advertising material calls it a "brushed aluminum like look"), that's actually almost better than just using brushed aluminum on just one part. I also like the choice to use just two 5.25" external bays and the discreet row of I/O and buttons at the top of the case. By only putting in two bays, Fractal Design frees up most of the front of the enclosure for air intake. The way the grille is recessed into the bezel is particularly pleasing, and this is a design cue that extends to the top of the enclosure. Note that both the front panel and the top grill are removable to allow the user to clean the fan filters as well as mount additional fans.

I do think this is the first time I've ever been unhappy to see a side intake fan vent, though I probably wouldn't be as bothered by it if Fractal Design had included a fan. Because of how nice the case looks otherwise, that vent breaks up the style a bit. It's a sacrifice for practicality's sake but aesthetically it's a little disappointing.

When you get to the back of the Arc Midi you'll see Fractal Design opted for white accents for the fan blades and the ventilated expansion slot covers. I actually really like the "7+1" expansion slot design, where there are seven in a row and then an eighth mounted laterally above the others. This is something Fractal Design seems to have borrowed from Cooler Master, and it's a great choice, giving you a place to mount the fan controller without having to sacrifice any expansion slots on the motherboard. I'm ultimately a bigger fan of eight expansion slots in a row, but this is still appreciated in a mid tower.

Opening up the Arc Midi reveals a thoughtful interior that takes a lot of cues from Corsair while improving a bit on their design. Fractal Design includes two drive cages with four drive sleds each, and the top drive cage can actually be either rotated ninety degrees or removed entirely. In the default configuration, the metal drive sleds (metal instead of cheap plastic!) orient the drives facing behind the motherboard tray.

That space behind the motherboard tray is another area where Fractal Design one-ups a lot of the competition: it's copious. The rubber-lined grommets surrounding the routing holes in the tray also stay in place; with other cases I've often just removed these because they've come loose so easily, but in the Arc Midi they're in relatively firmly and I never had any of them pop out during assembly.

It should be pretty obvious that I'm a big fan of how the Arc Midi is laid out. Fractal Design has taken some good exterior aesthetic ideas and combined them with an improved interior that ought to make Corsair take notice. Corsair has traditionally been my benchmark for ease of assembly, but the Arc Midi has all the earmarks of a smart internal design.

Introducing the Fractal Design Arc Midi Assembling the Fractal Design Arc Midi
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  • cjs150 - Friday, October 7, 2011 - link

    Jared you are making things worse for yourself.

    Radiators come in various thicknesses typically from about 34mm up to fat boys at 60mm. According to the Fractal website and other reviews the Arc supports up to 60mm thick radiators (although then it is tight). So a 34mm thick radiator would have about 1" of clearance

    If we take you at face value then surely you should be consistent and say that any case which has air cooling with clearance of less than 1" or 25mm is too tight and you would not recommend it.

    The price of the case is not as important as the quality of the design. If the side panels are a bit thin then stick some dampening foam on them (cost maybe $50 at worst). Up to now one of the best water cooling cases (maybe the best) has been the Silverstone TJ07 which is a lot more expensive, internal air flow is dreadful and needs some careful modding to make the water cooling work best. For someone like me who uses micro-ATX boards and storage is an SSD plus one HD, the Silverstone is completely overkill.

    The way Fractal have thought about the design is impressive and makes for a great case for watercooling without ANY (or at worst ditching one of the drive cages) modding. It could be better, but then again virtually every case on the market could be improved one way or another.
  • whatthehey - Friday, October 7, 2011 - link

    Spoken like a true watercooling zealot. Thanks for that subjective evaluation, CJS!

    Just because something FITS doesn't mean it fits WELL. And just because you can pour a lot of money into a Honda Civic and turn it into a rice racer doesn't mean you won't end up looking like a douchebag. For the 1% of the market that uses water-cooling, the pertinent question is this: does the Arc Midi work better or worse than other options?

    There are always exceptions, but most watercooled PCs that I've seen are in large full-tower cases, and the people use such cases because:

    1 - You want all the room you can get for the radiator and reservoir.
    2 - You're not going to move the PC around much anyway.
    3 - More room to build means you can put the watercooling to good use by having dual GPUs and the chipset all cooled by the same loop.

    I don't dispute that the Arc Midi can use a 240mm radiator, but I would strongly dispute anyone claiming that it's one of the better cases for watercooling. Perhaps Anandtech could have worded things better, but I'm in agreement with them on not recommending this case for watercooling.
  • cjs150 - Monday, October 10, 2011 - link

    Zealot - I wish. At home I run 3 computers, one is passive, one is aircooled and one is water cooled.

    The passive one is a server, never gives any trouble but the mini-ITX case design (and integrated PSU - have these guys not realised that the world moved to 24 pin ATX cables years ago) could be a lot better.

    The air-cooled one is old faithful. It is noisy, needs the dust bunnies cleaned out every 6 months but is still going strong after 8 years, it is in an old coolermaster case and the design was pretty basic back then, for starters the "stealth" optical drive bay covers were useless.

    The water cooled one is the power house and gaming machine and to be honest a hobby. Although it only needs cleaned every 6-9 months, cleaning is a bit more complicated than the air cooled one. But it is very very quiet. It is in the Silverstone and anyone who has used that case knows that the design is deeply flawed (lack of airflow), it looks beautiful but not all the holes line up perfectly.

    Anyway back to the Fractal. People who know a lot more about water cooling than me are very impressed. The top rad placement is excellent because it is not dead centre of the top but shifted away from the motherboard to allow more room for bigger radiators.

    I probably would not use this case for a full ATX motherboard and quad SLI, but as I said I prefer micro-ATX boards. The only things that defintely need water cooled are the CPU and GPU(s). These days I am not convinced the chipset needs cooling, some people water cool the power delivery capacitors, but with a top radiator you are going to have a fan directly above them so that looks unnecessary. There is bags of room for a reservoir - use of the 5.25 bays or, given that the rear fan goes if you have a radiator up top, maybe where the rear fan is

    As I said the Fractal is not perfect, not convinced by the plastic front - and the front should definitely be re-tooled to support a front mounted radiator. But it is a lot better designed than many much more expensive cases. I have one on order for my next build
  • Zebo - Sunday, October 9, 2011 - link

    I've water cooled since athlon XP days and never had a leak and that was when manufactures were clueless about galvanic corrosion. Today with delrin tops and like metals you should have zero issue.
  • Tigashark - Sunday, October 9, 2011 - link

    Agree, if you end up with leaking issues you didnt put your loop together properly. Galvanic corrosion is one thing anyone looking into water SHOULD know about before they buy.

    I spent ~ 12 hours cutting, checking, rechecking, dissasembling, fittting, testing on my 1st custom loop, at that has been running 24/7 for the last 2 1/2 years.

    For those who dont get WHY you watercool, its simple , Water is 100 times more efficient at transferring heat than air.

    Running CPU/Chipset/GPU under water and temps are *significantly* better than air for 24/7/365 operation.

    Water is definitely worth the investment in time and money, and for those who dont have direct experience, you simply cant judge water performance on the pre-made "water cooling" loops such as those offered by Corsair.

    The diff between those sealed units and a custom loop is night and day.

    Other than that looks like a nice case, not sure how it would go with a custom loop however, looks like it would be cramped.
  • Kiste - Friday, October 7, 2011 - link

    Looking at the gaping hole in the side panel (which doesn't even seem to come with a dust filter), I don't buy the statement that with "the "low" fan setting it's among the quietest". That's simply not possible, unless Fractal Design innovated some magic anti-sound tech that changes the laws of physics.
  • KamikaZeeFu - Friday, October 7, 2011 - link

    I think that statement was meant as "compared to other sub $100 enclosures"
  • Kiste - Friday, October 7, 2011 - link

    There are sub $ 100 enclosures without these idiotic side panel cutouts. It's a problem with the cutouts, not the price.
  • Kegetys - Friday, October 7, 2011 - link

    In the R2 you can flip the side panels, ie. put the one with the fan grille to the right side. I find this helps to silence the noise quite a bit if you dont need the side fan. It looks like it might be possible to do it in this as well.
  • UNHchabo - Monday, October 10, 2011 - link

    Hmm... I have an R3, and I never even thought of doing that!

    I still have the grille cover on, so I doubt it will make any difference to noise, but it will make a difference to the aesthetics!

    I'll try it out; thanks!

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