In and Around the Fractal Design Define XL R2

If you're familiar with Fractal Design's aesthetic for the Define series, the Define XL R2 isn't going to bring any surprises. Fractal Design continues to offer their cases in black and gunmetal finishes, and I continue to be pleased with the gunmetal; it's a gray that doesn't clash with computer hardware, but keeps the box from looking too bland. We're really in an age where we've replaced the beige box with the black box.

The front of the XL R2 features a padded door which opens to the left and conceals four 5.25" drive bays with ventilated snap-in/snap-out shields. The entire front fascia is ventilated on the sides just like the other Define cases, allowing plenty of cool air to enter the case without letting noise escape. Next to the drive bays is a three-step switch for the fan controller; you can run fans connected to the controller at 5V, 7V, and 12V. Below the bays are two intake fan mounts; Fractal Design includes a 140mm fan in one, but you have to add your own fan to the second. These fans are hidden behind a fan filter and are easily removed and replaced.

When we move to the top of the XL R2, we find the power button and reset button along with the I/O all placed on the front edge of the case. The remainder of the external shell of the XL R2 is flat, matte black, though there are 120mm/140mm fan mounts on the top and side of the case (two on the top, one on the side panel). In true Fractal Design fashion, these mounts are blocked off with removable acoustic padding.

Someone at Fractal Design must have been paying attention to my recent complaining (I'd like to think they were though it probably isn't true), because the side panels are hinged instead of notched. Per usual, two thumbscrews hold them into place, but they're very easy to put on and take off.

The interior of the Define XL R2 is nothing new; this is very much just a larger Define R4. The two drive cages are both modular, and can be removed or rotated to suit your airflow needs. Alternatively, you can mount a single cage where the bottom intake fan is and install a radiator in the front of the enclosure. Fractal Design continues to employ their tried and true white steel drive sleds, and I'm not complaining. I've seen enough vendors nail every other part of the design and then screw these up fantastically that I appreciate when someone has them down about as good as they'll get.

The remainder of the XL R2's interior isn't bad by any stretch of the imagination, but it's still a hair behind the times. We do get a 140mm intake fan on the bottom of the case and the case itself stands up high enough that only the shaggiest of carpet will block it off, and Fractal Design actually includes additional clearance above the motherboard tray expressly for mounting 240mm/280mm slim radiators. Where they fall behind is the lack of an extruded channel around the tray for cable management (as well as helping the case slim down a touch) and no preinstalled motherboard standoffs or alignment studs.

It's tough to complain too much, though. This is effectively the same ATX interior cooling design Nanoxia and everyone else enjoys, it's just bigger. I do think it's unusual that Fractal Design opted to go for a bottom intake instead of using that third fan in the open front mount, but "unusual" doesn't necessarily mean "bad." As I mentioned, the XL R2 does actually stand far enough off of the ground to make this intake a useful one. A bottom intake's noise can be easily muffled by its direction and proximity to the ground.

Introducing the Fractal Design Define XL R2 Assembling the Fractal Design Define XL R2
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  • arthur449 - Wednesday, February 20, 2013 - link

    A useful review is one that compares an item against another using metrics that are important to the readers. Without a standard set of system components used in every review for every case in the comparison, a review turns into just another "I bought it, it works, I like it" write-up that other hardware sites like to pass off as "reviews."

    A solution to this could be Anandtech developing and using heating elements configured to produce similar amounts of heat and noise in similar locations to a standard ATX / mATX system. Then these elements could be adjusted to produce standard levels of heat output (65/77/95W) enthusiast heat output (130W/150W) and overclocked (200W+).

    Multiples of these heating elements could be placed in the larger cases to simulate high heat GPUs and determine exactly how much thermal capacity a given case has for such a scenario.

    But... custom fabrication, testing, and implementation of equipment such as this would be very spendy initially and the payoff questionable and unnecessary if the products in question fall into the disposable income category for your readership.
  • tim851 - Wednesday, February 20, 2013 - link

    The metrics have to be relevant, though.

    It's reasonable to assume people are not buying big towers because they need to fill their empty rooms, but because they have components that require a big case.
    And you can't tell me that one of the - if not THE - premier tech sites on the web is not able to get three different sizes of mainboards to their case reviewer and a bunch of toasty GPUs to Trip-SLI. They can go on eBay and buy an ageing Nehalem CPU and a set of GTX 285s for all I care.

    Testing this monster of a case with 3 HDDs, an mATX board and a little 560 makes no sense, because the only valid conclusion can be that it is too big.
  • Dustin Sklavos - Thursday, February 21, 2013 - link

    The problem at this point is that if I switch up to a full ATX board now, it destroys the comparative data I've accumulated over the past year. I've been working on a third, "full fat" level using this board, but ironically the board's second PCIe x16 slot isn't working and so I can't bump up testing parameters until I've sorted that out.
  • Skolde - Wednesday, February 20, 2013 - link

    Your case reviews are outstanding minus one thing:

    You should really consider using an ATX sized motherboard when reviewing full sized cases. I've noticed on previous reviews the habit of using small motherboards in larger cases, and it really doesn't give me a good feel for its target component size.

    ATX, Micro-ATX and mini-ITX boards should be used according to the size of the case being reviewed.
  • Hrel - Wednesday, February 20, 2013 - link

    Agreed. I've said this on other case reviews. Changing the size of the mobo but keeping the same chipset shouldn't affect any of the tests. There's really no reason not to. Unless you're buying a mimi-ATX case or smaller you are probably using a Full ATX motherboard, or larger. I stay with ATX for the expansion slots. Currently still running an old Nvidia 650 SLI chipset, but it has a USB 3.0 controller and SATA 6GBPS ports because of the expansion slots available in the motherboard. That computer is nearing it's end of life but with the SSD in it the CPU is actually the slowest part. Still run everything I do great and I have no intention of upgrading until it can't.
  • HisDivineOrder - Wednesday, February 20, 2013 - link

    Lots of people have been saying this over and over in every review like this at this site. I agree, it makes little sense to test the case with a small motherboard that most of us would never in a million years put in this case.

    But the reviewers are obstinate. They want you to be able to compare the reference system from a microATX case to a ATX XL case and see what the benchmarks say is the best case.

    For better or worse.
  • tim851 - Wednesday, February 20, 2013 - link

    I hate that methodology.

    People aren't choosing between mATX and XL-ATX.

    Car reviewers figured that out a long time ago. No sense pitting a Corvette against an Escalade and a Ford Fusion. Nobody will decide between these based on trunk size or fuel economy.

    There are fringe cases out there for sure, but the vast majority buys cases based on what they can do with them. In the case of a full towers that's stuffing it full of chips.
    If you have an mATX board, you get an mATX case. Chances are you bought it for the size or the prize.
    Either way, you ain't considering the Fractal Define XL R2...
  • Dustin Sklavos - Thursday, February 21, 2013 - link

    The reason I made this call and stand by it:

    What do you lose by going with an mATX board over a standard ATX board?
  • haplo602 - Thursday, February 21, 2013 - link

    It's not ATX vs mATX. This is an XL-ATX/E-ATX capable case, so some people will lose PCI-E slots and some even a CPU socket (my case) which is show stopper.

    There are plenty of cases that can fit an mATX board. It's the other end of the spectrum that's starved.
  • tim851 - Thursday, February 21, 2013 - link

    Ask yourself this: why is anybody choosing a full tower? An mATX board, single GPU and three hard disks fit into a Silverstone TJ08. Do you think there are people undecided between a TJ08 and a Define XL waiting for a comparative review?

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