Fractal Define-C Mid-Tower ATX Case Review

Building, Testing, And Final Evaluation

The Define-C includes shoulder screws for 3.5” drive mounts, power supply screws, motherboard standoffs with a socket to Phillips screwdriver adapter, eight motherboard screws, enough SSD screws to fill all five mounts with 2.5” drives, six cable ties, and a magnetic filter screen to replace the top-panel fan cover. A factory-installed standoff with centering pin fits the center hole of an ATX motherboard, and a user manual that would have lain flat was crushed lengthwise during shipping.

Simple screw installation for components eases the need for further explanation, and even the cable kit is simplified. The Define-C has a single USB 3.0 header cable, an HD-Audio-only audio header cable, and a split power LED lead to fit both 2-pin and 3-pin header spacing.

Standoffs are attached to the motherboard tray, the motherboard is placed over the center pin, and screws are then used to attach it to the other eight standoffs. After removing two slot covers from the appropriate position, the graphics card is attached in their place using the same screws that held the covers. The power supply slips cable-first into a hole in the back panel after removing its cover plate, the plate is re-installed, and the power supply is secured to the plate with four screws. The SSD is also screwed to the upper drive tray.

Comparison Product Stats

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A unique cooling requirement excludes the recently-reviewed Riotoro CR1080 from our performance comparison, leaving the MasterBox 5 and Z9 Neo as the Define-C’s closest competitors. Neither of those competitors have noise damped panels, so we’re hoping that the Define-C will better contain the noise of our graphics card fans.

Test Results

The Define-C matches at full fans the cooling performance of the MasterBox 5 at 50% fans. Remembering that the temperatures shown are over ambient, I had to reduce the room temperature in order to test the Define-C at 50% fans.

Minimal changes in noise level between full and 50% fan settings indicate that the case fans aren’t a problem for either the Define-C or the MasterBox 5. Instead, both are having a tough time containing the graphics card noise that leaks through the sides of the front panel and the plastic side panel window. Though it doesn’t even have controllable fans, the Z9 Neo is the true hero of cheapskates in the noise measurement.

Temperature control was an issue for the Define-C, and that combined with a design that let out much of our graphics noise. The MasterBox 5 edged it out in the comparison of temperature to noise, and the Z9 Neo again took the performance prize.

The Define-C has a few small features that add to its price, making competing solutions stand out in value by far more than the performance difference. These features include a removable power supply plate that overcomes the extreme cable challenges we faced in our Z9 Neo evaluation, along with controllable fan speed not available in the Z9 Neo. On the other hand, the Z9 Neo was factory equipped with two more fans.

As nicely made as the MasterBox 5 was, it lacks the top panel radiator mount available on both the Define-C and the Z9 Neo. And the Define-C goes a step farther than the Z9-Neo by supporting larger radiators in front.

All of the problems that made me want to hate the Z9 Neo are addressed in the Define-C, for an extra $15. On the other hand, the Define-C really needs more fans to make it perform competitively. You’ll get those fans with most closed-loop liquid cooling kits, so perhaps Fractal Design should just knock a few bucks off the Define-C and make everyone happy.

Of course there are special considerations such as the noise damping material that could help with specific noise issues, such as rumbling. Nothing like that is available in the Define-C’s lower-cost rivals. And then there’s the bottom-panel filter that slides out from the front, for which I’m sure a bunch of readers are hoping to see an award.

The Define-C’s $85 price makes me inclined not to give it that award, but support for a 3x 120mm front radiator and 2x 140mm top radiator is almost as rare at this price as its sound damping material and front-pull bottom filter. Our basic stamp of approval is the one award available when any of us are on-the-fence about issuing an award, and the Define-C gets it for supporting builders who want to install two rectangular radiators cheaply.

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23 comments
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  • blazorthon
    While I understand this may be the market norm these days, I don't think an $80 price point means that only two USB ports makes sense. $80 is a moderate amount to spend on a case for a typical computer and while more USB ports might not be needed, it's not like the little USB port adapters cost much of anything. There are dozens of sub $40 cases with three or four USB ports.
    1
  • ryguybuddy
    Well, 3 reviews at once at the same case....

    wow
    0
  • thundervore
    The only thing I can knock this case for is only having 2 USB ports and a 120 fan in the rear.

    They got everything else spot on. The ability remove the bottom dust filter from the front of the case, great. Full front dust filter, great.
    0
  • rchris
    Good review, EXCEPT it is very annoying to read case reviews that don't provide even the basic dimensions of the case (H x W x D).
    -1
  • rchris
    Edit to earlier comment: Sorry, I missed the comparison insert with the dimensions.
    0
  • gilbadon
    Define S is still my favorite. However, this does have some cool improvements. I wish they made the top look better when the vents are open. I am not a fan of the recessed honeycomb holes.
    0
  • RedJaron
    Anonymous said:
    While I understand this may be the market norm these days, I don't think an $80 price point means that only two USB ports makes sense.

    Anonymous said:
    The only think I can knock this case for is only having 2 USB ports and a 120 fan in the rear.
    Considering not every mboard has two 3.0 headers on the board, I don't see it a problem of having only two ports on the front of the case. This is a higher-end mainstream case, not a top-shelf model. Can you honestly say you regularly use more than two front ports simultaneously? If so, what for? You're always charging your phone while syncing your Zune while using two flash drives? This is like people saying they need at least 10 USB ports on the back of their mboard.

    And I'm not sure why the rear fan should be a problem; the case also comes with a 120mm fan in the front. Are you complaining that it's not 140mm?
    -2
  • Crashman
    Anonymous said:
    While I understand this may be the market norm these days, I don't think an $80 price point means that only two USB ports makes sense. $80 is a moderate amount to spend on a case for a typical computer and while more USB ports might not be needed, it's not like the little USB port adapters cost much of anything. There are dozens of sub $40 cases with three or four USB ports.
    It's hard for a reviewer to balance out FD's target customer against general expectations. FD is trying to get rid of features that the target customer thinks are in the way, such as USB 2.0 ports, hard drive cages above the power supply shroud, and external bays. It was easy for them to knock a few dollars off for the missing sheet metal back when they launched the Define-S, but the ports...not so much.
    0
  • Luminary
    Thanks for the great review.

    Not sure how gung-ho I am about trying this one out, looks like a fairly awkward mid-point with some good features and some things lacking enough to make it not worth the while.
    0
  • elbert
    That is one great case. I love how open and vented its made.
    0
  • Luminary
    Anonymous said:
    That is one great case. I love how open and vented its made.


    Think you might put a build in this one?
    0
  • avatar_raq
    Anonymous said:
    ....This is like people saying they need at least 10 USB ports on the back of their mboard.
    ....


    I need more than 10!! I use 11 out of the 12 USB ports on my ASUS X99 deluxe's back IO: 1 x Mouse, 2 x keyboard, 1 x USB 3 hub, 1 x web cam, 1 x xbox 360 wireless receiver, 1 x external HDD, 1 x power of headset, 1 x printer, 2 x UPS interface. And while you can argue a USB hub can do the trick, it is not an ideal solution to me, it complicates desk cable management and the drivers may be problematic.
    0
  • unreal104
    No every person use 11 usb ports like you do. We are talking with majority here if i am not wrong. Normally a person would 1x Mouse, 1x Keyboard, 1 x Web cam, 1 x wireless receiver, 1 x printer (6 USB ports). Front ports we just use for external HDD/USB thumbdrive which normally are not connected 24/7.

    and off course your x99 includes far more ports than typical z170/B150 motherboard. As i am saying intel x99 is for niche high end market. z170/b150 for general consumer.
    0
  • daglesj
    Anonymous said:
    The only thing I can knock this case for is only having 2 USB ports and a 120 fan in the rear.

    They got everything else spot on. The ability remove the bottom dust filter from the front of the case, great. Full front dust filter, great.


    I have the Fractal 4 and I would mark it down for having 4 USB ports on top (2xUSB2.0 and 2xUSB3.0)

    Two too many.
    0
  • thundervore
    Anonymous said:
    Anonymous said:
    While I understand this may be the market norm these days, I don't think an $80 price point means that only two USB ports makes sense.

    Anonymous said:
    The only think I can knock this case for is only having 2 USB ports and a 120 fan in the rear.
    Considering not every mboard has two 3.0 headers on the board, I don't see it a problem of having only two ports on the front of the case. This is a higher-end mainstream case, not a top-shelf model. Can you honestly say you regularly use more than two front ports simultaneously? If so, what for? You're always charging your phone while syncing your Zune while using two flash drives? This is like people saying they need at least 10 USB ports on the back of their mboard.

    And I'm not sure why the rear fan should be a problem; the case also comes with a 120mm fan in the front. Are you complaining that it's not 140mm?


    Think about it, as a standard, the motherboard will come with at least 1 USB3 internal header and 1 USB2 internal header. The customer will connect up the USB3 internal header to the case, what are they going to do with the remaining internal USB2 header? There are no front bays so they cant install a card reader or more ports, the only thing they can do in hook up an AIO.

    It is inexcusable for an ATX case to come with only 2 USB ports. ITX, yes I understand as ITX motherboards usually only come with 1 internal header. ATX comes with at least 2, even mATX comes with at least 2, so why release a case that does not give the customer the ability to fully utilize the connectors on their motherboard?

    I have about 6 USB ports in the back of my board and that connects up my UPS, Bluetooth dongle, web cam and Kingston USB3 card reader. Up front, I have 4 ports and that connects up my Logitech dongle so I can get the full 10 feet of good coverage for the mouse and keyboard, cable to sync my TomTom and connect my android, and one for my iphone and the other port is just for flash drives when I need a quick transfer or my game controller when I play old school emulators.

    This case is not marketed to me, maybe because im not a average user to some but simply putting 4 USB ports up front would have opened up the case to more customers than eliminating them.

    The fan is all about opening up the possibilities for the customer, they are taking steps backwards by eliminating options.

    Now that I think about it, the front IO looks like its just held in with screws. So I predict in the future, this case will be rereleased as an advanced model with 3 or 4 USB ports (2 USB3, 1 USB C) and HDMI pass-through.
    0
  • techy1966
    I would say this case is not for me I do not mind the look as the bland flat fronts are starting to grow on me I guess. What I can not go without is having the choice to add more HDD space my current build has 4 4TB storage drives and 1 512GB Samsung SSD and even with this amount of space the 16TB is just over half full of data and my work files and of coarse games and music. If this is the new trend in system cases people like me will either have to go external drives only and have those drives taking up space on the desk or get the biggest drives you can find and use less drives to get more space but that is also more costly option.

    My other complaint is the total lack of 5.25 external drive bays yes I know DVD-RW drives are not used as much anymore but in my system I have Blu-Ray burners that actually get used a lot so not having the 5.25 bays and having to go external drives again just makes the desk even more cluttered. These case manufactures need to know there are all types of customers out there and it used to be that manufactures used to at least try to have product options for everyone. Now day it seems to be 1 size fits all attitude and we have to learn to make trade offs in order to get what we want which is not right.

    I am sure I am not the only one that has noticed the new trend the last few years in the computer industry. We seem to be losing more and more good tech that a lot fo people still use but because it is not in the cool crowd any more we loose it and what replaces it always seems to have a lot of short comings and features missing. Yes it is better than the old tec but at the same time it is lacking in features and as such is both better and not better I was not really sure how to word that so hopefully it makes sense..lol I do like the look of the case from the front like I said the flat bland look has grown on me and for the price it looks like it is built not to shabby but it would not be my first or middle or last choice when deciding on the new case just because of what I had stated of the lacking options.
    -1
  • xvegan
    For us minions who could care less about "gaming" and need hardware to support 3.5" drives in 5.25" removable trays, (software dev facilities) bootable optical drives and 5.25" interface panels for USB3, USB2, card readers, eSATA etc. this case is useless.

    I hope all case makers aren't trending this way
    -1
  • Crashman
    Anonymous said:
    For us minions who could care less about "gaming" and need hardware to support 3.5" drives in 5.25" removable trays, (software dev facilities) bootable optical drives and 5.25" interface panels for USB3, USB2, card readers, eSATA etc. this case is useless.

    I hope all case makers aren't trending this way
    The general market is broad enough for companies to offer different products to different niches. Some builders were saying "I WON'T buy anything with an external bay, I want the clean look" so companies responded by eliminating them on some cases. Then some builders said "I WON'T buy anything with extra hard drive cages because I'm putting water cooling gear there anyway", and Fractal Design introduced the Define-S. Now we're down to guys saying they'll never use more than two USB ports...

    These cases are designed for a certain type of buyer that doesn't represent ME. But as a reviewer, I have to represent THEM in a limited regard: That is, when I'm reviewing something they might want to buy. I have to essentially shut off the part of my brain that says "that doesn't make sense" when discussing things that they think do make sense, because their needs and desires are different from mine. And I think their ideal would be a case with no visible seams or ports, connecting all external devices wirelessly or to the rear panel.

    For general buyers who don't hate seams and ports, I'm going to continue recommending four USB ports and at least one external bay, partly because the external bay can be used for bay devices. And if I'm recommending those cases to most people, of course I'll continue reviewing them.
    2
  • Luay
    Crashman

    Can we get more clearance for the PSU if we remove the bottom drive cage & shroud?
    0
  • Crashman
    Anonymous said:
    Crashman

    Can we get more clearance for the PSU if we remove the bottom drive cage & shroud?

    Do you have a drill? Do you really need to remove the shroud? Cage removal was covered in the article and does provide space for deeper power supplies and larger cable bundles.
    0