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
Fractal Design Define C
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.
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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