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Fractal Design Define Nano S Mini-ITX Case Review

Fractal Design's Define Nano S offers the same look and feel as its larger counterpart, but can it still deliver when it comes to performance?

The Build, Test Results And Conclusion

The Build

The hardware kit for the Nano S includes a detailed manual, several screw packets, zip ties, a set of mounting brackets for a reservoir, as well as a fan splitter cable for motherboards that only have one system fan header.

Like most mainstream miniITX cases, the Nano S comes with a sparse set of cables, which include a USB 3.0 header, HD-Audio, and Power/LED.

Working inside the Nano S is a breeze as there's plenty of room and almost everything is toolless. The motherboard installs onto preinstalled standoffs, the power supply bolts in to the bottom of the case, and the SSD gets tucked away behind the motherboard. Once all of the main components are in, a quick bit of cable management conceals any excess cables behind the right panel for a nice clean look.

As I mentioned at the beginning of the review, the Nano S is on the large end of miniITX cases, so much so that I had to go back and double check that I didn't forget to install anything because of how much room was left over when I was done.

After double-checking that everything was in place, the installation of the side window completes the assembly.

How We Test

Today's review uses the same miniITX reference platform as past reviews, with no changes to the standard hardware. 

Test System Components

Test System Configuration
CPUIntel Core i5-4690 (Devil's Canyon): 3.50 GHz, Four Cores Locked at 3.90 GHz (39x 100 MHz) at 1.20 V Core
CPU CoolerNoctua NH-L12
MotherboardMSI Z97I AC: LGA 1150, Intel Z97, Firmware 4.8 (06/01/2015)
RAMCrucial Ballistix Sport Low Profile BLS2K8G3D1609ES2LX0 16 GB (2x 8 GB) DDR3-1600 Benchmarked at XMP CAS 9 defaults (1.35V)
GraphicsGigabyte GV-N970IXOC-4GD: GeForce GTX 970 1101-1241 MHz GPU, GDDR5-7012, Maximum Fan for Thermal Tests
Hard DrivesCrucial MX200 CT500MX200SSD1 500GB SATA 6Gb/s SSD
SoundIntegrated HD Audio
NetworkIntegrated Gigabit Networking
Powerbe quiet! SFX Power 2 BN227 400W SFX 12V v3.3 / EPS 12V N/A, 80 PLUS Bronze
Software
OSMicrosoft Windows 8.1 Pro x64
GraphicsNvidia GeForce 353.30
ChipsetIntel INF 10.0.27

Benchmark Suite

Benchmark Configuration
Prime95 v27.964-bit executable, Small FFTs, 4 threads
3DMark 11Version: 1.0.3.0, Extreme Preset: Graphics Test 1, Looped
Real Temp 3.40Average of maximum core readings at full CPU load
Galaxy CM-140 SPL MeterTested at 1/2 m, corrected to 1 m (-6 dB), dBA weighting

Noise is measured .5m from the case's front corner, on the side that opens. The numbers are corrected to the 1m industry standard—used by many loudspeaker and fan manufacturers—by subtracting six decibels.

Additionally, the test duration for today's review was two hours at full load and the ambient air temperature for the test was maintained at approximately 26 degrees Celsius (78.8 degrees Fahrenheit).

Comparison Cases

Test Results

Since we ended up with a good bit of data from the mini-ITX roundup, we've dropped the open-air platform test data from today's results in order to make a more focused comparison.

Like Lian Li's PC-Q10, Fractal's Define Nano S manages to outperform the other two cases in today's test thanks to its design, which helps to maintain good front to back airflow through the case. Interestingly enough, the PC-Q10 still manages to produce slightly better temperatures, despite the fact that the Nano S has an extra cooling fan to help move air though the case.

As expected of a case with sound dampening, the Nano S manages to produce less noise than all of its competitors. However, 42dBA is still quite a bit of sound and we would have liked to have seen some slightly better numbers considering the case has sound dampening on almost all of its panels.

Setting that aside, the sound dampening on the Nano S still puts it solidly in first place when it comes to efficiency at almost 12 percent above average and almost 6 percent above the PC-Q10.

The case's $70 price tag also pushes it into first place when it comes to value, even beating Cougar's $55 QBX case. The value win becomes even more apparent when you consider the less than optimal performance of the QBX and the rich set of features available with the Nano S.

Conclusion

The Define Nano S lives up to the performance expectations set forth by its larger counterpart while also delivering plenty of build space and options for expansion. It's an excellent case for mini-ITX builds and we're giving it the Tom's Hardware Editor Recommended award.

Chris Miconi is an Associate Contributing Writer for Tom's Hardware, covering Cases
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  • SinxarKnights
    Aww it's so cute! Looks like a mini Define R5!
    Reply
  • atheus
    17510684 said:
    Aww it's so cute! Looks like a mini Define R5!
    Or perhaps a smaller Define S? Like.. a nano S?

    To the author: regarding what you forgot to install — you forgot to install the water cooling components this case is designed for.
    Reply
  • CaedenV
    So cute! I am still a few years out from my next build, but it will certainly be something similar to this. Just need enough space for a mobo, short tower cooler, psu, and a gaming gpu. ODD sits on the desk under the monitor, and the m.2 SSD will be bolted to the mobo, so there is no real need for a case with drive space any more.
    Reply
  • Onus
    I like this one! I might be inclined to use more drives though. What if I wanted a system SSD, pair of RAID1 data drives, and an optical drive?
    Reply
  • firefoxx04
    If you want hard drives and optical drives, this isn't the case for you.
    Reply
  • SirGCal
    I love the Fractal cases. But for a non-optical case (not for me) and no large storage array inside, this case is huge.
    Reply
  • Wow. When does it come out? Where will I be able to get one?
    Reply
  • Wow. When does it come out? Where will I be able to get one?

    Nevermind. Comes out March this year. Can't wait! This will be the perfect case for my mini itx build.
    Reply
  • jtd871
    It's almost 30L in volume! "A bit oversized for a true mini-ITX case", indeed!
    Reply
  • atheus
    So many comments on the large size of it. The large empty space in the front of the case is where one would put the pump, reservoir, and a large radiator for a full-blown custom loop. That's the entire raison d'etre for this case, and what makes it very awesome. For a no-compromise water-cooled single GPU gaming rig, this is the one.
    Reply