Fractal Design Define S Case Review

Designed for liquid-cooling enthusiasts, Fractal Design’s Define S could be the perfect solution for your next extreme cooling build.

“Extreme” system builders are known for chopping away at their cases to fit more stuff inside, typically ditching entire drive cages and sealing off external bays in order to create more mounting space and a “cleaner” look. Fractal Design takes the concept a step further by eliminating those parts from the entire design of its Define S, while maintaining the sturdy shell upon which the company has built its reputation among some of these same enthusiasts.

The best part might be that Fractal Design isn’t charging you to modify an existing case, but has instead deducted the cost of bays and cages from the price of a new model. Weighing in at a fairly hefty 18.2 pounds even without the weight of cages, the Define S sells for around $70.

Specifications

Exterior

Before we open the Define S to reveal its variety of internal liquid cooling support features, let’s take a closer look around the outside.

Fractal Design replaced its classic noise-dampened door with a similar-looking solid face panel, above which are two USB 3.0 ports, power and reset buttons, plus headphone and microphone jacks. Removable outer covers behind those ports allow full access to the internal top panel.

Because it’s designed for lots of internal liquid cooling hardware, Fractal Design saw no need to put port holes for liquid coolers on the back of the Define S. We don’t consider that a weakness, though we would have preferred to see eight expansion slots rather than the seven provided.

A magnetic front and slide-in bottom dust cover protect all “intake” positions, including one optional bottom fan mount, three front fan mounts, and a power supply inlet.

Interior

Other than its durable steel sheetwork, Fractal Design is also known for its liberal application of cloth-faced asphalt damping sheets. The Define S’ plethora of vents combine with its left side window to leave only the right panel with enough space for proper application of these sheets. This may not be the most effective location to focus its noise-reduction efforts, but it is the most practical.

Inside, we find a front panel support for triple-120mm radiators (we refuse to call these 360mm because they’re 120mm wide), in addition to wider dual-140mm units (280x140mm spacing).

There’s around 17.8” of card space as well, which gets reduced by the thickness of any fans and/or radiators added to the front panel. That doesn’t mean we can install an oversized motherboard, though, as the raised section at the front of the motherboard tray limits internal board depth to around 9.9”.

A look around the back of the tray shows why motherboard length is restricted to standard ATX: three 3.5” drive trays fill the forward edge of the “stow” space, and two more 2.5” trays rest directly behind the board. The larger trays are also dual-drilled for smaller units, in case you’re inclined towards five 2.5” drives.

The lack of front drive cages gave Fractal a lot of room to place screw holes and slots for various liquid cooling devices.

Fractal Design defines the Define S as having room for a “420mm” radiator, but it’s hard to see how the tanks of some 3x 140mm units will clear the case ends. Triple 120 is far easier, and both sets of mounting screws are offset away from the motherboard to allow vertical overlap without component collision.

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  • basroil
    This is no Define model... they basically took out everything that makes the Define R cases so good (noise suppression, good cooling, tons of disk space, etc)
  • redgarl
    I have a Define R2 XL and I must admit that if you use the 3.25 bay for your drives, you get the same results as here.

    I love my case, but my next case will be a Phantekk.
  • Crashman
    Anonymous said:
    This is no Define model... they basically took out everything that makes the Define R cases so good (noise suppression, good cooling, tons of disk space, etc)
    It still has the sheet of asphalt on the back panel, and that sheet of asphalt still has a cloth facing. Same piece as before. The window of this model prevents Fractal Design from using it on the other side, but the firm also sells a non-windowed version with asphalt sheet on both sides.
  • ingtar33
    The Define S is pretty much identical to the R5. all they took out of the define r5 (to turn it into the S) was the front mounted drive mounts, and did a little tinkering with the back motherboard tray, creating more room then normally would be found in a define r5/r4

    I've owned a number of Fractal Design cases, the S is just a commercial version of a standard case mod done to the R5. Fractal Design learned that water cooling enthusiasts were buying their R5, and removing all the drive cages, including the dvd drives to fit large (>240mm) sized radiators into the case. So they decided there was a market for a slighly modified version of the r5 in the water cooling enthusiast community.

    As a sidenote, I've owned the R4, R5 and Arc Midi. In all 3 (though only one was water cooled) i stripped out the front drive cages because the weakness of a FD case is how badly those drive cages (even when not used) destroy case airflow. Whether i was using water or not, after removing those drive bays i have seen a consistent 5C drop in temps across the board. So for my money, the Define S is an improvement on their very good R4/R5 and Arc Midi cases.
  • ingtar33
    if only FD would sell their cases with fans less noisy then a dump truck. the one universal problem i've had with FD cases has been the god awful case fans they come with.
  • stoned_ritual
    Quote:
    if only FD would sell their cases with fans less noisy then a dump truck. the one universal problem i've had with FD cases has been the god awful case fans they come with.


    Wow! I never had any problems with their fans. I have owned 3 fractal cases (define mini, node 304 and 804)
  • eklipz330
    they should make a case like this that focuses more on air cooling.

    also, how many ssd's can you fit?
  • RedJaron
    That may be the first time I've heard someone complain about FD fans being loud.
  • cgigoux
    Now if only they would carry these design changes into the Define Mini (which they haven't redesigned since it was introduced!). Having room behind the MoBo tray for 2 x 2.5 & 2 x 3.5 drives would create the potential for a potent SFF gaming system.
  • atheus
    Anonymous said:
    Now if only they would carry these design changes into the Define Mini (which they haven't redesigned since it was introduced!). Having room behind the MoBo tray for 2 x 2.5 & 2 x 3.5 drives would create the potential for a potent SFF gaming system.

    I'm impatiently waiting for an updated Mini too. They have a survey up on the front page of their site which seems to be collecting opinions for a new mATX case. With any luck that's the overdue mini update they're polling for.

    To the fellow saying Fractal Design fans are loud, you either got bad fans, or you mistook noise from some other fan in your case. The FD fans don't even have a high max RPM, so it just doesn't make sense that they would be even slightly loud, much less "noisy as a dump truck".
  • Fulgurant
    Quote:
    The Define S is pretty much identical to the R5. all they took out of the define r5 (to turn it into the S) was the front mounted drive mounts, and did a little tinkering with the back motherboard tray, creating more room then normally would be found in a define r5/r4


    I own the R5; it's a brilliant case. Correct me if I'm wrong, but it looks like the S model also differs in that the bottom air filter can only be removed from the rear.

    That's a small, but potentially annoying, downgrade, IMO.

    Quote:
    As a sidenote, I've owned the R4, R5 and Arc Midi. In all 3 (though only one was water cooled) i stripped out the front drive cages because the weakness of a FD case is how badly those drive cages (even when not used) destroy case airflow. Whether i was using water or not, after removing those drive bays i have seen a consistent 5C drop in temps across the board. So for my money, the Define S is an improvement on their very good R4/R5 and Arc Midi cases.


    True. The R5 isn't great at cooling -- at least not if you stick with the stock fan configuration and the stock drive cage configuration. All the reviews reflect that; it's a noise-dampening case first and foremost.

    It's trivially easy to remove one of the drive cages though. You can even remove the 5.25" cage, which is a feature I'd never seen before.
  • FastGunna
    I bought my Define S the instant I found one in stock. The only issue I had was the SATA power connectors are not as usable with the orientation of the drives, I had to use 2 SATA power for my 3 hard drives and SSD because realistically its only possible to use 2 of the 4 plugs on each cable due to the spacing between the plugs. I am not looking forward to getting my next SSD because I will have to add another SATA power which will leave me with 7 plugs just sitting in the back of my case destroying my hopes and dreams of cable management. If I had some SATA power cable with only 1 connector each it would be much easier to work with.
  • ingtar33
    Quote:
    That may be the first time I've heard someone complain about FD fans being loud.


    My standard for quiet is <10db; completely sub auditory

    The define R4/R5 series are fantastic for quiet, good looking cases, but the fans are all poor. They move bad air at "low" or "quiet" settings and they are far too loud at high settings, worse, they make a harmonic bearing noise, that rumbles in and out. Its not loud and probably would be drown out by a normal GPU or normal system, but i prefer dead silent rigs, so my rigs are built to be as close to 0db as i can make them. They're not the only fluid/hydrolic bearing fans out there that suffer this problem, the whole redux lineup from Noctua does the same thing (in fact many fluid bearing fans do).

    As a result the first thing i do with my Fractal Design cases is strip the fans out and go with other fans, like the Phantex fans i'm currently using in my Arc Midi; or an assortment of noctuas i've found to be better then others.
  • HideOut
    I have to make a comment about a Fractal case I purchased earlier this year, the Node 804. Overall I like the layout but I needed to tell people about its deficiencies too. The from (side) USB3.0 does not work and the 3 fan controller don't work either. If you fidget with it it'll work for a minute. Kinda sad really. Not a Lian Li case quality wise for sure.
  • royalcrown
    It may just be that the horizontally mounted fans wear the bearing a lot faster, I don't have any weird harmonics with my 140mm fractals. The only one I have a problem with out of 4 is the horizontal bottom intake, so I unplugged it.

    You can't have awesome airflow and no noise at low RPM, maybe they decided that quietness was more important vs static pressure ?

    Quote:
    Quote:
    That may be the first time I've heard someone complain about FD fans being loud.


    My standard for quiet is <10db; completely sub auditory

    The define R4/R5 series are fantastic for quiet, good looking cases, but the fans are all poor. They move bad air at "low" or "quiet" settings and they are far too loud at high settings, worse, they make a harmonic bearing noise, that rumbles in and out. Its not loud and probably would be drown out by a normal GPU or normal system, but i prefer dead silent rigs, so my rigs are built to be as close to 0db as i can make them. They're not the only fluid/hydrolic bearing fans out there that suffer this problem, the whole redux lineup from Noctua does the same thing (in fact many fluid bearing fans do).

    As a result the first thing i do with my Fractal Design cases is strip the fans out and go with other fans, like the Phantex fans i'm currently using in my Arc Midi; or an assortment of noctuas i've found to be better then others.

    Quote:
    That may be the first time I've heard someone complain about FD fans being loud.
  • BigHotAndLoud
    Anonymous said:
    The Define S is pretty much identical to the R5. all they took out of the define r5 (to turn it into the S) was the front mounted drive mounts, and did a little tinkering with the back motherboard tray, creating more room then normally would be found in a define r5/r4



    They upgraded front intake, but downgraded ventilation out back and intake on bottom (and down graded R5's great bottom filter).

    I wish they would add an option of having front intake like this on the R5 for better airflow for people aircooling.

    Still no top dust filters for people watercooling and wanting to route rad out of case..
  • BigHotAndLoud
    Quote:

    As a result the first thing i do with my Fractal Design cases is strip the fans out and go with other fans, like the Phantex fans i'm currently using in my Arc Midi; or an assortment of noctuas i've found to be better then others.


    Ya Noctua fans and remove the pcie covers might fix the cooling problems around gpus. They had the back right on R5, this thing is a headscratcher
  • SirGCal
    I have an Arc Mini R2 and TWO Define R4's which each hold a full boat of 3.5" drives and act as servers. Temperature has never been an issue and the R4's are dead quiet.
  • BigHotAndLoud
    Quote:
    I have an Arc Mini R2 and TWO Define R4's which each hold a full boat of 3.5" drives and act as servers. Temperature has never been an issue and the R4's are dead quiet.


    Yes, and the Define S should have used those better designed backs, so hot air sitting under the video card can escape.

    Would be interesting to see if the reviewer would run temp test again, with another front fan and remove the pci-e slot covers.

    They need to make an R5 with the 5 inch bays removed and add a full length filter allowing for an additional 140 up top. Pretty much the perfect case for people air cooling at that point
  • MetalFrame
    i like this case, it's look simple and dandy.