Introducing the Fractal Design Define R4

Around November of last year we had a chance to take a look at one of the most popular enclosures from up-and-comer Fractal Design, the Define R3. Impressions were good if not absolutely amazing, but it was easy to see how the case had gotten so popular. A competitive price tag, solid acoustics, understated aesthetics, and fairly flexible design all conspired to produce a case that could conceivably be a silver bullet for a lot of users.

Today Fractal Design is launching their next revision of the Define, the R4. It's easy to mistake it for its predecessor, but as is often the case, the devil is in the details. Fractal Design hasn't radically tweaked the formula, but they've rounded some of the edges and added more value to their design without making very many sacrifices in the process. They've done a lot to improve the Define in the R4, but have they done enough?

Incremental evolution isn't altogether unheard of in the enclosure business, but I'm used to seeing vendors release outright new models or heavily revamp existing ones instead of steadily iterating like Fractal Design has done with the Define. I can see users being a bit underwhelmed by the changes Fractal Design has made to the Define with the R4, and I myself am a bit underwhelmed, but let's see if we can't unpack things and get to the heart of what they've done and haven't done.

Fractal Design Define R4 Specifications
Motherboard Form Factor Mini-ITX, Micro ATX, ATX
Drive Bays External 2x 5.25”
Internal 8x 2.5"/3.5", 2x 2.5"
Cooling Front 1x 140mm intake fan, 1x 120mm/140mm fan mount
Rear 1x 140mm exhaust fan
Top 2x 120mm/140mm fan mounts
Side 1x 140mm fan mount
Bottom 1x 120mm/140mm fan mount
Expansion Slots 7+1
I/O Port 2x USB 3.0, 2x USB 2.0, 1x Headphone, 1x Mic
Power Supply Size Standard ATX
Clearances HSF 170mm
PSU 170mm with bottom fan, 270mm without
GPU 11.6"/295mm with drive cage, 430mm without
Dimensions 9.13" x 18.27" x 20.59"
232mm x 464mm x 523mm
Weight 27.12 lbs. / 12.3kg
Special Features USB 3.0 connectivity via internal headers
Removable drive cages
Integrated three-step fan controller
Support for 240mm radiator in top of enclosure
Price $109

The Define R4 is ever so slightly larger than the R3 and features essentially everything you already liked about the R3, making it a pretty direct replacement of its predecessor in much the same way as Antec's P182 obsoleted the P180. Fractal Design parted ways with eSATA in the I/O cluster in favor of a pair of USB 2.0 and a pair of USB 3.0 ports and it's a good transition. eSATA never seemed to quite catch fire; USB 3.0 offers most of the bandwidth with much easier connectivity and fewer hiccups. Meanwhile, I still don't think we're at the point where we can completely deprecate USB 2.0 in favor of 3.0, so having them both represented on the front of the case is appreciated.

In and Around the Fractal Design Define R4
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  • Dustin Sklavos - Friday, July 20, 2012 - link

    Fractal Design rates it for 15mm, but I'm still of the opinion that your mileage may vary due to VRM sink design, etc. If it's going to fit it's going to be awfully tight, I don't think I'd try it in this case.
  • danjw - Saturday, July 21, 2012 - link

    Thank you for the response. Sounds like a water cooling in this case is a lost cause. Oh well.
  • vanwazltoff - Wednesday, August 1, 2012 - link

    actually there is not a single review that says this but the button hard drive cage can be moved back and a 240mm read can be installed in the front. there is a YouTube video from fractal that shows this
  • TheStu - Friday, July 20, 2012 - link

    I just picked up the Arc Midi, which I love aside from one small issue. In the removable cage, you cannot put a 3.5" drive into the top bay. The screws that secure the plastic bits on top protrude down too far and it scratches the top of the drive. I suppose if I felt like gouging the crap out of my drive I could put one there, but fortunately I /only/ have 6 hard drives and 1 SSD.
  • sonicology - Saturday, July 21, 2012 - link

    "Evolution not revolution" and variations thereof must be the single most overused literary cliche in tech journalism, every time I read it I shudder.
  • randinspace - Saturday, July 21, 2012 - link

    It's the influence gaming has had on the current generation of writers. Although, I'd personally take "evolution not revolution" over "rare(fied) air" (which seemed to inexplicably sweep the nation after Drew Brees passed Dan Marino's passing record last season, even creeping into Anandtech) any day.

    Seriously speaking (as a hack novelist who makes less money from writing than most HS kids do from their summer jobs), I find that even though the writers here at Anandtech all have their own idiosyncrasies which they can't help but put on display considering their output, they each have their own distinct "voice" and do a good job not just parroting their fellows' expressions, anecdotes, opinions, metaphors, and what have you. As opposed to AM radio personalities, ESPN's in particular. If I hear Jeremy Lin described as a "gift from the heavens that fell into the Knicks' lap last season" one more time (after hearing it used on just about every ESPN radio program just about every day this week) I'm going to throw whatever the offending phrase issued from into the nearest bay. Even if it's my manager.
  • Dustin Sklavos - Saturday, July 21, 2012 - link

    Sometimes I can't help it, and I've found myself often even accidentally or almost repeating myself in headlines. It's tough to consistently come up with new stuff when you write as much as we do. ;)

    At the risk of tooting our own horn a little bit, Anand pretty aggressively courts (and has us aggressively court) people who have some writing skill in addition to their understanding of technology. From there, our editorial process has been in my experience devoid of any stylistic editing. I've written for a few sites, but these are seriously the nicest and most genuinely talented guys I've ever worked with.
  • Grok42 - Sunday, July 22, 2012 - link

    I love the monolithic front look of the case with no bays or grills. I also appreciate this case bucking the almost universal trend of putting three or four and sometimes even five useless 5.25" bays. Doing so builds the option of having much better cooling or many more hard drives.

    Other than the power button, the ports on the top of the case seem a bit silly. I can't imagine why I would use the audio ports for my speakers. I can't imagine use them for headphones instead of the headphone port on my speakers or remote dongle. Same for the USB, just use the one on my computer/monitor/keyboard/speakers all which seem like they would be more convenient. I wouldn't care so much but it seems like those top ports will get dirty quickly and become unsightly.

    I also agree with other posters that the top ports shouldn't be there. My current case has a vent and fan on the top and I will never get another case with them again. You can stack anything on top and my son loves to put things into them.

    Finally, If they really want to do a revolution for the next iteration of this case here is what I would do. Ditch the 5.25" bays entirely. Reduce the width of the case as much as feasible while still keeping the 3.5" bays mounted the same. Ditch the lateral expansion slot if it helps reduce case width. Ditch ATX support along with 3 of the 7 expansion slots to allow the case to be shorter.
  • Arbie - Sunday, July 22, 2012 - link

    Actually, I love the top vents on my Coolermaster CM-690, and wouldn't buy a case without them for a performance build.

    This looks like a very good case even compared to the CM-690 series, except I don't want a door. Is it removable? I hope so.
  • Grok42 - Sunday, July 22, 2012 - link

    I would prefer not having a door as well to reduce the overall size of the case. However, as long as manufactures insist on not making ANY cases without putting 5.25" bays in them, there are a lot of people who want something to cover up the ugliness these bays create. My ideal case would look just like the front of this without a door. The front sides would have vents/grills for pulling air in across all the drive bays and exhaust it out the back with vents/grills where they now typically have 9 expansion ports. Basically create a wind tunnel from front to back with the only compromise is not pulling air through the front panel for appearance reasons.

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