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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  • piroroadkill - Monday, July 23, 2012 - link

    Completely disgree on the door - I have a Fractal Design Define R3, and closing the (foam padded) door makes a HUGE difference to the noise you perceive from the front of the case. Using my phone and a ghetto app, we're talking a few decibels different.
  • piroroadkill - Monday, July 23, 2012 - link

    Just in case I wasn't clear, I mean I absolutely DO want the door. Cleans up the look, massively reduces noise.
  • Grok42 - Sunday, August 12, 2012 - link

    My current case has a door and it too reduces noise a lot. There isn't anything magically about putting a hinge on a solid panel that stops noise, it's the fact that it's a solid panel and no noise doesn't leak through the small openings around the bay ports.
  • dj44 - Thursday, July 26, 2012 - link

    After reading I may have missed this, but is there any mention of dust filters under the PSU and on the fan mount just in front of it? I can't remember if the R3 had these either. :P

    Regarding the top fan mounts, I must be one of the 5%ers as I love 'em - I currently have the CM Centurion 590, and use both top 140mm mounts at the top, theoretically, with good fans it should help with overclocking on air - heat will always rise more easily than go sideways.
  • dj44 - Thursday, July 26, 2012 - link

    Apologies, I just went back through the pics and saw that a filter covers both.

    Another question though, would anyone be able to please tell me what the total wattage the fan controller can handle?
  • vanwazltoff - Wednesday, August 1, 2012 - link

    no reviews emphasize that the bottom hard drive cage can be moved back to accommodate a 240mm rad in the front and that bottom cage can be moved anywhere in the case because it has the same bolt pattern as a 120mm fan. that is a substantial difference between the r3 and r4.

    I actually sent fractal a long email about how they can improve apon the r3 and they used 90% of the ideas I gave them, its nice to sea that a company that listens to its customers. one of the many ideas I sent was an option between windowed and non windows versions and a window upgrade kit for the r3
  • chloroprocaine - Sunday, August 5, 2012 - link

    Great article, Dustin. Really helpful as I've been waiting for the R4 for quite some time now.

    Quick question, in your closing statement, you say:

    "...while the Corsair 550D is a generally better performer, it also has more trouble spots that give me some pause in regards to its longevity"

    Could you elaborate on this point? 550D seems like a great, albeit more expensive, alternative to the R4, but it would be horrible if it wasn't as nicely built.
  • chrislue - Monday, August 13, 2012 - link

    Does it have a HDD led?
  • tigersty1e - Thursday, October 4, 2012 - link

    going forward, it would help to keep the cpu and gpu fan constant. that way, we can compare the temps and decibal ratings with apples to apples.

    some cases give great cooling to cpu, but are poor for gpu cooling. and a few percentage points for the gpu fan can really throw the db ratings much higher.
  • ifdefmoose - Tuesday, December 4, 2012 - link

    The lack of a hard drive activity indicator makes this case a non-starter for me, which is really unfortunate. Other than that, it looks like a great design.

    Does anyone else feel that this is a critical omission?

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