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Thread: Fractal Design Define S Case & Venturi HF-14 Fans

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    Alien Symbiote Sumanji's Avatar
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    Smile Fractal Design Define S Case & Venturi HF-14 Fans

    .
    Greetings fellow Hexites,

    Time for another Fractal Design review

    First up, a big thanks to all at Hexus and Fractal Design for arranging this competition; it’s a really nice gesture towards the community I haven’t dabbled much in new PC hardware in a while, and winning this competition came at a time when I am just getting back into the scene. It was a really pleasant surprise – thank you!

    Now, let’s get stuck in shall we…


    Define S: Summary

    My full case review is going to be fairly detailed, with lots of pictures, so I wanted to put a TL;DR note up front to benefit the time-limited among us!

    Pros:
    • Layout is amazing; allows for very clean airflow and wire routing
    • Nice cable management features (hidden ports, cable ties etc.)
    • Versatile options for fans and water cooling
    • Can keep the noise down with lots of slow-spinning 140mm fans
    • Overall design is classic – monolithic & plain
    • Great pricing, especially here in the US ($69.99 at Newegg for windowless version!)

    Mehs:
    • Case is quite wide (necessary for 140mm fans and hidden drive bays)
    • Vented PCI slots not ideal for neutral/negative pressure fan layouts
    • Spartan accessory box (no spares)
    • USB 3.0 internal connector doesn’t have an adapter for USB 2.0 headers
    • Case sides very heavy (structural?)
    • Would be nice to have more white highlights to continue the theme (power button? LED?)
    • No optical drive bays
    • Very large size – space feels wasted if you’re not water-cooling
    • Built-in fan hub would be nice
    • Despite all the space, cable routing was tricky (especially for HDDs)

    Cons:
    • Sound dampening material is very thin and hard – questionable effectiveness
    • HDD vibration is pretty noticeable, despite the rubber drive tray grommets
    • Very flimsy core (lots of chassis flex) without case sides installed - due to lack of HDD cages?
    • Plastic cut-outs on top look cheap and rattle - extra gap for dust even when using 140mm fans
    • Bottom of case VERY flimsy (see here)
    • Front panel cables not hidden very well at top



    Aesthetics: 7/10
    Features: 8/10
    Build Quality: 5/10
    Noise: 5/10
    Cooling: 10/10

    Overall: 70%



    Sumanji Bronze Award (70-80%)


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    Last edited by Sumanji; 23-11-2015 at 06:50 PM.

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  3. #2
    Alien Symbiote Sumanji's Avatar
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    Re: Fractal Design Define S Case & Venturi HF-14 Fans

    .
    Define S: Exterior

    The case arrived in fairly standard but sturdy packaging – I actually received the non-windowed case and a separate side panel, so I can make some comparisons between the two.

    ___

    Right out of the box, I have to say that I love the minimalist design of this case. The straight lines and giant obelisk-like appearance hark back to the Coolermaster and Lian-Li cases of old. But hidden beneath this classic exterior are numerous design advances that really make the Define S a joy to work with.

    The Define S is primarily a steel chassis, and as such has some weight to it. However, compared to the Antec P180 that I am currently using it is markedly lighter (10.8 kg vs. 14.1 kg), but still managed to feel sturdy and strong when fully assembled. The difference in weight is explained when the side panels come off – though they are thin, they are deceptively heavy and rigid. Without these panels installed the main part of the case is pretty light, and there is a disconcertingly large amount of chassis flex (probably due to the lack of the structural support from a traditional hard drive cage).

    The windowed panel features a large transparent section, which spans the length of the case to show off any water-cooling wizardry that you may have installed at the front. I haven’t taken the protective film off yet, but a quick Google search suggests that these windows are somewhat prone to scratching easily, so I may cover it with a coat of Liquid Armor.

    ___

    The solid side panel is lined with a sound-dampening material, and also features a removable section where you can mount an optional 120 or 140mm fan, which is positioned to blow over the GPU area of the case. This definitely bolsters the cooling flexibility of the case, though I must say that it breaks up the otherwise clean design of the sides. The opposite side panel of course lacks this feature, though it should be noted that the panels are structurally identical and can be used on either side of the case. The sound-dampening lining does feel very thin and hard, which makes me question its effectiveness - I will comment on this further after I complete my build.

    ___ ___

    The bottom of the case has a large intake area for the PSU, as well as an additional mount for an optional fan up to 140mm. These are both serviced by a removable dust filter, but note that it can only be slid out from the back of the case. The case feet are solid rubber and felt nice and sturdy to the touch.

    ___

    I must say, I was pretty disappointed by how flimsy the bottom felt – there was a lot of flex and rattle on this panel; so much so that I made a quick video of it. As you can see I am not putting much pressure on my finger tips to demonstrate this. Of course this is partly down to the honeycomb structure of the fan intake area, but thicker steel and/or some additional reinforcement could have made this a lot more rigid.



    The top of the Define S can either be viewed as a huge strength (versatility), or a weakness (aesthetics and design). It consists of three separate modular plastic panels that can be removed to provide an outlet for exhaust fans - or an obvious mounting point for a large 3 x 140mm radiator. For the avid watercooler this flexibility I’m sure is fantastic. Personally, I had two main gripes with this top panel system. Firstly, the modular panels themselves are quite unsightly, and break up the clean lines of the case. Secondly, the perforated top side of the chassis is actually wider than a 140mm fan, which means that removing one of the panels leaves a large unfiltered gap for dust to sneak in. In addition to these modular panels, the top houses the usual fair of power buttons, USB 3.0 ports and audio jacks.

    ______

    The modular panels themselves feel fairly light and perhaps a tad-flimsy. A plastic lug from one panel had actually broken off (either in transit, or perhaps due to my ham-fistedness!), so care should be taken with them. The sound dampening layer is the same thin, hard material used on the side panels.

    ___

    The final part of the exterior is of course the front. Aesthetically, this is my favourite part of the Define S, as it really cements the Spartan monolithic vibe of the case – the same look which I love in my current Antec P180. Although the front seems at first glance to be brushed metal, it is in fact a plastic panel. This can be easily removed with a firm tug to expose the front dust filter and fans. There’s a healthy gap between the fans and front panel, and vents all the way around the edge of the panel allow for relatively unimpeded airflow. The third image below shows that it is a tad wider than the P180, although it is vertically shorter by around the same amount.

    ______


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    Last edited by Sumanji; 23-11-2015 at 06:39 PM.

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    Re: Fractal Design Define S Case & Venturi HF-14 Fans

    .
    Define S: Interior

    Having read this far, it might seem that I am being overly critical of the case – on the contrary, I really like it. Most of my gripes are probably a result of the choices made to hit the competitive price point which the case retails at (currently £62.99 on Scan and $69.99 on Newegg for the windowless version).

    Where this case really shines, is on the inside – it’s a real ‘PC builder’s case’, no doubt about it. Let’s start off with a few naked shots of the empty case. As you can clearly see, the interior really is cavernous! Plenty of spaces to install multiple radiators, pumps, extra-long graphics cards, and whatever else tickles your fancy. In fact, I would argue that if you are not water-cooling there is in fact too much space in the case! What I really like about the interior is how the cable routing paths are so clean – both in the main compartment, and in the hidden back section. The built-in cable ties are an excellent touch, and really complement the rubber ports dotted around the motherboard tray. Aesthetically, I like the white highlights, and I feel that Fractal Design should have gone beyond just the fan and PCI slots with this colour scheme. I like the HDD mounting mechanism, and there are rubber grommets on the 3.5” drive brackets, to cut down on vibrations from mechanical drives.

    ______

    Included in the case are two Fractal Design Dynamic GP-14 fans, which hum along gently at 1000rpm with 12V (18.9dB). This model is pitched as an all-purpose fan, and it would perhaps be better if Fractal Design included fans focused more on airflow (such as the Venturi HF-14!). Speaking of which, the second picture below shows the nice snug fit of three HF-14s installed in the front of the case. If you’re aiming for a positive pressure setup this is the optimal layout, as you’re really maximising the area of inflow at the front of the case. And of course, since these are 140mm fans, you can run them close to silent at 7V, or even 5V. The enabler for all this fan space is the lack of any external facing bays – hopefully not a problem in 2015, but something to take note of.

    ___

    Dust inside a PC really annoys me – as well as being harmful to the cooling performance of intricate heatsinks and radiators. The Define S has a huge dust filter over the front of the case to make sure the giant 140mm fans don’t pull in any unwanted guests. The filter is held in place by two strong magnets, and can be easily removed for cleaning. One small annoyance I had with the front panel was cables for the various connectors – it may have just been my case, but they were installed in a bit of tangled mess, which makes it bit unsightly.

    _________

    The “no frills” vibe of this case is probably most noticeable in the accessories box – it really is a barebones affair, with just enough screws and standoffs for a standard install. For a case so geared towards customisability, it would be nice if Fractal Design had included a bunch of random brackets, screws, and more cable ties.

    ___


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    Last edited by Sumanji; 23-11-2015 at 06:39 PM.

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    Re: Fractal Design Define S Case & Venturi HF-14 Fans

    .
    Venturi HF-14 Fans

    So I briefly alluded to this earlier, but the perfect partner to the Define S would be some 140mm high airflow fans to really take advantage of the cooling potential of the case… how nice of Fractal Design to send me a trio of their Venturi HF-14 fans!

    ___

    I assume the “HF” in the model number stands for “high flow” – these fans are designed to deliver the maximum airflow for a given speed, and favour raw CFM over static pressure. The 12V specs are too loud for my liking (26.5 dB at 1200rpm), but with the supplied fan speed adapter they put out a much more civilised ~18dB while still maintaining a hefty 78.5 CFM of airflow thanks to the large 140mm diameter. As you can see, they look pretty imposing when installed into the front of a Define S.

    ___

    The fan itself feels like a quality bit of kit – the standout feature being the rubber corners which are designed to dampen fan vibration sounds. I can’t say I am big fan of this system, as the screws never seem totally secure when you are mounting the fan, and vibrations shouldn’t be a noticeable problem for low speed fans anyway. However, they were pretty easy to work with, unlike the Corsair AF-120 fans I recently installed which use a similar rubber system but are impossible to tap and very easy to damage. Included with each fan is a low speed fan adapter (I assume 7V), four standard fan screws, and some nifty little replacement corners which allow the 140mm fan to be installed on a 120mm fan mount.



    For comparison, here is the HF-14 next to the GP-14 which is included with Define S. The fan blade layout is immediately obvious, but note also that the more expensive HF-14 has a sweet little braided fan cable.

    ___

    It would be nice if I could do some sound measurement tests, but unfortunately I don’t have access to a sound level meter. I will however add some subjective comments to the Build Log section, when it’s complete.


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    Last edited by Sumanji; 23-11-2015 at 06:39 PM.

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    Re: Fractal Design Define S Case & Venturi HF-14 Fans

    Last edited by Sumanji; 23-11-2015 at 06:40 PM.

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    Re: Fractal Design Define S Case & Venturi HF-14 Fans

    Last edited by Sumanji; 23-11-2015 at 06:40 PM.

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    Re: Fractal Design Define S Case & Venturi HF-14 Fans

    A most excellent review so far; I love the layout, and it seems photographed well, you've done it quite professionally. I can't wait to see the finished build! I noticed that your case also has the front fan placed high by default, which seems to be on all the cases, going off the other reviews and my own experience. I wonder if this is intentional as the best place for a single fan or just a quirk of the assembly process?

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    Re: Fractal Design Define S Case & Venturi HF-14 Fans

    Great review!

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    Thumbs up Re: Fractal Design Define S Case & Venturi HF-14 Fans

    Way better review than mine for sure LOL (and you're not even finished yet)!
    ------------------

    Valar Morghulis

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