Making headway in the chassis market as a new manufacturer is a pretty daunting task, especially considering the competition from well established brands like Lian Li, Antec and Cooler Master. The opportunity is always there for a relative unknown to produce a superlative product though; just ask Titan and check its excellent Fenrir CPU cooler. We were more than curious when previously unknown, Fractal Design, sent us its latest offering: the “Define R2.” Designed specially as a low noise case that doesn’t compromise on functionality, it was a tall order, so we had to take a look.
The R2 certainly falls quite far in the minimalist side of the case design fence, and owes more than a partial nod to the style of the Antec P180 series. The front fascia door is featureless other than the blue power LED stripe at its top, and while some might bemoan the “it looks like a fridge” styling it’s certainly a welcome change from the usual array of air vents and grills in “gaming” cases, we are so often festooned with.
Click to enlarge
What’s clever and surprising here though is that the R2 hasn’t completely compromised on cooling for the sake of a clean appearance. The roof panel and left hand side panel both feature a total of three 140mm/120mm fan mounts, but these come pre-fitted with sound deadening bitumen covers to maintain the cases appearance and stop dust entering the case through unused vents. It’s a fantastically simple idea but one that works very well, keeping upgradable cooling without compromising on aesthetics and filling your box with fluff.
It’s a similar story behind the featureless front door, which hides twin 120mm fan mounts (one pre-populated with a 900rpm 120mm cooling fan) hidden behind easily opened access hatches and removable dust filters. While this cooling choice is basically a carbon copy from the Antec P180 series again, that’s certainly no bad thing, with the fans drawing in cool air through the sides of the fascia. We were a little disappointed to find that the removable dust filters require a screw driver to release them though – tool less mounts would have been preferable.
Click to enlarge - The floor of the case (right) features ventilation for the PSU and a 120mm fan
Aside from the plastic fascia, the rest of the R2 is made from black painted rolled steel and it’s pleasingly well constructive with a very solid feel. There’s absolutely none of the flimsiness or thin steel so common with cases from smaller manufacturers aiming for the cheaper market, and we’ve no doubt that the R2 will be able to take more than its fair share of knocks and dings. Removing both the ventilation cover panels from the roof did result in a little wobbly in the steel there though, although this is difficult to avoid considering the area of optional venting on offer.
Wrapping up the exterior of the Define R2 is a fairly conservative front panel fitted flush into the roof panel. Comprising a power switch, two USB ports, eSATA, mic and headphone jacks it’s enough to get by with, but a reset switch is conspicuous by its absence.
It’s hard to find too much fault with the Define R2 on the outside then– solid build quality, consistent minimalist styling and some clever features combine to create a solid package all-round. The front door could use being double-hinged, but that’s about all we can nit-pick. Now let’s find out of the R2 is able to maintain this quality inside.