Summary

Reviewing the Fractal Deisgn Array R2 has been a complete turnaround from our original expectations. When we first saw it, we thought it was perfect for a DIY NAS project, given Fractal's high-quality Define R2. It's the only mini-ITX case we've seen that house so many hard disks and look stunning at the same time. However, in the process of building a system in the case and testing it, we've found some significant problems.

Fractal Design Array R2 mini-ITX  case review Array R2 Conclusion

There's both wasted space and space infringements that annoyed us, which is odd considering that the Array R2 is one of the larger mini-ITX cases on the market. Some more thought needed to go into how a system would fit together in the Array R2, as the PSU and hard disks are as near to clashing as they can be.

As the Array R2 will either sit under your telly as a HTPC, or in a cubby-hole as a NAS box, it's not going to be moved often. Therefore the use of aluminium throughout is extravagant to the point of being wasteful. The gorgeous front fascia is welcome, but the rest of the case could have been of steel to cut the cost.

The Array R2 isn't great at cooling either. We were limited by what CPU coolers we could use, with large coolers ruled out thanks to the placement of the hard disk cage. In the end we used the Intel reference cooler, but this is far from the best cooler for cooling or quietness.

While the Array R2 did work with a passive CPU cooler installed, we needed to underclock and undervolt our CPU to get the temperatures under control (a fairly common thing with HTPC systems and NAS boxes, admittedly). However, we weren't happy with the high temperature of our hard disks, despite them being directly cooled by the 140mm front intake fan. Worse still, we only used four disks rather than the full six that the case can accommodate, and the two bay we didn't use aren't cooled by the front fan at all. This is a significant issue with a case that's designed for lots of storage.

Unscrew base = perfect for modders!

Unscrew base = perfect for modders!

The whole downfall revolves around the hard drive cage, and it needs to change. Combined with a fan that's not powerful enough, the cage is an improperly designed waste of material that also doesn't need to be aluminium either.

Potential for a Mod

The best part about the Array R2 is to think of it has a blank canvas - it's a perfect start for modders that fancy a challenge. Whip out that drive cage, design your own and improve the airflow, and there's a great case to be made. The rivets are easily drilled out, and all the panels come apart like it was made of Lego: perfect for putting under the jigsaw or pillar drill. For small form-factor water-coolers out there, the drive cage area has plenty of space for a pump, a decent radiator and a reservoir, and the case will (with drive cage removed) handle a 12in-long, dual-slot graphics card.

Conclusion

Despite the fact Fractal Design's Array R2 isn't worth the metal it's made from in its default configuration, we're giving it a tiny-bit of compensatory kudos for the potential our modding readers could have with it. There's no small case that offers quite as much modding potential as the Array R2.

However, for the rest of us, too timid to take a Dremel to everything we see, the Array R2 doesn't deliver on its promises. As a NAS box or HTPC out the box it just doesn't do what it should. It needs at least a better fan or some extra ventilation to keep the many hard disks it wishes to house cool. Unless you're going to cost in that modification, you'll need to keep looking for the best case for your DIY NAS box.

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