Fractal remarked that getting a mini-ITX case right
is exceptionally difficult because of the different demands on the platform. It's experimenting with a mini-ITX LAN case but said it prefers still micro-ATX because high performance graphics cards are as as long as the motherboard anyway, so there's virtually no difference in terms of space required for the system overall. It's already tipped a micro-ATX Define/Arc case for 2011.
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Super Sized! Fractal Design Define XL
At the other end of the scale there's the brand new XL. It's a full tower with all the Fractal Design bells and whistles, but, is that a difficult task to perfect? In an £70 case you arguably expect to live without certain features, but customers paying for premium products are more demanding.
The Define XL reminds us of older cases such as the Antec P190
. It has insulating matting in the front door (just like the Define R2), and it also has two 140mm front intakes, with a removable 120mm third fan above if you don't use the optical drives. Since these are the only intakes, it's a wise decision.
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As you can see, there's tons of hard drive space - mostly in the base of the case - Fractal said they settled on six drives instead of eight, because testing revealed this gave the most space with acceptable temperatures. The divider between the top and bottom areas is also removable, if you do want to use the space differently - say with a large radiator. Fractal stated they recommend keeping the divider in if possible because it yields better PSU temperatures.
Unlike a lot of new cases, Fractal isn't fussed with the current USB 3 cables that route external I/O ports to the front, and said between this and a lack of user demand there'll be no USB 3 in Fractal Design cases until the internal standard is sorted.
On the basis of our first look, the best part about the Define XL is the top mounted 180mm fan: it's angled to suck air from the CPU area, blow it up and out of a vent in the back. This, Fractal proudly claims, is the best solution to balance the necessary CPU cooling while keeping the top of the case entirely hole-less. The downside is there's no direct cooling for the graphics area - Fractal did comment on perhaps adding an adjustable 120-140mm fan, but with a predominant commitment to clean lines there will be no side intake on the Define XL.
Fractal Design Arc chassis
This brings us to the other side of Fractal's range. All the cases so far are in the "Define" range, but Fractal is also releasing a set of "Arc" cases. These shift from prioritising silence and clean lines to cooling through higher airflow and a few more grills. Expect the Define R2 to launch as soon as July, with the Arc XL closer to October/November.
The Fractal guys were insistent that the company wouldn't step away too much from its core design roots - for example the Arc XL will have two 180mm fans in the roof, as opposed to just one in the Define XL.