Fractal Design Define XL Internals

While the XL may resemble the R3 quite strongly on the outside, internally it’s a distinctly different story. For starters, Fractal has chosen to split the XL into three distinct segments - an upper chamber for the motherboard and two lower chambers, one containing the PSU and another that’s full of hard disk bays.

The upper chamber, unsurprisingly, is large and has room for anything up to E-ATX sized motherboards. It’s also well kitted out, as the motherboard tray has a number of strategically placed cable routeing holes that come complete with rubber grommets. We’re happy to say that the grommets are made of a slightly tougher rubber than those of the R3, meaning they don’t fall off every time there’s a light breeze.

The motherboard tray also has a huge cut-out behind the CPU socket which allows CPU cooler backplates to be fitted easily and quickly. Strangely, the cut-out has a thumb screw-secured flap covering it, the only purpose of which, that we can see, is to trap heat behind the CPU socket.

Fractal Design Define XL Review Define XL Internals Fractal Design Define XL Review Define XL Internals
Left: The cut-out for the PSU wires will get obscured by longer PSUs. Right: The 180mm located in the roof doesn’t shift much air

Given that the upper chamber will play host to hottest components in your build, it understandably contains the most cooling hardware. The front intake 140mm fan pulls air into the front of the chamber while another 140mm and a 180mm fan are tasked with exhausting the waste heat. Both of the 140mm fans are from Fractal’s Silent Series fan range and while quiet, don’t shift an awful lot of air.

Most peculiar, however, is the 180mm fan which is angled towards the roof of the case but actually exhausts air out the rear. This means it has to push air through an extremely tight angle, something which in our experience air isn’t particularly inclined to do. As a result, we’re sceptical about the amount of air circulation this upper chamber is likely to see. The reason for this convoluted ‘roof’ fan arrangement is clear - a large 180mm hole in the roof is likely to let a lot of sound out of the case due to its proximity to the CPU cooler.

The XL continues Fractal’s trend of favouring internal 3.5in bays over external 5.25 bays, as there are ten of the former and only four of the latter. Four of these ten 3.5in bays are located in the upper chamber in a removable caddy that can be oriented either perpendicularly or in line with the airflow coming from the front intake fan. Ideally, you want the caddy in line with the intake fan, as this will allow the best airflow into the case.

Fractal Design Define XL Review Define XL Internals Fractal Design Define XL Review Define XL Internals
The plastic cover that closes off the PSU chamber can be removed to allow wires through, but this negates the benefits of closing it off in the first place.

The only reason to opt against this arrangement is to allow extra room for long graphics cards but given that we could fit an ATI Radeon HD 5970 2GB in the case even with the caddy in line with the fan, you’d have to be constantly playing with your storage devices to insert it otherwise.

The lower chambers of the case are a little less well planned. The PSU chamber, for example, has a large cut-out in its back wall for passing cables through, but if you fit a long PSU it’ll block off the hole. While you’re hardly likely to house a power-hungry rig that needs a huge 1kW PSU in a case built for silence, Fractal has used rubber mounts that will accommodate long PSUs.

There’s a covered cut-out in the dividing wall between the main and the PSU chamber that can be opened up for just such an occasion, but this essentially negates the whole point of closing off the PSU in the first place. Frustratingly, we actually had to open this cover up during our testing, as the 8-pin EPS12V power cable wouldn't reach if we tried to route it behind the motherboard tray with the other PSU cables. A rubber grommet-lined cut-out in this cover would have allowed the wire to pass through while maintaining the separate thermal zones.

Fractal Design Define XL Review Define XL Internals Fractal Design Define XL Review Define XL Internals
There’s a wall between the two bottom chambers that can be removed to allow air from the front fan through to the PSU

Finally, the third chamber of the case houses a bevy of storage bays. You can pack up to six hard disks or SSDs in this little space, which should keep even the biggest media collectors happy. Unfortunately, the chamber doesn’t have any active cooling by default, so the heat from any hard disks you put in this chamber will slowly build up time.

Active cooling can be provided to this bottom chamber by filling out the lower 140mm front fan mount. There’s also a removable wall between the two bottom chambers - if you do fill the lower fan mount you can remove this to allow your PSU to benefit as well as your hard disks.
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October 14 2021 | 15:04