Introducing the Fractal Design Define XL R2

Amusingly and appropriately enough, the wave of silence-oriented enclosures that have been popping up recently haven't really drawn attention to themselves as a trend. Yet all of a sudden, we have results from a couple of solid contenders from Nanoxia and a few less expensive (and more readily available) also-rans. For a little while, this was a wave that Fractal Design was riding high, but the Define R4 wound up being a little underwhelming. As it turns out, they might just have something better lying in wait.

We never had a chance to play with the original Fractal Design Define XL, so it's tough to draw a direct comparison there. Yet one look at Fractal Design's page for the original tells you that while the Define R4 didn't change much from the R3, the Define XL R2 is a major shift. The original XL didn't support E-ATX; it was more just a conventional Define with a separate drive compartment. This R2, on the other hand, really is a giant Define R4. As it turns out, that bump in size and modest increase in cooling capacity may very well have been all the Define R4 needed.

There are two dead horses I need to bludgeon before we progress any further with this review. First, the quiet chassis to beat are the Deep Silence 1 and 2 from Nanoxia; availability notwithstanding, those two offer the best value and best balance of performance and acoustics. In the XL R2's price bracket, the Deep Silence 1 is basically the bar. Keep in mind, though, that the DS1 is a smaller case than the XL R2, so if you need the extra space, Fractal Design may just win by default.

The other thing to keep in mind is that designing a quiet chassis is basically one of the hardest things a vendor can do. What you're essentially trying to do is get the system inside the case to a noise level low enough that the sound dampening material can do the rest of the job. High end enthusiast cases tend to be very quiet because of their copious high power, low noise airflow. What we want is a case that can get below that already low noise floor. The problem is that doing so means closing off a lot of ventilation; capturing sound means capturing air, and reduced airflow means reduced thermal performance.

Fractal Design Define XL R2 Specifications
Motherboard Form Factor Mini-ITX, Micro-ATX, ATX, E-ATX, XL-ATX
Drive Bays External 4x 5.25"
Internal 8x 2.5"/3.5"
Cooling Front 1x 140mm intake fan (mount supports 120mm; second 120/140mm fan mount below)
Rear 1x 140mm exhaust fan (mount supports 120mm)
Top 2x 120mm/140mm fan mount
Side 1x 120mm/140mm fan mount
Bottom 1x 140mm intake fan (mount supports 120mm)
Expansion Slots 9
I/O Port 2x USB 3.0, 2x USB 2.0, 1x Headphone, 1x Mic
Power Supply Size ATX
Clearances HSF 170mm
PSU 190mm
GPU 330mm
Dimensions 9.13" x 22.01" x 22.04"
232mm x 559mm x 560mm
Weight 36.16 lbs / 16.4 kg
Special Features Removable fan filter
USB 3.0 via internal header
Three step fan controller supports three fans
Acoustic padding on the interior and side panels
Modular, rotatable drive cages
Price MSRP $129

Consider that the two Deep Silence cases are already pretty heavy and well built in their own right, then add another ten pounds and three inches. The Define XL R2 is made almost entirely of steel with really the bare minimum of plastic used in its construction, and you definitely feel it. This is a big case, but Fractal Design was able to hit a very aggressive price point with it. The last generation Define XL cost a full $40 more.

In and Around the Fractal Design Define XL R2
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  • arthur449 - Wednesday, February 20, 2013 - link

    A useful review is one that compares an item against another using metrics that are important to the readers. Without a standard set of system components used in every review for every case in the comparison, a review turns into just another "I bought it, it works, I like it" write-up that other hardware sites like to pass off as "reviews."

    A solution to this could be Anandtech developing and using heating elements configured to produce similar amounts of heat and noise in similar locations to a standard ATX / mATX system. Then these elements could be adjusted to produce standard levels of heat output (65/77/95W) enthusiast heat output (130W/150W) and overclocked (200W+).

    Multiples of these heating elements could be placed in the larger cases to simulate high heat GPUs and determine exactly how much thermal capacity a given case has for such a scenario.

    But... custom fabrication, testing, and implementation of equipment such as this would be very spendy initially and the payoff questionable and unnecessary if the products in question fall into the disposable income category for your readership.
  • tim851 - Wednesday, February 20, 2013 - link

    The metrics have to be relevant, though.

    It's reasonable to assume people are not buying big towers because they need to fill their empty rooms, but because they have components that require a big case.
    And you can't tell me that one of the - if not THE - premier tech sites on the web is not able to get three different sizes of mainboards to their case reviewer and a bunch of toasty GPUs to Trip-SLI. They can go on eBay and buy an ageing Nehalem CPU and a set of GTX 285s for all I care.

    Testing this monster of a case with 3 HDDs, an mATX board and a little 560 makes no sense, because the only valid conclusion can be that it is too big.
  • Dustin Sklavos - Thursday, February 21, 2013 - link

    The problem at this point is that if I switch up to a full ATX board now, it destroys the comparative data I've accumulated over the past year. I've been working on a third, "full fat" level using this board, but ironically the board's second PCIe x16 slot isn't working and so I can't bump up testing parameters until I've sorted that out.
  • Skolde - Wednesday, February 20, 2013 - link

    Your case reviews are outstanding minus one thing:

    You should really consider using an ATX sized motherboard when reviewing full sized cases. I've noticed on previous reviews the habit of using small motherboards in larger cases, and it really doesn't give me a good feel for its target component size.

    ATX, Micro-ATX and mini-ITX boards should be used according to the size of the case being reviewed.
  • Hrel - Wednesday, February 20, 2013 - link

    Agreed. I've said this on other case reviews. Changing the size of the mobo but keeping the same chipset shouldn't affect any of the tests. There's really no reason not to. Unless you're buying a mimi-ATX case or smaller you are probably using a Full ATX motherboard, or larger. I stay with ATX for the expansion slots. Currently still running an old Nvidia 650 SLI chipset, but it has a USB 3.0 controller and SATA 6GBPS ports because of the expansion slots available in the motherboard. That computer is nearing it's end of life but with the SSD in it the CPU is actually the slowest part. Still run everything I do great and I have no intention of upgrading until it can't.
  • HisDivineOrder - Wednesday, February 20, 2013 - link

    Lots of people have been saying this over and over in every review like this at this site. I agree, it makes little sense to test the case with a small motherboard that most of us would never in a million years put in this case.

    But the reviewers are obstinate. They want you to be able to compare the reference system from a microATX case to a ATX XL case and see what the benchmarks say is the best case.

    For better or worse.
  • tim851 - Wednesday, February 20, 2013 - link

    I hate that methodology.

    People aren't choosing between mATX and XL-ATX.

    Car reviewers figured that out a long time ago. No sense pitting a Corvette against an Escalade and a Ford Fusion. Nobody will decide between these based on trunk size or fuel economy.

    There are fringe cases out there for sure, but the vast majority buys cases based on what they can do with them. In the case of a full towers that's stuffing it full of chips.
    If you have an mATX board, you get an mATX case. Chances are you bought it for the size or the prize.
    Either way, you ain't considering the Fractal Define XL R2...
  • Dustin Sklavos - Thursday, February 21, 2013 - link

    The reason I made this call and stand by it:

    What do you lose by going with an mATX board over a standard ATX board?
  • haplo602 - Thursday, February 21, 2013 - link

    It's not ATX vs mATX. This is an XL-ATX/E-ATX capable case, so some people will lose PCI-E slots and some even a CPU socket (my case) which is show stopper.

    There are plenty of cases that can fit an mATX board. It's the other end of the spectrum that's starved.
  • tim851 - Thursday, February 21, 2013 - link

    Ask yourself this: why is anybody choosing a full tower? An mATX board, single GPU and three hard disks fit into a Silverstone TJ08. Do you think there are people undecided between a TJ08 and a Define XL waiting for a comparative review?

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