Fractal Design Define XL Case Review
By Gabriel Torres on December 19, 2011
The Fractal Design Define XL full-tower case is targeted to users building a high-end gaming PC who want a huge cooling performance and, at the same time, the quietest computer possible. Let’s see how the Swedish manufacturer was able to achieve this goal.
The Define XL is available in two color choices: black pearl or titanium grey. We are reviewing the black pearl version.
The first thing that impressed us about the Define XL was its weight: In its box, it weighs 43.5 lbs (19.6 kg). The left-panel by itself weighs an impressive 7 lbs (3.2 kg)!
The overall look of the Define XL is very sober, with a solid door. You can install a 120 mm or 140 mm fan on its left-side panel, but this mesh comes completely closed with a polycarbonate cover with a dampening foam glued on top. See Figures 3 and 4. This cover prevents dust from coming inside the case and, at the same time, reduces the noise level produced by the PC.
The Fractal Design Define XL comes with a door on its front panel, which opens to the left and features a magnetic latch. Based upon how they are implemented, doors can be an Achilles Heel for the case. For example, some products have the USB ports and on/off switch behind the door, so you must open the door every time you want to connect a USB device or turn on your computer. In such cases, we prefer that the case simply didn’t have the door. On the Define XL, however, all buttons and connectors are not located behind the door, so what we’ve just described doesn’t happen.
The door, which was added to reduce the noise produced by the computer, is thick and features a sheet of foam behind it. See Figure 6.
This case has four external 5.25” bays, using vented covers, and a 3.5” adapter is available. The bottom three bays come with an air filter supporting a 120 mm fan. See Figure 7.
At the bottom of the front panel, the Define XL comes with a 140 mm fan installed, cooling down the motherboard compartment and the upper hard disk drive cage. This fan uses a standard three-pin fan power connector, but no technical specifications for this fan are provided. It can be installed on the single-channel, analog fan speed controller that comes with the case. The case supports the installation of another 140 mm fan on the front panel, which will be used for cooling the power supply compartment and the lower hard disk drive cages.
The top panel of the Fractal Design Define XL is plain, and one may wrongly assume that this case doesn’t have a top fan. One of the highlights of the reviewed case is the presence of an internal top fan, which we will talk more about on the next page.
The reviewed case has two USB 2.0 ports, two USB 3.0 ports, and the traditional audio jacks, located at the front part of the top panel.
The bottom panel has an air filter for the power supply fan, which is removable by sliding it from the rear panel.
The rear panel and the interior of the Fractal Design Define XL are painted black.
On the Fractal Design Define XL, the power supply is installed at the bottom of the case.
The case comes with a 140 mm fan installed on its rear panel. No technical specifications for this fan are available. It uses a standard three-pin fan power connector. It can be installed on the single-channel, analog fan speed controller that comes with the case.
This case has only seven expansion slots, which may be a drawback for users looking for a case that can fit a dual-slot video card in the left-most motherboard slot. All slot covers are vented. An eighth slot is available above the regular slots and can be used for installing the included fan speed controller.
The Fractal Design Define XL has two holes using rubber covers for hoses of liquid cooling solutions. These holes are 0.7” (17 mm) in diameter.
The single-channel, analog fan speed controller that comes with the case can be seen in Figure 13. It allows the installation of three fans, so you can connect the three fans that come with the case on it. Since it is a single-channel controller, the speed of all the fans will change simultaneously as you move the controller’s knob.
Let’s now take a look inside the Fractal Design Define XL.
Both panels are attached to the chassis using black thumbscrews. As mentioned before, the side panels are extremely heavy, as they have a thick layer of polycarbonate with a cloth coating applied to them in order to reduce the noise produced by the computer.
The motherboard tray supports the installation of E-ATX motherboards, and has a huge hole for you to access the backplate of the CPU coolers without having to remove the motherboard from the case. However, differently from all the cases that we’ve reviewed so far, the Define XL comes with a plastic lid on it. The motherboard tray also has several holes protected with rubber covers for you to route cables behind it, and several metallic clips for you to fasten cables using cable ties.
In order to improve ventilation, the case is divided into two separate compartments: the motherboard compartment and the power supply compartment. See Figure 15. On its default configuration, the front fan cools down the motherboard compartment, which has four of the available 3.5”/2.5” bays. You can either move this fan down or install a second fan to cool down the power supply compartment, which has six of the available 3.5”/2.5” bays. There is a plastic lid on the wall that separates the two compartments that can be removed if you think it will improve ventilation (for example, if you decide to install the power supply with its fan facing up instead of down). See Figure 17.
One of the highlights of the Define XL is the presence of an internal 180 mm fan. Instead of blowing air to the top of the case, this fan blows hot air to the rear of the case. See Figure 18.
Expansion cards are fastened using thumbscrews. The Fractal Design Define XL supports video cards up to 13” (330 mm) long or 18.9” (480 mm), if the upper hard drive cage is removed, and CPU coolers up to 7.1” (180 mm) high.
As explained, the power supply is installed at the bottom of the case, and it can be installed with either its bottom fan facing up or facing down, so you can decide if you want the fan of your power supply pulling air from inside the case or from outside of it. To install the power supply with its fan facing up, you will need to rotate 180° the power supply frame present on the rear panel. As you can see in Figure 19, the manufacturer added foam where the power supply touches the rear panel and rubber pads for reducing the power supply vibration and, thus, noise.
The Fractal Design Define XL has four external 5.25” bays, one external 3.5” bay converted from one of the 5.25” bays, and ten 3.5”/2.5” bays in three cages, one with four bays in the motherboard compartment and two with three bays each in the power supply compartment. The case doesn’t have tool-less mechanisms for installing drives, but 5.25” devices are installed using thumbscrews.
As mentioned before, the upper hard disk drive bay can be removed for allowing the installation of longer video cards.
Each 3.5”/2.5” bay is actually a small drawer, featuring rubber rings to reduce hard drive vibration and, thus, noise.
The main specifications for the Fractal Design Define XL include:
We were really impressed by the Fractal Design Define XL. Its construction quality is superb, allowing you to build a high-end system with very low noise level at a very affordable price. The only real negative of this case is that you will probably need to rent a crane to put your computer on your desk after you install three video cards.