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Old August 29, 2010, 01:24 PM
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CMetaphor CMetaphor is offline
Join Date: May 2007
Location: Montreal, Canada
Posts: 5,082
Default Write-up Review: Fractal Design R3 - Wait till R4?

Hello once again all! I had been planning on taking a ton of pictures and making this a true case review, but alas my camera seems to be defective as every pic came out grainy and/or blurry. Therefore, behold! A text-only fast review. Courtesy of Meta.

One thing I'd like to point out: When I build a system, I can take as long as 4 hours. Why? I rewire endlessly, I'll try several different heatsinks, swap fans, reorganize components, etc. over and over until I'm satisfied with the final outcome of the build. This gives me a lot of time with a case, and I find it leaves me coming away from a build with more insights, both positive and negative, than I might otherwise get from tossing a system together in 30 minutes. So what impressions did this case leave with me? Read on, friend, read on.

My initial impressions of the case as I opened it were good. The box it arrived in nice and black, solid and taped at all the edges. The case itself was well-packed and secure, so I was pleased and confident that it had not been damaged in shipping. I pulled it out and started looking at it from a very, very inquisitive eye.

First, the good stuff. Fractal has made a gorgeous looking case. The black paint isn't quite matte, but it gives a very clean and industrial look. The front door, both side panels, top and bottom of the case are all covered with sound proofing materials. Yes, I said materials - plural. The door and the "covers" that block off unused fan locations are the nice and soft kind that most are accustomed to. The rest however, is the very firm rubber-like material which isn't quite as favorable but still helps to prevent some case vibrations and block some sound, albeit not as well at the first kind. Together they should good a good job of keeping the system quiet from fan and other noises.

Going further into the "guts" of the case I found plenty of holes for routing cables behind the motherboard tray and a large enough gap there to allow a decent amount of cabling to be hidden back there. There is an extremely large hole for mounting heatsink backplates as well, and the edges of the cutout are covered with a rubber edge, enough so that bleeding builders such as myself won't loose too much on this case. The backplates and hard drive cages are both painted a solid white, which adds some nice contrast to the overall look as well, especially if you're like me and you like the B&W color scheme of some other silent companies like Gelid and Nexus.

Finally, the number of fan locations for this case is wonderful. There are spaces for 2x 120/140mm on top, 2x 120mm up front, 1x 120mm on the side panel, 1x 120mm at the rear and lastly 1x 120/140mm spot on the bottom. Fractal included two 120mm fans with the case, with one being installed at the rear position and the other at the lower of the two front positions. The other spots are blocked by those soft sound dampening covers, which are each 140mm in size (and therefore cannot be used to block the rear 120mm fan position). So all in all, a great case right? Maybe not...

There are several disappointments which I have to bring to light now though, in no real order. First, when I build a case I put in everything save the core components, I.E. the PSU, optical drive, hard drives, fans, etc. So when I moved to install the PSU and quickly opened the included baggy of screws that came with the case... then stopped in my tracks. None of the screws really "stood out" to me as being the PSU specific ones. "Where are my regular dang case screws?" I said to myself. I couldn't find them. To be honest, this may have just been an oversight somehow, but i tried my best but could not find any that would work to secure the PSU in place. So I was stuck and had to reach into my bucket of screws to find some plain old silver case screws to hold the PSU in place. The solid black with white accent look on the back of the case? Gone. Oh well, I thought to myself, it's probably just a mistake. I pressed on with the installation of the other core components. No, wait, I didn't.

While installing the PSU I noticed a gap between the bottom of the case and the air filter for the PSU intake. The bottom of the case is shaped in such a way that the PSU filter cannot sit flush with it and thus leaves a 5mm or greater gap around one of it's edges. To me, that pretty much defeats the purpose of having a filter down there, I ignored it and continued on with the build, only to find another nuisance waiting for me - the front door.

Yes, the front door is solidly built and covered in a nice layer of the softer sound dampening foam. The problem is the thickness of said foam. I installed the optical drive in the case then closed the door and was shocked when it very nearly touched the eject button. I double-checked the installation of the optical drive and sure enough it was in the correct place. By my estimate this leaves 2-4mm of space between the foam and the eject button. Needless to say, installing a fan controller in the second 5.25 bay would be completely impossible. I shrugged this problem away, since I was planning on using Fractal's included expansion slot fan controller, and started to install my extra fans.

The case, as I mentioned before, is made to accommodate many fans so I decided to fill the all and see how well it would all work together. I moved the rear Fractal fan to the front to match with the other one there, then added 3x Yate loons fans to the top and side (which would later be hooked to their fan controller) and a SilenX low-rpm fan to the rear. What? Another problem already? When installing the Yate loons on the top I realized Fractal didn't include a single rubber fan mount. Not a one. What kind of silent system is this meant to be with regular fan screws? "But surely the top panel is solid and won't vibrate" I again thought to myself reassuringly. Nope. Dead wrong again. The top of the case is possibly the most flimsy I've seen in years. Any amount of pressure on it will cause it to bend and warp like the generic beige cases of old. I just sighed and carried on, using my own rubber fan mounts and hoping that their fan controller would take the Yates to an acceptable rpm that wouldn't create any annoying vibrations in the case. I got both the Yates installed in the top of the case, but just barely.

Watercooling enthusiasts, this case is Not for you I'm afraid. The gap between the lowest edge of the Yates (which are a "mere" 25mm thick) and the to of the IO connection on the motherboard is pathetic. Trying to fit even a thin radiator with a pull- or push-only setup would be impossible here without externalizing it all. At least Fractal added four holes to the back of the case to allow for such external options. Thankfully though, the build was almost done. I just had to install the motherboard and route wires and then, of course, I found one last little "insult to injury".

The rubber pieces they use to cover the cable routing holes are woefully easy to pop out. And are even more annoying when you pop them out accidentally behind the case. I finally finished the build, shaking my head.

So after all the joys of finally getting a Fractal R3 and the woes of actually building it, what were my final impressions? To be honest, I think it's a great effort, the build quality is there (for the most part). But in the end, this case falls short of expectations in several areas due to oversights, bad decisions or mere omissions. It is my hope that with future revisions of this case the bugs can be ironed out and a truly amazing silent and cool case can emerge. For now though, it needs some work.

Recommended for:
- Simple silent builds (no extra fans added)
- Quiet office PCs
- Small file servers

Not recommended for:
- Watercooling

Meta's Rating ( out of 5):

Thanks for reading everyone! I'll post pictures in the future, promise.
"Backed by common sense and physics!" -Squeetard
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