We’ve been hot and cold on Fractal over the past couple years. Their whole lineup has had consistently high build quality, but our opinions have ranged from the highly-rated Meshify cases that have excellent cooling potential (with some aftermarket fans added in) down to the highly-priced and unexciting Define S2 Vision RGB. Today we’re reviewing the Define 7, successor to the Define R6, a case that fell on the positive end of that scale in our review. We’re sure there’s some reason for Fractal dropping the “R,” but we neglected to ask.
As soon as the Define 7 was out of the box, we noticed how lightly tinted the glass was. The Define 7 TG comes in both dark tint and light tint versions, and the light tinted version with a white interior is a stark contrast to almost every other tinted glass case we’ve reviewed. For whatever reason, case manufacturers have tended towards extremely dark glass tints for years, which is a step back from the transparent plastic windows that were more common in the olden days (a decade ago). The choice is there for customers who want the dark tint, but we much prefer clear glass that lets the white interior shine.
Fractal’s Define S2 Vision RGB takes the glass-and-LED approach to cases that most manufacturers discovered a few years ago. This particular approach, as we’ve discussed in years prior, is to take an existing chassis that’s reasonably good, then glue glass to metal panel carriers and stick some RGB LED fans in the case. It’s a few minutes of PM work, but allows a case to be refreshed and upsold for more.
The trouble is that Fractal has already used this particular body in minimally half a dozen SKUs, with the R6 serving as the baseline, the Define S2 following, the S2 Meshify after that, and then all the variants with windows, solid panels, or color variations. We reviewed the R6 a while ago, and all those build notes apply here. We also reviewed the S2, where we said to read the R6 review for build quality notes. None of that has really changed, or at least, very little of it has.
The refresh is absolutely on the lazy side, as it really just is a re-refresh of a case with glass and LEDs. It’s an old approach to glass and LEDs. Although the body is fine, we need to see a lot more action to justify a $240 price, or $190 for the glass version without RGB LED fans (sticking a $50 price tag on LEDs alone).
This is a review of a revision of the Define S2, a case which we already dismissed as nearly identical to the Define R6 (a case we liked and found of high build quality), making this the third review we’ve published of the same(-ish) enclosure. That description may not sound promising, but the newest case’s name does: the Meshify S2 establishes a trend of Fractal “meshifying” cases by replacing solid front panels with better-ventilated ones, as they did previously with the Meshify C (another case we liked) and Meshify C Mini.
Fractal’s newest case officially released under the name of “Define S2,” but our review has been slightly delayed by the office turning into an overclocking war zone. Fractal has hit a comfortable stride with their cases. The S2 is a successor to the Define S, but to all appearances it’s almost exactly the same as the Define R6, which we reviewed about a year ago. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though: the R6 is a good case and received praise from us for its high build quality and stout form factor.
The Fractal Define S2 case is the R6, ultimately, just with a lot of parts removed. It’s a stripped-down version of the R6 with some optional reservoir mounts and a new front panel, with rough equivalence in MSRP and ~$10 to ~$50 differences in street price. The R6 and S2 are the most direct competitors for each other, so if choosing specifically between these two, Fractal can’t lose. There are, of course, many good cases in the $150 price range, but the R6 and S2 most immediately contend with one another.
We never bothered to review Fractal’s popular Define R5--by the time we got a chance, it was already old news. Since the R5’s release, we’ve reviewed both the Define C (and Meshify C) and given them very high marks. Now, the R5’s successor is here, ready for 2017 with a full PSU shroud and a tempered glass side panel. There are no LEDs, though, so we must all mourn.
OK, mourning over. This Fractal Define R6 review looks at build quality, thermal and acoustic performance, and cable management features. This enclosure is one of the few to impress us in the last few months, given the prevalence of cases like the Bitfenix Enso, and we found the R6’s build quality to be even better than the already-liked Define/Meshify C.
We’ve reviewed a lot of cases this year and have tested more than 100 configurations across our benchmark suite. We’ve seen some brilliant cases that have been marred by needless grasps at buzzwords, excellently designed enclosures that few talk about, and poorly designed cases that everyone talks about. Cases as a whole have gone through a lot of transformations this year, which should seem somewhat surprising, given that you’d think there are only so many ways to make a box. Today, we’re giving out awards for the best cases in categories of thermals, silence, design, overall quality, and more.
This awards show will primarily focus on the best cases that we’ve actually reviewed in the past year. If some case you like isn’t featured, it’s either because (A) we didn’t review it, or (B) we thought something else was better. It is impossible to review every single enclosure that is released annually; at least, it is impossible to do so without focusing all of our efforts on cases.
Here’s the shortlist:
We’ve received a lot of requests from readers to review the Fractal Meshify C, and rightfully so. The case combines three things we’ve liked a lot recently: mesh front panels, tempered glass, and the Fractal Define C. We’ve been advocating cases with this style of cooling for a while now, like the SilverStone RL06, and so we had to put the Meshify through its paces in some real thermal tests.
Fractal’s naming system is getting a little cluttered: the Meshify C is 100% a Define C TG with an angular, “stealth-inspired” front panel that looks “like black diamond facets” (according to Fractal). It is a cool look, and it breaks away from the current trend of plain, flat front panels in a way that’s reminiscent of the Corsair SPEC-04. “C” is the model and Meshify is the series; Define cases focus on noise suppression, while Meshify cases (there’s only one so far) focus on cooling.
Our review of the Fractal Meshify C tests the case for thermals, noise suppression, and performance versus the Define C (and other cases). The Fractal Meshify C can be found on Amazon here, with the Define C here, just so we’re all on the same page.
This review will focus almost entirely on noise and thermals. There’s not much point to discussing ease of installation or build features, as all of those were already covered in our Define C review. The tooling is identical, nearly, it just comes down to the paneling. View our Define C review for the other half of the information.
Fractal Design is responsible for the Fractal Define C, one of our top-preferred cases from the past year. The Define C is a stout, well-constructed enclosure with competitive acoustics damping (behind only the Pure Base 600, in our tests) and thought-out cable management. Now, at what feels to be the mid-point of an ongoing trend in the industry, Fractal has announced its introduction of the Fractal Define C TG and Fractal Define C Mini TG (the latter is a shrunken ITX version of the ATX Define C).
Fractal’s Celsius S36 debuts alongside the company’s S24, coolers sized at 360mm and 240mm, respectively. The Celsius series uses an Asetek Gen5 pump, identical to the pump found on the EVGA CLC, NZXT X42/52/62, and Corsair H115i/H100iV2 coolers. This is a semi-custom Asetek solution that’s been loosely customized by Fractal Design, primarily focusing on the addition of G1/4” fittings (rad-side only), on-pump speed tuning, and an on-rad fan hub. It’s not as customized as, say, the NZXT Kraken series, but NZXT’s products also run more expensive. Fractal is looking at a launch price of $120 for the S36 that we’re reviewing today, and $110 for the S24.
Our focuses are on thermals and noise – not that you can focus on much else when talking coolers – with some new testing that looks at normalized noise output. We debuted this testing in our ASUS ROG Strix review and have carried it over to coolers.
Fractal’s coolers use 120mm fans that run a maximum RPM nearing 2000, with variable pump RPM from ~2000~3000. In our testing, though, it seemed a little simpler than that – pump RPM is based on liquid temp, and as we found in our 7700K review (the hottest CPU we've tested), liquid temp never really exceeds 30C. Given Fractal's curve, that means the pump stays at 2000RPM almost all the time. Rather than use software or suggest straight BIOS control – which we prefer – Fractal’s gone with a toggleable pump plate that switches into auto or PWM options. We’ve tested variable pump speeds in the past and haven’t found major differences in cooling efficacy, which is more heavily relegated to the fan spec and radiator size than anything else. This is more of a noise impact. We tested using the default, out-of-box “auto” setting, which kept our pump RPM fixed nearly perfectly at ~1960 throughout the tests (liquid temperature doesn't ramp up enough to push higher).
Fan speeds were manually controlled for the tests, though users could connect the fans to the on-rad hub. More on this in the conclusion.
Let’s get on with the testing, then run through the accessories and conclusion.
We moderate comments on a ~24~48 hour cycle. There will be some delay after submitting a comment.