Introducing the Fractal Design Define Mini

Good micro-ATX enclosures have actually been frighteningly rare of late; manufacturers seem to be going big or going home, and only letting either beefy XL-ATX cases or diminutive mini-ITX cases out to play. It's a weird situation when the micro-ATX form factor seems to be ideal for the majority of end users. Enter Fractal Design and their Define Mini.

The Define Mini has actually been on the market for about a year, but with few contenders really materializing in recent months outside of SilverStone's SG09 and Rosewill's Line-M, good options for micro-ATX builders have been somewhat wanting. That's why I sought out the Define Mini; Fractal Design's Define line of enclosures has always been a little wanting for air cooling performance, but they're attractive and popular, and they're easy to build. Getting some of that sweet acoustic padding in a smaller package is an enticing proposition.

Fractal Design Define Mini Specifications
Motherboard Form Factor Mini-ITX, Micro-ATX
Drive Bays External 2x 5.25" (includes 5.25"-to-3.5" adaptor)
Internal 6x 3.5"/2.5"
Cooling Front 1x 120mm intake fan (supports 2x 120mm)
Rear 1x 120mm exhaust fan
Top 1x 120mm/140mm fan mount
Side 1x 120mm/140mm fan mount
Bottom 1x 120mm fan mount
Expansion Slots 4+1
I/O Port 2x USB 2.0, 1x USB 3.0, 1x Headphone, 1x Mic
Power Supply Size ATX
Clearances HSF 160mm
PSU 160mm with bottom fan installed; 200-220mm without
GPU 260mm with top drive cage installed; 400mm without
Dimensions 8.3" x 15.6" x 19.3"
210mm x 395mm x 490mm
Weight 21 lbs. / 9.5 kg
Special Features USB 3.0 via internal header
Removable drive cage
Removable filters on front and bottom fans
Three-channel 3-pin analog fan controller included
Acoustic padding
Price $99

If you've been keeping track with the Fractal Design Define series of enclosures, there are no surprises in the Define Mini. Rather than integrating it into the case, Fractal Design includes a separate three-channel fan controller and a fifth expansion slot horizontally aligned above the fourth standard ones to mount it in. Fractal Design's "ModuVent" is accounted for, as well, but I'd've liked an extra vent in the top of the case and support for a 240mm radiator.

Finally, there's the acoustic padding we've come to expect and appreciate. The more time I've spent with the similarly padded Nanoxia Deep Silence 1 (and I have seriously pimped this particular ride), the more I've come to understand the role acoustic padding fundamentally serves and its relationship with case design at large. A good thermal design is absolutely essential to a silent case as the acoustic padding proves all for naught, but end users should also be careful to design with these limitations in mind. Acoustic padding doesn't muffle noisy components, but it will bring quiet ones down to even more comfortable volumes, and that makes it a desirable feature.

What does all this mean? It means that the Fractal Design Define Mini could theoretically serve a purpose that the other micro-ATX enclosures on the market can't.

In and Around the Fractal Design Define Mini
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  • Icehawk - Tuesday, April 23, 2013 - link

    I have this case, it has a high build quality and very quiet - not the best cooling in stock form, true, and I think that is due to weak intake design and the damping material acting as insulation. I get little airflow even without the middle drive cage installed, my RAM gets pretty toasty - definitely been the source of a few crashes. I have a Corsair H70 (blowing out), a triple fan GTX670, and fanless 500W PSU which all run within comfortable temps. My system is just about silent under the desk which was my goal, I think with one more fan the system would run plenty cool but as you will see in my next comment the spot where a fan would do the most good for me is unusable.

    One design flaw, at least for me, is the location of the side panel fan cutout - it's too far towards the back of the case and because of this I cannot put a fan here as it interferes with my H70 radiator. If it was a little farther forward this would not be a problem and would also put it in a better location to cool the mobo.

    Two comments about the review - first, do you REALLY care about built-in standoffs? IMO it's a tiny "upgrade", it saves about 2 minutes max the first time you build a machine. Second, I was able to route all of my cable behind the mobo from the included fans & controller... barely. It IS doable but you may need to cut some wiring sheaths and get creative with routing.

    At $100 I think it's great value in terms of build quality, materials, etc - I can't believe I've been buying $50 junk boxes all of these years when for not a lot more the boxes are way nicer. Would love to see a revised model that improves cooling and cleans up the front design with a more minimal drive setup.
  • Peroxyde - Tuesday, April 23, 2013 - link

    Bought a Fractal Design R4 Mid Tower 2 days ago. This case is a jewel. Heavy, less sensitive to vibration. Everything in this case has been thought carefully: cable management, filter, noise reduction, paint job, even down to the screws and the metal rulers hiding expansion card slots. It is way better than more expensive case from Antec and Cooler Master. This company should make more marketing. Even better, it look nice! Even my wife finds that it looks beautiful.
  • darkfalz - Tuesday, April 23, 2013 - link

    I have the Define Mini. It's a nice case. It's heavy (sturdy) and very quiet. Having to manually adjust the fan is a bit annoying (and believe me, you will want it on max for gaming and min for anything else). It takes a stock 680 GTX so it handles a longer card than the specs specify. I added a second front fan as I have 5 HDDs inside (4 in RAID 5). LED is too bright (lights up the room in standby with blinking blue) and no HDD LED unfortunately.
  • cpupro - Wednesday, April 24, 2013 - link

    It is for mATX motherboards but it is not small case, my other mini tower case with ATX board inside is only about 1 cm taller than Define Mini, including standoffs. Only cons with this case is irritating bright blue LED (I assume also red LED in white cases), it burn eyes, nothing minimal here as article suggest. Don't need to mention LED suspend mode blinking or bright blue LED when watching films in dark room.
    Overall, well built, quality case.
  • freedom4556 - Wednesday, April 24, 2013 - link

    My big problem with my Fractal Define Mini is that I bought it hoping to go to a 'smaller' computer, but I didn't really check the dimensions before I did it versus what I had. I was coming from an Antec 300 and I wanted a bottom power supply intake, some sound deadening, and a few tool-less amenities along with downsizing from an ATX board in that build to an mATX board in the current build. It only cut two inches off the height, but got an inch wider and over an inch deeper in the process. So while I can understand that these builds are "small" in comparison to things like 800D and HAF X, they still aren't 'small' when you compare them with more 'budget' full-ATX offerings. I feel like all I lost in the transition was the flexibility of three extra slots while gaining some noise reduction at almost twice the cost. I also wish the door opened wider, and my front intake fan has starting buzzing against the frame after only a few removals for cleaning.
  • stanwood - Friday, April 26, 2013 - link

    I used a Define Mini for my most recent build. Totally silent under my desk. Very sturdy and looks good. I have been very happy with it. Only pet peeve is I wish the front door swing were reversible (PC sits to my right but door swings open to the left).

    Dustin, it would be nice if you'd make sure to include a picture of the final rig as tested, with GPU, so we're clear how you set it up. I have left the middle drive cage in rotated to funnel air flow over my CPU. Did you try that out and see any difference?
  • Sladeofdark - Monday, April 29, 2013 - link

    I was just talking about how good this case was. I got it for my girlfriend in White because the Corsair case is still too pricey right now. This case was all sold out and i had to order the one with a window kit because i liked it so much. I have used it in 3 builds just this year. Great Case. The front door likes to act up, but if you are a veteran builder you will have the parts on hand to reinforce the mechanism that catches the door and makes it stay closed with a click.

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