Fractal Define 7 Compact Tempered Glass ATX Case Review
An Overhaul Of Fractal’s Compact Define
Fractal is launching their new Define 7 Compact today, a small ATX enclosure with the new design attributes that we saw with our initial Define 7 coverage. This is a replacement for the Define C in Fractal’s lineup, and offers a number of changes compared to that previous design. (I must give Fractal credit for the lovely lifestyle photo above.)
“The new Define 7 Compact takes the strongest features of the contemporary 7 Series design and places them in a conveniently compact frame. The versatile open layout of the case maximizes its potential as a high-efficiency compact mid tower with robust support for full-size ATX hardware and the capacity to cool it quietly.
Interchangeable top covers allow swapping between solid steel for full noise suppression or a ventilated cover for extra cooling. The top framework is fully removable for unprecedented ease of access to interior components, and five front ports (including one USB Type-C) leverage exterior connectivity to make the most of the case’s compact footprint.”
Highlights of the changes from the previous Define C include a new brushed aluminum front panel, interchangeable top panels (optional ventilated panel and screen filter included), new bolt-free tempered glass side panel, new 140 mm front intake fan included, and the addition of a USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-C port and 2x USB 2.0 ports (along with 2x USB 3.0 ports) on the top I/O.
We received the Define 7 Compact Black TG Light Tint version (model FD-C-DEF7C-03) for our review, and versions with either dark tempered glass (FD-C-DEF7C-02) or a solid side panel (FD-C-DEF7C-01) are also available.
- 3.5″/2.5″ drive mounts: 2 included, 4 max (via optional multi-brackets; see detailed drive support table for more info)
- Dedicated 2.5″ mounts: 2 included, 4 max
- Expansion slots: 7
- Motherboard compatibility: ATX / mATX / ITX
- Power supply type: ATX
- Front interface:
- 1 x USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-C
- 2 x USB 3.0
- 2 x USB 2.0
- Audio I/O
- Power/Reset buttons
- Fan Support
- Total fan mounts: 7 x 120 or 4 x 140 mm and 2 x 120 mm
- Front fan: 3 x 120 or 2 x 140 mm (1 x 140 mm fan included)
- Top fan: 2 x 120/140 mm
- Rear fan: 1 x 120 mm (1 x 120 mm fan included)
- Bottom fan: 1 x 120 mm (requires removal of HDD cage)
- Radiator Support
- Front radiator: Up to 360/280 mm (max 145 mm width)
- Top radiator: Up to 240 mm
- Rear radiator: 120 mm
- Bottom radiator: 120 mm (requires removal of HDD cage)
- Dust filters:
- Bottom fan + PSU
- Front fans
- Top panel
- Component Clearance
- PSU max length: >250 mm w/o HDD cage, <165 mm w/ HDD cage*
- GPU max length: 360 mm total, 341 mm with front fan
- CPU cooler max height: 169 mm
- Cable Management
- Cable routing space: 17-28 mm
- Cable routing grommets: Yes
- Fixed Velcro straps: Yes
- Tool-less push-to-lock: Both side panels and top
- Captive thumbscrews: HDD brackets, SSD brackets, PSU bracket
- Case Material: Steel, Tempered Glass
- Left side panel: Sound-damped steel or Tempered glass
- Right side panel: Sound-damped steel
- Case dimensions (LxWxH): 427 x 210 x 474 mm
- Case dimensions w/o feet/protrusions/screws: 415 x 210 x 451 mm
- Net weight: Solid 8.61 kg / TG 8.76 kg
“The space-efficient yet feature-rich design and timeless minimalist style of the Define 7 Compact makes it an easy choice for design-conscious PC builders seeking a silent case with excellent component support in a more manageable size.”
While at a glance the Define 7 Compact looks like previous models, there have been some pretty significant changes to the overall construction – some of which will not be apparent until the build process begins. One obvious change is the front panel, which is no longer plastic that looks like brushed aluminum – it’s actually brushed aluminum now!
I already liked the understated look of these Define cases, and this new front panel is a nice enhancement. As to the rest of the exterior, the biggest changes are going to come from the side panel design and the new interchangeable top panel – which is a smaller version of the same design we saw with the Define 7 XL.
The top panel simply snaps into place, and upon removal we see a screen filter for the upper fan mounts. A second, ventilated panel is included in the box, and installation is identical to the solid panel.
While the Define series is primarily focused on low noise, and the standard top panel is sound-damped, the ventilated panel is a welcome addition. This alternate panel, which is also made from steel is feels quite sturdy, permits the use of – among other things – larger liquid coolers.
The side panels feature the top-latch design from the larger Define 7 cases, with a bottom hinge bracket and no thumbscrews or other fasteners to tighten.
While this is a very convenient design choice, it feels a little loose with our sample. The bottom hinge design creates a metal-on-metal mount that is not tight, and while the top latch feels secure the bottom has enough play to rattle. This was not an issue during testing, but some sort of padding down at the bottom of the panel would be a good addition.
Looking at the rest of the exterior we see a greatly improved top I/O selection compared to the Define C, with a USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-C, two USB 2.0 ports, and two USB 3.0 ports. This might be the biggest upgrade from a “quality of life” perspective, and makes using the system a lot more convenient.
More convenience features include a lower screen filter that slides out from the front of the enclosure, and snap out filters for the front intake – which can be accessed after snapping the front panel out. Working with the Define 7 Compact is a largely tool-free experience.
Finally, a view with the front panel removed:
Inside things look about the same as they did with the Meshify C, but the chamber is slightly bigger.
At 427 mm Fractal has added a bit to the overall length of this case compared to the Define C (399 mm) and Meshify C (409 mm), which provides a bit more room inside to accommodate things like longer GPUs and front-mounted radiators.
There are two of Fractal Design’s Dynamic X2 fans pre-installed, with a 140 mm (GP-14) fan on the front intake and a 120 mm (GP-12) fan for rear exhaust. The Dynamic X2 GP-14 spins at 1000 RPM, and the Dynamic X2 GP-12 spins at 1200 RPM (these are 3-pin fans).
Around back we see the usual lower compartment for the PSU and hard drives, and Fractal’s (usually) excellent cable routing featuring plastic guides and velcro straps.
Storage support out of the box includes a pair of SSD brackets below the motherboard cutout, and a drive cage with dual 3.5/2.5 drive support. Additional drive mounts are available via a pair of Fractal’s Multibrackets, which are sold separately.
I won’t go over the build process here since there isn’t anything really new or notable here. I will mention that it’s an easy build thanks to more than adequate clearance for an ATX motherboard, and generous cable routing openings around the board.
The storage and power supply installation is exactly what you would expect from a form-factor like this, and my only complaint is one of rear cable clearance. Fractal officially lists cable routing space of 17 – 28 mm, and it’s the first number that is more problematic.
Using a PSU with primarily ribbon-style cables (a Fractal Ion+ 860W Platinum in this case) I still had very little room. The one thicker cable with this PSU is the 24-pin ATX cable, and it was a little too thick to manage with this kind of clearance. The result? It was hard to push the rear side panel back into place, and that can be a real problem with this snap-on panel design.
The short version of my rear panel saga: the rear panel kept popping back off, and there is no way to fix it into place if the snaps are insufficient. I finally did what any enterprising PC builder would probably do in my place, and – placing the case on its side – pushed with most of my weight until I’d flattened the cables enough to minimize the rear panel bulge. Afterwards the rear cover usually stayed in place, but it was not secure.
Using the same configuration as a couple of other recent compact enclosure reviews for comparison, I ran the same simulated gaming load (multiple successive instances of the Metro Exodus benchmark at 1080/Ultra) to stress the system.
|PC Perspective Enclosure Test Platform|
|Processor||Intel Core i7-9700K|
|CPU Cooler||Cooler Master Hyper 212 RGB Black Edition|
|Graphics Card||NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2080 Founders Edition|
|Motherboard||GIGABYTE Z390 AORUS PRO|
|Memory||Crucial Ballistix Sport LT DDR4-3200 32GB (16GBx2)|
|Storage||CORSAIR Neutron Series XTi 480GB SSD|
|Power Supply||Fractal Ion+ 860W|
|Operating System||Windows 10 64-bit (1903)|
I will pause here and acknowledge that using just one configuration to evaluate enclosure performance is hardly an in-depth hardware review process, and while comparison provides some potential benefit, one size does not fit all. With this disclaimer out of the way, let’s look at the results:
CPU temps a full 10 C higher than the previous two enclosures I’ve tested with these components seemed erroneous, and running thermal tests again (after re-mounting the CPU cooler, using fresh thermal paste, etc.) produced identical results. Those other cases are ‘airflow’ designs, however, so this starts to make more sense.
As I discovered here, there is not enough positive airflow being generated by the single 140mm fan when the case front is in place – at least with a midsized air cooler for the CPU like the CM 212 RGB BE. A large, double-tower air cooler would have offered better performance, but I think this case would benefit from a well-designed liquid cooler.
These small vents run along both sides of the front panel, and offer removable filters.
A liquid CPU cooler mounted above the system (with the vented top panel option) would be less airflow dependent than this Hyper 212 RGB BE, and warm air would be more effectively exhausted with such a CLC on the top or rear. And yes, the front intake accept radiators, too, but I don’t like the idea of warm air being exhausted into the case.
Just to test my airflow theory and validate my own testing methodology I took the front panel off and re-ran the thermal load test. The result was a CPU load of 41 C above ambient, a drop of 9 C vs. the above vented panel result, and 11 C vs. the solid panel result. GPU temps dropped 2 C as well. Airflow is the price you pay for silence.
Speaking of silence, this case didn’t disappoint. At idle I was at my Nady DSM-1X meter’s lower limit, with the display showing between 30.6 and 30.7 dBA (it is rated for +/- 1.4 dBA accuracy and this is the closest I ever get to the 30 dBA of the lower range specified).
Under load I recorded between 32.6 – 32.8 dBA, with both the solid and vented top panels with this particular build. Readings were made from a distance of 12 inches with the meter pointing to the upper left corner of the case.
The Define 7 Compact Light Tempered Glass case offers a stylish, understated appearance and very quiet performance. Airflow takes a hit to keep noise down, with the solid, insulated front panel reducing the amount of outside air the included 140 mm fan could draw – even with vents on the sides of this panel.
But the higher temps with the front panel in place from the thermal tests above is actually expected behavior for a case that insulates against noise, and Fractal still offers the excellent Meshify C in this form-factor if airflow is the priority over noise.
My biggest complaint with this case is actually the side panel design. By eschewing any thumbscrews or other threaded fasteners, and relying solely on the tension from top-mounted clips, the panels are (literally) a snap to remove and install. So far so good.
However, the very limited cable clearance behind the motherboard tray results in a rear panel that is next to impossible to install if you have thick PSU cables to contend with back there. I tried to force the issue, and after smashing down the panel to close it, it would randomly pop back off. A power supply with 100% ribbon style cables is a must here if you route your cables behind the motherboard tray as I do.
Complaints about the side panel connections and cable clearance aside, this is a very nice case with some significant quality of life improvements over previous compact cases from Fractal, including an easily interchangeable top panel, a USB 3.1 Gen2 Type-C port, and 2x USB 2.0 and 2x USB 3.0 ports. I just really wish there had been the option of using thumbscrews to attach the rear side panel.
This disclosure statement covers the way the product being reviewed was obtained and the relationship between the product's manufacturer and PC Perspective.
How Product Was Obtained
The case is on loan from Fractal Design for the purpose of this review.
What Happens To Product After Review
The case remains the property of Fractal Design but will be on extended loan to PC Perspective for the purpose of future testing and product comparisons.
Fractal Design provided the product sample and technical brief to PC Perspective but had no control over the content of the review and was not consulted prior to publication.
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Neither PC Perspective nor any of its staff were paid or compensated in any way by Fractal Design for this review.
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