Fractal is launching 20 new cases at the same time, and we have two of them.
When Sebastian (his holiness, the esteemed almighty editor-in-chief) asked me if I was interested in reviewing something from the new line of cases from Fractal Design, I was happy to say yes. I know Fractal’s long time reputation for excellent cases, but I’ve never reviewed one of their products, and, surprisingly, I had never built in a Fractal enclosure.
Fractal must have wanted to remedy both of those, so they sent me two review samples from their new Pop Series of cases: the Pop Air RGB Cyan, and the Pop Mini Air RGB White. Without further ado, let’s take a look at these new offerings.
(The above image depicts only the mid-tower Pop Air designs. If every Pop Air and Pop Silent case – in every form-factor – in the new lineup was included, the file would be so massive that it could cause a rift in the space-time continuum. -SP)
Fractal is offering a grand total of 20 different models in the Pop series, all based on three different chassis sizes which include a mid tower ATX motherboard compatible enclosure; a Mini, which is slightly downsized and only accommodates up to Micro-ATX motherboards; and an XL which is a full tower capable of supporting up to 360mm radiators in the front.
In each size you have the option for Silent models with a solid front panel, or Air models with the attractive honeycomb pattern low restriction mesh panel, which I received. On the mid tower model Fractal is offering options with some boldly colored internals and matching external touches. Pricing on all the variations ranges between $79.99 US and $109.99. Retail versions of the two models I received will both sell for $89.99.
The Pop Cases
I’ll be honest, when I first saw the images in the reviewers’ guide that Fractal sent, I wasn’t too sure about the colored Pop series, but when I opened up the Cyan tower, my mind was changed. Fractal did an excellent job on the paint.
The cyan is visually striking, and after several attempts, I just accepted the fact that photos don’t do it justice. I won’t be surprised when custom builds start emerging using the Pop series because of these vibrant colors.
The Mini Air White was also very well done, although I did notice that the color on some of the plastic trim, most noticeably the feet, doesn’t match the white paint on the steel frame, though it is a much closer match than on some white enclosures that I’ve encountered.
My first inspection of the two cases also led me to my first surprise (and Josh Walrath’s favorite feature). Concealed behind a cleverly designed magnetic plate at the bottom front of both cases are TWO 5.25 drive bays!!! And in case you only need one optical drive, the bottom has a handy little storage drawer where you can hide the flash drives you keep your questionable data on.
As I mentioned the Pop Air RGB is sized like a traditional mid tower enclosure. It includes three 120mm addressable RGB fans (two as intake in the front, and one exhaust). You can fit two 140mm fans in front, or in the top panel, and Fractal claims compatibility with a 280mm radiator in front, and a 240 up top (although I did encounter some compatibility issues with the latter).
There is a wide range of storage compatibility, depending on your needs, but if one forgoes the two optical drives, it is possible to fit three 3.5 inch hard drives, and six 2.5 inch drives in the Pop Air. The storage options in the Pop Mini are only slightly more limited as you can only fit a maximum of two 3.5 inch hard drives, while spaces for the six 2.5 inch drives are unchanged.
As I started to explore these enclosures and work on building in them, I did discover a few things that didn’t thrill me as much as the colors. First off, I did notice that both the clear Tempered Glass side panels were not neutral and had a slight yellowish hue to them. Second, there is a spot in the top I/O for type C, but this port is blocked off, and the cases do not include an internal USB-C header cable. Fractal does offer this cable as a $9.99 US option, but I feel like this should just be standard on any modern case retailing for more than $75 US.
With those minor complaints out of the way, the building experience in both cases was very straightforward and I found that even in the Mini, I was not struggling for working space. Both cases are decently optimized for cable management, and include two nice Velcro straps, but I would have liked the RGB cables to be a little longer.
You can control the RGB with the cases’ onboard control, but if you want to connect these to your motherboard, some headers might be out of reach. In that case you would need to purchase a 5v ARGB extension cable.
One thing I really liked seeing was that the central motherboard standoff had a pin to hold the motherboard in position while you’re mounting it. When I first started building PCs, every case I worked in had a pin in the center standoff and it made mounting the motherboard a breeze.
I don’t recall when I stopped seeing this feature, but I was very pleased when I saw that both of the Pop series cases were set up this way. I know that it seems like a small detail (and it is literally a small detail) but it is the little things like this that make the difference between a build going smoothly, or being a colonoscopy.
Unfortunately, not everything went completely smooth. I did encounter an issue when attempting to install a 240 AIO in the Pop Air. According to the specifications, it does support up to a 240 in the top, but as the images show, there can be some issues with compatibility.
I was not able to get the rearmost portion of the radiator to line up due to interference with the I/O cover on the ASRock B550 Extreme4 motherboard. While this I/O cover is tall, it isn’t any taller than dozens of other motherboards out there, and the AiO was a very standard CoolerMaster 240 that I’ve used for testing and photos in many other case reviews.
Due to this, if I were planning a build in the Pop Air (or any other of the mid-tower Pop series) I would take careful measurements of the motherboard’s rear I/O cover before planning to use a 240 AiO up top. This didn’t present a problem for my test system, as it’s a straightforward air cooled build.
(But wait – we have an update below:)
Update (later that same day): As you can see from my pictures, I did get the radiator installed up top. How? The included radiator offset bracket that I discovered after I took the photos of trying to get it mounted. Also, on the Mini, you have to remove that SSD bracket to install the PSU (see below).
(Ok, other than that offset thing and needing to remove the SSD bracket behind the motherboard tray to install a PSU in the Mini Air, the rest of the build process was uneventful, and Kent did a nice job keeping the builds tidy back behind the motherboard tray, thanks in part to those velcro straps. -SP)
Specification of Test System:
- AMD Ryzen 7 3800x [@4.0 Ghz, all core, 1.138 volts (1.08 Vdroop under load) 90 watt package power]
- ASRock X570M Pro4 Motherboard
- Be Quiet! Dark Rock TF2 CPU Cooler with middle fan only fixed @ 1400 rpm
- 16 GB (2×8) G Skill Trident Z 3333 (@3600) Memory
- Zotac GTX 1080ti Amp Extreme fans speed fixed @ 1200 rpm
- WD Black Edition 500 GB NVMe SSD
All tests conducted at a controlled ambient temperature of 23.5° C.
- CPU Temperature Testing: OCCT set to Small FFT Extreme Steady for 30 minutes
- GPU Temperature Testing: Unigine Heaven set to Ultra Detail, Extreme Tesselation, and 8x Anti Aliasing at 1440p for 30 minutes
Due to the fact that both cases use the same fans, and have very similar designs, the CPU temps were also extremely close and well within the margin of error for the test. However the GPU tests showed a different story.
On the Pop Air Mini, the almost three slot cooler on the GTX 1080 Ti used in testing had very little space between its intake fans and the PSU cover. At the full fan speed of 1300 rpm, the Pop Air and Mini Air’s GPU temps were very close, but once the fan speeds were reduced to 1000 rpm, the Mini Air really suffered, with GPU temps rising from a delta of 43.5 C up to 51.5 C. This increased the GPU temperature difference between the two enclosures from 1.5 degrees C at 1300 rpm, to a full 4 degrees C at 1000 rpm.
While this still wasn’t terrible as the max temps overall were still well below thermal max, it does show that with a beefier GPU cooler design, the Pop Air Mini does restrict flow to the GPU somewhat. As mentioned, this is an almost three slot cooler design, with the fan speed locked at 1200 rpm, so in a real world use case, I doubt it create a problem for most users.
Sound testing was conducted with the microphone placed 30 cm from system. Measured ambient noise floor is 28.5 dB, all fans set to same speeds as with temperature testing.
As mentioned above, both enclosures use identical fans, so the noise tests showed no measurable difference between the Air and Air Mini. At full speed (1300 rpm) the stock Fractal fans did move a lot of air, but they were far from what I would call quiet (or even tolerable) at 48.9 db. Like many fans, just a small adjustment made a huge difference in sound. By lowering the fans to 1000 rpm, the noise dropped to a bearable 38.8 db, without affecting temps by a large margin (for the most part anyway).
In the end, both the Fractal Pop Air and Pop Air Mini are stylish, well built enclosures.
The basic chassis design of the Pop series is very rigid and if I had needed to flex the chassis to get basic parts installed (as is sometimes the case with cheaper built enclosures) I don’t believe either of these cases would have given a millimeter without extreme effort.
Both cases provide good temps and room for a ton of airflow. While radiator space is somewhat limited, a traditional air-cooled build would flourish in either one of these cases. I’m happy to recommend both these cases and give them the PC Perspective Gold award.
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How Product Was Obtained
The product is on loan from Fractal Design for the purpose of this review.
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The product remains the property of Fractal Design but is on extended loan for future testing and product comparisons.
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