I Wanted It To Be Great – Fractal Define 7 Compact Review
The Define 7 Compact is finally here, the latest compact mid-tower case from fractal design. In short, it’s the same size as my favorite mid-tower from Fractal Design, the Meshify C, but with a really distinct and upgraded Define series look.
Price & Competition
It also has all the new upgrades that came with the bigger Define 7, and as the name suggests it’s just a smaller Define 7. The tempered glass (TG) models are $10 more bringing the price up to $109 USD, which is kind of pricey versus similar sized mid-towers like the be quiet! Pure Base 500DX that is $99, the Meshify C at $89, the H510 from NZXT is $69, and the Phanteks P300 is $79.
Size & Design
They all share compact mid-tower dimensions, meaning it’s not as tall or as long as other big mid-towers. For example, here it is next to the 500DX from be quiet!, which is another nice compact mid-tower, or the Corsair ONE on the left for size reference. You can also get a better view of what this compact revision really means next to a much larger the Define 7. I will say that two years ago my experience with the Meshify C was fantastic, and unfortunately that is not entirely the case with the Define 7 Compact. For example, due to airflow issues I do not agree with the default fan configuration of this new case, but more than that later.
The first thing I wanted to get out of the way is just how familiar everything feels, like the brushed aluminium front panel that you need to clean if a finger grazes its surface. I guess this is a Define series after all, so it’s not a plastic lookalike. The side ventilation has expanded with removal dust filters that are easy to take off and install back on. The same goes for the bottom dust filter that spans the entire bottom. And since there are no 5.25″ drive bays the panel doesn’t need to swivel like a door, it’s just secured with plastic pegs. Behind it you can do triple 120mm or dual 140mm fan configurations with 180mm and 360mm radiators supported. I’m really happy to see that they have improved the removable cover system on the shroud. They are just plastic and bend out of the case, giving you either 7.0cm or 14.8cm when the covers are removed. You are going to need to slide the cage back if you want space for push-pull in here.
Fans & Connecitivity
The included fans are at 140mm 1,000 RPM at the front and the 120mm 1,200 RPM for the rear. The top frame is fully modular like with the Define 7, all tool-less panels, and there is a cool looking dust filter that absolutely clashes with the ventilation pattern on the mesh top panel. I simply do not understand this design mess. However, at least if you are using any fans up top or radiator it is a good value-add. In my opinion, the fan bracket is best-in-class, it is secured with two side crews and the whole bracket just simply lifts up making installation super easy. Given the short nature of the frame only dual fans are compatible with clearance for only a 240mm radiator.
The I/O is the same as on the Define 7, with five USB ports, two of which are used USB 2.0 Type-A, two USB 3.0 Type-A, and the inclusion of a USB Type-C Gen2 is fantastic to see.
What I have here is a tinted TG side panel, which has the beautiful full blackout look, and the new tool-less mechanism that sits on pegs. Now as I have unfortunately discovered during my assembly procedure, there is no way to actually secure either side panel to the frame itself. For example, if your cables are chunky and you don’t spend time cleaning up the rear to be as flat as possible, the panels simply will not stay closed. What I find really strange is that we have these metal pegs on each side panel that go inside the frame, and they appear to be attached to something on the case itself, but there is nothing on the case to actually hold this screw. You could still insert a screw in there that will prevent the panel from flying open, but this method is not intentional as the front panel bumps into whatever screw you have in there and therefore isn’t flush against the frame.
By the way, this whole back portion is well-designed for cable management with good spacing and velcro straps, but it’s the thumb screws on the drive caddies that completely mess everything up as cables from the power supply must pass through this section in order to reach the opening in the front. Given that all solid panels have noise dampening foam it further reduces the usable space behind the motherboard.
And lastly, the interior is nice and compact for a simple ATX setup, with a ventilated PSU shroud and easy to access PCI covers. However, the usual refinement that I get with Define cases isn’t here. For one, all the thumb screws in this case are insanely tight. Number two, some of the motherboard standoffs threading was bad. And number three, the white power LED has a yellowish tint, which is just unpleasant. I understand that these are minor complaints, but normally with the Define case everything is smooth and feels highly polished, but not on the sample I received.
Airflow & Temperatures
Let’s finish the review with some air flow testing in my temperature controlled environment. What we have here is a severely restricted front intake, as we dropped 11°C on the CPU when I removed that front panel. I then swapped out the top panel for a ventilated one just to see what would happen, and that gave us actually better CPU temperature with a 1°C hotter GPU. And again removing the front panel here proves how little air is getting through. I then repositioned the front fan to intake up top in front of the CPU cooler and that didn’t really help versus having the fan upfront. Finally, I moved the fan to the back in the exhaust orientation, and that gave us the coolest CPU temperature when the front panel is installed. If we sort this from best to worst, I would highly recommend that you move the front fan to the top exhaust as this is the most appropriate fan setup for my style of system. And just for quick comparison versus the airflow focused be quiet! Pure Base 500DX, you can see how the Define 7 Compact can be competitive as long as you move the fan and use the mesh panel up top.
All right, so that is the Define 7 Compact, it is really nothing special aside from that module top section. If you wanted a smaller Define 7 this is it. However, I am not happy with how the drive cages thumb screws interfere with cable management since this is something that I did not experience with the bigger Define 7 – because it is slightly wider – or the Meshify C because the drive cage was actually slightly further back and the thumbscrews were not there. I don’t like that there is no way to secure the side panels in case scale management does start to interfere in the back, and it is also more expensive compared to the similar sized compact mid-towers that I mentioned at the beginning of the review.