Have We Reached Peak Case Fractal Define 7 Review
I was very excited to review the new Fractal Design Define 7 enclosure as soon as it arrived, and I was anxious to see if it met my expectations for a case in 2020.
It wasn’t until I start to work with the case that I started to question whether or not we have reached the whole idea of a “peak case”. I’ve always associated that Define series as extremely stable, flexible, and user-friendly from a PC building perspective. As you hope, the new Define 7 is no exception. By default, it’s a fantastic yet kind of familiar enclosure from Fractal Design.
Yes, they got rid of the R for an even more minimalistic product name, and the price has also increased to $159 USD and $169 USD for solid and tempered glass options, and there is a variety of colours as usual. The reason why I asked whether or not we are at “peak case” is because all the changes that accompany the Define 7 are minor and either improve the user experience or are different for the sake of being different. Let’s explore everything that Define 7 has to offer and see if perhaps this should be your next case.
First of all, all the fundamental elements from the Define series are of course still present, like the brushed aluminium front door with side ventilation. It still only opens to about 90 degrees, but it does have a new mechanism that you can still swap to open from the other side. The panel is magnetic but unfortunately it’s fairly loose. Behind the front panel is the usual dust filter with angle down ventilation, along with a separate cover for the 5.25″ drive bay that by default is covered by the fan, but you can always shift it down if you’re installing an optical drive in that spot.
Let’s dive into out-of-the-box air flow cooling right away, and I think don’t think there is going to be much of surprise. The front panel is fairly restrictive and there’s an 8°C difference on the CPU with the front panel completely removed. However, all those airflow barriers actually deliver an extremely quiet noise profile too. This silence is also helped by all of the noise absorbing foam spread on all of the solid panels on the interior. At the bottom of the case there is a massive dust filter that you can slide out from the front.
The I/O area has grown with the addition of a USB Type-C Gen2 ports, plus we still have four USB 2.0 ports and separate audio jacks. The side panels no longer have any thumbscrews, you simply pull the top tab and the panel comes off. There are pegs at the bottom and the top to help with the panel installation, and you can also secure both side panels at the front if you plan on transporting the case.
The biggest change with the 7 is the top frame and I welcome that change. They have removed the whole modular system and now we either have a totally solid top panel or – once you pop it out just like the side panels – we can install a ventilated cover that is available as part of the accessories. Now on the one hand I appreciate the ventilation pattern consistency, it’s on the top, the PSU shroud, and the rear ventilation too. I love the dust filter design, but it doesn’t really work together visually with the ventilated cover it actually makes the top of the case look really busy and out of sync. At least dust filter is a fine mesh, but together they look quite bad.
The top fan bracket is also new and now removable from the side instead of the top, which gives you a completely open frame to work with. We have the usual fill port and strips for mounting cooling hardware. In usual Fractal Design fashion the Define 7 can accommodate a ton of fans and radiators. Above is the graphic for an all fan option with and without the optical drive. The case is long enough for a 420mm rad up top and up to a 360mm at the front, and even mounting radiators at the bottom is an option too. And for anyone doing at least a dual radiator loop the Define 7 accommodates that as well, as long as the motherboard height does not exceed 36mm.
As for the interior, the layout is identical to the Define R6 with E-ATX motherboard support and great rubber grommet placement. I have to say that I love the whole white-on-black color scheme and the all-new PSU shroud. The removable front sections are plastic now, no longer metal, and they are removal without any issues. You can easily pop them out, that was not the case with the R6 which was more difficult thing to work with. Doing this gives you either a 6cm/2.36″ of clearance or about 18cm/7.09″ if you remove both sections, and it also lets you access the bottom drive cage that you can either remove or shift back and depending on your front configuration. You can also convert the interior to house more drive caddies by moving the back wall forward, and then mounting the metal caddies behind it. This closes off the front of the case but still lets you mount front and top radiators, which is nice.
And finally the case comes with three 140mm 1000 RPM fans, two in the front and one and the rear. It also features a new fan hub located in this perfect center top position with six 3-pin connectors and three 4-pin connectors with PWM control.
I love the addition of the new PSU side cover, even though it is behind the side panel and not visible it does help with cable management. There are also new plastic channels that guide all your cables where they need to be and securely tightened with velcro straps. Now all of these elements have evolved over time to give us the same mechanics of building a computer, but it’s never been easier which is why I think we’re in this plateau of case innovation.
Now the thing is this doesn’t only apply to the Define 7, because if you look at any Phanteks release they are reusing the same internal frame, adding modifications to the exterior, and just simplifying the overall user experience. The same thing with NZXT with the H500 and H700 series, and so that’s what the Define 7 is all about too. But honestly this “peak case” is also a bit underwhelming. The riskiest thing that Fractal Design has done with a Define 7 is remove the R from the model name, because everything else feels expected. It’s not a bad case by any means, but it’s not a very exciting one either. Having said that, that’s really been one of the defining features of Define series from the beginning. I love the simple exterior and the complexity of the interior to make sure that the overall user experience is fantastic. They have once again succeeded in doing this with Define 7. I do think that we have to accept these mainstream hero products for what they are, because they are safe and they will sell, and we can hope for more risky releases sometime in the future.