Finally Something DIFFERENT – Fractal Era ITX Case Review
After much waiting, we finally have something fresh and different from Fractal Design, the Era ITX enclosure. It’s unlike anything we have seen from them yet and a new ITX case on the market is always exciting. This is especially true coming from a company that tries to cater to both mainstream and enthusiast builds, which is what the Era ITX case is all about. I have spent the last two days working with this case, and it’s not exactly what I expected given the mission statement for this project. As you will see later on it still faces all the traditional challenges of any SFF enclosure.
To start things off, there are five different colour options available. They are all pretty unique, with fully aluminium exteriors and tempered glass (TG) or wood panels options for the top. I have been patiently waiting for wood integrations on more PC cases, and it’s finally here with a metal base plate and careful construction so the wood doesn’t warp over time because of temperature fluctuations. This also means wood top plates will be unique to each case, but they are only available on the silver and grey models, while the more colourful versions get a TG panel up top. The blue one in particular looks quite elegant and very bright. One note about the TG panels, they will be thinner because the wood ones are actually quite thick and therefore the TG models should allow for more airflow.
The Era ITX will be available for sale for $159 USD, regardless of colour, which is in-line with other ITX cases but still pricey outside of the SFF bubble. I love the curvature of the chassis and the ventilation pattern, it is quite a departure from their Define series. The Era is not a small enclosure by any means at 16 liters, it is larger than the latest NZXT H1. Also because it’s not a vertical tower, it does take up more desk space. All the aluminium edges on my sample are refined and I haven’t noticed any quality concerns in the frame. I would have no issues displaying this case in my living room or at my main space.
This enclosure has a good I/O section with the one USB Type-C Gen2 port, two USB 3.0 ports, and the combo audio jack. You will notice there are no thumbscrews anywhere around the body, and that is because the side panels are completely tool-less and they sit on four pegs with rubber grommets on the bottom. The top plates are magnetic, so you can simply swap out the solid piece with the mesh one in literally two seconds. The wood panels looks just so much nicer anyway, so I would say keep the wood on top… or maybe not, as you will see later.
The ventilation on both side panels is covered with a dust filter, so are the small strips at the bottom. That area is actually plastic and it is the only part of the frame that is not aluminium or steel. In that cavity is where your graphics card will brief breathe… or supposed to breathe.
Now here’s the interior. It’s kind of interesting to see Fractal focus heavily on storage, power supply compatibility, and water cooling support. For example, for storage options this vertical bracket can mount dual SSDs or a single 3.5″ hard drive. However, since it’s above the socket CPU tower clearance is limited to 120mm with nothing on the bracket or 70mm recommended with a hard drive installed. There is also have an internal drive cage attached to an SFX bracket that lets you either mount a single hard drive or dual SSDs.
The Era case supports full-size ATX power supplies, along with SFX and SFX-L models, and you can see the two PSU brackets on the right there with the vertical mount system. Basically, you can move your power supply up or down depending on your hardware, but because the second drive bracket is attached with the SFX power supply bracket if you are installing an ATX unit you are essentially limiting your storage capacity to only that vertical bracket. And then for water cooling you can mount a 240mm radiator at the top or dual 120mm radiators too. Because the bracket is installed from above wider radiators will not fit. The top fan bracket can only be installed one way as it appears to be symmetrical but doesn’t actually align with the mounting holes.
With an ATX power supply only a 120mm radiator is supported, so the Era ITX an SFX power supply is most optimal because you are not sacrificing on the radiator storage above and you are not eliminating that additional drive bracket, if you need it. It is also much easier for cable management when you don’t have that massive ATX power supply in the way, especially since it also enters into the GPU space. Furthermore, you can install dual 140mm fans at the bottom as long as you use a single slot GPU or don’t use one at all. There are no 120mm mounts at the bottom because that will close off the already limited space for your graphics card to breathe.
For my configuration I went with a 240mm at the top and a SFX-L power supply with slim cables and RTX 2060 Super that is nicely compact. When building this system I realized that there is no room behind the motherboard tray to route cables or anything that isn’t super slim, so everything has to routed in the main chamber. I was very happy to see a USB Type-C cable that is flexible and not bulky. Managing all the cables exiting the power supply is quite difficult as in my case they started to mingle into the GPU space. In a perfect scenario you have 295mm of clearance for the GPU and you can even remove the front I/O cover if that gets in your way. Even though the side panels are mostly solid, cable management is still not a strong suit for the Era ITX.
This brings us the most surprising and disappointing part of this review: Cooling. Let me remind you of Fractal’s optimal airflow mission statement for this project, which is an area where they haven’t succeeded. Basically, the gorgeous solid top panel, which is probably why I would want to buy this case in the first place, is not adequately spaced out to exhaust air. This heats up the system very fast, as you can see by the results. Luckily, the mesh top option helps with cooling the CPU, but our graphics card is still struggling for air. By removing all panels you can see another drastic drop in CPU temperature, but the graphics card chamber is so poorly ventilated it absolutely kills any desire for me to actually use this case in the future. And just for reference, I removed the bottom plastic cover, raised the case a little bit, and the temperatures finally got acceptable. The culprit here is a poorly designed bottom frame that just cannot breathe and completely chokes the graphics card. You can see how the Era ITX compares to the NZXT H1 with the same hardware, but a smaller AIO, and even still we get better cooling inside the H1 on all fronts.
So the takeaway here is that we have this beautiful aluminium abs wood or tempered glass enclosure that actually gives users options in terms of hardware configurations, but completely sabotages on cooling. I would buy the case with the white Oak or Walnut top, but then you are penalized for airflow. I would not want to use a low profile CPU cooler and therefore I would have to go with the mesh design since I want to mount with radiator up top. They did not want to raise the top panel above the actual frame to keep the case’s design aesthetics, but in doing so they completely sabotaged cooling for the GPU and the CPU. Furthermore, cable management inside this thing is a bit of a mess.
I understand the issues that arise when trying to please all types of users, but I think when it comes to ITX focus is the most important priority. Having said that, I hope to see more wood integrations on cases in the future, and I think Fractal Design is definitely going to push that whole momentum forward. But this isn’t the wood case for me.