So we have to go back a few years to get to the Define S launch from Fractal Design. All the way back to April of 2015, a lot has changed in that time especially in the case market. The Define S came before the tempered glass explosion and there are a few other checkboxes that people look for in cases like hidden power supply mounting and some modularity for options with AIO and custom water cooling. So Fractal introducing a new Define S wasn’t a huge surprise. But I am interested in seeing what else Fractal has done to continue to evolve the always popular Define design. I’m sure they went beyond just hitting the standard features, so let's dive into the case and see what is new then build in it to get the full experience!
Product Name: Fractal Design Define S2
Review Sample Provided by: Fractal Design
Written by: Wes Compton
Pictures by: Wes Compton
Amazon Affiliate Link: HERE
Fractal Design kept things looking the same when it came to the packaging for the Define S2. They have always used a normal brown box with just black print on the outside and it’s the same here. You have a line drawing of the case on the front along with Fractal branding up top and down on the bottom with the model name in the top right corner. They did slip in a fragile sticker though that really stands out on the brown. The case color option is a sticker as well, ours is the black with white accents model. They put specifications on the case and a lot of information on the cooling on the side of the box, so if you are shopping in a retail store you will still be able to tell if this will fit your hardware. Then on the back, there is a blown up line drawing showing more of the components along with numbers for labels for 7 key features that they explain.
Inside of the box, the case comes in a plastic bag and with foam on both sides to keep it from moving around inside of its box. The case also came with plastic on the inside and outside of the glass side panel to protect it from fingerprints and I imagine to help keep it all in one place if the glass brakes. For documentation Fractal includes a user manual and a warranty paper, both come in a plastic bag. Then all of the accessories are all deep inside of the case, I will touch on those later.
The Define series of cases from Fractal has a classic design that has been around long before Fractal Design was even focusing on the US market. When they came to CES 2011 when they announced the brand to the US market they were already on the Define R3. The design has been around all this time because it is unique, simple, and quiet. When Define hit the market the clean styling that Fractal is known for was an outlier, flashy cases were still extremely popular. It's crazy looking back at just how much the market has moved in Fractals direction. Anyhow, the Define S2 has the same brushed metal front with a vent around it that really sets the style of the Define. This design gives that clean look while still allowing airflow but its other function is to keep noise down. The exterior of the Define S2 looks a lot like the Define R6, it is the inside that is the most different, but I will touch on that later. The Define S2 is available in four color configurations. The black with white is called Black, there is then a Blackout model with all black then gunmetal and white versions.
So the original Define S came before the tempered glass movement, so this is the first time an S model has glass. The original Define S came with a solid side panel or one with a plastic window. This new glass side panel looks amazing and will always stay nice where plastic loses its luster over time. I love that Fractal put a black border around this panel to hide all of the mounting edges. It also has a different mounting solution than past glass cases to come into the office. They have it mounted to a metal frame so it hooks into the right and then closes with thumbscrews on the back to hold it in place. This means no thumbscrews going through the glass and a cleaner look for the side panel. It also has pegs mounted towards the back that pop into place when you push them to hold the panel in place when you install the thumbscrews. Tempered glass is heavy and you don’t want to drop it and break it or damage your table.
The front panel buttons and I/O are all up over the plastic ring on the front of the case. You have a large aluminum power button in the middle and a small recessed reset button for buttons. Then for the I/O, there are headphone and microphone jacks over on the left as well as one Gen 2 USB Type-C. Then the right has four traditional USB connections, two are USB 3.0 and two 2.0. They are all black so you don’t have blue to set the USB 3’s apart, but they did label them.
The top of the S2 is similar to the original S in that it comes out of the box with a solid panel in it. This is called their ModuVent cover and it is in its third generation of design. The panel has both a steel cover with sound dampening and a filter built in, depending on if you are aiming for noise or cooling performance. At the top edge of the back of the Define S2, there is a big button, pushing this in will pop the panel up and you can pull it off to change that around or to clean the filter.
Up under the ModuVent, the top of the case is unique as well. For starters, they have added a potential hole for a fill port. For custom water cooling this is awesome. I had my fill port in our Fridge build from years ago hidden up under the top panel in a similar way. Its great for maintenance but still out of the way and you don’t have to drill a hole in your new case. You can see the panel has springs built in to push up on the modular panel to help it pop out when you push the button. There are also mounts for three 120mm or 140mm fans. This panel also can be removed to gain access to your motherboard from the top. This should make plugging in that 8-pin extremely easy if you want.
The back of the Define S2 is really the first time we see some of the white accents that Fractal is known for. All of the PCI brackets are bright white against the black. The back view of the case really starts to put the overall width of the S2 into perspective as well. You can see how much space there is to the left and to a smaller amount to the right of the PSU bracket. Speaking of the bracket, the PSU is mounted down at the bottom and the removable bracket here with two thumbscrews means the PSU is installed through the back of the case, but through one of the side panels like normal. The S2 has seven normal PCI brackets as well as two vertical brackets where you can mount a GPU vertical, but you will need their Flex VRC-25 PCIe riser for that to work. It’s a bummer that doesn’t come with the case, but I love having the option to vertical mount my GPU without having to cut the case up. Up top next to the rear I/O the rear of the case has just the one fan mount. The mounting design supports 120mm and 140mm fans but you can see that the case comes with a 140mm fan. The mount also has an interesting slot design that will allow you to slide the fan up or down about an inch. This can help with top radiator clearance.
The right side of the Define S2 is old school with a traditional solid steel side panel. Because of that, we might as well take a look at the side of the front of the case here. The vents run from the top to bottom of the case on both sides and if you look close you can see that they have included a filter mesh inside as well.
Down on the bottom, the cases feet are visible because they are large round and chromed. This goes with the more formal design and I like that the feet aren’t basic rubber nubs hidden away.
The rest of the bottom of the case is really filled with the full-length filter. It is removable with a handle up at the front of the case, reachable when the case is in use. The large chrome feet also have large rubber pads on them to keep everything from moving around. Lastly in the middle Fractal has their badge with a model and serial number, certifications, and branding. This is the only branding on the outside of the case but there is a fractal logo that shows through the window that I will touch on in the next section.
So to get inside of the case I had to pull the side panels off. Before diving in I did want to better show the tempered glasses mounting setup. You can see in the pictures below the steel frame that goes around it and the ball mount at the one end at the top and bottom to hold the side panel in place when removing and installing the thumbscrews.
So with everything opened up we can get a much better look at the layout of the Define S2 and like I said earlier this is where the R6 and the S2 are much different. You see, the Define R6 is an amazing case but the interior is more closed off. A lot like when you are looking at houses and one is an older traditional layout with lots of walls and rooms and another is an open layout. The S2 is your modern open layout in a case form. Fractal went this way with the original S so it's not a big surprise. The idea is to allow you to do whatever you want, especially with custom water cooling. The big open area on the right is packed with hard drive trays in the R6 but here you have room for thick radiators in the front with a big pump res or even dual loops with more than one pump.
One of the big changes for the S2 is the addition of the power supply cover at the bottom. This is part of cleaning up wiring and hiding your cables. Fractal did this on their other cases as well. It does cut into the overall case space but they have put it to good use. First and most obvious it hides the power supply and gives you room to hide all of your wiring. It also has ventilation on top so the bottom section can get air if needed. In that same area, there are two SSD mounting holes that can use the 2.5-inch drive mounts from the rear of the case if you want to show off your drives. Then on the front, that panel can be removed if you want to install taller radiators and fans. Fractal Design also slipped in the only visible branding by embossing their log on to the cover as well. I like that better than a logo on the front.
At the back, here is the interior view of the 7 normal PCI brackets and the two vertical brackets that you can use for a GPU with an optional riser. Then above that is the rear mounted exhaust fan. The S2 ships with a 140mm fan and this black and white model has the standard fans with a black casing and white fan blades to match the rest of the case. In this picture you can also see just how large the CPU backpanel access is, it is larger than an ITX motherboard so it should handle anything.
At the front of the case it comes with two more 140mm fans, these also have some flexibility with the mounting where you can slide them down, just like the back. This should help with long and thick radiator fan combos up top. The front of the S2 supports up to three fans in 140mm or 120mm configuration. You can run a three 120mm fan confirmation with a radiator or two fans with a 140mm radiator. The opening in the PSU cover limits the width of this to only 120mm radiators, there is a 147mm width max.
Speaking of radiators, the top of the case can do up to 360 or 420mm radiators with however thick you would like of a radiator and dual or single fan configuration just as long as your motherboard isn’t taller than 35mm. You can do all of that and still also have that top fill port behind the radiator.
To get into the back of the Define S2 you have to remove the back panel. As heavy as the glass front panel is, the rear isn’t really any better. It is thick steel and then it has sound dampening material over the entire inside. Fractal made their name with this same material because most companies don’t bother to worry about sound at all so while heavy it is a welcomed addition.
The overall layout of the back half of the Define S2 is actually close to the original but as you compare them you will see a lot of noticeable differences. The full shot shows a lot of cable management holes and tie does for zip or Velcro ties. There are a total of 14 tie down locations with a few used for the included Velcro straps. The back has 23mm of cable space between the side panel and the motherboard tray.
For 3.5 and 2.5 mounting, there are five locations. There are two 2.5 inch drive mounts that attach to the back of the motherboard tray. These can be moved to the front, or if you buy two more mounts you can double up on that storage. They are bright white on this model and they are held in place with a single thumbscrew. Then over on the left side of the back, there are three larger 3.5-inch bays. These used to be flat trays as well, but the new design are these cages that completely cover the drive. They have 2.5-inch mounting options as well should you need that giving the S2 a total of 3 3.5 inch drive locations with 2 2.5 inch mounts or 5 2.5 inch mounts.
The other big inclusion is the Nexus+ PWM fan hub. A lot of cases are adding in fan controllers and the Define S2 is no different. This PCB gives you six traditional 3 pin fan headers on the left then three PWM fan headers on the right. The bottom right PWM header is for a pump or your CPU fan. Then the cable just below that hooks up to your motherboards CPU fan header to communicate to this controller. It is all powered by one SATA plug and tucked away here on the back. This helps cut down on the number of fans that need to be plugged into your motherboard, keeping your wiring clean.
Then for cable management, you have a big open area into the PSU area that leads up to the two reinstalled Velcro straps. Unlike some of the other case designs, Fractal didn’t need a channel for wiring, the back has enough room without that. This area does run up along the grommets for you to run your 24 pin and other cables out to the motherboard.
Installation and Performance
As far as I’m concerned, building a system is a large portion of the overall performance of a case. Of course features and livability are important later on and noise and cooling performance as well. But in my experience what sets cheap cases apart from expensive ones is how easy they are to work in. Anything is a round peg if you hit it hard enough right? So building in the Define S2 I pulled out the components I would put in a case like this. A higher-end platform like the X299 or X399 chipsets. Well, our X299 system was in the middle of video card testing but our older X99 system was available and fit the bill (don’t worry I have Threadripper coming soon!). A new RTX 2080, a 1 TB SSD, and a 1000 watt PSU from Cooler Master rounded everything out.
So you have to pull the entire Define S2 apart to get to the bottom hard drive cage where they have a box with all of the accessories and screws. The box is nice enough to list everything that is inside and their quantities, but I did pull out the bags to take a look as well. The SATA power 3-way extension cable was a surprise addition and then they also included two reservoir brackets as well. Beyond that, all of the normal screws, standoffs, and zip ties were inside.
So when I was prepping the case I had to pull the I/O wiring out of the way, this was tied to the case in like 4 different spots. This gave me a minute to check out all of the wires. I like that everything is blacked out to match most of the case. The big surprise here was the new Gen 2 Type-C USB internal header cable. I guess its not a huge shock because I did see the Type-C on the front panel, but while the header has been available on a lot of motherboards I haven’t really seen them in cases yet so I was really happy to see that. Beyond that everything was a rubber cable except the I/O button and lights cable that has everything gathered up with black sleeving. Also to note back here is that the pre-installed fans didn’t come with the wires connected to the fancy controller. It isn’t very hard to do, but don’t forget to hook those up. The front fan cables reached but didn’t really have a lot of extra length.
Next, I installed our power supply. Remember you have to pull the bracket off the back, mount it to your PSU, then slide it all in through the back hole. For me, I pre-installed the cables I would need so I had to make sure all of those made it in as well. Then two thumbscrews to tighten it all down.
I slipped in our pre-setup X99 motherboard, CPU, ram, and cooler into the build. I already had this mostly together because it just had come out of our old test bench. But even if you are building your system new, I would recommend getting that all put together outside of the case. Fractal does give you a lot of room in the Define S2, especially with that removable top panel. But it is still easier outside of the case. Do everything except install your water cooling, but install that bracket if you can. Then once you mount the motherboard (trust me it slide right in because there is a lot of room) you can mount your radiator to your preferred location (I would do the top unless sound is your top priority) and install the block to your CPU.
Next, I was running wires up from our PSU through the grommeted holes and into their plugs on the motherboard. Keep in mind how you will clean things up as you do this, specifically run things up that middle track when you can. But don’t tie everything down just yet.
Don’t forget your SSD or hard drive unless you are using an M.2 drive and it is already installed. The brackets in the S2 worked well. One thumbscrew to hold them in place and then four screws to hold the drive. That goes for both the smaller 2.5-inch mounts and the 3.5-inch mounts.
I installed our video card around front and hooked it up then finished up wiring with the front panel wires and hooking up the fans to the controller. The front I/O connections were a little hard to get at, our motherboard was right up to the top of the PSU cover and I have big hands. From there I could finally clean things up a little. I would normally use a lot of zip ties but I was curious if I could get things cleaned up just with the included Velcro straps. Eh, well it doesn’t look great in photos but it did work and cleared the back panel just fine. With zip ties, I could have pulled more wire down into the PSU area to make them look straight going up the track behind the motherboard tray.
With it all installed, look at just how much room is there to the right for custom water cooling. An AIO would work, but I don’t think most will have tubes long enough to reach the front. More importantly though, it's just not going to fill that space up. I pulled out a new Swiftech radiator, their new textured finish matches this case and you can see even with a radiator on the front and maybe even push-pull you can still fit a tall res and pump.
Here is a look at the system altogether. One big thing to note is that there aren’t any flashy lights. Even a few LEDs on our motherboard did nothing to light the Define S2 up. For most people who are interested in this case, I think that will be a big plus. If you want lighting though, you might want to include LEDs for the case on your shopping list as well. The only LED in fact is the slit at the top of the front I/O and the ring around the power button that light up lightly for power and get brighter for hard drive or SSD activity. The light is in blue, but even if that isn’t your color it is very minimal.
With everything together, I spent some time with the case. There were three areas I wanted to focus on. How is the case to use daily with things like how easy is it to keep clean, is it heavy, any special features? Cooling performance, then sound performance as well. Now cooling performance with three 140mm fans was more than enough to handle our X99 system with an RTX 2080. The front fans pushed fresh cool air in up under the video card where it could pull the air in and the rear fan pushes our warm air out of the case. With vents on the bottom and potentially on top there is enough room for the extra 140mm fans worth of air pressure to find its way out. The Fractal fans did a good job in the noise department. I was going to test with our decibel meter but other PCs in the office were actually causing the ambient noise level to be high enough to not pick them up. I will say that the thick side panel with dampening and the thick glass side panel really help cut down on the in case noise. I could only hear the build when I got close to the sides of the front panel where the ventilation is. Now overall, using the ModuVent design up top and opening up airflow up there would be much better, the front design is restricted, but this would only be a concern for me with a crazier build.
The other performance aspect I wanted to check out was overall livability. The first thing I noticed was just moving the case around. Our simple build came out to be just one ounce less than 37 pounds, add in water cooling especially a custom loop and this is going to be the heaviest thing in your office other than yourself. In other words, this isn’t a case you would want to take to and from LANs, but it is great to setup and leave it in your office. The glass side panel is also going to require a little more cleaning attention for fingerprints and dust. But overall the pull out bottom dust filter and pop off top are easy to clean. Cleaning the front vents requires taking the front panel off, but it comes off quickly.
Overall and Final Verdict
What I love about Fractal Design cases is that they have always seemed to know what they are about. When they came to the US for the first time they had a clean and simple styling and they have stuck with that same look all of these years. Of course, they have taken some of the trends like modular designs, improved cooling, and tempered glass side panels and incorporated them into their designs. But even those features manage to have a Fractal spin on them, still being less flashy and more likely to be something an adult would want in their office. The Define S2 is no different, like the Define R6, it has been updated while still lot losing what it was about in the first place.
I ended up really liking the Define S2 as a simple but customizable case. What I was surprised with though is that I don’t think this case can house just your standard every day build without you wanting to add custom water cooling to it later. That big open area to the right of the motherboard is just too open for any other configuration. Sure you can add an AIO loop and that might scratch the itch for a while, but that won’t really fit that space. I also don’t think that some of them will even reach. Beyond that, the Define S2 fully takes advantage of the new Gen 2 full speed Type-C header connection with a Type-C port on the front I/O where you will be able to use it. The design is also careful to have a filter on every possible intake area, even in areas that don’t have any fans pre-installed (the bottom) and where you don’t even know you can install fans (up top). All of those cooling options help with good cooling or if you want you can keep things quiet by keeping the top panel blocked off.
Now the case is heavy, like most other Fractal cases. So don’t plan on moving it around a lot, tempered glass is heavy but it's really the thicker steel that Fractal uses as well as the sound deadening that set the Define S2 apart from the competition both in weight and quality.
Now with an MSRP of $149.99, the Define S2 isn’t exactly a cheap case, but I could have guessed that with their use of thicker materials. It isn’t going to completely blow up your budget, but you are buying a quality case that should last for a long time. The price is in line with the always popular Define R6 as well and I love that Fractal does give a few color options. None of those color options are flashy, but they will all look good as long as simple and clean styling is your thing. What it comes down too is if you need more hard drives go with the Define R6 and if you want to have room to add a custom loop later the Define S2 is your case.
Live Pricing: HERE