Fractal Design Define 7 Compact Review

Whether you are looking for a new build in the near future or it’s come to the point in time where you just feel as though your PC’s innards deserve a new home, it always seems to be that we spend a seemingly disproportionate amount of times scrolling through available cases on Amazon before finally picking one we like the look of and one that has great reviews.

Well, spoiler alert, you are going to be adding the Fractal Design Define 7 Compact to that list. This could well be the place you house all your expensive components for the next couple of years, and with good reason.

From the moment the box arrives at your door in the hands of a courier who clearly expected it to be lighter, you can tell that this is going to bear all the hallmarks of Fractal Design’s high-quality. Even the box is well made with cardboard so thick I struggled to bend it to fit into the recycling bin. There is very little danger of this case getting damaged in transit.

The two-person job it took to ease it out of the packaging complete (it really does fit tightly in there), you can instantly feel a smile on your face. The dark lines and brushed aluminum front panel show that this is a serious case that is not going to look out of place in any setting.

A distinct lack of plastic, massive front-mounted RGB fans, and go-faster gaming stripes mean this is a grown-up PC box. The version we have at PC Guide is the light-tinted tempered glass offering, but options include a darker tint, or a steel side if you want to maintain the mystery of what components you are packing deep inside.

We like the tempered glass though and a quick peer inside gives a first impression that carries through – this is going to be easy to build with.

Fractal cases are well-liked for a reason. They are packed full of little features that might only save you a second here and there but just increase the user experience tenfold.

Check the price of the Fractal Design Define 7 Compact here

Removing that side panel – which comes with a sticker warning it is made of glass and not plexi, used to be a bit of a nuisance. It’s not long since we were reaching around for a screwdriver, then came the advent of thumbscrews and now we have the ability to just pull on a tab and see the side magically come apart.

If that all sounds like a disaster waiting to happen, especially when the side is made of tempered glass then fear not, Fractal has come up with a solution where you would have to be the clumsiest of PC builders to shatter the side panel. A quick pull on the release mechanism frees the top of the panel, then you can pull the rest of it away, but all the time the glass is held in a discreet lip at the base preventing it from just dropping out. A feature definitely missing on some Corsair cases I have seen recently where gravity can certainly get the better of you.

Once released you can just lift the panel away and you would have to physically drop it at this point to break it. It’s a remarkably elegant solution. Not one you might use often unless you are constantly tinkering inside, but remember when I said about just improving the overall user experience?

The Define 7 Compact joins it’s two larger range-mates the Define 7 and the Define 7 XL and completes a trio that covers all needs and bases.

The name rightly suggests that this (so far) is the smallest of the three but it is still comfortably large enough for a good ATX build and hits a compromising sweet spot that doesn’t take up all of your available desk space. The XL, for example, is a huge case. My courier should be thankful it wasn’t that he’d had to carry all the way from Sweden.

For me, the Compact is the right size for any mid-tower I am intending to build. It might not be perfect for custom water loops or mammoth SLI builds, but for the vast majority of us out there, it is Goldilocks dimensions-wise. Just right.

But it is so much more than that. The Define 7 Compact is marketed as a quiet case. The steel panels all have sound-dampening bitumen stuck to them. So if you are not the kind of person who enjoys seven fans roaring like a jet engine every time you load Call of Duty, this could be for you. If you go for the option of the second steel panel rather than the glass you will kill the fan noise further still, but that is a trade-off you need to consider aesthetically. If your PCs guts aren’t important to be shown off and a quiet, non-intrusive build is your aim, forego the tempered glass and you can pretty much sleep in the room with the PC turned on.

This makes it a great option for a media center or home server build. I’m eyeing it up to replace my Frankenstein of a Plex server,.and it will just about silence its every breath.

Not everybody will be overly bothered about stopping all fan noise though and a unique selling point of the Fractal Define cases is their modularity.

In the box there is another box (exciting!) and this contains a second top panel that you can interchange with the steel panel it ships connected to. Pop the existing panel off and replace it with the new one and you change not only the look of the case but the purpose.

The second lid features patterned, cut out ventilation down the whole length, perfect if you need some extra cooling capacity for your rig. Again you are sacrificing the sound-proofing, but for gaming purposes with a decent GPU, it’s a great option that maintains the sophisticated look but gives you the benefit of better thermal performance.

There is an argument that you are perhaps paying for an extra bit of steel you very well may not use, and it could be an option like the glass panel, but sometimes over the course of a lifetime, cases get re-purposed and this, to me at least, means it is less likely to end up in landfill as it could easily go on lead two separate lives while it is in your home, one as a media center and one as a games PC, depending on how your needs change.

This secondary top panel comes complete with good quality dust filters, which are replicated throughout the unit. A full-length one can also be found underneath and also if you pop off the front aluminum panel you can get at the clever filters that cover the intake to give them a clean.

The air intake is through the gap between the front and sides of the case. There is no door here like in the Define 7. It doesn’t need one to be fair. If you want to get at the filter, you just pull it off and pull them from the front panel. It is the ability to pull off the front, sides, and top independently from each other which makes this such an interesting proposition. You can literally get at any part of your build with the minimum of fuss

Connectivity

The top of the front panel contains five USB ports, two USB 2.0, two USB 3.0, and a USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-C which is nice. There are also jack inputs for headphones and mic and between all of this is a nice size brushed power switch as well as a tiny reset button that is sunken down so you don’t accidentally catch it while you are plugging anything in.

Construction-wise the case is completely solid and nice features are dotted around that you will discover as you build. Thye backplate around the PSU is attached by a couple of thumbscrews so you can remove them and easily slide your power supply in and out if you need to clean its fans. The fact you can do that without dismantling the entire machine means it is likely to at least get done inside every five years!

If you are looking for some liquid cooling and want to pop an AIO in there you can fit a 360mm one at the from on a 240mm from the roof.

Elsewhere fan, er fans, can fit up to seven 120mm units inside which is surely plenty in a build this size, or you can mount four 140mm instead to keep the noise down a bit.

The case comes with two fans in the package, a 140mm at the front, and a 120mm at the rear but there is no included fan controller like in the other models in the series so just attach then to your motherboard headers.

Importantly in this day and age, the length of GPU the case will take is 360mm which should just about be enough for anything on the market right now, including triple-fanned beasts. Graphics cards have to stop getting longer at some point, so this should be fine for some time to come.

In any build the problem, certainly if you have a glass panel is cable-management. Some people don’t care but beyond looks, it is obviously important for your airflow, and having a snakes nest of thick cabling everywhere doesn’t do your components and good.

Fractal cases have always been great for this and the Define 7 Compact is no different. Wide channels on the rear of the motherboard tray are perfect for fitting pesky wires, and with the included velcro ties and a few well-placed zip ties you should be able to tame the unruly beast, put the side back on and forget about all your hard work.

Some cases can be a pain in the rear to get things to go where you need them to be but I didn’t have any such problems with the Define 7 Compact the build went flawlessly.

It’s clear that Fractal Design knows how to think a good case through. Everything seems to be constructed from the point of view of the person who is actually going to put their parts into it.

It may fundamentally be a metal box that holds the more glamorous bits, but as I said right at the start, we spend a lot of time choosing the right case for our build and you can rest assured that if you choose this one, you will have made a great choice.

Verdict

The Fractal Design Define 7 Compact is a top-drawer case that brings the latest in case-tech to the masses at a good price. The word Compact is slightly misleading as this is not a small case by any means, just smaller than its siblings but all the space inside has been thought through, and with everything being so easily accessible inside, make it a joy to work with.

It looks great and the fact it has the modular ability to convert from a soundproof one to one with better cooling is a nice touch, although it means, whichever way you choose to go, you will have a spare slab of metal lying around the place that won’t know what do do with.

Its contemporary look means it will fit in any setting – there is nothing garish here – as we said in the review this is a grow-up looking case.

The tool-less features make it super-easy to work with and the spacious interior makes putting together a serious-specced PC and keeping it looking good,  simplicity itself.

If this isn’t top of your list for your new build already, you need to think again.

To check the price and buy the Fractal Design Define 7 Compact at Amazon click here.

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Been around consoles and computers since his parents bought him a Mattel Intellivision. Spent over a decade as editor of popular print-based video games and computer magazines, including a market-leading PlayStation title. Has written tech content for GamePro, Official Australian Playstation Magazine, PlayStation Pro, Amiga Action, Mega Action, ST Action, GQ, Loaded, and the Daily Mirror. Twitter: @iampaulmcnally

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