Fractal Design ARC XL Review

hornybluecow - 2013-09-17 20:37:19 in Cases
Category: Cases
Reviewed by: hornybluecow   
Reviewed on: October 8, 2013
Price: $129.99

Fractal Design ARC XL Introduction:

Today we take a look at Fractal Design ARC XL full tower, which marks the first product review of a Fractal Design case here at OverclockersClub. Fractal Design is a Swedish based company that has popped up in North America this past year. It has been steadily growing while moving into the power supply and computer case markets. Currently priced at $129.99, it's the largest chassis under the Fractal Design ARC series. Fractal Design falls right in the middle of the competition compared to other full towers price-wise. So far I have heard nothing but good things about this company, so let's see what all the fuss is about.

Fractal Design ARC XL Closer Look:

Let's look at the box! It's important to remember not everyone has things shipped to their home or know exactly what they want. When it is shipped, it's often squashed and bounced around. This is why companies need to protect their product. If a customer is checking it out at the store, the company also should provide a good deal of information on the outside. So here we have it, a simple brown box with the brand and model number in giant letters. Each side of the box is different and you will need to turn the box around to see everything that is written. The front is an accurate ink outline of the chassis. One side lists specifications for different configurations, which is also listed on page five. On the opposite side is a small ink outline of the inside of the chassis with the serial number and barcode. Lastly the back has a blown out diagram of the computer chassis with a list of eight majors features the chassis has to offer. These include features like multiple hard drive bays, and USB 3.0 and advance water cooling support, each written in English, German, French, and Spanish.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once the box is open we are able to take a peek at the packaging. The case is held in place with the standard Styrofoam on the side. Normally that would be enough for a light chassis, but this one is a bit heavier weighing in at 30lbs (13.8kg). As you can see in the picture below, the box has a bit of a bend in the middle. Nothing was damaged but maybe Fractal Design can add something on the sides to avoid a potential issue. Removing it from the box wasn't an issue; it came out smooth enough.

 

Fractal Design ARC XL Closer Look:

After removing the plastic wrap you can see the clean black finish. On the box itself there was only a very small print specifying the color. This is something Fractal Design may want to address for the store consumers. Looking at the chassis, you can see the left side panel, which includes a large tinted side window without a fan mounting option. The right side panel is solid without a window. Next, the front side has four exposed 5.25" bays with a mesh covering a 140mm fan, while the back has nine expansion slots, a 140mm fan, and space for a bottom mounted power supply.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The top of the case has some of the best features. These features include a removable cover, built-in fan controller, and advanced cooling options, which I will go into detail later in the review. The top also houses two USB 3.0, two USB 2.0, and audio and mic jacks, along with the power button. On the bottom of the case there is a large removable plastic air filter, which gave a bit of a fight coming out. Simply pull at the end and wiggle until it loosens up and slides out.

 

 

Looking at the front, you can see a metal mesh that doubles as an air filter. To remove the filter simply press both top corners and it pops right out. It's worth noting that both the filter and locking mechanism is made of plastic; this is something I am not fond of and disappointed to see because of the possibility of it breaking eventually. Behind the filter is an already installed 140mm fan along with the option for a second 120/140mm fan (screws included).

 

Moving along, once you remove the top mesh, you can see the bare bones. The top comes off by removing two thumb screws at the back. After that is done you are able to install an assortment of fan options all the way to a full 360mm radiator (covered on page four). By default a 140mm fan is installed near the rear fan.

Fractal Design ARC XL Closer Look:

Removing the side panels wasn't as intuitive as it could have been. Normally after taking out the screws holding the panel in place, it's a simple matter of tugging built-in handles. After removing the screws, I realized Fractal Design took a different approach. Instead of handles you either have to use your palm and push the panel off or pull the top back corner out, then use that as a makeshift handle. Neither worked very well and It left me disappointed that this problem could have been avoided completely with a notch or a handle on the side panels. Inside you can see eight 3.5" HDD bays via two removable cages. Being a full tower has its advantages and without removing a cage you have 13" (330mm) for a video card and a whopping 18.8" (480mm) with the top cage removed. I cannot imagine needing that much space and it's a safe bet that you still can use all eight bays even with the longest video card on the market. This chassis is very spacious with nine PCI expansion slots for the largest motherboards. Officially Fractal Design supports up to E-ATX/XL-ATX specifcations, but SSI EEB could fit if you are okay with missing a few mounting screws. Finally you have four 5.25" bays, which is enough for the everyday user and two SSD mounts on the back of motherboard tray.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Each hard drive bay is made of solid metal with mounting options for SSDs and standard hard drives. Each bay has rubber standoffs that use a special type of long screw (included). I was able to use normal screws, but they are not meant for the rubber holes and only good in a pinch. Next you can see four 5.25" bays that require screws. This is a bit of a step back from most cases I have seen. Every company is going the route of tool-less design. For the most part, I have a screwdriver in my hand anyways, which defeats the conveniences of tool-less design.

 

 

Behind the motherboard tray are two dedicated 2.5" SSD mounts. This is great if you only have an SSD and want to hide the wires. The placement is also well thought out because not many left over wires get pushed into the corner, in fact I've never used the area before this computer case. Installing the SSD wasn't much of an issue but because of the depth, a screwdriver may not work for some people. Luckily Fractal Design thought of this already and made the SSD mounts thumb screw compatible.

 

 

 

In the picture below we see how the case wires are routed, with a bit of extra room on top to spare. I am happy to report that these cables were all long enough for a standard ATX motherboard. Even the fan wires are long enough to reach the built-in fan controller if you plan to use it. If it is hard to tell what is in the jumble of wires, let me list what they are. Starting at the top, from left to right is the 5v/7v/12v fan controller, headphone and mic jacks, power button, two USB 3.0, and lastly two USB 2.0. The power button is built solid. I did not feel I could break it by pressing hard or that it would fail anything soon. Moving on, the lights are a bit bright for me. Dimming it down would have helped. Once again not a huge deal; I have seen much brighter lights in the past.

 

 

 

 

Inside one of the hard drive bays was a long black box containing all the screws along with a few zip ties. At first I thought the company was overdoing it or added one too many bags of screws, but they all can be used. Fractal Design was even kind enough to include four long screws for another front mounted fan. The case also includes a paper manual and a warranty sheet explaining what to do in case of defect. Usually I overlook manuals as I am a handy guy. This time I could not because the manual includes only four pages in English explaining nothing more than the outside of the box. I became a bit annoyed finding out more about the case from trial and error than information inside the manual. I first opened the manual trying to figure out how to remove the side panels, then again when I wanted to install the SSD. I use manuals for guidance and to make sure I'm using the correct screws for mounting motherboards and hard drives. For a chassis that is very well built, I am surpised to find you will come across an assortment of screws and a bit of confusion where they go. I know a few people that this would not go over well with. I understand most people who are building a computer from scratch will not have issues with lack of information, but to some this is a huge problem.

 

If you worry about how much space is available for wire management, you are in luck. This case has 1" (26mm) of space in the back! Because I am not using a modular power supply, I run into this space problem often. "Where do I hide the wires?" and "Can they overlap?" are questions I ask myself every time. Even with all the extra wires I was able to put everything behind the motherboard tray. This is great and makes me extremely happy to see a company thinking ahead.

 

Here it is! Assembly was very simple and a pleasure to do. Normally I have something to complain about but honestly other than bit of confusion about which screws to use, it was an easy install with plenty of space to hide any leftover cables. If I have to nitpick, I would have liked to see the side window without a tint to it.

 

Fractal Design ARC XL Advanced Features

Normally a chassis does not require a page dedicated to all its extra features, but this time I felt it was necessary. Fractal Design has made it very clear on its box, website, and manual that a big selling point is the assortment of water cooling and fan support. First let's start with the basics, which are the removable hard drive cages. Removing the top cage was a simple matter of two thumb screws and then it slides out. Both cages can be oriented in different directions to suit your needs. The bottom cage requires you to move two screws from the front after you pop the plastic cover off, then on the bottom is four more screws to remove. I suggest, unless you really need to reorient the bottom cage, it may not be worth the effort.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The top has a wide support for fans and radiators. Installation of the Corsair H100i didn't cause any problems. The ability to install push/pull configurations or thick 60mm radiators is great! Unfortunately you cannot have it all. The only way to use push/pull is with a 240mm radiator, because Fractal Design added mounting holes higher up to avoid hitting the motherboard. If you use a 280mm radiator or Corsair H110, it will be a close fit and then using 25mm fan will be the only choice.

 

Here you have it! I have set up custom water cooling in the past and I have spent half my time looking for a chassis that fits my needs. Using parts laying around, I installed a thick 360mm radiator on top and a slim 240mm on the side. This only represents one of the many configurations possible. Yet certain configurations could cause potential problems. On the box and in the manual, Fractal Design states it only supports slim 360mm radiators. While you can technically install thicker ones, you can run into a fan mounting problem where the fan won't fit between the radiator and the motherboard. Be warned: either use a slim 360mm radiator or prepare for some modding. Aside from a triple radiator, the options to mount a 240/280mm is a better and easier option.

Lastly, to place a 240mm radiator on the front requires you to relocate both hard drive cages. This was also a breeze to accomplish but a bit of an odd looking setup. If you have an E-ATX motherboard, expect some troubles. The motherboard pictured below is a standard ATX with the hard drive cage barely clearing USB and I/O connectors at the bottom right. Anyone with a larger motherboard will either have to give up the hard drive bay or use a radiator on top, rather than the front.

 

Fractal Design ARC XL Specifications

Case Type
Full Tower
Dimension
232 x 572 x 552 mm (9.1 x 22.5 x 21.7 inch)
Side Panel
Transparent Window
Color
Exterior & Interior : Black
Cooling System
Front (intake) :
1x 140 mm hydraulic bearing 140mm Silent Series R2 fan (included)
1x 120/140mm (optional)
Rear (exhaust) :
1x 140 mm hydraulic bearing 140mm Silent Series R2 fan (included)
Top (exhaust) :
1x 140 mm hydraulic bearing 140mm Silent Series R2 fan (included)
2x 120/140mm (optional)
Bottom (intake) :
1 x 120/140mm (optional)
Material
Metal
Drive Bays
Accessible : 4 x 5.25’’
Hidden : 8 x 3.5’’ , 2 x 2.5’’
Expansion Slots
9
Motherboards
ATX, Micro ATX, Mini ITX, E-ATX, XL-ATX
I/O Ports
USB 3.0 x 2, USB 2.0 2x, HD Audio x 1
PSU
ATX PSU up to 345 mm deep (optional)
LCS Compatibly
Front – 240 mm radiators (thick and slim) when HDD cages are repositioned or removed
Top – 240mm radiators (thick) or 280 and 360mm radiators (slim)
Bottom – 120mm radiators
Rear – 120 and 140mm radiators
Other
CPU cooler height limitation: 180mm
VGA length limitation: 480mm

 

Fractal Design ARC XL Features


Information provided by:  "http://www.fractal-design.com/?view=product&category=2&prod=116"

Fractal Design ARC XL Testing

Testing a chassis requires the computer to stay at idle and load for one hour. Doing so will give you an idea of what your computer may be like under stress. Normally your computer will not be running this hot, but we do not all live in cold weather or do similar things. Therefore, a full stress test can give people the idea of what it can handle and whether or not heat gets trapped over time. The case is left with stock features to give you an idea of the temperatures without the need for extra fans. It's almost guaranteed to have a slight drop in temperature when more fans are added, but that will not be covered unless noted. I will be using Prime95 "small FFTs" for the CPU load and 3Dmark Vantage "Extreme preset" for GPU for one hour. After an hour the temperatures are recorded using HWMonitor in Celsius (°C).

Setup:

Compared Cases:

 

 

When I first powered up the ARC XL, the temperature stayed a few degrees lower than usual, but after letting everything warm up and idle 30 minutes, the temps returned to what is expected. Under load the CPU did very well due to two 140mm fans at the top and rear of the chassis. The GPU was a bit of a oddball, at times it would hover around 79-81 °C but finally setteling at 81 °C. Adjacent from the GPU is a pre-installed 140mm fan with the ability to install a second fan, along with a bottom mounted option. Anyone looking to set up multiple video cards are completely covered with plenty of airflow.

Being such a large chassis, hot air isn't becoming trapped since by default the case has a negative pressure setup. This is a good thing but one thing to consider is the type of video card being used. Blower-style coolers will have no problems pushing hot air out, while dual fan styles that blow air onto heat sinks may run a bit warmer. The simple solution is to add a fan next to the power supply blowing air up, which is a great way to cool all the components. Lastly, the motherboard was running a tad warm, but nothing extreme.

Fractal Design ARC XL Conclusion

Let us recap my reasoning and scoring method before diving into the my final words. First I look at what the company is saying it offers. For example, say the company states the case supports large / long graphic cards or ten quiet fans. In this example, I examine what is advertised versus what is actually offered. Most of this becomes uncovered as I take pictures to document the product. If the company does not stay true to its word, then it loses points because no one ever wants to be sold on false advertisement. Next I look at what the product is marketed for and put it into perspective. An example of this could be trying to overclock a CPU in a Mini-ITX case and expecting a low temperature. This would contradict its target market and something I try to catch so it does not affect the score. The last bit is my own interjection. What could the case offer in its price range, and what do other companies offer. This category may include an extra fan, cable management, different color paint, or support for larger video cards. This list is endless so let's move on to the conclusion.

Fractal Design surprised me with the care put into all its features, so before I say my final words, let me explain the pros and cons. Starting with the cons, I do not have much to say in all honesty. Normally I could write pages of things to correct but my issues with this chassis are 100% nitpicks. The panels were a bit of a pain to remove without getting my grubby fingerprints all over everything. The solution is to either add a notch or real handles on the back; hopefully this will be in a revision. Next up is the completely useless user manual! What can I say, I gathered more information from its brochure on Fractal Design's website than in this manual. Companies like Corsair and Cooler Master have simple, fold out manuals explaining all the screws and where they go. That to me is the bare minimum and it was annoying trying to find information that should be included. Last on the list is the front panel lights. You can ignore this if bright lights do not bother you, for me though, it does.

With a good amount of pros I am only going to focus on what really sells the product to me. First up, water cooling, need I say more? This chassis is amazing with its vast options for any sort of configuration you can think up. It does have its limits when setting up push/pull or thick radiators though. Next, my favorite topics: internal cables and cable management. I am sure people are tired of my complaints involving cable lengths. All this is solved now with a company that actually thought ahead! Fractal Design's choice to include 1" (26mm) of space behind the motherboard tray was also a great idea. This alone really pushes the case towards stardom. I cannot count how many times the only option I have is to tie all the loose wires and have them block an air intake fan.

Onto the finale! Fractal Design has blown me away with its vast options of fan placements, sizes, and water cooling support. Normally price would be an issue since I am a bit of a cheap person, but this chassis is built very well and has everything a full tower needs. In fact, if it wasn't for the small issues I would recommend this to everyone and make this my standard of what a well priced full tower should be.

In the end though, the Fractal Design ARC XL comes up a little short, but is still very good. Anyone who is not into water cooling will only benefit from the extra fans and wire management. I personally am adding this case to my permanent collection for a future build. If you are finding it hard to spend $130 on a computer case, I do not think you will regret this one. You cannot ask for a better built chassis at this price and even if all the extra features are not used, it's still worth the admission for quality and care alone.

 

Pro:

 

Cons: