Computer cases are, for the most part, boring and annoying. They’re ugly, or they don’t fit your hardcore gaming components. But Swedish case and component brand Fractal Design has a new case, made for the small-and-efficient market, that actually suits PC gamers well at the same time. Fractal Design’s Define Nano S is a refined, straightforward Mini-ITX computer case that will house a high-end system if you need it to, and it will keep it cool and quiet at the same time — I really like it.
It’s small, but large for a mini-ITX box. The Define Nano S is, in essence, a (somewhat) scaled-down version of Fractal Design’s previous Define R5 and Define S. That means it is, for a case that only fits a 170x170mm Mini-ITX motherboard, quite large. Nonetheless at 203x330x400mm and 4.6kg it’s small enough to fit under your arm to carry to a LAN. Crucially for us power-hungry nerds, it’ll still fit a full-size power supply and full-size graphics card, as well as a 240mm water-cooling radiator. The case itself is wide enough to include both a 120mm and a 140mm fan in the front and rear air intakes.
It’s very easy to set up a PC inside. There are no annoying overhanging hard drive bays inside the Define Nano S, and that means placing components is extremely easy even if you don’t follow Fractal’s instructions for populating the Nano S. I transplanted an entire PC — motherboard still with graphics card and RAM, Corsair watercooling still connected and power supply still hooked up to every component — and had it settled within the Nano S within about 15 minutes. It’s a good case to work with, with no sharp edges to catch fingers on or to slice your hands.
It’s well insulated to keep your system quiet. Fractal Design has always done watercooling extremely well, and the Nano S is no different in that regard. Its side panels are sound-deadened with bitumen, and while they’re just about the heaviest side panels of their size that I’ve seen, they do an extremely good job of keeping errant hard drive whirrs, fan noise and general electrical clickery under wraps. My PC runs pretty quiet normally, in a larger case with the sides off, but boxed up inside the Nano S I could barely hear it running at all.
There’s plenty of room inside for activities. You can mount two 3.5-inch drives and two 2.5-inch drives inside the Nano S, which should be more than enough for the average user.You can fit a 315mm-long graphics card — we’re talking AMD Radeon R9 390X or Nvidia GeForce GTX 980 Ti territory — inside the case. My gaming PC — a watercooled i7, 390X, 16GB of DDR3, a 1200 Watt PSU — fits inside perfectly, without being cramped and with room to spare. Air-cooling the Nano S is a more elegant solution, but the top-mount for a watercooling radiator means you can install one if you need to.
It’s quite expensive for a mini-ITX case. The cheapest price that I could find for the Define Nano S — either with a windowed side panel or without — was $129, putting it squarely in the top end of mITX case prices in Australia. When you can buy a pretty good mini-ITX case in Antec’s $59 NSK3100, that extra price is hard to justify when it can go towards a better CPU cooler or motherboard. Whether you’re willing to pay for that extra quality, the room for specific components like watercooling, and Fractal’s excellent watercooling — that’s up to you.