Fractal Design Define XL Black Pearl Case Review

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Building inside the Define XL

Installing a system in the Fractal Design Define XL was a little challenging as you will be able to see.  While this case is on the upper end of what most would consider mid-tower specifications the layout makes it feel smaller than it is.
Fractal XL insalled
Right away you notice the intrusion of the top mounted 180mm fan into the working space of the motherboard.  This forced us to run the secondary ATX power all the way across the top of the motherboard instead of having a port in the area.  Maybe it was this reviews chubby hands, but that space is very tight to get that to plug in, at least with this mobo.  The second thing we noticed was across the bottom the motherboard is snug up against the separator plate between this zone and the PSU zone.  Again the cables were challenging to get plugged in and the cables have no where to go but across the bottom of the board.  We would have gladly given up the top two HDD racks to move that separator down and provide a bit more breathing room around the motherboard.  We also would have flat mounted the 180 mm top fan and just vented out the top to give back those extra inches.
Fractal XL cooling zones
These are the three cooling zones Fractal talks about with the Define XL.  It still isn’t clear where the air entering zone two exits if you leave the door to zone three closed.  Also be aware that long PSU’s are going to have a problem since the rear most HDD cage is riveted in.   Also if you have a long PSU notice the pass through hole will be covered by the PSU making cable routing very challenging.
Fractal XL PSU Zone
This is a close up of that area so you can get a better feel of how tight it is down there.  Notice the two red plugs for our GPU not plugged in.  There was not enough run on them to make it from the GPU down to the PSU we used and we didn’t have any PCI-E power extensions handy.
Fractal XL installed back
On the back side we didn’t spend any time to clean up our cables even though Fractal provides many zip tie mount points to do so.  In all reality our cables were barely making the distance so there was not enough length to zip them to anything.  You can even see the ATX extender we plugged in to make it around the 180mm fan.  Depending on the cable length of your PSU your mileage will vary.
Space behind Mobo Tray
Even though this is a rather large case, Fractal only gives you 1/2 inch behind the motherboard tray to run cables.  When you consider the heavy sound deadening pad on this panel you get no extra wiggle room.  Even with the few cables you see here the panel fought us a little bit to seat right.

Another thing we wanted to point out, while our PSU cable lengths prevented us from fully powering up the system, we did play with this top mount fan a bit out of curiosity.   Just based on the back of the hand test it did not seem to move all that much air.  It is very close to the rear fan which does not have this unique ducting for better air flow.  Being a 180mm fan it runs very quiet even with the case open.  In concept it seems like it might be a good idea, but in practice it probably would be better as a blow hole fan and give up the minimal noise this fan creates.
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