With M-ATX motherboards offering more features and capabilities and so becoming ever more popular it necessarily follows that manufacturers will begin to focus more of their attention on enclosures that will enable the consumer to take advantage of all this M-ATX goodness in a case that doesn't take up half the desk.
Having reviewed both the XL and the Midi R2 we were excited to get our hands on the ARC Mini R2. Smallest of the ARC fleet, but by no means the smallest case from Swedish Manufacturers Fractal Design who also produce a range of Mini-ITX HTPC focused cases. Although able to accept the M-ITX board, the ARC Mini is primarily designed around the M-ATX form factor. It does though have a few more tricks up it's sleeve than simply being a smallish case.
Power Supply Support
ATX up to 170mm Depth
Maximum GPU Length
260mm with Top HDD Cage Installed
PCI Expansion Slots
4 + 1
External 5.25" Drive Bays
External 3.5" Drive Bays
Internal 3.5" Drive Bays
Internal 2.5" Drive Bays
6 using 3.5" Drive Bays
Front I/O Panel
2 x USB 3.0
Removable Motherboard Tray
CPU Mounting Hole
484mm x 210mm x 405mm
1 x 120mm Silent Series R2 Fan (space for 2)
1 x 120mm Silent Series R2 Fan
1 x 140mm Silent Series R2 Fan (space for up to 2 x 140 or 2 x 120)
option for 1 x 120mm Fan
Space for 240mm in Front up to 272mm in Height
1 x Fractal Case
Up Close: Exterior Overview and Roof
Cases with decent sized windows are always appreciated here at OC3D. There are a few exceptions of course. If a case is designed to have a low sonic footprint then then a window would be detrimental. Thankfully Fractal design also produce the Define series of silent cases leaving the coast clear for the ARC series to have a nice piece of slightly smoked acrylic occupying the greater part of the left side panel. The presence of a window, more oft associated with balls out gaming cases does not however detract from the overall elegance of the Mini. With only simple mesh panels, a pair of 5,25" bay covers and a front I/O breaking up the otherwise clean lines.
Practically the whole roof of the Mini is given over to a large mesh panel. The panel is removable for cleaning as we'll see when we get to the stripped section .
The front I/O is situated on the front edge of the roof and consists of the usual pair of USB3.0, audio, power and reset. There's also a 3 speed fan controller up here which rather than being marked "High, Med and Low" is actually marked with the relevant voltages having 5v, 7v, and 12v embossed on it
Up Close: Exterior Front, Rear and Base
Although plastic the removable front fascia has both the look and feel of brushed Aluminium about it. So well is the effect carried off that in the writing of this review we've just had to go and check that it isn't in fact actually brushed Aluminium. The two 5.25" bay covers blend so well with the lines of the case that they are barely discernible.
The front intake grill and combined filter are removed easily for cleaning, revealing a single white bladed R2 fan underneath. Should you want to add another there's a second set of mounts underneath.
Round the back and things are largely as we would expect. There's another R2 fan here along with a set of grommeted tubing holes (Manufacturers, if your case has good water-cooling support please stop doing this). Below this there are 4 PCI slots for Motherboard attached devices and a single vertically mounted slot for expansion devices such as lighting controllers that do not require motherboard attachment. All the PCI covers are vented and finished in a contrasting Gloss White.
A large easily removed mesh filter covers roughly 2/3rds of the base of the case ensuring cleaner air for bother the PSU and floor mounted fan position. The case stands on four half chromed rubber feet giving a firm foundation without it sitting too low.
Up Close: Interior Overview and Drive Bays
Although not perhaps the biggest CPU cut out in the world the one in the Mini should be large enough for modern CPU back plates. The cable management holes are also quite small. There are however plenty of them (Six to be exact). They are well distributed and they are all rubber grommeted. You might be thinking that if you go for a smaller mobo and a smaller case you'll have to compromise on CPU cooler height. Not so with the ARC Mini, as 165mm of headroom is more than ample for all but the most comedy large coolers.
The two 5.25" bays are not of the tool free variety. What? You mean we're going to have to get a screwdriver out? That's it, we're leaving...Seriously guys, does it really mater? How quickly are you likely to need to get a 5.25" device out of a case? The bays though are only enclosed on 3 sides, the reason for this we would think is it leaves the roof area free for longer rads to extend into, but as the optical bays have to be removed if you want to stick a 360 up there this can't be the case. Despite being a Mini Tower Fractal have still managed to shoehorn 6 full sized 3.5" drive bays into the front.
The bays are divided into 2 racks of three with the top rack being easily removed by means of thumb bolts. The bottom rack can also be removed but you'll need to whip out that screw driver again. Removal of the HDD racks ups the max GPU length from 260mm to 400mm.
Up Close: Base, Rear, Roof and Reverse
The base of the case is able to accept ATX PSUs up to 170mm in length with a fan installed in the floor location. Without the fan, any PSU up to 220mm will be fine. As we saw from the outside there are 4 white vented PCI slot covers, with an additional vertically orientated slot for non mobo expansion devices.
As well as a rear 120mm fan Fractal have put a 140mm in the roof on extract. We almost wish this was a 120mm model which would give us the option of swapping it to a front intake should the urge take us, but as it is it's much appreciated. The roof itself is a spacious place, with mounts for up to 3x120mm fans or a brace of 140mm units. if you want to add that third 120mm fan you are of course going to lose the optical drive bay also.
Behind the Motherboard tray is where it's at for us, we're kinda odd like that. There's plenty of room back here with the majority of the reverse side having 18mm of space, and some recesses a little more. Fractal actually give the depth of space as 20mm but we feel 18mm is more reflective of the true amount available. But who's going to quibble over 2mm
A feature we're starting to see a little more often is the presence of stealth SSD mounts behind the motherboard tray. We like the idea, but of course it does require skilful cable management and a good selection of well distributed cable tie points to work the necessary wiring into the loom. Thankfully with 10 cable tie points the Mini doesn't disappoint. Along with the usual management holes running down the side of the mobo area Fractal have also put in a set of rubber grommeted holes up near the roof, perfect for the 8 pin CPU and numerous fan cables.
The roof of the case is removed by simply releasing a few screws along the upper rear edge. Doing so allows the roof to be lifed off allowing access for cleaning and hardware installation. By now the beady peepered amongst you will have noticed offset and elongated screw holes which can mean only one thing. Native water cooling support. The un-beady peepered amongst you will have hopefully picked this up in the Technical Specification section.
The front fascia can also be removed, but this time all that is required is a firm tug on its underside lip. Flipping it around shows the installed 120mm is actually attached to the fascia as opposed to the chassis so you're going to have to unplug any fan cables to get it off. Just worth remembering before you loom them in so tight you can't get the door off!
Thankfully the front I/O stays with the chassis, which will make things a lot easier. There's a lot of wires exiting this compact little unit which will need to be managed out of the way if you're intending to put a device in the top 5.25", or anything else such as the end of a 360mm rad that might intrude into this area.
Aside from the remaining HDD rack which is easily removed by undoing some screws in the base, there's nothing else obscuring the front of the case. This we hope might leave the door open for some seriously thick rads.
Although the Mini is badged as a small case you'll still be able to fit any tower cooler up to 165mm in height which should be fine for most needs. As usual for comparison we've shown it here with the NZXT Havic 120, which as you can see looks perfectly proportioned in there.
And so to water cooling. Fractal say you can fit a "thick or thin" rad in the roof of either 280 or 360, but let's look at exactly what will and what won't fit and why. The first critical measurement to look at is the distance from the edge of the motherboard to the roof. In the case of the Mini R2 this is 50mm. At first view this isn't enough to fit in any of the decent 240 or 280mm based AIOs on the market as both the Kraken X60 and the H100i both come in a few millimetres over this minimal distance. Ok you could say that few millimetres won't make any difference and you may well be right but as it happens you're not going to have to worry because as we observed earlier the roof mounting holes are actually off-set to bring the Rad and fan assembly away from the motherboard, and as such the X60, H100i should fi just fine.
The amount of space available is not however unlimited, being determined mainly by the height of motherboard attached hardware and components. Below we've popped in our trusty XSPC RS240, which at 35mm thick is about average for a thin radiator. It's certainly entirely possible to put a 360 of this thickness in but remember you will need to remove the 5.25" bays to do so.
With the roof mounting holes being off-set there's another critical measurement that needs to be taken into account when calculating just how thick a rad you can get away with, and that's the off-set distance of the holes from the surface of the motherboard, in other words the maximum height of a component on or attached to your motherboard that lies within the plane of the radiator. Remembering that all motherboards vary and that rads also have varying widths, as a guide we'd say if you're using a 120mm rad based system the max height of motherboard hardware allowable is 50mm. Tall RAM is the item most likely to cause interference so to help we've shown some more ordinary stuff below. along with a few measurements. This RAM is 32mm tall, protruding 35mm from the motherboard surface when inserted. As you can see the measurement from the top of the RAM to the edge of the fan/rad is 15mm, so anything taller than 50mm on your mobo in the area of the Rad/fans is going to cause a conflict.
The roof isn't the only place a rad will fit in this case though. Removing both sets of HDD racks and the plastic plinths opens up a considerable space up front, in fact you've got 155mm to play with so a huge thick rad in push pull is an option. As always though there are a few provisos. If you don't want to lose your 5.25" bays the maximum length of the radiator mustn't exceed 272mm. The Radiator must be based on the 120mm fan and must also have 15mm screw spacing as there's no slotted holes up front. The 272mm max length might seem quite an arbitrary figure, that is until you look at the lengths of the 240mm AIOs and rads out there, most of which come in just above that magic number. So if you're looking to put a rad in the front it's pretty much garunteed that the 5.25" bays are coming out.
In the introduction we talked about the increase in popularity of the M-ATX format and the resulting increase in the number of quality enclosures that are designed to accept it. We say quality because since Noah was a lad there have always been M-ATX focussed cases, most of which were very cheap OEM bargain basement affairs, barely able to support their own weight let alone the hardware inside.
The ARC Mini R2 is most definitely not a cheap OEM affair. The feeling of quality starts from the moment you open the box and continues all the way though as you strip down the case to its bare chassis. The level of finish on the outside of the case is top notch, in particular the brushed Aluminium effect front which being carried off so well that in writing the review we actually had to go back and check it was in fact plastic and not Aluminium.
There's also plenty of room inside the Mini R2. Two banks of removable and configurable HDD racks at the front give storage for up to 6x3.5" or 2.5" drives, and there's certainly enough for GPUs up to 260mm with the upper HDD rack in place or 400mm with it removed. CPU coolers up to 165mm can also be housed.
It's also nice to see that along with the large side panel window Fractal Design have been thoughtful enough to include rubber grommets in all their cable management holes. It seems obvious to you and I that the sort of person who buys a case with a window in is looking to show off the interior of their case, and as such will want to make their cabling look as clean and minimalistic as possible. However you wouldn't believe how many cases there are out there, some of which we've reviewed recently that have a window but no grommets on the management holes.
Building into the Mini R2 is a relatively straightforward job, things are a little tight between the bottom of the motherboard and the PSU as can be the case with M-ATX builds but if you make sure you insert your GPU last you should still have ample room to work with. Cable management options are excellent, and although the holes are a little on the small side they are plentiful and well distributed. Where it's by no means unusual to have a space at the top of the case to pass the 8 pin CPU power cable through Fractal have actually put two up there , both of which are grommeted. Behind the motherboard there's 18-20mm of room for your cables and 10 well-spaced cable tie points, so there should be no excuses for shoddy cable management. While we're back here it's also worth mentioning the brace of SSD stealth mounts situated below the CPU cut out.
Having read the whole review (what? Well go and read it then...) you'll know that along with the usual 120mm rad based AIOs in the base and rear, the Mini R2 has native water cooling support for larger rads both in the roof and in the front. A 360mm rad can be placed in the roof if you're willing to sacrifice the pair of 5.25" bays provided, and with the screw holes in the roof off set there's a bit more than the indicated 50mm of head room available. As with all off-set mountings there are far too many provisos and measurements to be summarised here, so if you're interested head back over to page seven for the detail. Should you decide that roof mounting a rad is not your bag then you could always whip out the HDD racks and pop in a 240mm rad. Again there are provisos. If you want to keep the 5.25" bays the rad will need to be under 272mm long. Now this might seem fine until you look at the rad lengths of the AIOs out there and realise that pretty much all of them are a good few millimetres over this measurement. Cast your eyes over a selection of 240mm rads and again you'll notice that each of them is between 2-6mm over this upper limit. All of which means in simple terms that if you want to put a 240mm rad in the front the 5.25" bays are going to have to come out. It's almost as if Fractal didn't bother to look how long most 240 rads were when they addressed this element of the case interior. Shame really, for sake of a few more millimetres things would have been so much better.
Although the ARC Mini R2 is designed to take the smaller M-ATX boards, at 210x405x484mm (WxHxD) it's actually still quite a large case. If we're going to be making the change from ATX to M-ATX, and manufacturers are going to offer us feature packed performance in, as Fractal put it, a " Minimalistic" chassis design then we think it's fair to expect that package to be...well.. Small. This is especially pertinent when you consider the likes of the new M-ATX version of the Prodigy, and of course the new Phenom M. Both of these cases offer water cooling support and both of these cases offer much of what the ARC Mini R2 does, only in a much smaller package and at a very similar price.
Comparing the Mini to its bigger full ATX capable brother the ARC Midi you'd be surprised to learn there's actually only a small difference in size between them, with the midi being just 2cm wider 5.5cm taller and 3cm deeper. The Mini isn't the only M-ATX case to compare badly in this respect though with the Corsair 350D being smaller than a full ATX by only a few centimetres here and there. Now take a look back through some of our more recent ATX case reviews and you'll note when looking at such cases as the 230T and the 330R that the Mini R2 only gives up a few centimetres to each of them.
None of this actually makes the Mini R2 a bad case though, it's just worth mentioning that if you're looking for something really small you might want to look elsewhere. If you like the looks of the Mini R2 and aren't that fussed about achieving the smallest footprint possible then the case has a lot to offer. Sadly it isn't perfect with a few indicators that a bit more thought here and there, especially around the water cooling options would have made for a much better option. Having determined that the Mini R2 is not that much smaller than a good many ATX cases the next problem it has is that it also happens to be priced very similarly to a good many very capable ATX cases, with its own big brother the Midi R2 in particular standing out as offering excellent if not better value.
Thanks to Fractal for sending the Arc Mini R2 in for review, you can discuss your thoughts in the OC3D Forums.