Fractal Era ITX Review
Published: 18th March 2020 | Source: Fractal Design | Price: |
The ITX form factor is all about compromises. I think all PC enthusiasts can agree that it's incredible what kind of hardware can be fitted into this compact form factor, but that doesn't happen without compromises.
If there is one word that can describe Fractal's Era ITX, it's versatility. The ITX form factor requires sacrifices, and the Era ITX offers PC builders the versatility to choose where and what sacrifices you are willing to make.
This case isn't an Xbox Series X, and off-the-shelf PC hardware cannot fit into such a tightly packed enclosure without any downsides. You can work around every conceivable issue with ITX and create a PC case that's practically MATX in scale. You can create an ultra-compact case at the cost of cooling. The ITX form factor is all about designing a system around your specific needs, and Fractal's Era ITX is designed to be flexible enough to meet the needs of most users.
The Era ITX is what we call a medium-sized ITX chassis. You won't see this case's size pushed to the limits of reason with fragile PCIe extension cables and severe airflow restrictions. The Era ITX straightforward design, but that doesn't mean that the case doesn't have its complexities.
Aesthetically, the Era ITX is a beauty, especially with its Oak top panel and the gentle curves of the case's exterior walls. Add in Fractal's colour options, and you are sure to find an Era ITX that will suit your tastes. Note that this case doesn't feature a side panel window, but do you really need to focus on the inside of your case?
For starters, the Era ITX has an internal PSU mount, lowering the case's height by moving your power supply into your system. The good news here is that the Era ITX is flexible enough to support both ATX and SFX power supplies, facilitating component reuse from larger ATX or MATX systems while retaining the option to use compact SFX power supplies.
The beauty of Fractal's PSU mount is that it allows Era ITX users to choose where their compromises are. You can choose to have a long graphics card or 240mm radiator support, if you use a long ATX or SFX-L power supply, or with the right power supply, you could conceivably have both.
Like most ITX case designs, airflow is something that can be seen as an issue for the Fractal Era ITX, especially if you use the case's top-mounted tempered glass or wooden panels. Thankfully, Fractal has released this case with a free mesh top plate, which will facilitate more airflow. That said, we would have liked to have seen the wooden panels feature an offset, as that could act as another option for delivering increased airflow. Modders should be easily able to implement that kind of fix, and such a change is only necessary for those who want both the wooden top panel and increased airflow.
GPU-wise, the Era ITX is limited to dual-slot designs that are limited to 295mm lengths or less (depending on your PSU situation). Thicker graphics cards won't fit into this case with any room to breathe. Another factor that's worth noting is that this case cannot support bottom-mounted fans and a graphics card at the same time. Modders could add more holes to the bottom and some extra hight with new feet, but it's clear that Fractal designed this case to sit close to your desk.
When it comes to GPU cooling, users of this case should select graphics cards that are capable of remaining cool under limited airflow situations. You simply can't expect the same airflow as an ATX case from an ITX enclosure of this size. Another factor that's worth considering is the Era's restricted CPU heatsink space, which is limited to top-down coolers like Noctua's NH-L12 series, stock CPU heatsinks and other compact designs. That said, with space for 240mm or 120mm radiators at the top of the case, liquid coolers are always an option.
With an MSRP of £139.99 in the UK, $159.99 in the US, Fractal's Era ITX is an expensive case, but that's the price of having Anodised Aluminium sides, wooden/tempered glass top pieces and the other premium touches that the Era ITX offers. It is also worth considering the number of colour options that Fractal's offering. If you can't afford that kind of luxury, then this case isn't for you, but if you want to spend this kind of money on an ITX case, you better put a lot of thought into your other components.
As the name suggests, the Era ITX is a MITX chassis, and that means that some restrictions come into play. Cable management can be a chore (especially with large ATX power supplies), airflow isn't as free-flowing as larger enclosures, and the case requires a lot of prior thought to ensure that all of your components will fit correctly. That said, these are common downsides to all compact ITX case designs, making these complaints about ITX as a whole, not about the Fractal Era ITX.
So what can we say about Fractal's Era ITX? First off, it's beautiful. This case would look great in an office, living room, bedroom; you name it. Fractal's colour options will also help you ensure that this case suits whichever room you place it in. The downside is that this case requires a lot of thinking if you want to put high-power hardware in there. Like most compact ITX cases, airflow is restricted, and you will need to use components that are capable of handling these kinds of situations. You will also need to ensure your GPU, PSU and water cooling radiators are the right sizes to be incompatible in the Era ITX.
As a whole, we like the Fractal Era ITX. The design is more flexible, than many ITX offerings, looks phenomenal and offers support for both SFX and ATX sized power supplies, an uncommon feature for ITX enclosures. Even so, this case has its sticking points; factors that will be an immediate turn-off for some users. With this in mind, we have decided to give this case the OC3D approved Award.
Please watch our video review for a visual overview of this case and some potential modding ideas from OC3D's TinyTomLogan.