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Fractal Design Define Nano S Mini-ITX Enclosure Review

Introduction

Fractal Design has reduced their excellent Define S enclosure all the way down from ATX to mini-ITX, and the Define Nano S offers plenty of room for a small form-factor case.

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Large mini-ITX cases have become the trend in the past year or so, with the NZXT Manta the most recent (and possibly the most extreme) example. Fractal Design's Nano S isn't quite as large as the Manta, but it is cavernous inside thanks to a completely open internal layout. There are no optical drive bays, no partitions for PSU or storage, and really not much of anything inside the main compartment at all as Fractal Design has essentially miniaturized the Define S enclosure.

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We have the windowed version of the Define Nano S for review here, which adds some interest to a very understated design. There is still something very sophisticated about this sort of industrial design, and I must admit to liking it quite a bit myself. Details such as the side vents for front panel air intake do add some interest, and that big window helps add some style as well (and builders could always add some increasingly ubiquitous RGB lighting inside!).

Continue reading our review of the Fractal Design Define Nano S enclosure!!

Before moving on we'll take a look at the specifications and features of the Nano S:


Specifications

  • Motherboard compatibility: ITX
  • Expansion slots: 2
  • Storage bays:
    • 2x 3.5" HDD/2.5" SSD positions
    • 2x 2.5" dedicated SSD unit positions (fits SSDs up to 13mm thick)
  • Cooling:
    • 6x Fan positions (1 Fractal Design Dynamic GP14 140mm fan + 1 Fractal Design Dynamic GP-12 120mm fan included)
    • Filtered fan slots in the front and bottom (ejects from the front of the case)
  • Clearance:
    • CPU coolers up to 160mm in height
    • ATX PSUs up to 160mm deep (shorter PSUs recommended for easier cable management)
    • Graphics cards up to 315mm in length with front fans mounted (Cards wider than the dual slot bracket are not recommended) 
    • 17 - 35mm of space for cable routing behind the motherboard plate
  • Case dimensions (WxHxD): 203 x 330 x 400mm
  • Case dimensions - wtih feet/protrusions/screws: 203 x 344 x 412mm
  • Net weight: 4.6 kg
  • Case volume: 26.80 litres

Features

  • Velcro straps included for easy cable management
  • Both side panels and rear HDD/SSD brackets feature smart captive thumbscrews
  • Dense sound dampening material on front and right side panels; left side panel includes a transparent window
  • ModuVent on top of case for further silent computing or additional ventilation

Thanks to Fractal Design for providing the Define Nano S for our review!

First Impressions

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The Define Nano S is the spitting image of the larger Define S, and if you liked the understated look of that enclosure then you'll like this, too.

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There are no drive bays to interrupt the front panel, and the case has straight lines and a simple rectangular shape.

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The top I/O panel includes the usual USB and audio

There's a large window on the side panel, and sound-reducing insulation on the inside of the solid panel opposite, as well as inside of the upper panel.

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That upper panel is both insulated and removeable; a necessity if you choose to use the upper fan mounts.

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Around back there's a 120 mm fan mount (with pre-installed exhaust fan), the mITX standard 2x expansion bays, and an ATX power supply mount.

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The bottom of the enclosure sits on four shiny silver (plastic) feet with rubber pads to add grip and prevent vibration.

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The enclosure's air intakes (front, bottom) include sturdy filters, and the bottom in particular is extremely easy to access. Unusually, it slides out from the front of the enclosure. (Our Editor-in-Chief heartily approves.)

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The bottom fan filter slides out the front of the enclosure. Convenient!

Finally, we'll glance at the included hardware pack, which offers separate bags for the various screws.

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Next we'll take a look at the interior of the Nano S and try out a system build.


June 6, 2016 | 04:22 PM - Posted by Mobile_Dom

I still do not understand the reasoning behind large MiniITX cases. this is barely smaller than my Fractal Core 1000 which supports MicroATX boards.

I'd have loved for the Nano S to be an impossibly small MiniITX case like the N-Case M1, but alas, it seems to not be the case

(no pun intended)

(well, maybe a little)

June 6, 2016 | 07:08 PM - Posted by Sebastian Peak

I keep waiting for an M1 alternative from a company like Fractal to make it affordable. At such a small size aluminum construction (such as the NCASE M1) would be less important, and it could be made less expensive.

I agree that this is close to the size of the Core 1000 (I reviewed the similarly-sized Core 1100 a couple of years ago), but the Nano S is in a different class. Better materials, better interior design, and compared to what I've seen in the past two years this is priced very competitively at $69.99. It's not a budget case, and Mini-ITX is a more expensive platform, of course; a case like the Core 1000 is more economical beyond the initial investment.

June 6, 2016 | 07:22 PM - Posted by NamelessTed

There are a lot of other differences though. I believe the Nano S is a bit higher quality in terms of overall construction, sounds dampening material and cable management with gromets, etc. It also has a bottom mounted PSU, different front panel I/O, no 5 1/2" bays, etc. A lot of this stuff is preferential.

The Nano S is also catered towards water cooling and has greater compatibility than the Core series. If somebody wants to build the smallest single-GPU system with a full custom water cooling loop the Nano S fits the bill more than the Core.

Not to mention watercooling in the Core removes HDD mounting options. And the Nano S has filtered intake in the front and bottom, something the Core doesn't have.

June 8, 2016 | 03:16 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

The Core 1000 is 175 x 355 x 420 mm (26.1 L). By comparison, the Nano S is 203 x 330 x 400 mm (26.8 L). Now, the Nano S can do a lot of things the Core 1000 can't, for sure, just not hold an mATX mobo.

Keep in mind that Fractal Design also has the very slim Node 202 as well as the shoebox Node 304/Core 500. They're offering a traditional mini tower-sized ITX case in the Nano S here, but they do cover other grounds too, unlike some competitors. Though nothing as space-efficient as the NCase M1 or DAN Cases A4-SFX.

June 6, 2016 | 06:56 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

I was hoping this would be an option as a NAS box. Looks like Lian-Li Q25B is still the best option.

June 7, 2016 | 12:41 AM - Posted by johnc (not verified)

Umm. The power supply blocks air flow to the GPU.

Wouldn't it be better to have the GPU on the floor and the PSU somewhere else? Like up front or on top?

June 7, 2016 | 07:46 AM - Posted by PC Gamer E Ever (not verified)

I love this case but am amazed at all the reviews that fail to point out, when using a stock cooler on a GPU there is a limited air flow space due to how close the PSU sets to the GPU.

When I did my build I used an SFX PSU to make sure there was a real opening there so the GPU could get proper airflow. This is a simple fix and yet no one actually talks about it.

Also the side window is crap. The material they use to keep cost down is VERY easy to scratch. Again something that is not often discussed. With an ITX case, that can be used for LAN events and thus would travel and be prone to scratching I would think this would be important.

Finally a note on the SSD mounts. I used dual SSDs and the mounts are positions so tight to the back of the motherboard that is the cabling passed under the power mount the fit is very difficult to make solid. This is a minor gripe that could have been fixed by moving the SSD mount outward a 0.25" more from the back of the main board.

Now this is not to say this is a bad case, for the money this case is an awesome budget option and my first choice for a low cost ITX build. However the lack of any meaningful and through reviews on this case is disturbing.

June 7, 2016 | 09:00 AM - Posted by Sebastian Peak

I would say that showing the ins and outs of a case, and then testing that case with both liquid and air CPU coolers (not to mention the installation of a 240mm AIO liquid cooler on the upper and front intake mounts for reference, which are not included in testing and included simply to show fit), with thermal and noise performance data provided for each cooler setup, including GPU temps with both options, is "thorough".

As to the GPU clearance, it's not an issue or I would have noted it. There is a small gap between the PSU and half of the GPU, yes; though a gap nonetheless. This would be hardly ideal except for the fact that the other half of the GPU is completely unobstructed. My dual-fan R9 290X performed just fine for a small enclosure.

June 25, 2016 | 11:24 PM - Posted by hara (not verified)

How is it possible for the GPU temps to be 13c on idle and CPU temps at 1.6c with air cooling?

July 25, 2016 | 11:19 PM - Posted by woowoo8473 (not verified)

In the graphs, it says "temperature over ambient" that you know how hot it will be in your situation

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