Fractal Design Define R4 XL Computer Case -- A Wondrous Monolith
I still remember my first computer.
Texas Instruments might be best known for their calculators, but once upon a time, they built monstrous 'portable' computers. It's worth keeping in mind that the space shuttle is also somewhat portable, so don't get any ideas that this puppy was small, because it wasn't. If anything, it was like a treasure chest--huge, heavy, and full of valuable secrets that my four year-old self couldn't wait to uncover.
It was my mom's fault, really, that I fell in love with computing. Frazzled by my curiosity-driven activities, one day, she drug me downstairs, sat me down at the old, tan TI, and powered it on. "Press the buttons," she said, "and don't break anything." In a way, this was how I discovered video gaming, basking in the glow of a green-tinged monitor, navigating a cursor, which I pretended was a car
It might have been minutes, or hours, but no matter how long it was, that afternoon was one of the most important of my entire life.
Our next computer was an AST Research machine, powered by Windows 3.1. On it, I played games like GeoSafari and NumberMaze. In the years that followed, my dad bought more and more computers from a local airplane manufacturer's surplus store, and as I grew, I played more and more games. Dad bought our first gigabyte hard drive in 1996 in order for me to play Apache Longbow, and I stood there, transfixed, as he opened a computer and showed me the machine's beautiful, terrible interior. By age twelve, I was taking apart and reassembling the computers he brought from the store, as well as editing
While I might have loved computing, it did have its downside: each and every one of these computers was incredibly ugly. In twenty years of computing, I have not once seen a case that affects me on the level of, say, a Lamborghini Diablo. In fact, none of the computers I had were ever particularly good looking; most of them aging and yellowed, or featuring bizarre, almost toylike curves.
Five years ago, I built my first computer. No more second-hand cases! It was time for me to get something that looked awesome! So, of course, being in my late teens, I picked a case with as many gaudy lights, bold angles, and see-through parts as I could find: The Antec 900. It's a case that served me well, but I've matured. Today, it's minimalism that draws my eye, and... well... let's be honest: PCs look pretty bad. Always have, always will be, unless you're willing to shell out sports car-sized checks. It's why I went into my upgrade dreading what I'd find.
Getting a good case for my money? Imposs--
Well hello there.
Fractal Design Define R4 XL? Pleased to meet you! My name's Doc, and, I don't know how to say this, but... you're the most beautiful thing I've ever seen.
If ever there was a piece of sexier computing hardware, I have not seen it. The R4 XL evokes a kind of bold simplicity reminiscent of Stanley Kubrick's Monolith, from 2011. As a full ATX tower, it's big, night-black, and just... wow. Yeah. Who knew that six simple lines could prove so stunning? No nude-inspired curves here, just distinguished, elegant, Rohesian beauty. Plus, instead of the loud, jet-engine roar of a half-dozen fans, the R4 XL's remarkable solidity means that I hear little more than a satisfied purr.
...but what good is beauty without brains?
My Antec 900, as superb as it was, had the misfortune of being a mid-sized tower. While mid towers are just slightly larger than what one might find at the local electronics retailer, and thus have the advantage of being nice for small spaces, they can prove frustrating to work with, particularly when it comes to graphics cards and hard drives. As such, when planning my upgrade, I knew I wanted to transition to a full-sized tower, which the R4 XL is.
Simplistic beauty and a spacious interior were two of my requirements for an upgrade, but I had another: the case had to be easy to work with. While the spacious interior is definitely be beneficial, if there is no good cable management support, then the case might as well be a messy, mid-sized tower. Without a modular power supply, I found myself even more desirable of good cable management than ever.
The dusty innards of my Antec 900 agreed.
I'm just going to come out and say it: the Fractal Design Define R4 XL might be a mouthful, but it's also the best case I have ever seen or used. I keep trying to come up with complaints, and I've got none. "It's heavy," maybe? Bah! It's a full-sized, all-metal ATX monolith. Of course it's heavy! I might as well complain that trucks are large! It's what they are.
The door on the front is a lot better than that of other cases I've dealt with. For those of you who've never had a door on your case, this might not seem like a big deal, but believe me, it is. Whatever wizardry was used in the assemblage of the R4 XL's door must be far beyond that of mere mortals, because it is perfection. Seriously, doors should not be this awesome. They're doors! Somehow, Fractal Design makes them awesome.
Ah, wait, no, there is one flaw.
The entire case is metal. No crappy plastic anywhere! It's as if the case was forged in Vulcan's forge! And... then there are the feet. The case might be gorgeous and incredible and perfect and flawless and awesome and amazing and every other positive adjective I can throw at it, but the feet? They're these silver, plastic, flashy things. Even rubber would have been nicer! Complaining about the feet, of course, is a bit like complaining about Cindy Crawford's mole. It's a flaw that only serves to make the case more stunning.
Knowing what I know about cases, I'd be assuming that something so perfect would cost at least $300, putting it on par with similarly-featured cases, but surprisingly, the XL is only $150 on Newegg. Oddly, I couldn't find the XL on Amazon, though they do carry the mid-ATX R4, which, if anything like the XL, is worth purchasing if you're looking for a smaller case.
Much like the Monolith of Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, Fractal Design's Define R4 XL is a stunningly enigmatic piece of art. Also like the Monolith, it feels like I finally know what my computer is: a vast treasure trove of knowledge and excitement. When I approach my computer now, it's with that same, wide-eyed curiosity I felt as a child--the same feeling shared by the astronauts in 2001.
The Fractal Design R4 XL is a masterpiece of industrial design artwork, and a testament to the beauty of simplicity. It's easily a perfect ten.