Fractal Design Define Nano S Mini-ITX Case Review

Fractal Design's Define Nano S offers the same look and feel as its larger counterpart, but can it still deliver when it comes to performance?

Fractal Design's newest case brings the clean look and water cooling oriented design of the Define S to the mini-ITX form factor. The Define Nano S is intended for those who want to create the ultimate mini-ITX build but don't want to sacrifice the performance or silence they get with their larger builds. 

While the case seeks to balance size with silence, it seems to put more of an emphasis on silence. Coming in at 13.5" high by 16.2" deep, it's not exactly the smallest mini-ITX case on the market, but it makes up for its larger size with a rich feature set and a well-thought-out build area. The Nano S also improves upon the sound dampening of its larger counterpart with added dampening on the top and front panels in addition to the right panel, and the left panel on the windowless version.

Specifications

Exterior

The front panel connectors are positioned squarely on the top panel at the front of the case, and are easily within reach regardless of which side of the case you're sitting on. The front panel includes two USB 3.0 ports, headphone / mic jacks, a reset button and a power button. Both the power and reset buttons feel very sturdy and respond with a positive click when fully depressed. A small cutout below the power button exposes the blue power LED, which not only lights up a ring around the power button but also doubles as the hard drive activity light.

The top of the Nano S comes covered by default with a removable panel featuring Fractal's ModuVent sound dampening technology. Once removed, the Nano S supports the installation of either a 120mm or 240mm radiator for water-cooling, or up to two 120mm fans for better ventilation. The mounting holes for either cooling option are positioned very far to the side and should provide ample motherboard clearance for large radiators.

The back panel of the case includes a vibration dampening, foam-lined cutout for PS/2 power supplies, as well as an oversized mount for a 120mm cooling fan or an optional 120mm radiator. Like the larger Define S, the Nano S also lacks ports for external liquid cooling options.

The bottom of the Nano S features a removable dust filter, which pulls forward out of the front of the case for easy removal without having to disturb the case at all. There's also another dust filter installed on the front of the case, however that filter requires that you remove the front panel of the case before the filter can be removed.

Interior

The interior of the Nano S provides ample space for most mini-ITX builds, and includes an extensive amount of water cooling support. The case comes with predrilled holes towards the front of the case for mounting reservoirs, with a maximum distance between screws of 270mm vertically by 80mm horizontally.

The Nano S also includes a special mounting bracket on the bottom of the case, which supports many D5 and DDC pump variants. If a standalone pump isn't installed, the pump bracket can also be used to install a 3.5" hard drive in place of the pump; alternatively, it can be moved behind the right side panel where it can be used to install an SSD or 2.5" hard drive.

The interior of the case also features Fractal Design's asphalt sound dampening sheets on most of the internal panels including the top, front and right panels. Users that option for the windowless version of the Nano S also get sound dampening on the left side panel.

The front of the Nano S comes with a preinstalled 140mm fan, which is removable for the installation of radiators up to 280mm in size.

One of the pros of the Nano S is how much space is available behind the case's right panel for cable management and the installation of accessories. The motherboard tray includes a sizable cutout that not only allows for easy access to the back of the motherboard, but also doubles as a place to install two SSDs or 2.5" hard drives up to 13mm thick. There's also plenty of hardware for cable management including several preinstalled hook and loop tie downs, as well as several anchors for using the included zip ties.

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36 comments
    Your comment
  • SinxarKnights
    Aww it's so cute! Looks like a mini Define R5!
  • atheus
    115832 said:
    Aww it's so cute! Looks like a mini Define R5!

    Or perhaps a smaller Define S? Like.. a nano S?

    To the author: regarding what you forgot to install — you forgot to install the water cooling components this case is designed for.
  • CaedenV
    So cute! I am still a few years out from my next build, but it will certainly be something similar to this. Just need enough space for a mobo, short tower cooler, psu, and a gaming gpu. ODD sits on the desk under the monitor, and the m.2 SSD will be bolted to the mobo, so there is no real need for a case with drive space any more.
  • Onus
    I like this one! I might be inclined to use more drives though. What if I wanted a system SSD, pair of RAID1 data drives, and an optical drive?
  • firefoxx04
    If you want hard drives and optical drives, this isn't the case for you.
  • SirGCal
    I love the Fractal cases. But for a non-optical case (not for me) and no large storage array inside, this case is huge.
  • Wow. When does it come out? Where will I be able to get one?
  • Quote:
    Wow. When does it come out? Where will I be able to get one?


    Nevermind. Comes out March this year. Can't wait! This will be the perfect case for my mini itx build.
  • jtd871
    It's almost 30L in volume! "A bit oversized for a true mini-ITX case", indeed!
  • atheus
    So many comments on the large size of it. The large empty space in the front of the case is where one would put the pump, reservoir, and a large radiator for a full-blown custom loop. That's the entire raison d'etre for this case, and what makes it very awesome. For a no-compromise water-cooled single GPU gaming rig, this is the one.
  • Flying-Q
    Notwithstanding the proprietary PSU, I still think the EVGA Hadron Air is better than this. Even taking that tiny EVGA PSU into account I prefer the Hadron.
  • nucasnucas
    Is Tom's out of hardware? :) Seriously, where is a water-cooling setup so we can see the options available? And more storage besides the SSD? Please do better next time.
  • LOLROFL
    Still too big for itx, fail.
  • sylentz199
    Anyone have any advice on how I could cram 5 drives (2.5" or 3.5") into this case. That looks like alot of room between the front of the case and the mobo.
    I want to setup a mITX Plex Server. I've got everything pretty much spec'd out but can't find a good tiny case to use. Most of the cases that can handle 5 drives are really mATX not mITX.
  • Onus
    The Lian Li PC-Q08 can take five 3.5" drives plus a 2.5" drive, plus a 5-1/4" drive.
  • Moneyd623
    Quote:
    Anyone have any advice on how I could cram 5 drives (2.5" or 3.5") into this case. That looks like alot of room between the front of the case and the mobo. I want to setup a mITX Plex Server. I've got everything pretty much spec'd out but can't find a good tiny case to use. Most of the cases that can handle 5 drives are really mATX not mITX.


    Node 304 Supports 6 drives I believe, and they can be either 3.5 or 2.5
    http://www.fractal-design.com/home/product/cases/node-series/node-304-black
  • Onus
    If you can use 2.5" drives, keep in mind that there are brackets that let you mount two of those in one 3.5" bay.
  • cmiconi
    Quote:
    Is Tom's out of hardware? :) Seriously, where is a water-cooling setup so we can see the options available? And more storage besides the SSD? Please do better next time.


    It's called a control variable. We try not to change any of the hardware between case reviews so that we have a consistent baseline to judge all of the cases against.

    However, I will look into the possibility of getting some additional equipment so that we can more effectively demonstrate the features of some of the cases in the future.
  • zorrolovedj
    I like TT core V1 more?It's more beautiful!
  • Adhmuz
    Well, the SG10 is smaller and fits a mATX motherboard, two 3.5" drives, four 2.5" drives and slim optical, and again that's all while being in a case that has only 23 Liters of space. Not to mention it supports full size heatsinks, dual GPUs and looks much better IMO... This is, well a nice try, but too big, I don't see why you would want to put yourself through such misery trying to cram a custom loop in a box so small when a full sized heatsink can do the job just as well for the current generation of efficient CPUs. Also your limited to a select few good ITX mobos...
  • atheus
    247281 said:
    Well, the SG10 is smaller and fits a mATX motherboard, two 3.5" drives, four 2.5" drives and slim optical, and again that's all while being in a case that has only 23 Liters of space. Not to mention it supports full size heatsinks, dual GPUs and looks much better IMO... This is, well a nice try, but too big, I don't see why you would want to put yourself through such misery trying to cram a custom loop in a box so small when a full sized heatsink can do the job just as well for the current generation of efficient CPUs. Also your limited to a select few good ITX mobos...


    For starters, the SG10 can't fit all that stuff plus a custom loop, which you are evidently aware of since the second part of your post is an amusing claim that big air performs just as well as a custom loop. If this were true, then you would have a point. Needless to say, there's a reason for water cooling to exist, though, beyond looking cool. If you don't get that, then this case is not for you.

    Fractal Design makes other cases for people trying to go tiny with air. This is for something else.
  • 2Be_or_Not2Be
    Atheus,

    Adhmuz' main point is that the SG10 fits a ton more in it while being a lot less in volume. Not sure why you're pursuing the "can't fit in a custom loop" tangent. Busting on water vs air cooling is also a red herring.

    I agree - for a case that has the word "nano" in it, it sure isn't as small as expected from the name.
  • atheus
    1396902 said:
    Atheus, Adhmuz' main point is that the SG10 fits a ton more in it while being a lot less in volume. Not sure why you're pursuing the "can't fit in a custom loop" tangent. Busting on water vs air cooling is also a red herring. I agree - for a case that has the word "nano" in it, it sure isn't as small as expected from the name.


    ...because the whole point of this case is custom loop water cooling - as is the Define S that it's based on. If that were not part of the design, then the whole front 40% of the case wouldn't be there, or it would be filled with drive bays or something useful, not just empty space. You think they put that big empty front section of the case just because they couldn't figure out another way to fit a long graphics card? This is why I took issue with the article stopping at demonstrating its performance on air. While it's nice to know, if you're just doing air and also go out of your way to build itx, this case would be a very strange choice, because yes, if you're not actually planning to use that space for a reservoir, pump, and a big fat radiator, then it certainly isn't all that compact.

    It's like looking at a pick-up truck and saying "well it's not all that compact". People buy pick-up trucks because they need the big empty bed in the back to put things in. If you don't need it, then obviously you shouldn't be looking at pick-up trucks.
  • Adhmuz
    395779 said:
    ...because the whole point of this case is custom loop water cooling - as is the Define S that it's based on. If that were not part of the design, then the whole front 40% of the case wouldn't be there, or it would be filled with drive bays or something useful, not just empty space. You think they put that big empty front section of the case just because they couldn't figure out another way to fit a long graphics card? This is why I took issue with the article stopping at demonstrating its performance on air. While it's nice to know, if you're just doing air and also go out of your way to build itx, this case would be a very strange choice, because yes, if you're not actually planning to use that space for a reservoir, pump, and a big fat radiator, then it certainly isn't all that compact. It's like looking at a pick-up truck and saying "well it's not all that compact". People buy pick-up trucks because they need the big empty bed in the back to put things in. If you don't need it, then obviously you shouldn't be looking at pick-up trucks.

    And exactly, this review was not of a water cooling setup, great the case supports it, but the review was not about that specifically. The case was tested with air cooling thus I compared it to a superior chassis that does as good if not better while being able to fit more hardware, not including a custom loop, heck if you knew the case I was mentioning you'd know it's not a case for water cooling. Had I wanted to refer to a comparable case that does water cooling with a similar volume I would look at the Corsair 250D, again a better solution than this IMO.

    You used a great example, it's like reviewing a pickup truck with a fifth wheel by pulling a small hitch mount trailer, not exactly using it to it's full potential. Your gripe should be with the guy who wrote the article and didn't bother testing the case in the proper scenario. I was just pointing out a better solution for said scenario...