Tower PC case: Fractal Design Define R4 review

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Fractal-Design-Define-R4-frontIntroduction:

Computer Takeaway has a reviewed a number of top end PC enclosures and cases over the last few years, and it's alway nice to review a case with a new take on how they should be designed. The new tower case from Fractal Design, the Define R4, has many design tweaks in comparison to the average computer case that, although not immediately obvious, make system builds and associated cable management a lot easier and more manageable.

Specifications:

Technical specifications

◾ATX, Micro ATX, Mini ITX motherboard compatibility
◾7 + 1 expansion slots ◾2 - 5.25" bays
◾8 - 3.5" HDD trays - all compatible with SSDs, 2 - 2.5" extra SSD positions
◾3 - ModuVent™ plates - two in the top and one in the side
◾7 - fan positions (2 Silent Series R2 fans included)
◾Filtered fan slots in the front and bottom
◾CPU coolers up to 170mm tall (when no fan is installed in the side panel)
◾ATX PSUs up to 170mm deep when using the bottom fan location, when not using this fan location longer PSUs (up to 270mm deep) can be used
◾Graphics cards up to 295mm in length with the top HDD cage installed
◾With the top cage removed, graphics cards up to 430mm in length may be installed
Fractal-Design-Define-R4-rear◾26mm of space for cable routing behind the motherboard plate
◾Thick rubber grommets on all holes on the motherboard plate
◾Colours available: Black Pearl, Titanium Grey, Arctic White
◾Case dimensions (WxHxD): 232 x 464 x 523mm
◾Package dimensions (WxHxD): 320 x 535 x 610mm
◾Net weight: 12,3 kg

Cooling / ventilation

◾ 1 - Front hydraulic bearing 140mm Silent Series R2 fan, 1000 RPM speed (included)
◾1 - Front 120/140mm fan
◾1 - Rear hydraulic bearing 140mm Silent Series R2 fan, 1000 RPM speed (included)
◾2 - Top 120/140mm fans - positions also support some models of 240 radiators, depending on configuration
◾1 - Bottom 120/140mm fan
◾1 - Side 140mm fan
◾1 - Integrated fan controller for up to 3 fans (included)

Front interface

◾2 - USB 3.0, 2 - USB 2.0
◾Audio I/O
◾Power button with LED (blue)
◾Reset button
◾Fan controller (behind door)

Review:

When the delivery guy came and delivered the Fractal Design Define R4 he commented on the weight of the package, and he was right! The case weighs in fairly heavy, reflecting the solid build quality and sound proofing. We reviewed the Black Pearl version of the Define R4 which is finished in a black satin finish that gives the case a business-like and professional feel.The front panel is located on the front top edge of the case, and houses four USB ports (2 X USB 2.0 and 2 X USB 3.0, if your motherboard supports them or you have an add-in card), a large LED-lit power button, a smaller rest button and audio jacks for headphone and microphone connection.

On opening the case, you can start to see where the Fractal Design team have really put thought into the overall design process, with heavy, high-density foam lined panels (held in place by thumbscrews) which really aid in noise reduction. The motherboard plate itself has clearly labelled motherboard mounting points for the different sizes that can be installed, and has a number of large, rubber-lined cable cutouts for cable management. The PSU is mounted at the rear of the case at the bottom closest to base, immediately above a large ventilation area (on which further fans can be installed), which has a removable mesh air filter that protects internal components from any dust sucked up from the underlying floor covering. 

Fractal Design R4

The HDD stack is located at the front of the case, with parts of it removable for larger graphic cards. Interestingly it is designed in such a way that it is rotated by 90 degrees to the standard setup, with the rear of the drives pointing to the sidepanel of the case, which makes drive installation or removal incredibly simple. Each drive is mounted on an individual drive tray using a screw and rubber gromit to reduce any vibrations from the drive and both 2.5" and 3.5" drives are supported. Additionally there are two further mounting points for SSDs on the rear of the motherboard plate and also the normal arrangement for installation of optical drives at the front (top) of the case.

As far as cooling goes, there are two fans pre-installed at the front (to blow air over the installed HDDs) and an exhaust at the rear of the case, with additional points to mount fans on the floor, side and roof of the case.

We installed a standard ATX board, with a large tower CPU cooler, a fairly average size GTX570 card (which didn't require removing HDDs bays) and a number of HDDs including an SSD. For our PSU we were kindly provided with a Fractal Design Newton R3 smart modular PSU (more on this in a later review). Throughout the build there was loads of room to work, with more than adequate cable management options. The cabling for the friont interface is easy to find and install, and the excellently designed HDD racking system makes drive installation really, really easy. The only slight downside we could find with the case was the positioning of the SSD alternative mounting points on the rear of the motherboard tray (call us pessimistic or lazy, but the idea of having to disassemble the whole system every time a drive goes down didn't really appeal!).

The Define R4 is really designed to be a unobtrusive, quiet case and it lives up to the brief, with the two internal fans hardly audible in a quiet room. The cooling solutions seem to work really well (when benchmarked using system monitoring tools) and certainly performed as well as other far noisier gaming cases aimed at overclockers. All of the connections and mountings are easily provided and identified in the included manual making the whole process worry-free.

Price:

£95 available from Amazon: Fractal Design Define R4 Black Pearl

Verdict:

 4.5/5 - The Fractal Design Define R4 is a superb case, providing plenty of room for builds, above average cable management options, an excellent HDD solution (although we're still not too sure about the SSD mounting points on the rear of the motherboard tray) and above all a quieter computing experience. We would highly recommend it!

Network Media Streamer: Honestech nScreen Deluxe review

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Honestech nScreen Deluxe BoxIntroduction:

Since the vast majority of video, music and photos are now stored digitally on a number of devices, from smartphones through to laptops, it is often difficult to share media away from the personal device without having either a cerntralised household server, or a some form of media streming device. We have reviewed a number of media streamers, most notably the D-Link DSM-330 we reviewed a couple of years ago which did a good job, but was somewhat limited in it's reach. Honestech have recently released their take on a media streamer, the Honestech nScreen Deluxe and this essentially, through the use of custom software for PCs, Macs and smartphones (Android and iOS), allows for media to be streamed directly to a TV via these devices.

Specifications:

PC System Requirements

  • Operating System : Windows 7®(32/64bit), Windows Vista®(32/64bit), Windows® XP Service Pack 2/3(32bit)
  • Processor : Intel® Core™ 2 Duo or higher, AMD Athlon X2 2.1GHz or higher
  • Wireless LAN : 802.11g/n Wi-Fi •Memory : 1GB of RAM
  • Free Hard Disk Space : 200MB

Mac Support

  • Operating Systems: Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard or higher
  • Processor: Intel® Core™ 2 Duo processor or higher

Smartphone / Tablet Requirements 

  • nScreen™ app (free download)
  • Android OS 2.1 or higher Apple iOS 4.0 or higher

Other Requirements

  • TV or Projector : nScreenBox™, HDMI connection for HD content or composite cable for standard resolution
  • Ethernet Cable (optional)
  • 802.11g/n Wi-Fi Router (optional)  

Contents

  • nScreen software CD
  • Hardware (nScreenBOX™)
  • Composite AV cable
  • Power adapter
  • Quick Start Guide

Review:

The Honestech nScreen Deluxe is a small, lightweight box about the size of a small router with a design that is somewhat Apple-esque in it's design (smooth white glossy lid with a silver nScreen logo). At the rear of the box is an ethernet port , USB port (for firmware upgrades), an HDMI port (output to compatible TVs), mini-AV out (for composite input on older TVs), a power button and the power supply port.

In order to use the nScreen Deluxe you simply have to plug it in to both a spare plug socket and the TV using either the composite or HDMI connnectors and push the power button on the back of the unit. On power up, a green LED lights up on the unit and a homescreen is displayed on the TV detailing the device's  current IP address and it's configured access point name. As yo may have guessed by now, the nScreen sets up it's own wireless network to which you can connect to stream media to your TV, requiring you to disconnect from your home network and therefore losing internet connectivity. Alternatively (and probably of more use to most users) the nScreen can be set as a client on your existing network by connecting it via the network port or wirelessly, meaning that you can connect to both internet and nScreen at the same time.

Honestech nScreen Deluxe UnitTo use the nScreen for it's intended purpose you need to download the server software to any device you want to stream media from. For smartphones running Android or iOS this is very simple (and free) requriing you to simply log in to the corresponging store (Google Play or the Apple App Store) and installing the software. For PCs the software is protected by a product key that is printed on the sleeve of the included CD (which we though is quite strange as we couldn't see a reason why anyone would want to pirate the software!). Once installed it's simply a case of connecting to the box either using the individual SSID and password detailed in the CD sleeve and using the respective softwares to stream (or alternatively mirror in the case of the PC software) to the device and connected TV.

In mirroring mode the visual performance is slightly reduced to 1280x720, but is certainly good enough so that TVs can be used as a second monitor for essential desktop activities (Office, email etc.). Playing video using the mirroring option however is not really an option as the data transfer rate appears to be too slow with noticeable artifacts making it unwatchable. However, using the full streaming mode video is reproduced very well and entirely watcheable in fuill 1080p. The smartphone interface is very much simpler, with a simple file browser allowing media to be selected and streamed to the nScreen Deluxe.

Price:

£129.99 at Amazon: Honestech nScreen Deluxe

Verdict:

 3/5 - The Honestech nScreen Deluxe offers a novel and simple way of streaming media and mirroring desktops to TVs without the need for physically connecting laptops or smartphones and would be ideal where space is at a premium in home use. However, in this price range Honestech are directly competing with lower-end dedicated NAS servers which can also stream media effectively, albeit requiring media to be copied to them first, and alos offer a number of other useful features.

 

 

Laptop bag: STM Nomad 15" Messenger-Style Shoulder Bag

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STM-NomadIntroduction:

We've reviewed a number of laptop bags from STM recently and the STM Nomad holds up the latest range well, with some interesting flourishes that make it stand out from the crowd. As with the other STM notebook bags we have reviewed, the Nomad provides loads of storage, is well padded and really well made and will certainly protect your prized belongings well, but is it enough to warrant the price tag? Read on to find out....

Specifications:

  • External zipper pocket to secure valuables
  • Multiple organiser pockets with space for pens, keys, cords, cables and accessories 
  • Easy access to laptop sleeve with zippered pocket on back
  • Integrated iPad/tablet pocket lined with soft nylex 
  • Comfortable shoulder pad and wide shoulder strap with cam adjuster for a custom fit 
  • Removable laptop sleeve included

Review:

On intitial inspection it is clear that the STM Nomad is made of stern stuff, with well padded, tough webbing adjustable straps and handles for carting it around, and strong, chunky fixings (buckles, adjustors and clips) all round. The material is tough, and all stitching is perfect with no loose threads visible anywhere. The main bag is accessed by opening the messenger flap which itself is held in place by two strong cast aluminium clips that hook onto loops of strong webbing to securely hold it in place.

STM-Nomad-OpenSo on to the storage...the STM Nomad has a multitude of pockets and compartments: under the messenger flap, is a large main compartment which houses a matching detacheable, well-padded laptop sleeve which has it's own handles and document pocket. As well as the compartment housing the laptop sleeve, there is a second document compartment, and additionally a soft-lined, padded tablet pocket (easily big enough to fit even larger tablets). Interestingly the main compartment can be still accessed even when the messenger flap is closed via a handy zip that runs along the full length of the bag across the flap itself.

On the front of the bag, under the flap, you also find two open pockets (one of which is soft-lined) with material dividers and a key fob, which are ideal for smartphones, mp3 players or other small appliances. As well as these are two zipped pockets (roughly A5 size) great for housing the multitude fo cables and other accessories we need to keep mobile these days!

As with all decent travel laptop bags, there is a dedicated "stationary" pocket with loads of dividers and compartments for smaller items and pens, and with the STM Nomad this is built in to the messenger flap itself, making it easy to access all of the smaller accessories you take with you (Memory cards, electronic pens, USB memory sticks etc.).

Price:

~£80-90 available from Amazon: STM Nomad Messenger Shoulder Laptop Bag

Verdict:

4/5 - The STM Nomad is a really well-designed, well-made and provides storage for not only your laptop, but also any tablet, and in our opinion will probably outlast both pieces of electronics. However, the price of this particular bag also makes it something that only makes sense to buy for the top-end of the laptop/Mac ranges.