The Fractal Design Array R2 Mini-ITX computer case could be used as a power workstation computer case and is best suited to NAS, Network Attached Storage.
Update 2012: After using the R2 for various projects, I dumped the case in the bin. The reasons are added in the relevant sections.
Feature number one is space for six regular 3.5" disks and one 2.5" SSD. The SSD, Solid State Storage, gives you a super fast disk for your operating system and work files. The six regular disks can use the current common cheap 2 TB SATA disks in a RAID 5 array to give you 10 terabytes of reliable storage. This is an ideal configuration for endless video files.
The size of the case and the disk spacing are a nice fit for three to six data storage disks. If you need only two disks, there many other choices including a nice quiet Antec case.
Update 2012: The cables from the power supply to the disk are too short to easily use 6 disks. I had to add extensions to use all 6 disks.
The main cooling fan is an almost silent 140 mm fan at the front blowing over the disks then the motherboard and power supply, giving you a cool quiet computer. There is no washable filter which means continuous use in a dusty environment will clog up the fan, increasing the temperature and the noise because the fan will have to work harder. You might want to maintain the initial efficiency and low noise by opening the case every year and vacuuming out the lint.
Update 2012: The power supply fan is too noisy for use in your office. The fan starts out quiet when you have few disks and little processor activity. If you fill the full six disk slots with high performance disks then run something using all six disks, the power consumption drives the power supply fan at a whiny high speed. The same happens with a medium speed i5 processor running full blast for 30 seconds or more. The poer supply is too noisy at full speed.
I tested the R2 in another room as a pure backup device but the noise was loud enough to hear at night. The low cost of a larger Antec case with a quiet full size power supply is cheap compared to the aggravation from the noise.
If you need disk size but not disk speed, there are some new high capacity slow low power disks that will let you use six disks while consuming only the same power as two high performance disks. Down at that level of power consumption, the power supply noise is less of a nuisance.
The power supply is only 300 watts, eliminating this case for use in running games with complicated graphics cards. Video editing does not require that level of graphics power. Practically nothing else uses that level of power. The few games that I play on computers tend to be less power hungry than the advertising graphics on Web sites and a 300 watt power supply is adequate.
The 300 watt power supply is rated as 80 PLUS, making the power supply more efficient and more flexible that an old style power supply of up to 450 watts. 80 PLUS means the power supply uses less power into the power supply to generate a given power out of the power supply. If any of your computers have power supplies that are not rated at 80 PLUS or better, replace the computer or power supply. The 80 PLUS rating is one of the few indicators of a genuine improvement in technology.
There are now ratings higher than 80 PLUS but power supplies with the higher ratings are not yet common.
An 80 PLUS power supply reduces the overall load while becoming more flexible about how it is delivered. Power supplies have separate wires for +3.3 volts, +5 volts, +12 volts, -5 volts, and -12 volts. Old power supplies generated all the supplies separately. If your computer needs a lot of +3.3 volts, your power supply might have to be huge to meet the demand and waste a lot of energy generating unused power at all the other voltages. An 80 PLUS power supply is more flexible and wastes less overall power.
The power supply is an SFX format and can not be replaced by a regular ATX power supply. Either locate an SFX supplier or be prepared to replace the whole case if the power supply fails.
The power supply fan is too noisy when you use the power supply at full power. Conventional ATX power supplies are available with quiet 120 mm fans. The fan in a 550 watt ATX power supply runs at a very slow speed when driving the disks and motherboard from the R2. Some of the newer ATX power supplies are 85 PLUS, giving you a 550 watt power supply consuming slight less power than the 300 watt R2 power supply.
The case is 250 mm wide, a little wider than a regular tower case and narrower than a desktop case. The width will make little difference on the typical desktop or shelf.
The case is only 200 mm tall, making it easier to fit on many bookshelf style shelves, compared to tower cases.
The depth, the length from the front to the back, is 350 mm which is a little bit shorter than a regular tower case. The depth will rarely make a difference between fitting and not fitting. Book shelves are usually 300 or 350 mm in depth, which is too short for the Fractal case plus the cables sticking out the back. Storage shelves are usually 500 mm, deep enough for the regular computer case. The Fractal case would only make a difference on 400 mm shelves where the Fractal case will fit but normal PC cases will not fit.
A 400 mm shelf is the type of shelf where you can fit large coffee table style books and magazine filing boxes. The R2 is close to perfect for that type of shelf. Given the extra height available on those shelves, the R2 could be a few mm taller to fit an ATX power supply. Keep the current power supply with a small adaptor plate. If the current power supply breaks, or is too noisy, you could then take out the power supply and fit an ATX power supply.
There are no side fan vents, a great big advantage because you can place the case sideways on a shelf and the depth is then only 200 mm which will make the case fit on many shelves that are not deep enough for a tower case.
The weight is only 4.1 kg because of the aluminium case and the few internal features. The case is still a reasonable weight when loaded up with disks.
There are no instructions for assembly or use. Almost everything is obvious if you have assembled other computers.
The case is make of thin metal with small screws. You would not want to frequently reassemble the case. Use for stable machines, not experimental machines and test servers.
The SSD screws straight on to the disk carrier plate and must be installed before you install all the other disks. Be careful with assembly of the disk array when you have the SSD installed.
The power supply blocks access to the motherboard. Remove the power supply if the motherboard is installed and to need to work on the motherboard.
The most common motherboard size is the ATX size and you can build anything in the ATX size including high end games machines and video editing systems. The next size down is the Micro ATX for everything except games machines using multiple graphics cards. The Fractal Design Array R2 case uses the Mini-ITX size, a step down from the Micro ATX size and is severely limiting for desktop or server use. You have to check if a suitable motherboard is available before committing to the case.
The case can accept seven SATA devices but Mini-ITX motherboards often have only 4 SATA connections. There is only one expansion slot in a Mini-ITX motherboard. If you use the one expansion slot for extra SATA ports, you have no other expansion options. I built my NAS using just four disks, the SSD and three data disks, to keep the expansion slot open for a future decision.
You can get processor chips with and without built in graphics. If you choose a processor without built in graphics, you need the one expansion slot for a graphics card and cannot use it for extra SATA ports or anything else. I used a processor chip with built in graphics.
Mini-ITX motherboards have one network connection. Servers are often fitted with two network connections to allow a backup through an independent network or to act as a firewall or some other form of network interconnection. You would not use a Mini-ITX motherboard in this case for a firewall style device because the extra network connection, through the expansion slot, would stop you using six disks.
The Mini-ITX motherboard restricts you to a few applications including a NAS device. The large number of disk slots makes the case fit a NAS device. The lack of other facilities in the case limits the case to use for NAS.
This case also accepts the Mini-DTX size motherboard giving you two expansion slots instead of one, but Mini-DTX motherboard are almost non existent. ECS produce a Mini-DTX motherboard for the Intel Atom chip but the board has only a 100 MBb Ethernet connection and just two SATA connections. You would immediately flood all the expansion slots with a network card and a SATA card, leaving you with less expansion options than a decent Mini-ITX board.
There is little packaging used and it is mostly recyclable cardboard. One big plastic back is used and the bag could be recycled if it was LDPE or similar but is not marked for recycling. There are two small plastic bags used for components where only one small resealable back is needed.
The power supply meets the recent 80 PLUS standard. There are new 85 PLUS and 90 PLUS standards arriving now. You should demand 85 PLUS power supplies in all products from 2011 onwards.
The main cooling fan is temperature controlled, reducing the energy used to drive the fan.
This is a good case for a small server needing a larger number of disks. Update 2012: The power supply fan is too noisy for use in your office if the processor is running full speed or you are using many high power consuming disks.