Fractal Design Era: Good looking case, too hot?

I starter building my new small form factor PC by selecting a key component – a case. It is a bit unusual to start with a case before making decision on other key components like CPU and motherboard. But at around the time I started looking at ITX cases available at the market, Fractal Design released their latest case – ERA ITX. I really liked the design, and it just got stocked in Australia, so I ordered a new case.

Fractal Design Era ITX is really good looking case, with sleek lines, built out of anodized aluminium with smooth finish, further emphasized by top panel that is made of real wood or tempered glass (depending on colour). Design certainly stands out among most other small factor PC cases and does look different than boxy design of other Fractal Design cases. Era ITX is available in five colours – Cobalt Blue, Carbon Black and Gold come with black tempered glass top, while Titanium Gray has Walnut and Silver has White Oak wood top. I liked Silver + Oak but it was not available at that time, so I opted for Titanium + Walnut combination.

While I was waiting for my order to be delivered, a number of articles reviewing the case popped up online. They were overwhelmingly positive on the aesthetic aspects of the case, but there were some concerns that case design does not provide sufficient airflow for good cooling. One of the most critical was video review posted on Optimum Tech You Tube channel, where due to bad internal design and overheating they simply called ERA – an ITX disaster.

Optimum Tech is good and trustworthy channel, and their review raised some valid points. But since I already got my ERA ITX case (based on looks, not thermals), I am confident that I can make it work with my configuration, hopefully without thermal issues. There are a few key parts of that plan – I’ll get the best CPU cooling that I can fit in the case, use shorter graphics card to leave more space for the air intake, install exhaust fans on top of the case, get a motherboard with good VRMs, and Platinum-graded power supply to increase efficiency and reduce thermal waste. I could go with liquid cooling, where ERA ITX design could help having space on top for dual 120 mm radiators. However, I decided to make it work with air cooling.

 

This review of Fractal Design ERA ITX is based on my initial experience with unboxing the case and preparing it for the computer build. I will discuss assembling experience and performance once I complete the build.

ERA ITX comes in a cardboard box that contains the case and a small accessories box. Accessories box includes two case covers – the fancy cover depending on colour scheme (glass or wood), and metal mesh cover. Accessories box includes another small box, with power supply screws (4x), motherboard/2.5’’ drive screws (20x), cable ties (5x) and 3.5’’ drive screws (8x).

Case has removable sides, which requires some initial force to be pulled out, starting from top of the case. Removing and returning sides back is easy, as there are no screws. While aluminium is material of choice for case externals, inside it has a solid iron frame. There is a cross-section on each side with perforation to help with air flow, and removable dust filters. On top of the case, there is a plastic frame with large dust filter, that can be also removed. Case cover goes on top, with magnetic mount – so no screws again. This allows to easy change from wood/glass top to mesh panel, when needed to help with better airflow and cooling.

On front of the case, there are 2x USB 3.0 ports, 3.5 mm audio/mic connector, and one USB 3.1 Type-C port. Having USB-C on front is quite convenient, but many ITX motherboards don’t have Type-C header. So if you plan to use front Type-C port, check if your motherboard can support that.

Even though it has “ITX” in product name, ERA ITX has more space inside akin to more “a bit grown up ITX” case. It supports the compact SFX power supplies and slightly longer SFX-L, but can also accommodate larger ATX PSUs (up to 200 mm in length). With ATX power supplies being typically cheaper than SFX, that can help with saving some costs. But with ATX power, case can accommodate just one 3.5’’ drive, compared to two 3.5’’ HDDs supported with SFF. Or in case of 2.5’’ drives, with SFX supply you can install up to 4x SSD drives, and 2x with ATX. Which is probably more than anyone needs. Larger issue with using ATX power supply is that it is using more space in a case and can decrease airflow resulting in worse cooling.

Another aspect of “grown up ITX” case internals is that ERA ITX can accommodate motherboards that are slightly larger than mini-ITX form factor (6.7 × 6.7 in, 170 × 170 mm) and can support some mini-DTX motherboards (8 × 6.7 in, 203 × 170 mm). Mini-DTX boards are rare, but possibility to accommodate slightly larger motherboards became convenient for my build. At the time when I ordered the ERA ITX case, I still have not selected the motherboard. But later I decided on getting the best motherboard for my Ryzen configuring, which turned out to be a board in mini-DTX form factor – Asus ROG Crosshair VIII Impact (I will write more on that motherboard in separate review).

Overall, first impressions on Fractal Design ERA ITX look and build quality are very positive. There is a concern on whether I can make it work without being too hot. And whether all selected components will fit together, as that is always the big unknown with custom small form factor PC builds.