PC Components

Fractal Design North XL test – more space in the woody north

When Fractal Design launched the North onto the market, it really hit the spot. A classy-looking case with wooden elements in the front, a good airflow and some other interesting features. However, as was the case with many other case series from Fractal Design, it was to be expected that a larger XL version and/or a smaller version would be launched at some point. At least the XL version has now been made ready for the market. And we can take a closer look at this case in the Fractal Design North XL test and also compare it with the regular version. For whom is the XL version worthwhile or who should rather go for the “normal” size?

Specifications

Dimensions 503 x 240 x 509 mm
Weight 9.7 kg (mesh side panel) / 9.5 kg (glass side panel)
Included fans 3x Fractal Design Aspect 140 mm PWM
Maximum GPU length 413 mm
Maximum air cooler height 185 mm without or 155 mm with fan bracket
Possible front radiators 120 / 140 / 240 / 280 / 360 / 420 mm
Possible top radiators 120 / 140 / 240 / 280 / 360 mm
Possible rear radiators 120 / 140 mm
Slots for expansion cards 7
Possible mainboard sizes E-ATX, ATX, mATX, Mini-ITX
Price € 182.95 *

Packaging and scope of delivery

  • Secure, robust packaging
  • Mesh version comes with optional fan bracket

Wow, that’s a big package that has arrived here. Sure – the box of the Fractal Design North XL is rather unspectacular. But despite the shipping-related quirk, the packaging is very secure, as the case is also held in place by a thick layer of foam. This means that there is not only impact protection in all directions, but also enough air to the box itself. After lifting it out, the manual was wedged between the underside of the case and the foam. The accessories – screws, spacers etc. – the accessories – screws, spacers etc. – are in an additional box in a 3.5″ hard disk holder.

The mesh version of the case also comes with a fan bracket that allows fans to be placed directly behind the mesh side panel.

Lüfterhalterung in einem schwarzen PC Gehäuse
The fan bracket can be used behind the mesh side panel – or removed

Design

  • Very similar appearance of the different models at first glance
  • Different finishes possible with mesh and glass side panel
  • Black version with darker wood and brass accents
  • White version with lighter wood and steel accents

At first glance, there is hardly any difference between the original North and the XL in the Fractal Design North XL test. Stylistically, they are very much in the same direction, but the new case is larger. The front has a cover with real wood strips. In the original version there were 10, in the XL version there are 11. Otherwise, the design aspects are the same. The feet, the button and the front panel connections have an elegant brass look, while the majority of the housing is black. Or white – depending on the color variant. The white version has a steel look instead of the brass accents. Wood in the front differs in the white and black housing versions. The black version used in our Fractal Design North XL test has walnut wood accents, whereas the white version uses lighter oak.

Frontpanel des Fractal Design North XL
The connections on the front panel were adopted 1:1 and offer a classy brass look.

What also stands out are the rounded edges. This adds an even more sophisticated touch and is also more pleasant to touch when you lift the housing.

Fractal Design North XL Test
With the extra width, the wooden front is impressive

Last but not least, a special feature – even though various other manufacturers have responded since the release of the original Fractal Design North – is the mesh side panel itself. This leads to a better air exchange than the usual glass panels and allows an implied view into the interior. Although, of course, far less clear than the version with tempered glass. Those who prefer a clear view of the interior will find a variation of the Fractal Design North XL in both color variants. However, the front side panel, which is a design continuation of the field for the front panel connections, also remains sealed here.

More space for what?

  • More space for larger radiators
  • Even the largest air coolers can be installed
  • No conflict with large graphics cards and front radiators

The biggest change for most users will be that the radiator limit at the top is now 360 mm instead of 280 mm. Instead of a 360 mm radiator, a powerful 420 mm radiator with three 140 mm fans can be installed in the front!

Oberseite des Fractal Design North XL mit Platz für große Radiatoren
The Fractal Design North XL can now also accommodate 360 mm radiators in the top – or fans of a corresponding size.

The case has also grown in width. Where a maximum air cooler height of 170 mm was possible on the Fractal Design North, the XL version now has 185 mm of space for even the largest heat sinks – or even the widest graphics cards, which is quite relevant these days. Incidentally, the maximum length for graphics cards was originally 355 mm – sufficient for most cards, but a front radiator could be problematic. With the Fractal Design North XL, the maximum length has increased to 413 mm. Most monster graphics cards will fit in there, even in combination with a powerful front radiator.

In short: the case has grown in all dimensions. And a good two kilograms heavier.

The additional width also allows the installation of a 140 mm fan (or radiator) in the rear of the Fractal Design North XL. The smaller version can only accommodate a 120 mm fan (or smaller).

Nevertheless, not everything has increased: Where in the original version of the Fractal Design North three hard disk mounts for 2.5″ / 3.5″ drives could be placed, there are now only two in the XL. It is noticeable here that hard disks are becoming less and less relevant in modern systems. The dedicated holder for 2.5″ drives, primarily SSDs, offers space for two drives in both size classes.

In summary, the larger case offers more space for large heat sinks and graphics cards.

Installation

  • Plenty of space for cable management inside and outside the case
  • Easily removable covers

When it comes to installation, there are some nice features that make the work easier. For example, the top cover, which also functions as a dust filter, can simply be pulled off to the rear.

Lederlasche hinten am Fractal Design North XL
The top cover is simply pulled off to the rear using the leather loop – no tools required

Now you can remove the side parts. First, the mesh part must be removed to gain access to the fan bracket and the front side panel, which is loosened using a knurled screw. You then have full access to the interior and can mount the prepared mainboard. Conveniently, the middle spacer is designed as a “nose” so that the mainboard is held directly in position and you don’t have to constantly realign all the holes in the spacers. If you use sizes other than (E-)ATX, you should reposition the spacers accordingly. The necessary holes are appropriately labeled.

If you use SATA drives, there are suitable brackets for this. On the one hand, there are brackets for up to two 3.5″ drives and on the other hand, you can mount up to four 2.5″ drives. Two have their own holder and two can be attached to the 3.5″ holders.

The power supply unit is attached to a completely removable frame. In contrast to the smaller version of the Fractal Design North, this one is not centered, but leaves more space to the side panel, so that there is more room for cable management. Or for the use of Corsair’s Shift power supply units, where the modular connections are located on the side. There is also a small Velcro cable tie here, which can be used to better organize the connected cables at the back and guide them downwards. There was no space for this in the original version of the Fractal North.

Fan, fan, fan

  • More mounting options than listed in the specifications.
  • Additional side panel for fan mounting.

According to the official data sheet, three 120 or 140 mm fans can be placed at the front. This is also true. From then on, however, you can deviate a little from the specifications. At the rear, you can officially use a 120 or 140 mm fan, but unofficially you can play freely here. Due to the hole spacing, almost any other fan size can also be placed. 92 mm? No problem. 80 mm? It’s starting to look ridiculous, but it works. 60 mm? Who has something like that? It still worked.

It continues with the top side, because here you can supposedly place either up to three 120 mm, two 140 mm or two 180 mm fans (like the Fractal Design Prisma AL-18*). Contrary to the specifications, however, I was also able to install a Noctua NF-A20*, a 200 mm fan. Impressive. However, this is also due to the NF-A20’s multiple mounting holes – other 200 mm fans are unlikely to fit.

Speaking of Noctua: The brand’s color scheme is usually inappropriate for everything, but the fans match the brown wooden front of the Fractal Design North XL quite well.

In the optional side panel for fans, which can only be installed with smaller air coolers or with a water cooling system, there is space for additional fans that draw air through the mesh side panel. Due to the increased width of the case, there are fewer problems with large graphics cards, but a real increase in performance is only noticeable with a vertically installed graphics card.

Lüfter in der seitlichen Lüfterhalterung
Several fans can be installed in the side panel

You should also note that you have to lay the cables across the case to connect them.

Build quality

  • High-quality workmanship
  • Mediocre fans ex works

The workmanship in the Fractal Design North XL test is really very good. The metal content is high and everything looks clean and without sharp edges. Details are also nicely implemented and the tool-free assembly of many parts is efficiently solved. As was to be expected, however, some of the knurled screws are so tightly tightened at the factory that a screwdriver is still required for the initial solution. A screwdriver is also needed for the SATA drives.

Less impressive are the built-in fans, which have no rubberized contact surfaces and look quite unspectacular. These Fractal Design Aspect 14 PWM fans are not very impressive, but not particularly bad either – just not premium fans.

All in all, the build quality appears identical to the original model, which is regularly used here for tests and has no major flaws in the meantime. Only the adhesive used to hold the rubber surfaces on the feet gave way when the case was moved. However, the feet and therefore the surface area of the Fractal Design North XL have been slightly enlarged – obviously a countermeasure in advance.

Volume and performance

  • Impressive airflow
  • Airflow improvement by removing the dust filter
  • Factory fans can become too loud if the speed is not kept under control manually

The Fractal Design North XL test shows a very open front with a dust filter that can also be easily removed for even better airflow. And airflow is what this case offers. Three Fractal Design Aspect 14 PWM 140 mm fans are installed at the factory. These are identical to those from the original North. However, there are three of them in the XL version and not just two. But again, all of them are in the front.

Fractal Design Aspect 140mm Lüfter
Three Fractal Design Aspect fans in 140mm are installed ex works

The Fractal Design Aspect 14 PWM have two problems: On the one hand, they are not exactly the quietest 140 mm fans despite their size. On the other hand, they have a maximum speed of approx. 1700 RPM. That’s quite a lot for a 140 mm fan, especially as a case fan. So if they are turned up by the motherboard automatic, the system may well reach an unexpectedly high volume. If you set them manually to approx. 30% PWM, they remain almost inaudible and already move a good amount of air.

It is therefore advisable to set a fan curve that limits the fans to a maximum of approx. 1000 RPM. Alternatively, it is a good idea to switch to better fans – especially if you also rely on high-end hardware. For this, I recommend taking a look at the large case fan test (140 mm).

Performance comparison of the Fractal Design North

  • Test with the respective factory fans
  • Temperature measurement of graphics card and processor under a 3DMark load

The test system is based on an AMD Ryzen 9 5950X and a Radeon RX 6800 XT. The Ryzen is cooled by a be quiet! Dark Rock Pro 5, which goes well with the black appearance of the case. Three scenarios are tested for the test: The fans at 30% power (silent), at 50% power (audible, tolerable) and at 100% power (unpleasantly loud). A combined test of 3DMark Fire Strike Ultra is run as a loop for each scenario. The fans on the graphics card (1000 RPM) and the CPU cooler (700 RPM) are set to a fixed speed in order to avoid falsification through automation. After a warm-up time of 8 minutes, the average CPU and GPU temperature is measured for one minute. After the tests, the system is installed in the other housing and the test is repeated.

Blick durch ein Mesh Gitter
The mesh side panel gives you a somewhat cloudy view of the interior, but at least you can still see something!

The room temperature is subtracted from the measured temperature to compensate for its variation. The results are then given as a delta to the room temperature in Kelvin. If the measurement result is 35 K and the room temperature is 20°C, then the figures must be added together to arrive at the actual temperature of the component, in this example 55°C.

Fractal Design North Fractal Design North XL
30% PWM (610 RPM) CPU 36.3 K / GPU 56 K CPU 37.9 K / GPU 51.3 K
30% PWM Volume 30 dB(A) 33 dB(A)
50% PWM (980 RPM) CPU 32.4 K / GPU 52.7 K CPU 37.2 K / GPU 48.7 K
50% PWM volume 40 dB(A) 44 dB(A)
100% PWM (1690 RPM) CPU 30.5 K / GPU 51.2 K CPU 32.1 K / GPU 48.3 K
100% PWM volume 55 dB(A) 57 dB(A)

Analysis of the test results

  • Similar overall performance
  • More performance potential thanks to larger cooling surfaces
  • Better ventilation of the graphics card

The practical differences in performance are not that great. In the new Fractal Design North XL, the graphics card is slightly better ventilated, which is not surprising as the power supply cover is more open here. On the other hand, the temperature of the processor is slightly better in the smaller case. This is presumably due to the fact that there is less mesh in front of the cooler through which the fresh air can escape, as is the case with the XL variant. Ultimately, both cases have a very good airflow and the XL version does not have a significant increase in performance due to the additional factory fan, which will also be due to the larger volume.

In terms of performance, there are therefore no direct advantages to the Fractal Design North XL. However, this can change if you consider that you simply have more space for additional fans and for larger radiators when using water cooling components.

Conclusion

All in all, I can only repeat the positive conclusion of the original Fractal Design North. The case looks very similar in many areas, but apart from that it offers more space for larger components. And realistically, I have to say that the additional space required is also easy to cope with. So if you have that little bit of extra space available and are prepared to pay a little extra, you will definitely enjoy the Fractal Design North XL. Less space for unnecessary cables, more space for cable management, more space for large graphics cards and radiators, more compatibility with larger fans. In short: I like it! If you can manage with the more compact space of the original Fractal Design North or want to install a third 3.5″ hard disk, the smaller version will still be fine.

Fractal Design North XL Test Platinum Award

Fractal Design North XL

Workmanship
Structure
Features
Dampening
Cooling
Value for money

95/100

The Fractal Design North XL largely corresponds to the smaller version, but offers more space for everything.

Simon Lüthje

I am co-founder of this blog and am very interested in everything that has to do with technology, but I also like to play games. I was born in Hamburg, but now I live in Bad Segeberg.

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When Fractal Design launched the North onto the market, it really hit the spot. A classy-looking case with wooden elements in the front, a good airflow and some other interesting features. However, as was the case with many other case series from Fractal Design, it was to be expected that a larger XL version and/or a smaller version would be launched at some point. At least the XL version has now been made ready for the market. And we can take a closer look at this case in the Fractal Design North XL test and also compare it with the … (Weiterlesen...)

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