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Written by Tom Jaskulka   
Wednesday, 26 December 2012
Table of Contents: Page Index
Fractal Design Node 304 Mini-ITX Case
Closer Look: Node 304
Node 304 Detailed Features - GPUs
Node 304 Detailed Features: CPU Coolers
Testing and Results
Final Thoughts and Conclusion

Fractal Design Node 304 Mini-ITX Case

Manufacturer: Fractal Design
Product Name: Node 304
Model Number: FD-CA-NODE-304-BL
UPC: 817301010979
Price As Tested: $85.97 Amazon / $89.99 NewEgg

Full Disclosure: The product sample used in this article has been provided by Fractal Design.

Everything is getting smaller. With today's emphasis on efficiency and mobility, and processors that do even more with much less power consumption, it is a trend that will probably continue. With the success of enclosures such as the BitFenix Prodigy and Coolermaster's Elite 120 Advanced, it is great to see other manufacturers embrace this trend and put their own innovations and ideas into the small form factor market. Choices are always a good thing for a customer, and Fractal Design brings their own blend of ITX with the Node 304. In the following pages, Benchmark Reviews will take a closer look at the ideas featured in the Fractal Design Node 304 FD-CA-NODE-304-BL Mini-ITX tower computer case.

ITX and small form factor cases have always intrigued me. It is fascinating to watch different manufacturers take on different thermal and layout challenges that are always a result of cramming lots of performance into a very small space. The question for me (and for most enthusiasts) becomes "how much power can I cram in this thing?" While Fractal Design imagines the Node 304's purpose to be a file server, HTPC or powerful gaming system, my first question when looking at SFF enclosures is "what's the biggest graphics card I can fit in that thing?" followed quickly by "will it keep everything cool enough?" Given my experience with a Silverstone FT03 Mini, I can say I'm already excited by the big open filtered intake on the side and its benefits for cooling a powerful GPU. Let's take a closer look at what else can fit in the Node 304.

Node304_Side.JPG

Although many reviews for small form factor systems cover thermals and features quite well, I'll only touch on those - my main focus on this particular review will be what can actually fit in the Node 304 and the lessons I learned building a system into this chassis.

Node 304 Features

  • Compact, modular interior
  • Minimalistic design with an elegant aluminum front panel
  • Unique new modular mounting system that accommodates up to 6 hard drives
  • Accommodates tower CPU coolers and single-fan water cooling systems
  • Filtered air intakes ensure a dust-free environment for internal components
  • Three Silent Series R2 hydraulic bearing fans included
  • Excellent cooling for all components
  • Accommodates ATX power supplies
  • Fan controller for all fans included
  • USB 3.0 for fast file transfers

Node 304 Specifications

Technical specifications

  • Mini ITX, DTX motherboard compatibility
  • 2 expansion slots
  • 6 - supports either 3.5" or 2.5" HDD / SSD
  • ATX PSUs, up to 160mm in length (To fit in combination with a long graphics card, PSUs with modular connectors on the back typically need to be shorter than 160 mm)
  • Graphics cards, up to 310mm in length, when 2 HDD brackets are removed (Graphics cards longer than 170 mm will conflict with PSUs longer than 160mm)
  • Tower CPU coolers, up to 165 mm tall
  • Case dimensions (W x H x D): 250 x 210 x 374 mm
  • Case volume: 19,5 Liters
  • Net weight: 4,9 kg

Cooling / ventilation

  • 2 - Front mounted 92mm Silent Series R2 hydraulic bearing fans, 1300 RPM speed (compatible with 80mm fans) - included
  • 1 - Rear mounted 140mm Silent Series R2 hydraulic bearing fan, 1000 RPM speed (compatible with 120mm fans) - included
  • Removable air filters for front fans and PSU
  • Fan filter for graphics card
  • 1 - fan controller for all 3 fans included

Front interface

  • 2 - USB 3.0 (Internal 3.0 to 2.0 adapter included)
  • 1 - 3.5mm audio in (microphone)
  • 1 - 3.5mm audio out (headphone)
  • Power button with LED
  • HDD LED

Source: Fractal Design



 

Comments 

 
# front panelsam.m 2013-02-05 11:32
Are you sure the front panel is aluminum? Couple of other reviewers have called it a aluminum look ABS.
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# RE: front panelTom Jaskulka 2013-02-05 11:33
Yes, the front panel is made of aluminum, although it's more of an aluminum "veneer" - it is about 1mm thick, and made of a one-piece sheet of aluminum that gets wrapped around the entire front face of the Node 304. It's a technique very similar to what is used on many laptops with metal (aluminum or magnesium) surfaces. Antec, and I'm sure many other manufacturers (I just have an old NSK1300 that uses aluminum in the same way) often sandwich plastic between thin layers of aluminum, as pure aluminum panels would transmit noise and vibration a little too effectively. The front panel on the Node 304 is done very well, and looks quite pleasing to the eye while still blocking the noise from the front intake fans. Hopefully that answers your question!
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# Cooling.....JWil 2013-02-05 11:33
Hi Tom,

So you would recommend the Zalman CNPS9900MAX-B as the best CPU cooler for this case? Not going to be doing any O/Cing
My planned setup:

Asrock Z77E-ITX MB
i7 3770
16gb RAM
ATI7850 XFX dual fan black edition
Zalman CNPS9900MAX-B cooler

Want to use for XBMC/Hyperspin so needs power but needs to be cool and quiet too....

Thanks!
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# RE: Cooling.....Tom Jaskulka 2013-02-05 11:34
Hello JWil,
I could certainly recommend the CNPS9900MAX as a CPU cooler, but "best for this case" depends on the orientation of the socket on the motherboard you choose - ideally, you'd want to keep the front-to-back airflow. The Zalman cooler has been tested to perform at or better than many of the top air coolers, so it's a great product in and of itself (there's a review on this site if you're willing to search for it). If you aren't going to overclock, and you're on the LGA1155 socket/platform, honestly I don't see much of a reason to use anything other than the stock cooler, unless the noise penalty is worth the price to you to go aftermarket.
With the motherboard you listed, you'll probably be forced to install the cooler "sideways," and I'm not certain you'd have the clearance for a 135mm fan in that direction. Again, each motherboard is diff! erent, so see if you can measure or borrow one from a friend if possible to make sure it'll fit.
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# RE: RE: Cooling.....JWil 2013-02-05 11:35
Yeah, cool and quiet are most important to me.

The motherboard i'm not too concerned about as long as it has a CIR header so i can setup an IR remote to turn the system on/off as a HTPC. Is there anyway i can check which way the socket faces by looking at the MB before I buy one?
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# RE: RE: RE: Cooling.....Tom Jaskulka 2013-02-05 11:36
Actually, looking further at pictures of that ASRock motherboard I think the Zalman would face the "right" direction - it's a little hard to tell, but if it's oriented the same way as every other 1155 motherboard I've installed my CNPS9900MAX on (the "long" way of the cooler runs the same direction as the lever that secures the CPU, if that makes sense), it should provide that front to back airflow and clear the rear 140mm fan just fine. Seems a little close to the PCI-E slot though... Some quick searching confirmed that it does fit, but you may want to double check and make sure.
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# RE: RE: RE: RE: Cooling.....JWil 2013-02-05 11:36
I just double checked with someone who has the same motherboard and it doesnt fit unfortunately. Do you have any other recommendations for good coolers (that will fit the Node304)?
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# RE: RE: RE: RE: RE: Cooling.....Tom Jaskulka 2013-02-05 11:37
I'd recommend reading up on some of the all-in-one liquid coolers from manufacturers like Corsair, Zalman, Coolermaster, etc. - typically these will avoid any clearance issues, and should allow for efficient cooling. I haven't had the chance to review one in this case specifically, so I hesitate to make a recommendation on a specific model - something to look into anyway.
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# FitDon 2013-02-05 11:38
Might be a stupid question but was it possible to fit everything on the motherboard before placing it into the chassis? The coolers that is, I'm guessing that could be helpful when you have hands like a giant as I do.
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# RE: FitTom Jaskulka 2013-02-05 11:39
Actually, with enclosures this small, that's a very good question! Yes, it is possible to add a large cooler first and then place the entire thing into the chassis - to make it even easier, you can remove the crossbar that the hard drive hangers attach to and free up even more room to work. Placing the motherboard into the case from the top was much easier, as long as your cables are out of the way... It might be a little tricky from the sides with a big CPU cooler.
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# RE: RE: FitDon 2013-02-05 11:40
I read that people had to drill those screws since they wouldn't budge but glad to hear it's possible, wouldn't help a lot. Is there anything Else to think if as far as what order to add components?
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# RE: RE: RE: FitTom Jaskulka 2013-02-05 11:40
There are four regular '+' type screws that secure the crossbar, it's easy to remove. Depending on your components, I would start with CPU cooler/motherboard/RAM, then PSU, then GPU. Hard drives last of course. The Node 304 really is an easy case to build in, especially for how small it is.
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# RE: Fractal Design Node 304 Mini-ITX CaseJohn 2013-03-19 13:00
What about Noctua NH-L9? Would that be a good cooler for CPU like Xeon?
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# Asus gtx 670 MiniSimon 2013-07-29 08:23
Great article which really helped me out. Am planning a build in this case using a gtx670 mini. Have been searching for shorter power supplies but thanks to your pictures I can see that a 160mm modular power supply will fit the case fine without any interfering with the 170mm long GPU. Nice one!
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