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Fractal Design Node 304 Mini-ITX Case E-mail
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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

Closer Look: Node 304

Let's take a closer look: the first thing that struck me as I opened the packaging for the Node 304 (other than the box didn't take up the entire doorframe like the deceptively large Rosewill Thor V2 box) was the quality and texture of the paint covering the enclosure. I have a Fractal Design Core 3000 at home as well, and appreciated the rougher texture they use for the exterior of their cases. I can't say for sure if their other cases follow suit, but it's different enough from other cases I've owned to notice. While it makes it more difficult to quickly wipe off dust and fingerprints, it also hides dust and fingerprints much better, while giving the case a character all it's own - or perhaps I just prefer matte finishes. It is a texture that is hard to capture in pictures, and was one of the things I noticed first when I saw a Fractal Design case in person.

I've mentioned before I'm a secret fan of glowy and shiny things. While I enjoy professional and sophisticated enclosures as well, most of the time they're just too "boring" for me. (That Rosewill Thor v2? The actuating fins at the top are my favorite feature.) Not so with the Node 304. I can't say for sure if it's the simple lines, the brushed aluminum look to the front panel, the contrast with white fans and other accessories, or the mesh patterns for the GPU intake and front fans that are so well blended into the frame, but the Node 304 is an eye-catching enclosure. There's a definite style at work here, and it isn't as boring as it may seem for what essentially amounts to a rectangular box. I'm not a graphic designer, so I'd welcome other perspectives on what does or does not catch the attention of the human eye - but all I can say is the Node 304 is one of those cases that looks better in person.

Node304_RightOpen.JPG

Taking a look inside, we can see Fractal Design has come up with a different and unique solution to the "ITX problem." With two 92mm fans up front, and a nice big 140mm fan for exhaust, this chassis should experience some decent airflow. Losing the optical drive frees up quite a bit of space, and is a design decision I absolutely welcome in small enclosures. Everyone uses a computer for different reasons, so some may lament this omission, but there's always USB external optical drives... In my opinion, what Fractal Design has done with the layout here more than justifies the loss of an external 5.25" bay.

Node304_TopOpen.JPG

Looking from the top of the enclosure, the white hard drive "hangers" are easily viewable, but their function is better understood by looking from the side. Those thumbscrews that secure the rear portion of the hard drive hangars to the frame do not need to be fully removed (only loosened) to detach the hangars - which is a welcome design choice. You'll see a pattern to these little choices when working in the Node 304 - it seems people that actually build systems helped design much of the layout. Each of the three hangers can mount two 3.5" or 2.5" drives. I don't have six 3.5" drives to mount in this enclosure on hand, which is something I really wanted to get a picture of, but I'll talk about that scenario later.

You can see the hangers hang down to the top of the PSU bracket, which makes running cables across the top only possible if they sit right behind those 92mm fans. As you'll have to mount the full size ATX PSU so it exhausts out the right side, the cables will end up facing the left. If you have to get some of those cables back over to the right side of the motherboard, there isn't a route you can easily take. An extra 10mm of space in front of the PSU or between the PSU and motherboard would have done wonders, but as the ATX connector and 4-pin CPU connector are probably the only cables this would apply to, perhaps it isn't such a big deal.

Node304_LeftOpen.JPG

Below, we see again the rear 140mm R2 series "Silent Series" hydraulic bearing fan. Notice the extra space on the left of motherboard, which does provide a nice channel to route those ATX and CPU power cables back to the PSU, with tie down points located along the top rail (a nice addition). On the top right of the picture, you can see the mechanism to secure PCI slots and the integrated 3 speed fan controller switch.

Node304_Back.JPG

There are four thumbscrews for the top cover which is one piece. Some of these one piece covers are an exercise in frustration to get every edge to line up and latch correctly, and I'm happy to report this cover was one of the best of it's type I've seen. For those that install a machine and leave it, it isn't an issue - but for those who tinker constantly it's an important box to check (I live in fear of having to change a component in my Silverstone SG09, almost entirely because of the one piece, three sided top cover...).



 

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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