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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

Node 304 Detailed Features - GPUs

Fractal Design recommends PSUs no longer than 160mm. This presents a unique tradeoff, as a case this small begs for a modular power supply to avoid having to find a place to stash those excess cables. However, most 160mm modular power supplies are going to start to encroach on the graphics card slot, so a 140mm modular PSU might be the best option. It seems that makes a high-output AND short PSU much more difficult to find - not impossible, it just means you have to do a little more research. Really, what this means is you are forced to make a choice - high output or modular connectors? If you want both, you'll be spending some money. Keep in mind that space "behind" the PSU is about the only place to stash extra cables, and depending on the video card, you won't be left with much. Add those 6 HDDs, along with a big graphics card, and you will probably be frustrated. Doable, manageable, but frustrating nonetheless. To be fair, if you want to "have it all," you probably aren't looking at ITX enclosures. What I'm trying to say here is you'll probably just have to choose if you want a high-powered gaming rig or a file server - which shouldn't be a hard choice.

Now for the fun part - let's take a look and see what we can cram in this ITX machine:


First up - a Radeon 7770. The numbers are somewhat hard to read on that ruler, but this card extends about 17 cm into the case. The picture below depicts the tie down points and the small space between the motherboard and PSU pretty well.


While a 7770 or similar card is a great match for most ITX enclosures and builds, to truly build a gaming rig you'll want something a little more powerful. That brings us to a Radeon 7850, a "sweet-spot" card that will generate great performance for the power and heat it produces. The Node 304 has no problem fitting a card in this category as well, and it extends approximately 21cm into the chassis. Notice there is still quite a bit of room for leftover cables from the PSU with a card this size, although now you'll have to give up one of the hard drive hangers - reducing your capacity to four hard drives.


Here's where Fractal Design really surprised me with their Node 304 - it fits a Radeon 7970! At almost 30cm in length for this particular iteration of the high-end AMD GPU, you shouldn't experience any problems physically fitting a high-end card in this enclosure. A reference GTX 680 is ~27 cm, while a GTX 690 is closer to 29 cm. As you can see, there's still some room for length, so unless you get a card with a triple-wide slot, it'll probably fit just fine in the Node 304.


Powering and cooling the card you choose is a slightly different matter - while the intake on the side does a remarkable job of keeping cards cool, most power supplies that can accomodate the current draw for an overclocked Radeon 7970 don't fit into the 140mm short PSU category. Take a look at the final picture on this page - the gap between the 140mm Corsair CX430 and the Radeon 7970 doesn't leave you a lot of room to stash cables. It can be done, but plan your components carefully...


Here again you see the space for cables is limited. Read the specifications, there are some good tips there for choosing power supplies! Once again, you'll need to remove a HDD hanger as one side would descend directly into the middle of the GPU. Below you can see what it looks like with two hangers installed - there's still a pretty clear path for that 92mm fan to provide some cool air to the rest of the installed components without any hard drives in the way.


The side vent for the GPU will provide most of the cool air to the graphics card, but the front-to-back airflow does a great job of speeding the exit of the warmer air generated by a larger graphics card.



# 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....

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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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