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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: CPU Coolers

One of the major advantages this ITX enclosure provides in my opinion is the capacity for tower coolers. Fractal Design has done a great job allowing for a variety of coolers - while low power server builds would probably perform just fine with a stock CPU cooler, the ability to fit a large graphics card just begs for overclocking some components and squeezing as much performance as possible out of them. The Node 304 will handle those chores admirably for such a small enclosure - I chose an AM3 based ITX motherboard, as I could generate more heat with an unlocked Phenom II than with the other ITX motherboard I had on hand (an 1155 socket / H61 chipset). While it isn't surprising that there are far more 1155 boards available right now than AM3+ or FM2 socket ITX boards given the amount of power needed to be provided to the respective processors in such a small area, most Intel builds aren't going to require a tower cooler until you get up to the Z77 chipsets and unlocked CPUs.

The spec sheet for the Node 304 says there's enough room for coolers up to 165mm in height, and my measurements say there's almost 180mm from top of CPU to the top of the frame. Of course, this is merely a height measurement, depending on the cooler and orientation of the socket on the motherboard you still might run into some clearance issues. Still, it's nice to know the chassis supports it, and the main restriction is going to come from the motherboard itself and where the socket is positioned in relation to the PCI-E slot. The crossbar for the hard drive hangers is sitting on top of the frame in this picture, so that 165mm spec is really to fit underneath the crossbar as well.


So what do some coolers look like in this enclosure? First up, a common design (Xigmatek Dark Knight II): the 120mm tower cooler. There's enough room in all directions for this type of cooler, and even enough to fit another 120mm fan for a push-pull configuration if desired. To be honest, that 140mm fan might be close enough to the tower to render it redundant, but it's nice to know (again) that Fractal Design's Node 304 will accomodate it if necessary.


Obviously, this front-to-back airflow would be ideal, but for this particular motherboard the socket is actually at a 90-degree angle to the ideal, resulting in the configuration in the second picture below. Again, it's nice to know this type of cooler will fit sideways as well, but you may start to run into some clearance issues with SATA power and data connectors to the hard drives.


Here is another type of cooler, a Thermaltake SpinQ with an 80mm "squirrel cage" type fan. The outside diameter is about 120mm, so it shows that even bulkier coolers can fit surprisingly well. Again, your main limitation here might end up being your motherboard and socket placement. Of course, with an all-in-one liquid cooler, you wouldn't run into any clearance issues on the motherboard...


And just for another example, the 135mm Zalman CNPS9900MAX-B CPU cooler.


This is one of those cases where a larger CPU cooler would not fit facing side to side. Although front to back airflow would obviously be ideal anyway, a side to side orientation might be the only way it would fit depending on the motherboard you choose.




# 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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