|Fractal Design Node 304 Mini-ITX Case|
|Reviews - Featured Reviews: Cases|
|Written by Tom Jaskulka|
|Wednesday, 26 December 2012|
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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.