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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

Testing & Results

Testing Methodology

Most of my testing was for clearances and the types of components you could fit in a chassis this size. I hope some of these pictures were helpful, and would welcome any comments for additional items or concentrations the readers of Benchmark Reviews would like to see. I hesitate to run any sound or temperature comparisons, as it would only apply to the exact system I have settled on building into this enclosure - I can compare subjectively to the other ITX enclosures I have experience with however, mainly the Silverstone FT03 Mini, as the two are roughly the same in volume. Take a look at a quick size comparison:

Node304_FT03MiniFront.JPG
Although it is much easier to see when they're oriented the same way.
Node304_FT03MiniDown.JPG

Test System

  • Motherboard: Asus M4A88T-I Deluxe
  • System Memory: 4GB DDR3 1333 MHz SODIMM
  • Processor: AMD Phenom II X2 555 3.2GHz
  • Audio: Onboard
  • Video: Radeon 7770 1GB / 7850 1GB / 7970 3GB
  • Disk Drive 1: Samsung 840 250GB SSD
  • Disk Drive 2: Western Digital Black 500GB
  • Optical Drive: None
  • Enclosure: Fractal Design Node 304
  • PSU: Corsair CX430 V2
  • Monitor: 27" 1920x1200 LCD
  • Operating System: Windows 7 Ultimate 64bit

Results

It was fascinating for me to see the different approaches each manufacturer took to design their respective ITX enclosures. While somewhat similar in build quality and volume, they couldn't be more different in layout and features. One features a stack effect cooling method, using a singular fan - the other, multiple vents, intakes, and three fans paired with a fan controller. One accomodates an ATX PSU, the other a SFF PSU. While one could place a Radeon 7850 into the FT03 Mini, that enclosure struggled a bit supplying cool air to the graphics card - although Silverstone does mention it recommends blower-type cards instead of the cooler commonly seen on the 7850.

Running the 7770 in both enclosures at full power consumption (while mining bitcoin), the Node 304 managed to keep an overclocked 7770 almost 10C cooler than the FT03 Mini in the same room. I could substantially decrease the temperature of the video card by popping off the front panel of the FT03, where the temperatures would again be comparable between the two cases. This leads me to believe that GPU intake vent on the Node 304 is a welcome addition to anyone that wants to place a powerful GPU into a small case. It was my experience that it didn't appreciably increase noise either, as the fans on the graphics card did not need to spin as fast to keep the GPU cool.

While this isn't a case comparison article, sometimes the best way to illustrate features is to compare with the other products in the market. Again, keep in mind the temperatures I experienced might vary from others - using a different PSU and CPU cooler (the FT03 doesn't have space for anything other than low-profile, stock, or liquid AIO coolers) between two different enclosures might have been enough to skew the results. I would have to create a standardized test system to more effectively draw any conclusions, but subjectively the Node 304 provides a cool running environment for whatever components you should choose. It is quiet as well - the loudest component in the final build pictured on the next page was the SpinQ CPU cooler. With a PWM fan attached to a 120mm CPU cooler, and the chassis fans on low the Node 304 is one of the quieter enclosures as well - no small feat considering how many heat generating components you can fit inside.



 

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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