Introducing the Fractal Design Node 304

We've said it before but it bears repeating: desktop systems are getting smaller. ATX is becoming less and less necessary, and mini-ITX-based machines more and more offer the same performance and features that their bigger brothers do. That's just the direction of the technology industry as a whole, cramming everything we need into a space half as large. What's specific to cases is their own evolution running parallel with the technology we're putting into them.

Fractal Design's Node 304 is in many ways a surprising jump forward in case design. We've seen SilverStone, BitFenix, Lian Li, and Cooler Master all try their hands at mITX cases with varying degrees of success, but there's just no set design language when you get down this small. The conventions we take for granted in ATX case design don't really apply here, but Fractal Design has tried for something fairly different with the Node 304, even by mITX standards.

You can immediately see from the photo that some things are missing. Fractal Design has ditched the optical drive bay entirely and saved a lot of space in the process. You may not have noticed that there's also no reset button; HDD activity and power are both handled by the same single blue front LED. Ventilation is pretty minimal, too. Fractal Design took their usual aesthetic and a lot of chutzpah and produced something remarkably unique.

Fractal Design Node 304 Specifications
Motherboard Form Factor Mini-ITX
Drive Bays External -
Internal 6x 2.5"/3.5" (removable in pairs)
Cooling Front 2x 92mm intake fan (compatible with 2x 80mm)
Rear 1x 140mm exhaust fan (compatible with 120mm)
Top -
Side -
Bottom -
Expansion Slots 2
I/O Port 2x USB 3.0, 1x Headphone, 1x Mic
Power Supply Size ATX
Clearances HSF 165mm
PSU 160mm
GPU 12.2" / 310mm
Dimensions 9.8" x 8.3" x 14.8"
250mm x 210mm x 374mm
Weight 10.8 lbs / 4.9 kg
Special Features Removable fan filters
USB 3.0 via internal header (with integrated 2.0 header)
Three-speed, three-channel fan controller
Price  

Fractal Design is essentially targeting the Node 304 to be used as a quiet file server, but when I tested it, that wasn't really what I was thinking about. The fact is, for most users, what's really missing on the spec sheet? There's ample space for internal storage, and the things we'd put in external bays can be just as easily connected over USB 3.0. About the only thing that couldn't easily be added is a fan controller, but Fractal Design already included one.

In and Around the Fractal Design Node 304
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  • Tegeril - Saturday, November 24, 2012 - link

    I have this case, if you shop around for smaller PSUs (I have an FSP Aurum Gold 400W in mine) you can get larger GPUs in the case. Fractal Design even goes as far as to describe the exact measurements in mm to help you make that determination.

    My build has a 7750 in it right now.
    Reply
  • lexluthermiester - Sunday, November 25, 2012 - link

    Could disagree with you more on the optical drive point, Perhaps YOU can do without, but the vast majority of the rest of us still use ODD[Bluray, DVD] for various, very useful purposes. The lack of ODD bay[even for a notebook sata drive] is a deal breaker with most folks. USB aside, how would you suppose to install windows? Most people have yet to learn of the wonders of a USB drive for such, and most of those who do[myself included] would still prefer to use an ODD, even if it is slower.

    ODD's in the work place? Not. More network admin's use network installs than ODD's. No, it's just not on. Your idea's may work for you, but most people still use and like optical discs. And for that rather big group, it's a deal breaker.
    Reply
  • lexluthermiester - Sunday, November 25, 2012 - link

    Couldn't* disagree...

    Note to Anand group; A bloody edit function would not go amiss....
    Reply
  • PsychoPif - Monday, November 26, 2012 - link

    I use a USB DVD burner on my PC and I was able to install Windows 8 without a hitch.

    Off course some still need a drive bay, but I think Dustin is right when he says that we slowly but surely move away from it.
    Reply
  • yyrkoon - Tuesday, November 27, 2012 - link

    I'd have to agree with lexluthermiester. Leaving optical media in the dust is not an option. However, it is a problem that is solvable. e.g. external, networked, or out of the case install. Reply
  • yyrkoon - Tuesday, November 27, 2012 - link

    USB, Firewire, Network install, or you could do the install out of the case. Afterwards putting everything inside.

    For everything else, you could use either an external drive, network shared drive, etc. I do realize this is less than ideal, however having a laptop with two HDDs in it ( optical drive bay caddy in my own case ) you have to learn to workaround, or live without. One thing worth mentioning. Most mobile optical drives are garbage, so external is usually a better option anyhow.

    Anyhow, external 5.25" drive cases do not cost all that much so cost is not a big deal. The only potential issue is how well the BIOS on your given motherboard handles boot from USB, Now days, I would think this to be a non issue.
    Reply
  • JoanSpark - Sunday, December 02, 2012 - link

    that is the 2nd mITX without a 5.25 I know of.. go get you one of the plenty other crippled ones that still have them if you can't move with times.. Reply
  • lmcd - Friday, November 23, 2012 - link

    The testing page needs a slight update; this isn't an A30 and in no way can fit a MicroATX board.

    Great review! Contender for my next build since I rely on internal storage and the cloud so much anyway, and with USB 3 and Steam, physical media is pretty unnecessary.
    Reply
  • Dustin Sklavos - Friday, November 23, 2012 - link

    Fixed! I has the dumb. Reply
  • Minion4Hire - Friday, November 23, 2012 - link

    I agree that an ATX PSU in a mini-ITX chassis is a bit overkill, but you're not going to put a high-wattage, high-performance power supply in a mini-ITX anything. This case feels more like a 500W Silverstone Strider Plus candidate than any kilowatt e-peen unit.

    But am I the only one that doesn't care about a compact SOHO chassis? It's admirable that they've managed to fit so many drives into such a small case (and I really do like the design) but I could care less about smaller chassis where any kind of home server is concerned. You can shove such a chassis anywhere you can feed power and ethernet to. Under a staircase, buried in a closet... you can find plenty of locations that would be otherwise undesirable for all sorts of other hardware, so lack-of-space doesn't seem like a big concern. I'm not going to make my HTPC serve double-duty as my file server. A RAID 5 in my living room is not going to make for a truly silent HTPC. Meanwhile, I DO want my HTPC to have an optical drive, if only for convenience.

    Just seems like a niche product. Maybe I'm wrong.
    Reply

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