Assembling the Fractal Design Node 304

Befitting the Fractal Design Node 304's simple aesthetic is an equally simple assembly, but there are definitely measures that could've been taken to make it easier still. In its own way this is par for the course with Fractal Design's cases; they're easy to build but they could've optimized things even further.

The biggest problem is actually installing the motherboard. Before installing anything you need to remove the three drive brackets, all of which are secured by two thumbscrews and a single small Phillips head screw. Getting the I/O shield in is easy enough, but Fractal Design makes you install the standoffs on your own despite the fact that mITX boards only ever have four and they're all in the same place. That's a minor nitpick, but note that clearance is going to be a bit difficult as the power supply region and bracket sits almost flush with the motherboard and they recommend you install the PSU first.

Getting the PSU in is also a bit of a tight squeeze; our test PSU is 180mm with modular connections, essentially longer than the Node 304's spec. As a result, the PCIe slot is rendered essentially unusable to cards longer than the motherboard itself. The problem is that a modular power supply is practically essential for a case like this as there simply isn't anywhere else for the cables to go. I don't think this is a dire situation, but it's one of the places where I feel like the SFX power supply standard really needs to proliferate and would be more ideal. You just don't need a full ATX PSU in a case this size, and space is at a premium.

With no optical drive bay to speak of, we're left with the drive mounting brackets, and I think they're for the most part a solid design. There are three, but really you're going to want to use the bare minimum, which for the purposes of testing was just one. Drives bottom-mount to the sides of the brackets (which took our Corsair Link box out of the equation), and then the brackets go in. One potential problem is that a pair of 3.5" drives run the risk of blocking an intake, and I don't see people filling this case up with six drives as I'm just not sure there's space for them.

Because of the way the cables stuck out of the power supply and the length of the power supply itself, I was unable to fit our GeForce GTX 560 Ti inside the Node 304 for testing. The short, single-slot Zotac GeForce GTS 450 Eco, however, went in just fine and was surprisingly easy to install and remove. Cable spaghetti is a foregone conclusion in a case like this and unfortunately that made getting the shroud back on that much more difficult.

As far as small cases go, assembly in the Node 304 was tight but not impossible and if anything might've stood to be a little more involved. I'm not sure how I feel about the drive brackets, but since Fractal Design is targeting small home servers with this case I can understand the need to cram as much storage in as possible and the intakes probably serve more to keep the drives from overheating than actually circulating air through the chassis. I do think they could've gone with an SFX power supply instead, though, and even though it would've been more involved, splitting the shroud into two or even three panels might make assembly and service much easier.

In and Around the Fractal Design Node 304 Testing Methodology
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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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