In and Around the Fractal Design Node 304

Part of the joy of going through this section with mITX cases is that, frankly, there often just isn't a whole lot to them. The Fractal Design Node 304 is particularly simple in its design, on par with the SilverStone SG05. That's not to say there isn't room for improvement, but the fact that the directions for assembly are less than a paragraph long and are pretty complete should be telling.

It doesn't make sense for a case designed essentially to be a mini-server to be particularly expensive, so Fractal Design opts for a simple plastic fascia with a brushed pattern. The front is wonderfully clean and spare, with only a small Fractal Design logo and the single activity LED breaking it up. On the right side of the removable front panel is the I/O cluster and power button, and the top has a simple grate that surprisingly doesn't negatively affect cooling that much, as you'll see later.

Ventilation is also kept remarkably minimal; there's a small vent on the right side for the power supply to exhaust and a case-long vent on the left side for the video card. The GPU vent also has a removable filter, but as a whole these two vents don't break up the design much at all. Finally, on the bottom of the case is an opening for the power supply's intake fan. Note that the Node 304 does sit fairly low to the ground, though. I'm not sure how negatively this will affect the PSU's longevity, but it bears mentioning.

Getting into the 304 is as easy as removing four thumbscrews and taking off the shroud. I'm still not big on the single unified shroud; getting the SG05's shroud back on was the stuff of nightmares and I can tell you right now that the 304's fares little better. When you open the 304 up, though, assembly becomes very simple to grok.

The mITX tray is obvious, as is the power supply mounting. Storage mounting is handled by a series of three removable brackets. I admire the simplicity of the Node 304; what we're going to struggle with here is essentially just space to put the cables. The rear of the case has a small bracket used to cover the area above the expansion slot covers, and there's a switch just above them that handles the fan controller.

Any day where I have to consult the manual just to make sure the case really is that simple to put together is a good one; the only thing the manual honestly needs to tell you is what order to install components in. This isn't going to be a clean assembly, but that's a luxury you seldom enjoy when you deal with enclosures this small.

Introducing the Fractal Design Node 304 Assembling the Fractal Design Node 304
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  • Grok42 - Friday, November 23, 2012 - link

    You can never be too thin right? While I get your point, especially for a server, it's also hard to see how you would ever regret going with the smaller case assuming it met your requirements at build time. I can certainly see how it's possible that you might wish a larger server didn't take up so much space later on.

    I've had many full ATX and mid-tower ATX cases over the years and with the exception of my current mid-tower ATX, I've never come close to filling them. While my current server system wouldn't fit into this case, if I were building it again today I'd use and SSD for the system drive as well as bigger HDs and it would easily fit with no problem.

    I couldn't agree more with you on not putting all this stuff in an HTPC. I'm even more extreme and don't want anything even remotely like a computer in my living room. I use a tiny WD-Live to stream all the content from the sever in the closet upstairs.
    Reply
  • londiste - Friday, November 23, 2012 - link

    itx by its definition is still niche.

    whether you like it or not, good flex/matx psu-s are bloody expensive and there aren't that many of those. especially if we are talking about anything that might want to be an htpc - i.e. quiet. picopsu in the lower end and atx psus on the other end are a lot better and less expensive options.

    i for one do not have a staircase nor a closet that would be sufficiently closed (to muffle the noise) and sufficiently open (for fresh air) at the same time.
    Reply
  • yyrkoon - Tuesday, November 27, 2012 - link

    Kind of sad is it not ?

    I've had this nagging feeling for the last couple of years. That in order to get what *I* want, in a mini-ITX system; I would have to either build my own case from scratch. Or mod an existing case. Perhaps, then i could make a little money providing the same to others ( where the case manufactures failed ). But as you said, the market is not really all that large. So yeah. . .

    Next, if "we" could only convince the OEM's that quality power supplies do not *need* to be in the 600W to 1KW range . . . I think we would be golden. I certainly could use a good 80 Plus certified 200W ATX power supply myself. Perhaps even less wattage.
    .
    Reply
  • yyrkoon - Tuesday, November 27, 2012 - link

    I agree with you, while at the same time disagree.

    Mini-ITX has its good points. Power usage by comparison can be a lot lower since many mini-ITX boards do not have a ton of bells and whistles most people do not need on them. For me, we're 100% off-grid ( solar / wind power with a battery bank for power storage). Currently, I use a laptop, but would like to make the move to something more flexible, and better performance potential. Without using a whole lot more power.

    As for using an actual mini-ITX case. I could go either way. I have a decent Lian-Li reverse ATX case that I like a lot so I would possibly opt for that. Its standard width at only 15.5" tall. with lots of room for mods or storage with bay converters. However with our power concerns as mentioned above, I could see going with a smaller attractive case. Since less room taken up by the system would be a good thing. While having tons of HDDs internal, up and running whenever the system is -> not a good idea. I'd rather use external drives, saving power by turning them off when not needed.

    With all that said. Micro ATX boards can be had with limited peripherals as well. However, it is always nice to have more options. Especially if some or perhaps most of those options better suite your own needs.
    Reply
  • Kepe - Friday, November 23, 2012 - link

    Hi and thanks for the review, Dustin!
    I stumbled upon this case a week or two ago while looking for an HTPC case with sufficient expandability storage-wise, and was left wondering what it could be used for.
    Isn't the 750W, 180mm PSU a bit overkill for an ITX build, though? I know you try to use the same components for every case review, but wouldn't it have been better to use a smaller PSU and then be able to test with the GTX 560Ti, instead of the measly GTS 450 Eco??
    Reply
  • Grok42 - Friday, November 23, 2012 - link

    I agree it seems this would have been the better trade off if given that something had to give and you couldn't keep the exact same components your used for other reviews.

    I'm not sure when Dustin resets his testing components, but perhaps he should consider a smaller lower watt PSU for 2013. I used a PSU calculator and couldn't get it to recommend more than 420 watts without going with multiple video cards. Since the testing doesn't use multiple video cards and SLI setups represent a very small segment and testing smaller cases is happening more maybe it's time for a change. The specs I used to get the 420w recommendation were:

    Intel i7 3770k
    16GB RAM
    6x 5400 RPM HDs
    1x SSD
    1x CD/DVD RW
    2x 140mm Fans

    I'd say this is a pretty loaded system by most accounts.
    Reply
  • martyrant - Friday, November 23, 2012 - link

    Drop the optical for 2 to 4 ssds...raiding an ssd is very common for builds, especially if you are throwing in a 3770k cpu.

    Did you omit the gfx used? 'Cause I would peg that as a 7970 or a GTX 680 for power requirements
    Reply
  • Grok42 - Friday, November 23, 2012 - link

    Your are correct, I did omit the GPU in the list when I typed it up but I did include it in the calculator that recommended 420W PSU. I added more equipment and topped out at less than 460w with the following equipment:

    Intel i7 3770k
    Nvidia 660 Ti
    32GB RAM
    6x 5400 RPM HDs
    4x SSD
    1x CD/DVD RW
    4x 140mm Fans
    1x Fan Controler
    Reply
  • frabber - Friday, November 23, 2012 - link

    Me myself have a i7 2600 running inside a m350 box (Scythe Kozuti cooling). To my knowledge that is the smallest mITX case around.

    The problem I have with the bigger mITX cases is that they take up desk space and you cannot place them on the ground either. So I would end up using some sort of furniture to place them on, which kind of defeat the space saving factor.

    So I for one would love to see some desktop saving design mITX cases, or other solutions. mITX case stands, racks?
    Reply
  • dingetje - Friday, November 23, 2012 - link

    too bad it's only available in black Reply

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