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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  • londiste - Friday, November 23, 2012 - link

    Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants so long as it is black.
    - Henry Ford

    :)
    Reply
  • silveralien81 - Friday, November 23, 2012 - link

    Don't care much for the case but the Heinlein reference was great. Reply
  • versesuvius - Friday, November 23, 2012 - link

    The problem with computer systems has always been and is, the wires that come out of the them, resulting in the ugliest part of the room. As for the space a case occupies, as long as the case has the same footprint, the height is not a problem with ordinary cases as long as they do not move into full, ultra towers. It is simply foolish to limit the potential of a computer system by restricting the space inside the box that is going to take the same real state on the desktop or under it anyway. Just go with a decently normal case. At least it will cover some of the ugly wires and cables sticking out of the case. Reply
  • bobbozzo - Thursday, November 29, 2012 - link

    This is designed to be a server; it might go on a shelf with limited vertical space. Reply
  • dealcorn - Friday, November 23, 2012 - link

    The diversity of use cases makes it hard to please readers with a case like this. When the Xeon Atom S12XX motherboards are released a case like this could make an attractive headless server. With 5 WD Reds, a 65 watt power adapter is the correct power supply. What are you supposed to do with the big empty hole where the ATX power supply ain't? Reply
  • Mumrik - Friday, November 23, 2012 - link

    Since it clearly is made to be able to serve as a file server or HTPC/media vault, I'd really have liked to see it tested with six 3½" drives, or five and a 2½" SSD.

    If I wasn't going to take advantage of the storage options, I'd probably be looking at other cases, and it would be very nice to see if it actually was able to do what it seems to indicate it can - run safely while stacked with storage.
    Reply
  • heraldo25 - Friday, November 23, 2012 - link

    Strange that card-readers are not standard on *any decent* case nowadays, all laptops have them, why not all desktops? Particularly now that it is getting more popular to drop the 3.5" external bay which before could be used to insert a card-reader. Also, notebook-size dvd-drives do not take up much space, should be a slot for that IMO. Reply
  • Metaluna - Friday, November 23, 2012 - link

    My guess is there isn't much market for them. Photo and audio file transfers seem to be moving in the direction of cloud-syncing rather than transferring from physical media (it would be interesting to know what percentage of photos just go direct to Facebook without ever touching a hard drive, for example. I bet it's pretty significant). And in a pinch you can just use your phone/camera/whatever as a reader anyway, which, though usually slow, is probably good enough for most people.

    Slim ODDs are kind of a mixed bag, IMHO, and not really worth the effort on a desktop machine. Not a lot of choices for Blu-ray, for example, and drive speed is usually lower than a full-sized drive. Plus the little mini connector is goofy and almost always requires adapters with ugly Molex connectors and so forth.
    Reply
  • Grok42 - Friday, November 23, 2012 - link

    The only think I've ever seen anyone use a card reader for is for a camera. Most people use their phone to take pictures and in case you haven't noticed, SD slots pretty much don't exist on modern phones. What else uses SD cards? Guess I've been a tech junkie for 20 years and never had the need to use an SD card other in my parents camera. They found it easier to transfer via USB rather than fiddle with using the SD card reader in their laptop. That said, I do find it odd that given how cheap they are that some case hasn't thrown in a built-in one, especially on the more expensive cases. Unlike 3.5" and 5.25" external bays which are deal breakers for me, I wouldn't have any problem buying a case with a card reader built-in even though I would never use it.

    Optical is dead as 8-track tapes. Should be easy to Velcro an external slim drive to the top of the case if you really want one always with the computer.
    Reply
  • danjw - Friday, November 23, 2012 - link

    2x 92mm and 1x 120mm, they call that ventilation? Just not going to do it will a modern graphics card, especially a dual GPU one. Reply

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