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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  • Mumrik - Friday, November 23, 2012 - link

    You have pretty high expectations for a case the size of two shoe boxes. Reply
  • Grok42 - Friday, November 23, 2012 - link

    Since every nicer case and MB support it, I would LOVE to know what actual percentage of hand built gaming rigs have dual graphics. I really have no idea but it has to be very small. It really only makes sense when you want more horsepower than best in class single cards can give you. This means that a dual setup is going to be $600+ in just video cards. I guess it would be different if reasonable priced monitors weren't stuck at 1080p. To justify a dual setup you would need two 2560x1440 monitors which are $700+ each. Not saying this wouldn't be a great setup, just that there can't be that many of them. Reply
  • Death666Angel - Saturday, November 24, 2012 - link

    3 x 1080/1200 is also on the verge of being unplayable at max settings for a single GPU card. Multi GPU use should be in the single digits percentage wise. Reply
  • infoilrator - Friday, November 23, 2012 - link

    Good review:
    Typical comments in the "it is what I want/ no it is not" catagory

    Question is do you excuse small cases for origami like configurations to become smaller?
    What criteria are absolute, which not?

    Personally, after larger cases, except some low budget one, have acquired cable management,
    I do not see the need to squeeze so tight.

    A half inch wider and an inch deeper would appeal a lot more to me.

    I like USB/Audio plugs top front or top front side. I use these things. Neither thumb drives or USB cables seem to be 90 degree connectors,

    Card readers are cheap enough to be there but it looks like USB external is the future (where is that..?)
    Pretty much the same external DVD, oh well.

    Power Supplies are more problemic.
    SFF is possible

    The Seasonic 360G is 140mm, could not find size listings for 450/550/650 G Series.
    Rosewill Capstone is my wish list "go to" power supply
    450 is 163 mm and the modular 450M is 170 mm, no so good

    My budget "go to" is the Corsair CX430 AT 140 mm Deep, though you can argue this is not a budget case.

    Which makes it function vs elegant, and no answer correct.
    Elegant outside, less so inside. Functional inside vs functional outside so so.

    They are going to sell a lot of these.
    Reply
  • lwatcdr - Friday, November 23, 2012 - link

    Blu-Ray drive or an LCD display. If you are going to use this for a home media center I can see some uses.
    Since this is a home server maybe you should have used 3 or more hdds and skipped the SSDs for some testing.
    Reply
  • just4U - Friday, November 23, 2012 - link

    I shudder every time I see Dustin's cabling handywork in assembling these testbeds.. (chuckle) Keep up the case reviews though, love them! Reply
  • Dustin Sklavos - Saturday, November 24, 2012 - link

    Assemble and then tear down three to four cases a month (on top of your other work) and see how much you still care about tidy cabling. ;) Reply
  • Grok42 - Friday, November 23, 2012 - link

    Seems like everyone thinks this case is ideal for a NAS server or HTPC. I get the server angle given that it has pretty good capacity for 3.5 and 2.5 because of the awesome decision to not include external bays. What I am surprised is that I get the idea no one would consider this for a workstation. What does everyone feel knocks it out of consideration? I'm seriously considering this over my current pick of a Lian-Li QB25. Reply
  • Dustin Sklavos - Saturday, November 24, 2012 - link

    I've actually been mulling over exactly that. The only thing that really keeps me from doing it is that there are no Z77 mITX boards with FireWire. Reply
  • Metaluna - Monday, November 26, 2012 - link

    I guess it depends on what your definition of a workstation is, and whether it includes gaming. I have never needed a gaming-level GPU in any work I've done in my professional life, for example, but I occasionally do need lots of memory and CPU power, plus ECC is always nice to have. In other words, I'd be looking for something that could fit a Xeon-class motherboard, but is small enough to tuck away somewhere on my desk (maybe behind the monitor) and still be fairly quiet under load. These large mITX shoebox cases have an awkward form-factor for the desktop, and if you're going to put it on the floor anyway, you probably won't save much space over a micro ATX or even full ATX mini-tower.

    I'm really not a fan of this style of case, and by that I mean the "huge shoebox" style, not the lack of ODD bays, which is a very worthy tradeoff. But if you need anything larger than a single-slot video card, they're pretty much the only option these days with a few exceptions.

    Reply

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