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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  • martyrant - Friday, November 23, 2012 - link

    I'm a pretty big fan of Fractal Design cases; this looked quite promising (especially by the specs on the first page) until I got to the point where I read Dustin having issues getting the 560 Ti inside.

    I have maybe--MAYBE--used my optical drive a handful of times in the past 5 years. And almost all of those times I could have gotten away with using an alternative method (bootable USB, backed up ISOs, etc.) and am glad to see it omitted completely. Even in large desktop cases I'm starting to wish they would get rid of 5.25" bays completely and just give me 10-12+ internal 3.5" drive bays for massive RAID/fileserver setups (I have had my eye on the Fractal Design XL for a while now). Only reason I see myself using a 5.25" bay is for a hot swappable drive bay...and I don't use those often since I have a NAS that supports that. But I am amassing lots of old 640GB (have 4) and 500GB (have 4) drives and I use 4x128GB samsung 830s in raid0 as my boot...would be nice to RAID 5 the 640's and the 500s in a case though and maybe kill my NAS since my computer is almost always on anyway.

    I do admit, optical drives in the work place have more of a use than at home for me.
    Reply
  • lmcd - Friday, November 23, 2012 - link

    I see potential with a single-slot 7750, personally, or a 160mm PSU that naturally doesn't have a lot of connectivity Reply
  • LadyKate - Sunday, November 25, 2012 - link

    Love my job, since I've been bringing in $5600… I sit at home, music playing while I work in front of my new iMac that I got now that I'm making it online(Click on menu Home)
    http://goo.gl/ZXnvc
    Reply
  • Grok42 - Friday, November 23, 2012 - link

    I had the same reaction. It sounded like my dream case until I got to the part about it not handling the 560 Ti. I have a New Egg wishlist just begging me to hit the buy button with a Lian-Li QB25 case. I just can't do it because I'm on the fence about the case. The specs I have call for a 660 Ti GPU and a SILVERSTONE ST45SF-G PSU. The PSU used for the review is 7" deep while the one I've picked is less than 4" but I still worry about how much clearance there will be for the modular connectors.

    I'm still really excited by this case but it also appears to be difficult to purchase right now. I only saw it available through a few sources for $120+
    Reply
  • londiste - Friday, November 23, 2012 - link

    and yet, neither of you noticed that he is using a psu that is beyond fractal's spec. with a shorter psu, you'll fit a hell of a graphics card in there just fine.

    i know that the hardware dustin uses is same for comparison purposes but think about realistic power usage - 750w psu for an itx box? :)
    Reply
  • Dustin Sklavos - Friday, November 23, 2012 - link

    londiste is completely correct.

    I use standard hardware, but you WILL be able to fit a GTX 560 Ti (albeit probably barely) or even a 680 in this case if you put a smaller PSU in.

    The problem then, though, is dealing with the cable spaghetti.
    Reply
  • MonkeyPaw - Friday, November 23, 2012 - link

    Seems like if more of these Mini-ITX cases start showing up and becoming standard, maybe manufacturers will start offering PSUs that work better. Smaller dimensions, shorter cables, etc. That, or these case makers need to start including a modest (realistic) PSU that works for the form factor. Personally, I don't think it needs more than ~400W, as running a space-heater GPU in such a cramped case is just asking for problems anyway. Reply
  • Guspaz - Friday, November 23, 2012 - link

    You really don't need a super power supply in these things. The GeForce 680 has a TDP of 195W, the i7-3770 has a TDP of 77W. Those are the two most power hungry components, and you're only at 272 watts. Shuttle ships their mini ITX cases with a 500W PSU and certifies both of these components (actually up to 95W on the CPU, but I don't think any go that high yet).

    A good quality single-rail 500W PSU is probably enough for almost any Intel consumer desktop unless they're getting crazy with multi-GPU or insane numbers of hard drives (like my fileserver which has 15 hotswap bays :P).

    Peoples' views of how big of a PSU they need has been skewed by the noname-brand garbage that floods the market. They buy an 600W PSU that fails if you push it beyond 300W and think they need an 800W PSU to replace it, when really they could have gone with a much lower wattage high quality PSU.
    Reply
  • yyrkoon - Tuesday, November 27, 2012 - link

    May as well call it 300W peak after adding a HDD, and optical drive. a Tad more with an SSD in addition.

    Problem is, any modern PSU to be the most efficient . It needs to be loaded at 50%. So we're again talking 600W for a PSU. If efficiency is not all that important, then you can futz around a bit but going under 500W will only be a problem with any power hungry GPU. e.g. the system stands a better chance of being less than rock solid stable. Now I can not speak for anyone else, but for me rock solid stability is a must in any build. However, i also would not require a beast of a graphics card either.

    Lastly, not all PSU;s are created equal. So you're not necessarily guaranteed even 50% of the power total provided on the 12v rail. Assuming a single rail PSU. Most that I would trust being made by seasonic, while being branded by different companies. Antec comes to mind ( earthwatts 500 ) I've owned one now for 4-5 years and am perfectly happy with it. Granted, as stated above, i do not require a massive GPU.. Mostly i opt for mid range.

    Now, if these case manufacturers would only isolate the PSU in a way where it draws in air from the outside while exhausting hot air out. Really a no-brainier, and as a hobbyist case moder it really isn't that hard But I digress. I suppose that would require more than 3 brain cells . . . Or really caring about what a system builder wants.
    Reply
  • Metaluna - Friday, November 23, 2012 - link

    Seems to me that what we need is for the industry to standardize on a set of connectors for modular PSUs. That would allow an aftermarket to develop for modular PSU cables of any length you need. Like in this case it looks like the main power connector only needs to be around 8" or so, if that. There are outfits that sell custom modular cables for select PSUs (e.g. Seasonic X-series) but they are ridiculously expensive.

    Oh, also regarding SFX supplies, I believe you can buy adapter plates that will allow them to mount on an ATX cutout, so that might help in this instance.
    Reply

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