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Apr
02
2013

Fractal Design Node 304 review – mini-ITX computer case Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Fractal Design Node 304 is mini-ITX ready chassis that comes with a new concept – more storage and ventilation. The case is small, there are smaller but for this kind of storage drives accommodation there is none on the market and maybe is the best looking mini-ITX case except for the Array R2. In terms of design the R2 was a better if you ask me, was simple, without accentuated curvatures in particular on the front cover, the only minus point were it screws for attaching the top cover. Anyway the younger brother, Node 304 comes in completely new concept and improved ergonomy. Way better drive cages, now you can add/remove groups of two drives only by removing the cover and one of the three HDD stands instead of disassembling almost the entire casing.

Another full point for Node 304 despite his compact design is for housing standard size ATX power supply which let you choose whatever PSU you want. The bottom of the chassis is specially fitted with ventilation holes to accommodate horizontal 120mm fan PSU, the power supply is mounted with the fan down so will throw outside the chassis all the hot air drawn from PSU.

There is no room for optical unit(s) but who needs it ? … instead the space is well used to fit six 2.5″/3.5″ HDD units with perfect ventilation, two front mounted 92mm which draws the cold air into the case, and one 140mm fan which blows the air outside. Even better, you can add an 165mm tower CPU heatsink and use the case fans (just an ideea but is doable, at least is what i want to achieve).

Another point taken is the dedicated graphic card accommodation which is unusual for an mini-ITX form factor chassis. If one of the three HDD cages is removed you can fit a standard dual-slot dedicated graphic card. So, for those who want a full featured multimedia computer, planty of disks space, normal ATX PSU and dead silent but with small and compact design, only 250 x 210 x 374 mm (W x H x D) i can safely say that the Fractal Design did a great job with the newcomer Node 304.

As you can see from pictures the Node 304 is conceived as a modular casing, all components can detach to be cleaned or replaced, if necessary. The Fractal Design even offers this kind of parts replacement. The top panel can be taken out by removing the four thumbnails screws at the back and then pull the panel toward the back and upwards. On the top and right sides are two small fixed ventilation meshes, on the left side again a big mesh (long as a full sized dedicated graphic card), this one has removable dust filter. The front bezel can be easily removed, just pull the bezel forward you will gain access to the removable air filter that lays in front of two 92 mm front fans (already installed).

On the back on the upper right corner there is a small switch, that is the fan controller which is for all 3 fans and allows three voltage stages – 3, 5 or 12 volts. Yet there is a downside, by connecting the fans to the controller you can’t see the running fans rpm but allows easy control over the fans.

Technical specifications

  • Mini ITX, DTX motherboard compatibility
  • 2 expansion slots
  • 6 – supports either 3.5″ or 2.5″ HDD / SSD
  • ATX PSUs, up to 160mm in length (To fit in combination with a long graphics card, PSUs with modular connectors on the back typically need to be shorter than 160 mm)
  • Graphics cards, up to 310mm in length, when 2 HDD brackets are removed (Graphics cards longer than 170 mm will conflict with PSUs longer than 160mm)
  • Tower CPU coolers, up to 165 mm tall
  • Case dimensions (W x H x D): 250 x 210 x 374 mm
  • Case volume: 19,5 Liters
  • Net weight: 4,9 kg

Cooling / ventilation

  • 2 – Front mounted 92mm Silent Series R2 hydraulic bearing fans, 1300 RPM speed (compatible with 80mm fans) – included
  • 1 – Rear mounted 140mm Silent Series R2 hydraulic bearing fan, 1000 RPM speed (compatible with 120mm fans) – included
  • Removable air filters for front fans and PSU
  • Fan filter for graphics card
  • 1 – fan controller for all 3 fans included

Front interface

  • 2 – USB 3.0 (Internal 3.0 to 2.0 adapter included)
  • 1 – 3.5mm audio in (microphone)
  • 1 – 3.5mm audio out (headphone)
  • Power button with LED
  • HDD LED

 

The design

The Fractal Design offers incredible clean / delicate design. Nothing to add, the design is what you see, better than everything out there – Node 304 is just top, as i’ve said in terms of design i like better Array R2 but i don’t dislike the Node 304 is hard choice for me. Node 304 wins in first place for inner ergonomy and because of stylish blue LED, discrete / delicate front left-sided logo and  power button. Anyway that’s my point, taste are different for each of us but i’m sure many will see the delicate and discrete design as a plus.

The noise

Since has this great look i can se only one main purpose for this case, multimedia PC and that always must be as quiet as possible, zero dB is the ultimate wish. Using the fan controller at low rpm the included fans will remain silent but will create enough air flow to maintain optimal temperature for the inner components. Even in middle position the Node 304 is quiet enough to achieve the desideratum of “quiet multimedia machine”

The inside

Even is a compact chassis it offers plenty of space for the motherboard, PSU and the six hard drive units or four hard drives and a full size dual-slot dedicated graphic card. This is a compromise to be made, you need to remove one HDD cage in order to fit the video card. Anyway it will still leave you with enough room to fit four drives . Cable management can be a big issue due to the compact space and small chassis form factor, but maybe an modular power supply with longer cables can be the right choice that could overcome this maybe issue. Anyway if you are like me, an cable management addicted this is not an issue.

 

conclusion_wallet
  • Fractal Design Node 304 – can be found in stores (Europe) at the approximate price of 80 € to 110 €
conclusion_hand_pro
  • small, compact, modular and very good guality case materials
  • clean, delicate & discrete front pannel design
  • inner ergonomy, six hard drive fit or four drives with full dedicated video card
  • standard ATX power supply unit accommodation
  • sturdy top-side pannel
  • front-side USB 3.0 and audio jacks
conclusion_hand_cons
  • maybe the plastic LED enclosure in the front pannel
  • fan controller, would have been perfect if there were cables that could be connected to the motherboard so you can monitor the fans rpm
conclusion_pen The Node 304 is the latest compact computer chassis from Fractal Design featuring a modular interior, simple and stylish design, no flashy colors, sublime and delicate logo. The case is best choice to used as a cool-running file server, a stylish and quiet home theatre PC or a powerful gaming system highlighting minimalistic design. In final words – cheap case with high manufacturing standards and materials is all that we can add.

 

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