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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  • Tegeril - Saturday, November 24, 2012 - link

    I have this case, if you shop around for smaller PSUs (I have an FSP Aurum Gold 400W in mine) you can get larger GPUs in the case. Fractal Design even goes as far as to describe the exact measurements in mm to help you make that determination.

    My build has a 7750 in it right now.
    Reply
  • lexluthermiester - Sunday, November 25, 2012 - link

    Could disagree with you more on the optical drive point, Perhaps YOU can do without, but the vast majority of the rest of us still use ODD[Bluray, DVD] for various, very useful purposes. The lack of ODD bay[even for a notebook sata drive] is a deal breaker with most folks. USB aside, how would you suppose to install windows? Most people have yet to learn of the wonders of a USB drive for such, and most of those who do[myself included] would still prefer to use an ODD, even if it is slower.

    ODD's in the work place? Not. More network admin's use network installs than ODD's. No, it's just not on. Your idea's may work for you, but most people still use and like optical discs. And for that rather big group, it's a deal breaker.
    Reply
  • lexluthermiester - Sunday, November 25, 2012 - link

    Couldn't* disagree...

    Note to Anand group; A bloody edit function would not go amiss....
    Reply
  • PsychoPif - Monday, November 26, 2012 - link

    I use a USB DVD burner on my PC and I was able to install Windows 8 without a hitch.

    Off course some still need a drive bay, but I think Dustin is right when he says that we slowly but surely move away from it.
    Reply
  • yyrkoon - Tuesday, November 27, 2012 - link

    I'd have to agree with lexluthermiester. Leaving optical media in the dust is not an option. However, it is a problem that is solvable. e.g. external, networked, or out of the case install. Reply
  • yyrkoon - Tuesday, November 27, 2012 - link

    USB, Firewire, Network install, or you could do the install out of the case. Afterwards putting everything inside.

    For everything else, you could use either an external drive, network shared drive, etc. I do realize this is less than ideal, however having a laptop with two HDDs in it ( optical drive bay caddy in my own case ) you have to learn to workaround, or live without. One thing worth mentioning. Most mobile optical drives are garbage, so external is usually a better option anyhow.

    Anyhow, external 5.25" drive cases do not cost all that much so cost is not a big deal. The only potential issue is how well the BIOS on your given motherboard handles boot from USB, Now days, I would think this to be a non issue.
    Reply
  • JoanSpark - Sunday, December 02, 2012 - link

    that is the 2nd mITX without a 5.25 I know of.. go get you one of the plenty other crippled ones that still have them if you can't move with times.. Reply
  • lmcd - Friday, November 23, 2012 - link

    The testing page needs a slight update; this isn't an A30 and in no way can fit a MicroATX board.

    Great review! Contender for my next build since I rely on internal storage and the cloud so much anyway, and with USB 3 and Steam, physical media is pretty unnecessary.
    Reply
  • Dustin Sklavos - Friday, November 23, 2012 - link

    Fixed! I has the dumb. Reply
  • Minion4Hire - Friday, November 23, 2012 - link

    I agree that an ATX PSU in a mini-ITX chassis is a bit overkill, but you're not going to put a high-wattage, high-performance power supply in a mini-ITX anything. This case feels more like a 500W Silverstone Strider Plus candidate than any kilowatt e-peen unit.

    But am I the only one that doesn't care about a compact SOHO chassis? It's admirable that they've managed to fit so many drives into such a small case (and I really do like the design) but I could care less about smaller chassis where any kind of home server is concerned. You can shove such a chassis anywhere you can feed power and ethernet to. Under a staircase, buried in a closet... you can find plenty of locations that would be otherwise undesirable for all sorts of other hardware, so lack-of-space doesn't seem like a big concern. I'm not going to make my HTPC serve double-duty as my file server. A RAID 5 in my living room is not going to make for a truly silent HTPC. Meanwhile, I DO want my HTPC to have an optical drive, if only for convenience.

    Just seems like a niche product. Maybe I'm wrong.
    Reply

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