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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  • Grok42 - Friday, November 23, 2012 - link

    You can never be too thin right? While I get your point, especially for a server, it's also hard to see how you would ever regret going with the smaller case assuming it met your requirements at build time. I can certainly see how it's possible that you might wish a larger server didn't take up so much space later on.

    I've had many full ATX and mid-tower ATX cases over the years and with the exception of my current mid-tower ATX, I've never come close to filling them. While my current server system wouldn't fit into this case, if I were building it again today I'd use and SSD for the system drive as well as bigger HDs and it would easily fit with no problem.

    I couldn't agree more with you on not putting all this stuff in an HTPC. I'm even more extreme and don't want anything even remotely like a computer in my living room. I use a tiny WD-Live to stream all the content from the sever in the closet upstairs.
    Reply
  • londiste - Friday, November 23, 2012 - link

    itx by its definition is still niche.

    whether you like it or not, good flex/matx psu-s are bloody expensive and there aren't that many of those. especially if we are talking about anything that might want to be an htpc - i.e. quiet. picopsu in the lower end and atx psus on the other end are a lot better and less expensive options.

    i for one do not have a staircase nor a closet that would be sufficiently closed (to muffle the noise) and sufficiently open (for fresh air) at the same time.
    Reply
  • yyrkoon - Tuesday, November 27, 2012 - link

    Kind of sad is it not ?

    I've had this nagging feeling for the last couple of years. That in order to get what *I* want, in a mini-ITX system; I would have to either build my own case from scratch. Or mod an existing case. Perhaps, then i could make a little money providing the same to others ( where the case manufactures failed ). But as you said, the market is not really all that large. So yeah. . .

    Next, if "we" could only convince the OEM's that quality power supplies do not *need* to be in the 600W to 1KW range . . . I think we would be golden. I certainly could use a good 80 Plus certified 200W ATX power supply myself. Perhaps even less wattage.
    .
    Reply
  • yyrkoon - Tuesday, November 27, 2012 - link

    I agree with you, while at the same time disagree.

    Mini-ITX has its good points. Power usage by comparison can be a lot lower since many mini-ITX boards do not have a ton of bells and whistles most people do not need on them. For me, we're 100% off-grid ( solar / wind power with a battery bank for power storage). Currently, I use a laptop, but would like to make the move to something more flexible, and better performance potential. Without using a whole lot more power.

    As for using an actual mini-ITX case. I could go either way. I have a decent Lian-Li reverse ATX case that I like a lot so I would possibly opt for that. Its standard width at only 15.5" tall. with lots of room for mods or storage with bay converters. However with our power concerns as mentioned above, I could see going with a smaller attractive case. Since less room taken up by the system would be a good thing. While having tons of HDDs internal, up and running whenever the system is -> not a good idea. I'd rather use external drives, saving power by turning them off when not needed.

    With all that said. Micro ATX boards can be had with limited peripherals as well. However, it is always nice to have more options. Especially if some or perhaps most of those options better suite your own needs.
    Reply
  • Kepe - Friday, November 23, 2012 - link

    Hi and thanks for the review, Dustin!
    I stumbled upon this case a week or two ago while looking for an HTPC case with sufficient expandability storage-wise, and was left wondering what it could be used for.
    Isn't the 750W, 180mm PSU a bit overkill for an ITX build, though? I know you try to use the same components for every case review, but wouldn't it have been better to use a smaller PSU and then be able to test with the GTX 560Ti, instead of the measly GTS 450 Eco??
    Reply
  • Grok42 - Friday, November 23, 2012 - link

    I agree it seems this would have been the better trade off if given that something had to give and you couldn't keep the exact same components your used for other reviews.

    I'm not sure when Dustin resets his testing components, but perhaps he should consider a smaller lower watt PSU for 2013. I used a PSU calculator and couldn't get it to recommend more than 420 watts without going with multiple video cards. Since the testing doesn't use multiple video cards and SLI setups represent a very small segment and testing smaller cases is happening more maybe it's time for a change. The specs I used to get the 420w recommendation were:

    Intel i7 3770k
    16GB RAM
    6x 5400 RPM HDs
    1x SSD
    1x CD/DVD RW
    2x 140mm Fans

    I'd say this is a pretty loaded system by most accounts.
    Reply
  • martyrant - Friday, November 23, 2012 - link

    Drop the optical for 2 to 4 ssds...raiding an ssd is very common for builds, especially if you are throwing in a 3770k cpu.

    Did you omit the gfx used? 'Cause I would peg that as a 7970 or a GTX 680 for power requirements
    Reply
  • Grok42 - Friday, November 23, 2012 - link

    Your are correct, I did omit the GPU in the list when I typed it up but I did include it in the calculator that recommended 420W PSU. I added more equipment and topped out at less than 460w with the following equipment:

    Intel i7 3770k
    Nvidia 660 Ti
    32GB RAM
    6x 5400 RPM HDs
    4x SSD
    1x CD/DVD RW
    4x 140mm Fans
    1x Fan Controler
    Reply
  • frabber - Friday, November 23, 2012 - link

    Me myself have a i7 2600 running inside a m350 box (Scythe Kozuti cooling). To my knowledge that is the smallest mITX case around.

    The problem I have with the bigger mITX cases is that they take up desk space and you cannot place them on the ground either. So I would end up using some sort of furniture to place them on, which kind of defeat the space saving factor.

    So I for one would love to see some desktop saving design mITX cases, or other solutions. mITX case stands, racks?
    Reply
  • dingetje - Friday, November 23, 2012 - link

    too bad it's only available in black Reply

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