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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  • londiste - Friday, November 23, 2012 - link

    Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants so long as it is black.
    - Henry Ford

    :)
    Reply
  • silveralien81 - Friday, November 23, 2012 - link

    Don't care much for the case but the Heinlein reference was great. Reply
  • versesuvius - Friday, November 23, 2012 - link

    The problem with computer systems has always been and is, the wires that come out of the them, resulting in the ugliest part of the room. As for the space a case occupies, as long as the case has the same footprint, the height is not a problem with ordinary cases as long as they do not move into full, ultra towers. It is simply foolish to limit the potential of a computer system by restricting the space inside the box that is going to take the same real state on the desktop or under it anyway. Just go with a decently normal case. At least it will cover some of the ugly wires and cables sticking out of the case. Reply
  • bobbozzo - Thursday, November 29, 2012 - link

    This is designed to be a server; it might go on a shelf with limited vertical space. Reply
  • dealcorn - Friday, November 23, 2012 - link

    The diversity of use cases makes it hard to please readers with a case like this. When the Xeon Atom S12XX motherboards are released a case like this could make an attractive headless server. With 5 WD Reds, a 65 watt power adapter is the correct power supply. What are you supposed to do with the big empty hole where the ATX power supply ain't? Reply
  • Mumrik - Friday, November 23, 2012 - link

    Since it clearly is made to be able to serve as a file server or HTPC/media vault, I'd really have liked to see it tested with six 3½" drives, or five and a 2½" SSD.

    If I wasn't going to take advantage of the storage options, I'd probably be looking at other cases, and it would be very nice to see if it actually was able to do what it seems to indicate it can - run safely while stacked with storage.
    Reply
  • heraldo25 - Friday, November 23, 2012 - link

    Strange that card-readers are not standard on *any decent* case nowadays, all laptops have them, why not all desktops? Particularly now that it is getting more popular to drop the 3.5" external bay which before could be used to insert a card-reader. Also, notebook-size dvd-drives do not take up much space, should be a slot for that IMO. Reply
  • Metaluna - Friday, November 23, 2012 - link

    My guess is there isn't much market for them. Photo and audio file transfers seem to be moving in the direction of cloud-syncing rather than transferring from physical media (it would be interesting to know what percentage of photos just go direct to Facebook without ever touching a hard drive, for example. I bet it's pretty significant). And in a pinch you can just use your phone/camera/whatever as a reader anyway, which, though usually slow, is probably good enough for most people.

    Slim ODDs are kind of a mixed bag, IMHO, and not really worth the effort on a desktop machine. Not a lot of choices for Blu-ray, for example, and drive speed is usually lower than a full-sized drive. Plus the little mini connector is goofy and almost always requires adapters with ugly Molex connectors and so forth.
    Reply
  • Grok42 - Friday, November 23, 2012 - link

    The only think I've ever seen anyone use a card reader for is for a camera. Most people use their phone to take pictures and in case you haven't noticed, SD slots pretty much don't exist on modern phones. What else uses SD cards? Guess I've been a tech junkie for 20 years and never had the need to use an SD card other in my parents camera. They found it easier to transfer via USB rather than fiddle with using the SD card reader in their laptop. That said, I do find it odd that given how cheap they are that some case hasn't thrown in a built-in one, especially on the more expensive cases. Unlike 3.5" and 5.25" external bays which are deal breakers for me, I wouldn't have any problem buying a case with a card reader built-in even though I would never use it.

    Optical is dead as 8-track tapes. Should be easy to Velcro an external slim drive to the top of the case if you really want one always with the computer.
    Reply
  • danjw - Friday, November 23, 2012 - link

    2x 92mm and 1x 120mm, they call that ventilation? Just not going to do it will a modern graphics card, especially a dual GPU one. Reply

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