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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  • Mumrik - Friday, November 23, 2012 - link

    You have pretty high expectations for a case the size of two shoe boxes. Reply
  • Grok42 - Friday, November 23, 2012 - link

    Since every nicer case and MB support it, I would LOVE to know what actual percentage of hand built gaming rigs have dual graphics. I really have no idea but it has to be very small. It really only makes sense when you want more horsepower than best in class single cards can give you. This means that a dual setup is going to be $600+ in just video cards. I guess it would be different if reasonable priced monitors weren't stuck at 1080p. To justify a dual setup you would need two 2560x1440 monitors which are $700+ each. Not saying this wouldn't be a great setup, just that there can't be that many of them. Reply
  • Death666Angel - Saturday, November 24, 2012 - link

    3 x 1080/1200 is also on the verge of being unplayable at max settings for a single GPU card. Multi GPU use should be in the single digits percentage wise. Reply
  • infoilrator - Friday, November 23, 2012 - link

    Good review:
    Typical comments in the "it is what I want/ no it is not" catagory

    Question is do you excuse small cases for origami like configurations to become smaller?
    What criteria are absolute, which not?

    Personally, after larger cases, except some low budget one, have acquired cable management,
    I do not see the need to squeeze so tight.

    A half inch wider and an inch deeper would appeal a lot more to me.

    I like USB/Audio plugs top front or top front side. I use these things. Neither thumb drives or USB cables seem to be 90 degree connectors,

    Card readers are cheap enough to be there but it looks like USB external is the future (where is that..?)
    Pretty much the same external DVD, oh well.

    Power Supplies are more problemic.
    SFF is possible

    The Seasonic 360G is 140mm, could not find size listings for 450/550/650 G Series.
    Rosewill Capstone is my wish list "go to" power supply
    450 is 163 mm and the modular 450M is 170 mm, no so good

    My budget "go to" is the Corsair CX430 AT 140 mm Deep, though you can argue this is not a budget case.

    Which makes it function vs elegant, and no answer correct.
    Elegant outside, less so inside. Functional inside vs functional outside so so.

    They are going to sell a lot of these.
    Reply
  • lwatcdr - Friday, November 23, 2012 - link

    Blu-Ray drive or an LCD display. If you are going to use this for a home media center I can see some uses.
    Since this is a home server maybe you should have used 3 or more hdds and skipped the SSDs for some testing.
    Reply
  • just4U - Friday, November 23, 2012 - link

    I shudder every time I see Dustin's cabling handywork in assembling these testbeds.. (chuckle) Keep up the case reviews though, love them! Reply
  • Dustin Sklavos - Saturday, November 24, 2012 - link

    Assemble and then tear down three to four cases a month (on top of your other work) and see how much you still care about tidy cabling. ;) Reply
  • Grok42 - Friday, November 23, 2012 - link

    Seems like everyone thinks this case is ideal for a NAS server or HTPC. I get the server angle given that it has pretty good capacity for 3.5 and 2.5 because of the awesome decision to not include external bays. What I am surprised is that I get the idea no one would consider this for a workstation. What does everyone feel knocks it out of consideration? I'm seriously considering this over my current pick of a Lian-Li QB25. Reply
  • Dustin Sklavos - Saturday, November 24, 2012 - link

    I've actually been mulling over exactly that. The only thing that really keeps me from doing it is that there are no Z77 mITX boards with FireWire. Reply
  • Metaluna - Monday, November 26, 2012 - link

    I guess it depends on what your definition of a workstation is, and whether it includes gaming. I have never needed a gaming-level GPU in any work I've done in my professional life, for example, but I occasionally do need lots of memory and CPU power, plus ECC is always nice to have. In other words, I'd be looking for something that could fit a Xeon-class motherboard, but is small enough to tuck away somewhere on my desk (maybe behind the monitor) and still be fairly quiet under load. These large mITX shoebox cases have an awkward form-factor for the desktop, and if you're going to put it on the floor anyway, you probably won't save much space over a micro ATX or even full ATX mini-tower.

    I'm really not a fan of this style of case, and by that I mean the "huge shoebox" style, not the lack of ODD bays, which is a very worthy tradeoff. But if you need anything larger than a single-slot video card, they're pretty much the only option these days with a few exceptions.

    Reply

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