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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  • 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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