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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  • yyrkoon - Tuesday, November 27, 2012 - link

    Personally, Id like to see something standard ATX width ( doubled ) and at around this height. Or maybe a little taller. Dedicate the second side to nothing but disk storage. Perhaps partitioned, and well ventilated.

    This would probably start to encroach on rackmount territory though. Without the rack.
    Reply
  • JekyllHyde5 - Saturday, November 24, 2012 - link

    I read on the specifications of this PSU @Silverstone's website that the dimensions are "150 mm (W) x 86 mm (H) x 160 mm (D)". So the length is 160mm, and the F-D's specifications of the Node says it allows PSUs until 160mm. What the hell did I not get ? Why did Anantech had difficulties setting up the GTX 560Ti if the length was alright ? Reply
  • Death666Angel - Saturday, November 24, 2012 - link

    But in the text he specifically says it is 180mm. Weird. Reply
  • JohnMD1022 - Saturday, November 24, 2012 - link

    First time I've seen it used in at least 30 years. Reply
  • Th3rdparty - Saturday, November 24, 2012 - link

    I have been building a NAS media server over the last several months and this was the last purchase I needed to complete the build. So far it has been running 24/7 for the last 2 weeks without the slightest hiccup. My build consists of

    Node 304
    Jetway NF9E-Q77 (6 Sata, USB 3.0, dual Intel NIC, Sandy Bridge)
    Core i7 3770t (45w TDP)
    16GB Corsair Value Ram
    5 2TB Seagate 5900RPM HDD (Raid 5)
    90GB Corsair SSD (boot drive, VM and Cache for media before it lands on the raid
    Seasonic X460 Fanless PS (modular)
    Antec Kuhler 620 liquid cooler (replaced the 140mm exhaust fan w/ 120mm Noctua NF-P12)
    Ubuntu Server w/ XFCE (I'm still a linux noob and need a GUI every once in a while)

    The only thing I really wish I changed was put it the WD 3 TB Red NAS drives and the new Platinum version of the Seasonic PS but they were not available when I made those purchases

    I also have to run the fan controller on high because the Antec Kuhler doesn't seem to get enough voltage to run at low speeds. Even so it is not audible unless there is dead silence in the room

    I can tell you that this was the most fun build I have ever done. I haven't completely finished the software side yet (still need to setup SSH, VNC, Timemachine, and secure it better) but this thing is a beast and handles anything I throw at it media wise. If I ever get around to taking some temperature readings and total power draw I will update but my initial experience is that it is very efficient and doesn't run even slightly warm. The cabling was not to bad but there is definitely an art to putting this case together so you don't get spaghetti and it keeps the air moving.
    Reply
  • Calista - Saturday, November 24, 2012 - link

    An SSD is more or less only being sold in 2.5" and smaller formats (forget about PCI-E for a moment), a 1 TB 2.5" HDD is roughly a hundred dollar. More and more (music, movies, games?) are migrating to the cloud. Maybe it's time to ditch the 3.5" format as well? Reply
  • Grok42 - Saturday, November 24, 2012 - link

    Interesting thought. It would certainly make case design better given that it is apparently impossible for them to figure out a modular mounting system. The main drawback if doing this would be for those wanting bulk storage. It would take 3 drives, 3 cables, 3 SATA ports and 2x the money to replace a single 3tb drive. So it would take a LOT of drives to build some rigs. Maybe if they started building double height versions that were 2-3TB. I still like the idea of standardizing on the 2.5 size. Reply
  • Calista - Saturday, November 24, 2012 - link

    Seriously? I can't find a single valid reason why the connectors should be located on the side as compared to the front. Besides aesthetics. The way my desk is arranged I wouldn't even be able to use the connectors on a case like this without moving it 5 inches from the wall. Giving me a wonderful kindergarten - for dust mites. Reply
  • sna2 - Saturday, November 24, 2012 - link

    hi,

    Can you please test this guy with some max component?

    Z77 itx Mother board

    i7 3770k

    nvidia GTX 680

    and a fast SSD. and 16G Ram

    this case is designed for top end machine in a small case.

    seriously Anad , ...

    you are testing this case the wrong way it is NOT MEANT to be an HTPC

    this is a LAN PARTY GAMING BOX !
    Reply
  • sna2 - Saturday, November 24, 2012 - link

    hey Anand , there is allways SFX powersupply over there with an Adapter .. so the standard PS2 power is FINE. they DONT NEED to Change into SFX. they HAVE SFX

    here is an 450 watt SFX with Adapter for PS2 from silver stine , and IT HAS SHORT CABLES and modular and GOLD as well

    this one

    http://www.silverstonetek.com/product.php?pid=342&...

    please test this with MAX system

    i7 3770k , 680 nvidia GPU !!!
    Reply

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