Assembling the Fractal Design Node 304

Befitting the Fractal Design Node 304's simple aesthetic is an equally simple assembly, but there are definitely measures that could've been taken to make it easier still. In its own way this is par for the course with Fractal Design's cases; they're easy to build but they could've optimized things even further.

The biggest problem is actually installing the motherboard. Before installing anything you need to remove the three drive brackets, all of which are secured by two thumbscrews and a single small Phillips head screw. Getting the I/O shield in is easy enough, but Fractal Design makes you install the standoffs on your own despite the fact that mITX boards only ever have four and they're all in the same place. That's a minor nitpick, but note that clearance is going to be a bit difficult as the power supply region and bracket sits almost flush with the motherboard and they recommend you install the PSU first.

Getting the PSU in is also a bit of a tight squeeze; our test PSU is 180mm with modular connections, essentially longer than the Node 304's spec. As a result, the PCIe slot is rendered essentially unusable to cards longer than the motherboard itself. The problem is that a modular power supply is practically essential for a case like this as there simply isn't anywhere else for the cables to go. I don't think this is a dire situation, but it's one of the places where I feel like the SFX power supply standard really needs to proliferate and would be more ideal. You just don't need a full ATX PSU in a case this size, and space is at a premium.

With no optical drive bay to speak of, we're left with the drive mounting brackets, and I think they're for the most part a solid design. There are three, but really you're going to want to use the bare minimum, which for the purposes of testing was just one. Drives bottom-mount to the sides of the brackets (which took our Corsair Link box out of the equation), and then the brackets go in. One potential problem is that a pair of 3.5" drives run the risk of blocking an intake, and I don't see people filling this case up with six drives as I'm just not sure there's space for them.

Because of the way the cables stuck out of the power supply and the length of the power supply itself, I was unable to fit our GeForce GTX 560 Ti inside the Node 304 for testing. The short, single-slot Zotac GeForce GTS 450 Eco, however, went in just fine and was surprisingly easy to install and remove. Cable spaghetti is a foregone conclusion in a case like this and unfortunately that made getting the shroud back on that much more difficult.

As far as small cases go, assembly in the Node 304 was tight but not impossible and if anything might've stood to be a little more involved. I'm not sure how I feel about the drive brackets, but since Fractal Design is targeting small home servers with this case I can understand the need to cram as much storage in as possible and the intakes probably serve more to keep the drives from overheating than actually circulating air through the chassis. I do think they could've gone with an SFX power supply instead, though, and even though it would've been more involved, splitting the shroud into two or even three panels might make assembly and service much easier.

In and Around the Fractal Design Node 304 Testing Methodology
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  • martyrant - Friday, November 23, 2012 - link

    I'm a pretty big fan of Fractal Design cases; this looked quite promising (especially by the specs on the first page) until I got to the point where I read Dustin having issues getting the 560 Ti inside.

    I have maybe--MAYBE--used my optical drive a handful of times in the past 5 years. And almost all of those times I could have gotten away with using an alternative method (bootable USB, backed up ISOs, etc.) and am glad to see it omitted completely. Even in large desktop cases I'm starting to wish they would get rid of 5.25" bays completely and just give me 10-12+ internal 3.5" drive bays for massive RAID/fileserver setups (I have had my eye on the Fractal Design XL for a while now). Only reason I see myself using a 5.25" bay is for a hot swappable drive bay...and I don't use those often since I have a NAS that supports that. But I am amassing lots of old 640GB (have 4) and 500GB (have 4) drives and I use 4x128GB samsung 830s in raid0 as my boot...would be nice to RAID 5 the 640's and the 500s in a case though and maybe kill my NAS since my computer is almost always on anyway.

    I do admit, optical drives in the work place have more of a use than at home for me.
    Reply
  • lmcd - Friday, November 23, 2012 - link

    I see potential with a single-slot 7750, personally, or a 160mm PSU that naturally doesn't have a lot of connectivity Reply
  • LadyKate - Sunday, November 25, 2012 - link

    Love my job, since I've been bringing in $5600… I sit at home, music playing while I work in front of my new iMac that I got now that I'm making it online(Click on menu Home)
    http://goo.gl/ZXnvc
    Reply
  • Grok42 - Friday, November 23, 2012 - link

    I had the same reaction. It sounded like my dream case until I got to the part about it not handling the 560 Ti. I have a New Egg wishlist just begging me to hit the buy button with a Lian-Li QB25 case. I just can't do it because I'm on the fence about the case. The specs I have call for a 660 Ti GPU and a SILVERSTONE ST45SF-G PSU. The PSU used for the review is 7" deep while the one I've picked is less than 4" but I still worry about how much clearance there will be for the modular connectors.

    I'm still really excited by this case but it also appears to be difficult to purchase right now. I only saw it available through a few sources for $120+
    Reply
  • londiste - Friday, November 23, 2012 - link

    and yet, neither of you noticed that he is using a psu that is beyond fractal's spec. with a shorter psu, you'll fit a hell of a graphics card in there just fine.

    i know that the hardware dustin uses is same for comparison purposes but think about realistic power usage - 750w psu for an itx box? :)
    Reply
  • Dustin Sklavos - Friday, November 23, 2012 - link

    londiste is completely correct.

    I use standard hardware, but you WILL be able to fit a GTX 560 Ti (albeit probably barely) or even a 680 in this case if you put a smaller PSU in.

    The problem then, though, is dealing with the cable spaghetti.
    Reply
  • MonkeyPaw - Friday, November 23, 2012 - link

    Seems like if more of these Mini-ITX cases start showing up and becoming standard, maybe manufacturers will start offering PSUs that work better. Smaller dimensions, shorter cables, etc. That, or these case makers need to start including a modest (realistic) PSU that works for the form factor. Personally, I don't think it needs more than ~400W, as running a space-heater GPU in such a cramped case is just asking for problems anyway. Reply
  • Guspaz - Friday, November 23, 2012 - link

    You really don't need a super power supply in these things. The GeForce 680 has a TDP of 195W, the i7-3770 has a TDP of 77W. Those are the two most power hungry components, and you're only at 272 watts. Shuttle ships their mini ITX cases with a 500W PSU and certifies both of these components (actually up to 95W on the CPU, but I don't think any go that high yet).

    A good quality single-rail 500W PSU is probably enough for almost any Intel consumer desktop unless they're getting crazy with multi-GPU or insane numbers of hard drives (like my fileserver which has 15 hotswap bays :P).

    Peoples' views of how big of a PSU they need has been skewed by the noname-brand garbage that floods the market. They buy an 600W PSU that fails if you push it beyond 300W and think they need an 800W PSU to replace it, when really they could have gone with a much lower wattage high quality PSU.
    Reply
  • yyrkoon - Tuesday, November 27, 2012 - link

    May as well call it 300W peak after adding a HDD, and optical drive. a Tad more with an SSD in addition.

    Problem is, any modern PSU to be the most efficient . It needs to be loaded at 50%. So we're again talking 600W for a PSU. If efficiency is not all that important, then you can futz around a bit but going under 500W will only be a problem with any power hungry GPU. e.g. the system stands a better chance of being less than rock solid stable. Now I can not speak for anyone else, but for me rock solid stability is a must in any build. However, i also would not require a beast of a graphics card either.

    Lastly, not all PSU;s are created equal. So you're not necessarily guaranteed even 50% of the power total provided on the 12v rail. Assuming a single rail PSU. Most that I would trust being made by seasonic, while being branded by different companies. Antec comes to mind ( earthwatts 500 ) I've owned one now for 4-5 years and am perfectly happy with it. Granted, as stated above, i do not require a massive GPU.. Mostly i opt for mid range.

    Now, if these case manufacturers would only isolate the PSU in a way where it draws in air from the outside while exhausting hot air out. Really a no-brainier, and as a hobbyist case moder it really isn't that hard But I digress. I suppose that would require more than 3 brain cells . . . Or really caring about what a system builder wants.
    Reply
  • Metaluna - Friday, November 23, 2012 - link

    Seems to me that what we need is for the industry to standardize on a set of connectors for modular PSUs. That would allow an aftermarket to develop for modular PSU cables of any length you need. Like in this case it looks like the main power connector only needs to be around 8" or so, if that. There are outfits that sell custom modular cables for select PSUs (e.g. Seasonic X-series) but they are ridiculously expensive.

    Oh, also regarding SFX supplies, I believe you can buy adapter plates that will allow them to mount on an ATX cutout, so that might help in this instance.
    Reply

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