Fractal Design Node 304 Mini-ITX Case
Fractal Design is no stranger to Legit Reviews, we have taken a look at many of their cases. As a Swedish company that specializes in designing computer hardware keeping with the Scandinavian minimalist viewpoint. They currently have four case lines each focusing on a different aspect. The Node line focuses on home entertainment as a HTPC, fileserver, or gaming station.
The Node line, is currently made up of two models, the Node 304 and the Node 605. The Node 304 is available in both black (FD-CA-NODE-304-BL) and white (FD-CA-NODE-304-WH) for $89.99 shipped. The Node 304 supports Mini-ITX and DTX motherboards and looks like a shrunken case, while the Node 605 supports ATX motherboards and looks like a home theater component.
Supporting Mini-ITX motherboards, the case isn't very large measuring 250x210x374mm (WxHxD) or 9.8x8.3x14.7 inches, don't let the size turn you off, it is still packed with many features. These features include dual SuperSpeed USB 3.0 ports, up to six hard drives, support for enthusiast level CPU coolers up to 165mm, and long video cards up to 310mm.
However, with a small case some things have to be sacrificed. With the Node 304, the sacrifice comes from the lack of a 5.25" device bay and some advanced cooling features. The tiny Node includes two front 92mm intake fans, and one rear 140mm exhaust fan; these can be swapped with 80mm and 120mm fans if desired. Thankfully the front intake fans are filtered. Providing a little control over the fans is a three speed fan controller mounted on the back of the case.
Fractal Design Node 304 Features:
- Compact, modular interior
- Minimalistic design with an elegant aluminum front panel
- Unique new modular mounting system that accommodates up to 6 hard drives
- Accommodates tower CPU coolers and single-fan water cooling systems
- Filtered air intakes ensure a dust-free environment for internal components
- Three Silent Series R2 hydraulic bearing fans included
- Excellent cooling for all components
- Accommodates ATX power supplies
- Fan controller for all fans included
- USB 3.0 for fast file transfers
- Mini ITX, DTX motherboard compatibility
- 2 expansion slots
- 6 – supports either 3.5" or 2.5" HDD / SSD
- ATX PSUs, up to 160mm in length (To fit in combination with a long graphics card, PSUs with modular connectors on the back typically need to be shorter than 160 mm)
- Graphics cards, up to 310mm in length, when 2 HDD slots (1 HDD hanging bracket total) are removed (Graphics cards longer than 170 mm will conflict with PSUs longer than 160mm)
- Tower CPU coolers, up to 165 mm tall
- Case dimensions (W x H x D): 250 x 210 x 374 mm
- Case volume: 19.5 Liters
- Net weight: 4.9 kg
- Colors available: Black and White
- 2 - Front mounted 92mm Silent Series R2 hydraulic bearing fans, 1300 RPM speed (compatible with 80mm fans) – included
- 1 - Rear mounted 140mm Silent Series R2 hydraulic bearing fan, 1000 RPM speed (compatible with 120mm fans) – included
- Removable air filters for front fans and PSU
- Fan filter for graphics card
- 1 - fan controller for all 3 fans included
- 2 - USB 3.0 (Internal 3.0 to 2.0 adapter included)
- 1 - 3.5mm audio in (microphone)
- 1 - 3.5mm audio out (headphone)
- Power button with LED
- HDD LED
Fractal Design Node 304 Case Packaging
Following the Fractal Design's Scandinavian roots, the packaging for the Node 304 is very basic, providing enough information to inform the potential user what the Node 304 is capable of. The front of the box shows a profile view of the case, and a little text to get somebody interested.
While the front didn't provide much information, the back provides a good amount of information. An easy to understand exploded view of the case, lists eight of the major features.
The sides provide a little information, but not very much. One side is a view of the case with the outside removed, and the two available part numbers. They have marked the part we received for review, FD-CA-NODE-304-WH. The second model is the black version which has a model number of FD-CA-NODE-304-BL. The other side of the box provides a brief glimpse of the Specifications, and the Cooling capabilities.
Typical packaging material is used, hard Styrofoam blocks along the top and bottom sides. Then the case is wrapped in plastic to keep it moisture free.
The accessories included with the Node 304 is fairly standard. There is the all important User's Manual, sixteen 3.5" hard drive screws, and sixteen 2.5" hard drive screws, three power supply screws, four motherboard standoffs with screws and three little cable ties.
Node 304 Exterior Impressions
Fractal Design kept the overall look and feel of the Node 304 as minimalist as possible. They state that the Node series "offers a stylish way to integrate the computer into your home". This is evident, as the Node 304 should look great in any living room as there are no bright flashing lights or strange angles to throw off the flow.
The front bezel is made out of plastic and is plain, except for the little Fractal Design name and power indicator in the lower right corner (hidden by the Legit Reviews logo). There are no 5.25" drive bays available on the Node 304.
The left side is fairly plain, except for a large vented area. This area takes up 9.75 x 4 inches (LxH), as the entire panel measures 13.5 x 8 inches (LxH), it takes up over half the side.
The back side of the Node 304 is a little different than standard cases. Instead of a power supply mount, we have just a power supply connector. A large 140mm exhaust fan, which could be replaced with a 120mm. In the upper right corner is a fan speed controller, similar to what we have seen on other Fractal Design cases. In the bottom right are two expansion ports, which indicates a PCI-E video card could be used. The expansion ports are held in place with screws, and a metal cover cover that slides up when a thumbscrew is loosened.
The right side is vented as well, however this side is much smaller, 5 x 2.5 inches (LxH). At the front edge is the front I/O cluster.
A closer look at the front I/O cluster shows standard inputs. From the top, microphone, headphone, 2x SuperSpeed USB 3.0, and power button. To the left of the power button, part of the front power LED can be seen.
Plain top, nothing exciting here. However at the top of the front bezel we see that it is vented to allow some airflow into the front intake fans.
The bottom doesn't present anything too exciting. There are four rubber feet to keep it from sliding and reduce vibration. The power supply intake is filtered by a removable filter, however the case will need to be lifted in order to remove the filter for cleaning.
Node 304 Interior Impressions
The outside panel is removed by four thumbscrews on the back panel (2x at the top, 1x on each side). With the outside panel removed, we can take a look at the interior components of the Node 304. The first thing that is noticed is the three large metal brackets, with the Fractal Design name on them; these are the three hard drive cages.
The three hard drive cages inside the Node 304 is held in place with a screw and two thumbscrews. Each cage can support two hard drives, either 3.5" or 2.5". No matter which size of drive you install, screws are necessary. For 3.5" drives t here are anti-vibration guards in place for the screws to go through; 2.5" drives are secured directly to the metal cage.
Withe the drive cages removed the interior is easily accessible. At the front is a large vented area for the power supply, which will rest on two rubber feet to reduce vibration. At the back of the case is a three fan controller for the three integrated fans; 2x 92mm front intake, and 1 140mm rear exhaust. In addition, as the power supply is mounted at the front of the case, there is an extension from the back to the power supply power connect or.
As space is at a premium inside the Node 304, the power supply is held in place with only three screws as the bottom left screw would be very difficult to get to behind the front bezel tab and the corner metal of the case.
The plastic front bezel can be removed by pulling it away from the case. With it removed, the two 92mm intake fans are visible. It is nice to see a filter on these fans, even though the front bezel has to be removed to do any type of cleaning. The large rectangle hole in the lower left corner is for the front I/O cables to pass through.
The large side panel air vent is filtered, which while there are no fans attached, if a large video card is installed it will pull air through the vent. It is held in place by tiny clips around the edge, which makes it so it could be removed for cleaning if necessary.
Node 304 Hardware Installation
The completed install of the Node 304 goes pretty much like a standard computer install. There are differences though, mostly due to the size of the case and how hardware is installed. The Mini-ITX motherboard selected for the Node 304, takes up a large portion of the case but doesn't have any unique installation issues. However, I would recommend installing the motherboard, then the power supply to make things a bit easier.
A Gigabyte HD 7870 is installed taking up both of the PCI expansion slots. The power supply installed in the Node 304, is modular and poses an issue with long video cards as the video card covers up the modular connections on the power supply, while the hard wired connections are fine. Also, keep in mind that using a long video card will require the hard drive cage to be removed. A video card up to 10.5" can be installed without any issues, otherwise a smaller video card no longer than 6.7" will be necessary.
A 3.5" and 2.5" hard drive is installed in one of the hard drive cages. As previously mentioned, different screws are used for each type of drive.
For the final part of the build the hard drives are installed. As on-b0ard video will be used no additional video card is necessary, so all six hard drives can be installed; five 3.5" hard drives, and one 2.5" hard drive. One thing that was noticed is that the drive connectors do not line up, which might make cabling a little tricky. If a dedicated video card is going to be used, the drive cage on the right might need to be removed, or modified.
The power supply, is installed internally and the long power extension cable reaches without any issues. The cable is longer than necessary, which isn't a bad thing as it lets the power cable be twisted and routed as necessary.
Fractal Design Node 304 Final Thoughts and Conclusion
There are many Mini-ITX cases on the market, the Fractal Design Node 304 is just one option. I personally think it is one of the best options; for many reasons. The build quality is hard to beat, as is the minimalist design. Sure the lack of optical drive might turn a few people away from this, however optical drives are starting to disappear; like the old floppy drive did.
The build quality and design isn't the only reason this case stands out. It offers installing up to 6 hard drives, which can include a mix of 3.5" and 2.5" drives. If 6 hard drives is not necessary, one of the hard drive racks can be removed and a long video card, up to 10.5" can be installed. On the other hand, a small card, up to 6.7", like the R7 250x or GTX 560 Ti cards will fit with all six hard drives.
There are not many cooling options on the Node 304, however Fractal Design has made sure that the options that are available fit every need. Taking a look at the CPU, a tower cooler will fit nicely, or if desired a small closed loop liquid cooler will fit as well, like the Corsair H75. The provided fans include two 92mm front intake and one 140mm exhaust fan, all of which can be controlled by the integrated fan controller, that adjusts the power to the fan, making them faster or slower. The position of the controller in the back makes it hard to adjust on the fly, however most will probably set it and forget it.
When building a system in the Node 304, a little thought has to be done to install all the components easily. With no access to the CPU cooler bracket, the desired CPU cooler should be installed before installing the motherboard. In a tiny case, installation order should be considered as well, however it's not difficult to install the components in any order. Cable management on the other hand, could take some time. Most cables are going to be longer than necessary, and with the small space space getting those cables out of the way will take a little thinking.
Mini-ITX cases, like most cases, have a wide range of prices. From a low end price of under $50, all the way up to around $200. The Node 304 is available in both black (FD-CA-NODE-304-BL) and white (FD-CA-NODE-304-WH) both of which are available for $89.99 shipped. This is not a bad price for a good high quality case, with all the features offered on the Node. For this price, Fractal Design provides a 1 year warranty on the Node 304.
Legit Reviews Bottom Line: If you are looking to build a system based around a Mini-ITX or DTX motherboard, the Node 304 has a lot to offer and is a great choice for HTPC, mini file server or even a LAN box.