Fractal Design Node 304 review: the best ITX-supporting cases we’ve seen
8 March 2014
Excerpt: One area that has seen substantial growth over the past 18 months is the mini-ITX case market. The realisation that these mini-motherboards can be the basis for some pretty powerful PCs has started to dawn on people, not least the chassis manufacturers. Swedish case designer Fractal Design’s Node 304 is aimed solely at the mini-ITX market, but boasts hard drive support that could have it being used as a file server or a large multi-disk NAS unit.
Excerpt: 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.
Summary: The Node 304 has a clever design that maximizes its cooling potential. It begins with two 92 mm intake fans pulling in air from the top and bottom of the well-ventilated front bezel and blowing it through the hard drives toward the motherboard. The CPU cooler height is limited in many mini-ITX cases due to interference from the power supply but the Node 304's PSU is located at the front of the case on the floor which isolates it from the rest of the system.
Summary: The Fractal Design Node 304 delivers everything promised on its feature list for the most part. But we don't like to be limited by the selection of hardware. As PC enthusiasts, we often reuse or re-purpose components when building the kinds of specialized builds the Fractal Node 304 is design for, whether it be an HTPC or file server. While this could be a hindrance at times, the Node 304 is as flexible as it can be given its size restraints.
Pros: Sleek and stylish design, filters on all intakes, support for a full-sized graphics card, support for ATX power supplies, support for tower CPU coolers
Cons: Various systems interfere with each other, Cleaning filters requires opening case, No external ODD slot, Power plug can be difficult to connect, Only 3 zip ties in the bag!
Excerpt: Everything is getting smaller. With today's emphasis on efficiency and mobility, and processors that do even more with much less power consumption, it is a trend that will probably continue. With the success of enclosures such as the BitFenix Prodigy and Coolermaster's Elite 120 Advanced, it is great to see other manufacturers embrace this trend and put their own innovations and ideas into the small form factor market.
Summary: The Fractal Design Node 304 obviously caters a very specific audience. The guys and gals that need something small and sexy for that functions as a simple net-top, HTPC or the coolest looking NAS/file server ever. Fact remains that if you can find a Mini ITX motherboard with a fast enough processor then really there's nothing holding you back to create a more powerful beast thanks to the fact you can insert a dual-slot graphics card even.
Conclusion: When we dug into the Node 304 , I was seriously blown away by its styling. It doesn’t seem like it was that long ago that we had another Mini ITX case in from Fractal Design called the Array. I (Wes) was impressed with that case and still keep it around for use to this day. Its hard to believe that Fractal was able to find a way to improve on that design enough to surprise me.
Summary: Final Thoughts
The Node 304 is coming into a very popular market right now and after taking a look at it I can tell it is going to be a top choice of consumers. It has a very elegant design, it is something that you can sit on your desk and it is not going to look out of place. The really compact size means that you can fit it pretty much anywhere, and that it is going to be easy to take with you to LAN parties.
When it comes to installation it really is a breeze.
Pros: – Great build quality, – Support for up to 6 hard drives, – Supports normal ATX power supplies, – 3 fans included with fan controller, – Elegant design, – USB 3.0 support
Cons: – Motherboard standoffs are quite hard to install correctly, – Modular power supplies will not work with longer graphics cards, – No 5.25inch drive bays
Conclusion: Where the Fractal Node 304 lacks in terms of cable management or other niceties, it makes up for by just getting out of the way—both internally and in external style. It’s also very solidly built and shows no sign of flex or bend anywhere in the structure. Having been away from the PC market for a long while, I’m used to cruddy things stamped out of sheet metal with sharp edges and twisty angles that assured you’d shed some blood at some point during assembly.
Summary: As with anything else Fractal Design has delivered in chassis design in the past, the Node 304 is very sturdy, and even when empty, it is surprisingly weighty. Once you get through the build process and go to move this compact chassis around, the weight is even more of a surprise. This is mainly due to the over building of the chassis frame to give it a very stable structure even with the top of the chassis removed.