In the world of home-theatre and small form factor PC’s, the Mini-ITX form factor is becoming increasingly popular amongst those seeking big things in a small package. With an ever growing demand for Mini-ITX based systems, case manufacturers are working hard to capitalize on the sudden demand for such a small system, thriving to produce the ‘must buy’ case that combines the right amount of style and substance.
Today we will be taking a look at the Node 304 by Fractal. A Mini-ITX case that features the traditional minimalist Fractal design - aiming to appeal to those searching for a sleek & modern looking system that also provides enough cooling to handle modern hardware.
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
Graphics cards, up to 310mm in length, when 2 HDD brackets are removed.
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
Cooling / ventilation
2 - Front mounted 92mm Silent Series R2 hydraulic bearing fans, 1300 RPM speed
1 - Rear mounted 140mm Silent Series R2 hydraulic bearing fan, 1000 RPM speed
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
Without further delay, lets take a closer look and see what the Node 304 has to offer!
Up Close - External
As we come to expect from Fractal, the Node 304 is a stylish & sleek case which is typical of the styling Fractal tends to adopt with all of their cases. With that in mind, the Node 304 is a case that is small enough to be placed almost anywhere in the home and not look out of place.
The front of the case features a brushed aluminium panel along side the Fractal Design logo, which is situated at the bottom right of the case.
Taking a short step back reveals a ventilated side panel, this is a feature we have come to expect with small form factor cases. The case is ventilated on both sides.
Situated on the right of the front panel is the power button along side 2x USB 3.0 slots, stereo and microphone jacks.
To ensure the case has a degree of air-flow, Fractal have included a top ventilated panel at the front of the case, located just behind his are 2x 90mm Fractal silent series R2 fans.
At the rear of the case we are presented with a 140mm silent series R2 exhaust fan, graphics card vent and fan controller.
When we strip away the all-in-one shroud that Fractal have decided to use instead of the traditional side panel removal system, we get a bit more of an insight about what the case aims to achieve.
There are 3 sets of drive caddy's located just behind the front vent and the 90mm fans. These ensure any storage devices held internally will be cooled sufficiently.
Located just beneath this area is where the power supply is to be situated. Note the ventilation holes which allow for air flow whether the power supply is mounted with the fan facing up or down.
To the rear of the case is the 140mm R2 fan, which is configured as an exhaust.
As is the case with some small form factor builds, the internal components need to be installed in a certain order for other parts to be installed afterwards. The Node 304 follows that trend as we found the power supply has to be installed 1st or things would be a little difficult later on.
With the power supply in place, we installed our motherboard of choice - a Zotac M880G-ITX and proceeded to connect the various power connectors.
Although installation was a little fiddly, which is to be expected when dealing with such components in a tight space. We was ultimately satisfied with our results.
Fractal have made a sterling effort to create a great mini-ITX case. Have they succeeded? We'll explain our thoughts below.
As soon you remove the case from the box, even if the logo wasnt situated at the front of the case you could tell it was a Fractal case. Fractal have created a formula for creating a sleek, stunning cases and have continued to use it for some time now. It's these design choices that make a lot of Fractal cases a good choice for home theatre PC's that could be situation in someone's front room beside the TV and not look out of place.
The Node 304 caters for those who may also look to use this case as a network-attached storage device as it is able to cater for 6x 3.5" hard drives which is a rare feature with cases this small. However the most impressive feature of the case is infact its air flow and cooling potential. We couldn't help but notice that we had ample space surrounding the motherboard which would allow for larger CPU heat sinks to be fitted if stock cooling was inadequate. That cooling potential, when matched with the airflow from the 3 front 90mm fans and the rear 140mm which remained quiet throughout testing, is something that cannot be over-looked.
Whilst the Node 304 performs well in some aspects, unfortunately we found it wanting in others. For example, we found the general installation a little tricky at first due to the limited space surrounding the power supply. For users with a non-modular units, things can quickly get cramped and messy. Trying not to obstruct the air flow provided by the case fans we felt was somewhat a test of how one's PC building ability can be measured.
With that in mind, the length of the power supply also affects what size graphics card can be fitted. Fractal have openly stated that a PSU size of 160mm limits the GPU size, this means the likes of the Corsair AX and AXi series PSU's can be used so with up to 860W available whilst staying within the required form factor this could pretty much power and CPU/GPU combo you could possibly want to install in this case.
Priced around the region of £65-£70, the Fractal Node 304 is a little on the expensive side compared to some of its rivals. However, it is justified as it comes supplied with all 4 fans and a built in fan controller - a feature that could significantly add to the cost of a case that doesn't come with one fitted. The build quality is solid and the case is nicely ventilated, plus with the ability for this to be used as a smart looking HTPC and/or a nas unit makes it stand out from the crowd and not only justify its price but also the OC3D Gold award.
Thanks to Fractal for sending the 304 over for review, you can discuss your thoughts in the OC3D Forums.