|Fractal Design Node 304 Mini-ITX Case|
|Reviews - Featured Reviews: Cases|
|Written by Tom Jaskulka|
|Wednesday, 26 December 2012|
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Closer Look: Node 304
Let's take a closer look: the first thing that struck me as I opened the packaging for the Node 304 (other than the box didn't take up the entire doorframe like the deceptively large Rosewill Thor V2 box) was the quality and texture of the paint covering the enclosure. I have a Fractal Design Core 3000 at home as well, and appreciated the rougher texture they use for the exterior of their cases. I can't say for sure if their other cases follow suit, but it's different enough from other cases I've owned to notice. While it makes it more difficult to quickly wipe off dust and fingerprints, it also hides dust and fingerprints much better, while giving the case a character all it's own - or perhaps I just prefer matte finishes. It is a texture that is hard to capture in pictures, and was one of the things I noticed first when I saw a Fractal Design case in person.
I've mentioned before I'm a secret fan of glowy and shiny things. While I enjoy professional and sophisticated enclosures as well, most of the time they're just too "boring" for me. (That Rosewill Thor v2? The actuating fins at the top are my favorite feature.) Not so with the Node 304. I can't say for sure if it's the simple lines, the brushed aluminum look to the front panel, the contrast with white fans and other accessories, or the mesh patterns for the GPU intake and front fans that are so well blended into the frame, but the Node 304 is an eye-catching enclosure. There's a definite style at work here, and it isn't as boring as it may seem for what essentially amounts to a rectangular box. I'm not a graphic designer, so I'd welcome other perspectives on what does or does not catch the attention of the human eye - but all I can say is the Node 304 is one of those cases that looks better in person.
Taking a look inside, we can see Fractal Design has come up with a different and unique solution to the "ITX problem." With two 92mm fans up front, and a nice big 140mm fan for exhaust, this chassis should experience some decent airflow. Losing the optical drive frees up quite a bit of space, and is a design decision I absolutely welcome in small enclosures. Everyone uses a computer for different reasons, so some may lament this omission, but there's always USB external optical drives... In my opinion, what Fractal Design has done with the layout here more than justifies the loss of an external 5.25" bay.
Looking from the top of the enclosure, the white hard drive "hangers" are easily viewable, but their function is better understood by looking from the side. Those thumbscrews that secure the rear portion of the hard drive hangars to the frame do not need to be fully removed (only loosened) to detach the hangars - which is a welcome design choice. You'll see a pattern to these little choices when working in the Node 304 - it seems people that actually build systems helped design much of the layout. Each of the three hangers can mount two 3.5" or 2.5" drives. I don't have six 3.5" drives to mount in this enclosure on hand, which is something I really wanted to get a picture of, but I'll talk about that scenario later.
You can see the hangers hang down to the top of the PSU bracket, which makes running cables across the top only possible if they sit right behind those 92mm fans. As you'll have to mount the full size ATX PSU so it exhausts out the right side, the cables will end up facing the left. If you have to get some of those cables back over to the right side of the motherboard, there isn't a route you can easily take. An extra 10mm of space in front of the PSU or between the PSU and motherboard would have done wonders, but as the ATX connector and 4-pin CPU connector are probably the only cables this would apply to, perhaps it isn't such a big deal.
Below, we see again the rear 140mm R2 series "Silent Series" hydraulic bearing fan. Notice the extra space on the left of motherboard, which does provide a nice channel to route those ATX and CPU power cables back to the PSU, with tie down points located along the top rail (a nice addition). On the top right of the picture, you can see the mechanism to secure PCI slots and the integrated 3 speed fan controller switch.
There are four thumbscrews for the top cover which is one piece. Some of these one piece covers are an exercise in frustration to get every edge to line up and latch correctly, and I'm happy to report this cover was one of the best of it's type I've seen. For those that install a machine and leave it, it isn't an issue - but for those who tinker constantly it's an important box to check (I live in fear of having to change a component in my Silverstone SG09, almost entirely because of the one piece, three sided top cover...).