Fractal Design Node 304 Mini-ITX Case

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AUDIO RECORDINGS

These recordings were made with a high resolution, lab quality, digital recording system inside SPCR's own 11 dBA ambient anechoic chamber, then converted to LAME 128kbps encoded MP3s. We've listened long and hard to ensure there is no audible degradation from the original WAV files to these MP3s. They represent a quick snapshot of what we heard during the review.

Each recording starts with ambient noise, then 5~10 second segments of product at various states. For the most realistic results, set the volume so that the starting ambient level is just barely audible, then don't change the volume setting again while comparing all the sound files.

FINAL THOUGHTS

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. This frees up space above the motherboard, allowing the use of a highly efficient tower cooler which is further complemented by a 140 mm fan at the back acting as an exhaust.

Noise in the case is also well managed. The fans aren't the best in terms of acoustics but its undesirable characteristics are only noticeable when the cover is removed. They're also a bit noisy at full speed but the included 3-speed fan controller makes this a complete non-issue. Hard drive vibration, the biggest noise-related complaint we typically have with cases designed for server utilization, is mitigated with hanging drive trays which dissipate much of the side-to-side tremors generated by hard drives. With four hard drives, it did produce some faint rhythmic pulsing but this was only audible at very close proximity. Furthermore, the case is well built and easy to assemble and service. The front panel, power supply bracket, drive trays, and the support beam supporting the drives are all easily removed, as are the dust filters which cover every intake position.

 

Our complaints about the case are far and few between. Overall, the Node 304's dimensions are sufficient for what's inside though we wish feet were raised as the stubby rubber pads it sits on creates only 1 cm of clearance underneath the power supply intake vent. If placed on carpet, this area will become clogged up quickly. The interior can be very cramped depending on the configuration. Moving to the interior, we recommend utilizing a thin tower heatsink like the Scythe Ashura, Phanteks PH-TC12DX, Noctua NH-U12S/U14S, or SilverStone Argon series. Thicker models, such as the Noctua NH-U12P we used, may interfere with the SATA data/power cables connecting the drives. Cable management isn't a pleasant experience, but to be fair, no mini-ITX excels in this department. Almost all the cables are routed to the left side of the case and while there are positions there to tie them down to the floor, if you exercise the option of using a full sized graphics card, things get very tight.

A well designed case offers good build quality, as many features as possible in the allotted dimensions, and noise-limiting elements that don't sacrificing airflow. It's a tall order for a case of a any form factor, let alone mini-ITX, but surprisingly Fractal Design hits every mark with the Node 304. While it can serve other purposes, it's best utilized as as an enclosure for server or HTPC with multiple hard drives. It delivers a compelling blend of drive support, cooling, and noise control, all in a shorter package than competing cases that boast similar capabilities. Best of all, the Node 304 is relatively affordable, currently selling for around US$90. (Editor's Note: The Node 304 is a natural evolution from the earlier Fractal Design Array Mini ITX Case, which it outperforms in every way. Nice to see a company learn and improve on an earlier design.)

Our thanks to Fractal Design for the Node 304 case sample.

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Fractal Design Node 304 wins the SPCR Editor's Choice

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Fractal Design Array Mini ITX NAS Case
Lian Li PC-Q18: The Perfect Mini Server Case?

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