Fractal Design Node 202 Compact Gaming 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

Like many HTPC or media center style cases, the Fractal Design Node 202 has fairly simple exterior design, but it's thinner than most. This extra sleekness costs it both optical and 3.5 inch drive support which means users have to rely on expensive high capacity solid-state drives and/or a slow 2.5 inch mechanical hard drive if they need more than a basic amount of storage. The simple drive cage and video card bracket are cleverly integrated into the chassis design, so the interior layout is very clean rather than filled with various brackets. The included power supply is just powerful enough for any system you would want to use in such an enclosure, and runs quiet enough not to be noticed.

The Node 202 is supposed to be a compact case that can handle a gaming system but how well it performs in this regard depends heavily on the power requirements of the video card, and the type of cooler employed. The Asus Strix GTX 980 (165W), which performs admirable in most larger cases, struggles in the Node 202, heating up so much that it's unable to operate at nominal levels even with the fans running at full, earsplitting speed. The Strix, like the majority of mid/high-end video cards on the market, is equipped with a heatsink/fan assembly that blows toward the PCB. This works well enough in a tower case, but not in the Node 202.

The two fan mounts underneath the video card seem like a good solution to this problem, but for most dual slot cards, only less efficient slim fans can be used without directly interfering with the GPU fans. Standard 1" thick fans could be used if you pull the stock fans off the video card cooler but I'm not sure how many people would go to those lengths to make it work. The best out-of-the-box solution would be to use a graphics card with an exhaust cooler; generally these types of coolers are louder but in this kind of setup, they may be more efficient. In general, you'll struggle to keep the system quiet in this case with any GPU rated higher than ~100W.

The Node 202 is a fresh take on an overlooked case genre, an attempt to make a slim low key chassis suitable for gaming systems. It's an admirable goal but ultimately its success depends on your standards for gaming performance. While the interior provides enough room for a mid/high-end GPU, the environment is only hospitable to more modest cards if low noise is anywhere in your design goals.

Our thanks to Fractal Design for the Node 202 case sample.

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