- Brand – Fractal design
- Model – Fractal Node 304
- Price – £70 (at time of review)
The Concept of Fractal Design is to provide products with an extraordinary design level, without compromising the important factors of quality, functionality and pricing. Founded in 2007 Fractal Design has grown to become one of the best manufacturers of computers cases and components, known worldwide for excellent quality and design.
Today I am taking a look at the Fractal Node 304, which is currently Fractal Designs only ITX case available. Originally only produced in black and most recently circa 2013, it has been re-released in White. So let’s take a look at the Fractal Node 304. Does it live up to Fractal Designs reputation for quality products or does it fall short of the mark?
- 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 (To fit in combination with a long graphics card, PSUs with modular connectors on the back typically need to be shorter than 160 mm)
- Graphics cards, up to 310mm in length, when 2 HDD brackets are removed (Graphics cards longer than 170 mm will conflict with PSUs longer than 160mm)
- 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 Litres
- Net weight: 4,9 kg
- Colours available: Black and White
Cooling / ventilation
- 2 – Front mounted 92mm Silent Series R2 hydraulic bearing fans, 1300 RPM speed (compatible with 80mm fans) – included
- 1 – Rear mounted 140mm Silent Series R2 hydraulic bearing fan, 1000 RPM speed (compatible with 120mm fans) – included
- 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
- HDD LED
The outer packaging is extremely clear and concise as to what is inside, not only with the branding but also the image of the case itself, as well as a more detail image which is on both sides of the box.
Once we opened up the box we find that the case itself is protected by two thick pieces of polystyrene as well as being inside a clear plastic bag.
Below is an image of the front of the case, Fractal Design have gone with a brushed aluminium finish on the front of the case with a small printed logo on the bottom right corner.
Like almost all Fractal design cases the front panel comes off, and the Fractal Node is no different. Simply pulling on the front panel allows it to come away quite easily giving access to the air filter which is also removable.
As you can see the air filter simply unclips and can be easily cleaned without it being attached to the case.
This case does not have a traditional two piece side panel, instead Fractal Design have opted for a single piece of folded steel. On the left side of this panel there is a large grill allowing are to be drawn in by a graphics card if one is fitted.
On the right side of the panel there is another grill allowing more movement of air.
As you can see in this photo there are also two USB 3.0 Ports, Microphone and Headphone Ports as well as a Power Switch.
The base of the case has four rubber feet to protect any surface that the case is placed on as well as another large air intake grill and removable filter. This is because the Power Supply is installed in the front of the case face down.
The rear of the case we see a large 140mm fan grill as well as two PCI-E expansion slots and the rear IO placement.
Now let’s take the lid off and take a look inside.
From the image below we see that the Fractal Node has three removable Hard Drives bays each allowing two Hard Drives to be fitted. These support both 3.5” and 2.5” Hard Drives. The power supply is fitted in the front of the case underneath the Hard Drive bays.
Installing the Power Supply was a reasonably easy affair, sliding it in first before other components is recommended as there is a certain amount of clearance needed to get it in correctly. It is held in place by three screws. Installing the motherboard was really easy also. After fitting the stand-offs it was a simply case of sliding the motherboard in place and using screwing it down with the screws provided.
With the power supply being at the front of the case, the Fractal Nodes used a male to female Kettle Plug. This does mean that the Power Supply is permanently powered on but that simply means that if you wish to completely kill all power to the system you simply turn the plug socket off.
I found that fitting all the required cables was reasonably easy but making them neat and tidy was troublesome. This due to the small form factor of the case good cable management is a must for almost everyone myself included and I was never completely happy with the way the cables looked inside the case. But after all once the main panel was on the case no one will be able to see it.
Like with many Fractal design cases, a fan speed controller comes supplied and pre fitted. The Fractal Node comes with three fans and the controller is designed to support these three fans and has three fan speeds also which are high, medium and low; This shows the attention to detail Fractal Design have gone into with the design and build of this case.
I would like to note that whilst I did not install a graphics card in this build the case does support graphics cards up to 310mm that is dependent on the size of the power supply used as well as the placement of hard drive bays. If I were to have installed a graphics card with the power supply I have used the maximum clearance would be 170mm.
I would like to point out if all hard drive bays where used that clearance then drops to even less to around 140mm. This is one of the major limiting factors with ITX PC’s. Something which cannot be helped ultimately but many manufacturers are choosing to create smaller graphics cards that cater for the small form factor market.
Whilst I am using the stock cooler on the installation of this system the case fans I am using are the ones supplied. Taking a look at Fractal Designs website we see that the two front intake fans which are 92mm Silent Series R2 fans are rated with a max speed of 1300rpm, and have a CFM of 24.6. I can say that whilst these fans are far from silent they are not overly loud either. The maximum noise level in decibles is 12.5 of course this could be double due to there being two fans installed.
The rear outtake fan is another Silent Series R2 except it is a 140mm, The maximum fan speed this fan is rated for is 1100rpm. As I have said before the Fractal Node comes fitted with a fan controller which all three fans are connected too. This controller has three fan speeds, Low, Medium and High. The lowest voltage this controller can supply is 6volts because that is the minimum start voltage that the three fans are rated for.
The room temperature when I did my testing was 25c this is rather warmer than normal simply due to the warmer weather. The CPU temperature at idle was 35-40c this is using the stock cooler and under load the cpu hit 62c which isn’t bad in all honesty but could be improved by not using the stock cooler.
As ever with any product with moving parts there is an element of noise that will eminate from it. With that in mind I used my trust Decebel Meter to test the accoustic performance of the Fractal Node. The performance will vary between the case fan speeds which will be set using the pre installed fan controller which I said previously has three speeds to choose from. This will also take into account the power supply Fan and the CPU cooler fan as they also create noise.
To get an accurate reading I have tested the acoustic performance away from my own computer and also made sure that any background sound is kept to the minimum. Below is a graph of the results and to gauge an accurate acoustic performance or noise, I took four readings at each fan speed from different locations around the case. The front, the back and from the sides having done than I averaged each set of results.
The graphs below are to give a visual image of the results I recorded. I will say that due to everyones hearing being different what I may find is an acceptable amount of noise emanating from the Fractal Node will differ.
As ever Fractal Design have created a fantastic ITX Case, whilst it does fall short in some areas and I will explain my reasoning. So let’s get on with the conclusion.
Looking at the case from a purely atheistic perspective, I can say that Fractal design have continued with their minimalistic approach to case design, the finish on all parts is of high quality from the edges of all the metal work to the paint on all parts of the case.
Even down to the fine detail that has gone into the Hard Drive bays, you cannot tell from the photos and I did struggle to find the right light to be able to show you but on all the drive bays the Fractal Design logo has been embossed into the metal work. This was unexpected and I quite liked the fact that Fractal went into that much detail on parts that will never be on show. With many ITX cases lacking a large amount of internal storage space, I love the fact that Fractal Design have chosen to omit the standard DVD Drive bay from the case design and instead focused on storage. The three hard drive bays can fit two hard drives in each. This appealed to me more than any other ITX case I have seen on the market. Personally almost everything I want to watch, I get via a digital outlet so this kind of design suits my needs and not having a DVD drive etc. keeps the simple and clean look of the case.
Before I started building the system I took a good look around the case, looking for any faults in the build quality. I can say that the production quality is one of the finest I have ever come across in a computer case and there was no danger of ever slicing my fingers on any rough or unfinished edges within the case. Overall the case is of a solid build quality and the design appealed to me simply because I like the minimalistic approach Fractal Design go with their cases.
Building a system within the case took around an hour, I was well prepared for building the system, having all components and anything else I may have needed to hand at the time. The only issue I can see many people having and one that did occur to me at the time was the very minimal cable management available.
All of the required cables seem to just about fit on the one side and this will conflict with the installation of a graphics card. In this build I used all standard length cables and there were no custom cables used. This may affect anyone’s use of this case simply due to where the cables fit.
The case does adequately fit all cables, but adding a Graphics Card will affect that space, I will also add that only a dual slot Graphics card will fit in this case. There are only two PCI-E expansion slots and this may cause issues. Luckily there are plenty of graphics cards to choose from and I know of one GPU designed for ITX systems.
One important factor with any system build is the amount of noise that the system makes, unless you are willing to either buy a system with noise dampening foam pre fitted or go out and buy some and fit it yourself there will be a certain amount of noise that the system makes. And due to the need for air vents etc. there will still be some noise. Like with all Fractal Design cases they supply it with their Silent Series R2 fans.
With the fans set to the lowest fan speed they were barely audible but obviously you are then sacrificing the cooling ability of the case by doing so. I believe that using this system purely as a Home Theatre PC using low or medium fan speeds would be acceptable.
Overall I really like the build quality of the Fractal Node and this is simply due to the high pride that Fractal design takes into their case design as well as the quality checks that they make during the manufacturing process. The Fractal Node is an excellent case, with high build quality excellent internal storage options.
If not without some flaws and these are only minor in my opinion the lack of cable management space could be issue for some people, but I found there to be just enough room. As with buying any popular brand of computer case there is always a price to be paid. And £70 for this case does seem a little steep but I feel that it is worth the money. For that reason I am giving the Fractal Node the Editor’s Choice Award.