2012 has been quite a successful year for the ITX form factor, with both motherboard and chassis makers coming out with more ambitious and innovative offerings for the power users. Is the Fractal Design Node 304 the casing you want to use for your gaming PC?
The first thing you would notice about the Fractal Design Node 304 is that it shares the same stylish yet minimalist looks of the other offerings from the company – the fairly popular Core and Define series. Overall construction quality is superb with no sharp edges and a smooth polished facade gives the chassis the look and feel of a premium product.
At the bottom, the case is anchored to the desk by four rectangular rubber feet. A fan grill with a removable dust filter facilitates air intake for the power supply unit.
On the right, we see the usual audio/USB connectors and power button. Good to see that Fractal Design have used the speedy USB 3.0 here instead of the older standards.
At the back, a large 140mm fan (1000rpm) takes on the heat exhaust duties, and two expansion slots allow the use of dual-slot graphic card coolers.
A simple fan controller is included at the back with the capability to manage up to three fans.
The three white hard drive brackets allow you to install up to six 2.5/3.5" hard drives, although you will have to sacrifice two of them if you want to install bigger CPU tower heatsinks or more powerful graphic cards with longer PCB lengths.
Unlike most ITX cases, a full-sized ATX power supply can be installed in the case, but again you would have to make sure its depth doesn't exceed 160mm (most modular PSUs are) or it will obstruct the installation of longer graphics cards. Two more 92mm fans provides fresh air intake for the components inside the case.
For our build, we used the MSI FM2-A75IA-E53 with the Cooler Master Hyper T4 heatsink and an Asus Radeon HD 7850 DirectCU II.
As you can see, the Node 304 can be populated with fairly high end gaming grade hardware, but you will have to make do with only two internal storage bays (instead of six). Serious cable management is also required to prevent stray wiring from getting into spinning fans.
In conclusion, we found that the Node 304 was a pleasant case to work with, although like most other ITX cases, some homework has to be done on the internal componentry to prevent installation conflicts. The chassis is selling for US$89 (Newegg) / SGD$129 (Cybermind), slightly more expensive than the excellent BitFenix Prodigy, which has significantly less layout worries.