Introducing the Fractal Design Node 304

We've said it before but it bears repeating: desktop systems are getting smaller. ATX is becoming less and less necessary, and mini-ITX-based machines more and more offer the same performance and features that their bigger brothers do. That's just the direction of the technology industry as a whole, cramming everything we need into a space half as large. What's specific to cases is their own evolution running parallel with the technology we're putting into them.

Fractal Design's Node 304 is in many ways a surprising jump forward in case design. We've seen SilverStone, BitFenix, Lian Li, and Cooler Master all try their hands at mITX cases with varying degrees of success, but there's just no set design language when you get down this small. The conventions we take for granted in ATX case design don't really apply here, but Fractal Design has tried for something fairly different with the Node 304, even by mITX standards.

You can immediately see from the photo that some things are missing. Fractal Design has ditched the optical drive bay entirely and saved a lot of space in the process. You may not have noticed that there's also no reset button; HDD activity and power are both handled by the same single blue front LED. Ventilation is pretty minimal, too. Fractal Design took their usual aesthetic and a lot of chutzpah and produced something remarkably unique.

Fractal Design Node 304 Specifications
Motherboard Form Factor Mini-ITX
Drive Bays External -
Internal 6x 2.5"/3.5" (removable in pairs)
Cooling Front 2x 92mm intake fan (compatible with 2x 80mm)
Rear 1x 140mm exhaust fan (compatible with 120mm)
Top -
Side -
Bottom -
Expansion Slots 2
I/O Port 2x USB 3.0, 1x Headphone, 1x Mic
Power Supply Size ATX
Clearances HSF 165mm
PSU 160mm
GPU 12.2" / 310mm
Dimensions 9.8" x 8.3" x 14.8"
250mm x 210mm x 374mm
Weight 10.8 lbs / 4.9 kg
Special Features Removable fan filters
USB 3.0 via internal header (with integrated 2.0 header)
Three-speed, three-channel fan controller

Fractal Design is essentially targeting the Node 304 to be used as a quiet file server, but when I tested it, that wasn't really what I was thinking about. The fact is, for most users, what's really missing on the spec sheet? There's ample space for internal storage, and the things we'd put in external bays can be just as easily connected over USB 3.0. About the only thing that couldn't easily be added is a fan controller, but Fractal Design already included one.

In and Around the Fractal Design Node 304
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  • Grok42 - Friday, November 23, 2012 - link

    I had the same thought about wishing the cable was shorter when looking at the main power connector all looped up in the screen shot. (I know you tried to make it clean Dustin!) I think you are on to something this wouldn't be a problem if they would standardize the modular connectors. Given that only a few manufactures sell different lengths it seems like something that everyone could agree on.
  • yyrkoon - Tuesday, November 27, 2012 - link

    Or, you could learn to solder, cut wires to proper length, and disassemble / reassemble the connector ends yourself. This requires a bit of experience but is not very hard. You could possibly even profit from it by following through with your own aftermarket idea personally. However, I would not count on becoming rich as the enthusiast computer market really is not that large.
  • Dandyman - Sunday, December 2, 2012 - link

    Found this rig on some Finish online store:

    Proof of concept :-)
  • martyrant - Friday, November 23, 2012 - link

    I admit I wasn't paying attention to the size of the PSU he was, and yeah, even with a 670 or a 7950 a lower watt 500 psu would be fine for a build this size. So I guess I'll retract my complaint about the PSU... ;)

    Still glad to see that pesky 5.25" drive gone tho!
  • Grok42 - Friday, November 23, 2012 - link

    I was paying attention but given how everything is orientated with the PSU positioned a bit toward the middle of the case to allow for the power lead to run to the back, I worry that even with the 4" PSU I plan on using instead of the 7" one reviewed, it will still be a very tight fit. It all depends on how the modular connectors protrude from the back of the PSU and what they hit.

    May the 5.25" bays never return!
  • Guspaz - Monday, November 26, 2012 - link

    The absence of a 5.25" bay is kind of a critical flaw... If they had a slot for a slim drive that might be excusable, but as it stands the system has no way to play bluray films, or install software from CD/DVD.

    You can get away without an optical drive on a notebook, but not a desktop.
  • yyrkoon - Tuesday, November 27, 2012 - link

    external . . ..
  • krumme - Friday, November 23, 2012 - link

    Okey, so what 7950 card and ps do i use when using the usual intel plus sing ssd stuff?
  • Koppit - Friday, November 23, 2012 - link

    I have one of these cases as my HTPC. Just wantetd to say I used a Corsair CX600W
    and with the help of some cableties I got room for my Sapphire 5870 vapor-x. So there is room for larger cards. I really like this case and would not have any problems recommending it, if you just get a small PSU with few cables.
  • just4U - Friday, November 23, 2012 - link

    A way around the cable problems (imo) is use modular powers supplies that employ the ribboned cables. Their relatively easy to work with and tuck away.

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