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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  • londiste - Friday, November 23, 2012 - link

    Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants so long as it is black.
    - Henry Ford

  • silveralien81 - Friday, November 23, 2012 - link

    Don't care much for the case but the Heinlein reference was great.
  • versesuvius - Friday, November 23, 2012 - link

    The problem with computer systems has always been and is, the wires that come out of the them, resulting in the ugliest part of the room. As for the space a case occupies, as long as the case has the same footprint, the height is not a problem with ordinary cases as long as they do not move into full, ultra towers. It is simply foolish to limit the potential of a computer system by restricting the space inside the box that is going to take the same real state on the desktop or under it anyway. Just go with a decently normal case. At least it will cover some of the ugly wires and cables sticking out of the case.
  • bobbozzo - Thursday, November 29, 2012 - link

    This is designed to be a server; it might go on a shelf with limited vertical space.
  • dealcorn - Friday, November 23, 2012 - link

    The diversity of use cases makes it hard to please readers with a case like this. When the Xeon Atom S12XX motherboards are released a case like this could make an attractive headless server. With 5 WD Reds, a 65 watt power adapter is the correct power supply. What are you supposed to do with the big empty hole where the ATX power supply ain't?
  • Mumrik - Friday, November 23, 2012 - link

    Since it clearly is made to be able to serve as a file server or HTPC/media vault, I'd really have liked to see it tested with six 3½" drives, or five and a 2½" SSD.

    If I wasn't going to take advantage of the storage options, I'd probably be looking at other cases, and it would be very nice to see if it actually was able to do what it seems to indicate it can - run safely while stacked with storage.
  • heraldo25 - Friday, November 23, 2012 - link

    Strange that card-readers are not standard on *any decent* case nowadays, all laptops have them, why not all desktops? Particularly now that it is getting more popular to drop the 3.5" external bay which before could be used to insert a card-reader. Also, notebook-size dvd-drives do not take up much space, should be a slot for that IMO.
  • Metaluna - Friday, November 23, 2012 - link

    My guess is there isn't much market for them. Photo and audio file transfers seem to be moving in the direction of cloud-syncing rather than transferring from physical media (it would be interesting to know what percentage of photos just go direct to Facebook without ever touching a hard drive, for example. I bet it's pretty significant). And in a pinch you can just use your phone/camera/whatever as a reader anyway, which, though usually slow, is probably good enough for most people.

    Slim ODDs are kind of a mixed bag, IMHO, and not really worth the effort on a desktop machine. Not a lot of choices for Blu-ray, for example, and drive speed is usually lower than a full-sized drive. Plus the little mini connector is goofy and almost always requires adapters with ugly Molex connectors and so forth.
  • Grok42 - Friday, November 23, 2012 - link

    The only think I've ever seen anyone use a card reader for is for a camera. Most people use their phone to take pictures and in case you haven't noticed, SD slots pretty much don't exist on modern phones. What else uses SD cards? Guess I've been a tech junkie for 20 years and never had the need to use an SD card other in my parents camera. They found it easier to transfer via USB rather than fiddle with using the SD card reader in their laptop. That said, I do find it odd that given how cheap they are that some case hasn't thrown in a built-in one, especially on the more expensive cases. Unlike 3.5" and 5.25" external bays which are deal breakers for me, I wouldn't have any problem buying a case with a card reader built-in even though I would never use it.

    Optical is dead as 8-track tapes. Should be easy to Velcro an external slim drive to the top of the case if you really want one always with the computer.
  • danjw - Friday, November 23, 2012 - link

    2x 92mm and 1x 120mm, they call that ventilation? Just not going to do it will a modern graphics card, especially a dual GPU one.

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