Over all, I couldn't find anything bad to say about the Node 304. My only criticism was going to be that there wasn't a white version but Fractal Design has just announced that the Node 304 is now available in white. In our opinion, the key to getting the most out of this product is good cable management, leading to efficient airflow. The airflow in our test build was relatively unobstructed and if we had used an after market cooled graphics card like a Gigabyte Windforce or ASUS Direct CUII type card, the end result would have been very stealthy indeed.
There have been some trade offs in the design to get the small footprint on your desk or entertainment unit - but Fractal Design didn't take any short cuts as far as we could tell. The internal space is a little cramped to work in when building your PC using the Node 304, but as you can see from our test build, if you are careful about component selection and neat with your cables, you can make it look pretty open and achieve great airflow. Whilst you can't hide the cables under the motherboard tray or stash them behind the power supply, there is space at the end of where the discrete graphics card would go to cable tie anchors and neatly secure excess cable there.
We used a GTX580 graphics card so it stands to reason that most modern "performance" dual slot graphics cards will fit in the Node 304 - just watch the length of your power supply as we found 140mm to be the sweet spot. The left side mesh section allows the graphics card to source its own fresh air and the stock fans that come with the case work well to keep fresh air flowing through the main body of the case - even on low speed. The integrated fan controller is a nice touch at the price point.
We used a USB DVD Drive as this case doesn't have an optical bay - you would need to go to the Node 605 for this capability or look to another brand. This may be a problem for some people but I don't use internal optical drives in any of my builds so it wasn't considered an issue.
At $125 online, the Node 304 is not an expensive case and we were pleased to see that Fractal Design priced it aggressively rather than taking the easy option of compromising on their build quality. The Node 304 really is a great mini-ITX case at a good price. It should be at the top of your list if you are looking to build a small, quiet gaming rig. HTPC or small home server builders should also keep the Node 304 in mind due to its versatility and form factor.
The only advice we would give is to plan your build carefully and take your time - we had a lot of fun building with the Node 304 and the end result was very rewarding.
|Quality build construction||
I was going to say that it doesn't come in white but now it does
|Integrated fan controller||No optical drive bay might bother some people|
|Quality grills and dust covers|
|Great use of space available inside the case|
|Internal hollow struts assist cable routing|
|The roof and sides come off really easily in one piece|
|Very well priced at $125|