Manufacturer:Fractal Design UK Price (as reviewed): £70 inc. VAT (approx) US Price (as reviewed): $90 ex. Tax (approx)
We've certainly taken an interest in the small form factor side of things recently here, and for good reason. Practically every major motherboard manufacturer will have a Z77 mini-ITX enthusiast motherboard on sale before the end of the year. So far, that includes Zotac, Asus and ASRock (see our reviews of the latter two here), with Gigabyte, EVGA and MSI soon to follow suit. There are plenty of pre-release board shots in the wild already.
It's the first time that so many big guns have taken the mini-ITX enthusiast market seriously on a single CPU socket, although much of this is likely due to the low power requirements of Intel's latest CPUs - TIM issues aside, Ivy Bridge is very power efficient indeed. Cramming all the needed power circuitry into such a small motherboard is still an expensive bushiness - Asus' P8Z77-I Deluxe for example, which sports the most power phases of any Z77 mini-ITX board yet, costs around £150. However that goes with the territory. The point is, that if you want a very small PC that's just as powerful and overclockable as a micro-ATX or full-size system, you're now spoiled for choice when it comes to hardware.
Case manufacturers have been quick to capitalise on this expanding market, and we've seen some interesting cases in the form of BitFenix's Prodigy and Cooler Master's Elite 120. And with a history of interesting and edgy cases, Fractal Design is also delving into the fray with the Node 304.
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This one's a fairly standard looking cube-style mini-ITX case, the likes of which we've seen plenty of in the past from Lian Li, SilverStone and a host of budget/re-branded models besides. However, the Node 304 isn't without innovation - it has plenty of interesting features but read on if you're thinking about adding it to your shortlist.
If the Prodigy was too large for your liking, then the Node 304 is a true mini-ITX case, barely any bigger than a shoebox at 374mm long. Despite its diminutive size, the Node 304 can cater for full-size ATX PSUs, and has enough clearance for graphics cards up to 310mm in length and CPU coolers up to 165mm in height. Its build quality is also very good - no rattly panels or wobbly case feet here, unlike the Prodigy, and it retains an elegant, refined style that's more akin to a sub woofer than a PC case.
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The vents in the side panels allow for the PSU and graphics card (located either side) to draw in (graphics card) or vent (PSU) air through the side panels. The rear of the case is strangely devoid of a PSU mount - the PSU is located at the front of the case with a right-angled power adaptor routing the power cable to the rear of the case. This allows the motherboard to have free-reign at the back, giving it ample headroom to take tall CPU coolers. The power button, two USB 3 ports and mini-jacks are located at the side too.
What you see is what you get as far as external drive bays are concerned - zero. This may put some of you off at a stroke; thankfully if you're keen on having an element of fan control in the equation, the Node 304 has a switch-type controller at the rear of the case, although you're obviously stuck if you're looking for a home for an optical drive or fan controller. It's surprising that more manufacturers don't at least add a slimline drive option but as it stands, the Node 304 has no external expansion.
Dimensions (mm) 250 x 374 x 210 (W x D x H)
Material Steel, Plastic
Available colours Black
Front panel Power, (side of case), 2 x USB 3, stereo, microphone
Drive bays 6 x internal 3.5in
Form factor(s) Mini-ITX
Cooling 2 x 92mm front fan mounts (fan supplied), 1 x 120/140mm rear fan mount (140mm fan supplied)