Looking at the outside of the Node 304 first we have a case which is built to Fractal Design’s usual high standards. The brushed metal front panel which is almost blank looks great and should blend into home theatre environments with ease… or look great sitting on a desk. The main chassis is also nice and sturdy and we noted no quality issues with the soldering or assembly. On a build quality front we did note some marks on the white drive cages which was a slight disappointment and something we would have put down to a one off if it was not also mentioned in some customer reviews online.
In terms of design we loved the decision to offer plenty of airflow through the case, each intake being filtered and Fractal Design have done well to include three low noise fans as standard. We would have moved the fan controller switch so that it doesn’t interfere with larger screwdrivers when securing add in cards… and the clamp to secure those doesn’t seem particularly useful for a case like this.
Interestingly one of the cases biggest plus points is also a bit of a negative. Having a case which can support long GPUs, 16cm PSUs or six hard drives is great but things get really cramped down at the front left corner. A modular PSU (which tends to add some length on connectors) is very much needed to minimise wiring because there is nowhere to hide it away other than the drive cage area which of course takes us down to four drives rather than six and GPUs longer than 170mm need as compact a PSU as possible… bearing in mind too that the wiring end of the PSU backs onto the graphics card.
The above makes building a gaming rig a little more difficult than it needs to be but choose the right components and it is do-able. As a server with integrated GPU the Node 304 is much easier to configure and will run cool and quiet at all times with 24TB of storage if all bays were populated with 4TB drives.
So that brings us to value where the good build quality, flexibility of the system, low noise and good levels of airflow make the £70/$90 asking price more than acceptable.
There was a time a few years ago that Hi-Fi/AMP like HTPC cases were everywhere. That has changed a bit in recent times due to some excellent m-ATX boards allowing builds in compact chassis however there is still something about the home theatre component style of design which can be appealing...