Micro-ATX Case Final Thoughts
If this is the future of PC cases, count me in. I’m excited to see such potential in the micro-ATX category. While my main desktop machine uses a NZXT Phantom 820 full tower enclosure, I was able to fit an equivalent system in the Node 804 (with about the same accommodations for water cooling!). Naturally, there’ll always be a place for full towers and extravagant chassis (especially for multi-GPU systems) but I feel products like the Node 804 represent how refined the desktop market is starting to become. There’s very little wasted space, and an incredible amount of versatility. This chassis can perform equally as well in a file server role, HTPC or high-end gaming configuration. I was impressed with the first dual-chamber “side by side” cube case I reviewed (the Carbide Air 540 by Corsair), and I’m happy to see that formula was improved upon by Fractal Design with the Node 804.
Fractal Design Node 804 Conclusion
I’ll try and summarize my experience with Fractal Design’s Node 804 in terms of Performance, Appearance, Construction, Functionality and Value categories, but as always I feel like I should add a disclaimer. You must understand that my own preferences and uses for cases differ from most; while I try to view each case as objectively as I can, I probably can’t avoid my own bias from affecting my conclusion in some manner. I implore you to think in depth of your OWN uses and preferences, and use my reviews as a guide or simply as another perspective.
First up: performance. While cases like the BitFenix Prodigy M will still outperform the Node 804 when fully kitted out with fans, the differences weren’t game-breaking. The Prodigy M has the advantage of two 120mm fan ports providing cool air directly to a graphics card (and a large 230mm fan dispensing with the heated air), but the Node 804 in stock configuration was surprisingly capable. I didn’t have a chance to fill every available fan slot to see how that would affect performance, but I was very impressed with the Node 804’s ability to tame some hot components. It seems a bit quieter as well – with careful tuning I could find a balance of noise and performance with the Prodigy; the Node 804 was noticeably quieter even with the included fans at full RPM. Overall, there isn’t much to complain about – the Node 804 is a very capable enclosure and it includes the ability to expand with your needs.
I’ve always appreciated the appearance of Fractal Design’s cases. There’s something about the understated design language employed by Fractal Design in their cases that catches the eye. As I’ve said before, I can’t quite nail down what draws my eye to their cases, but they’re all very attractive in their simple elegance. The Node 804 uses brushed aluminum on the front panel like the other Nodes; the cube design, contrasting fans/drive cages and mesh all come together in an attractive case that tends to blend in (in a good way) rather than stand out.
Similarly, I’ve come to expect a certain fit and finish to Fractal Design’s cases, and the Node 804’s construction as just as solid as any of their other cases. The overall shape and split chamber design greatly enhances the stability of the case, the panels (even though they are of the slotted variety) slide on and off with a perfect fit (they’re the first slotted panels I can’t complain about whatsoever!) and the top and front panels remove easily as well – the tolerances for all of the press-fit and sliding pieces are very nicely done. The mesh is of great quality, and every removable filter snaps in nicely without so much as a rattle. The only complaint I have regarding the actual construction of the Node 804 are the PCI cover thumbscrews. Maybe it’s just the angle, but they all feel like their threads need to be re-tapped – perhaps the final coat of paint got in the way. Use a screwdriver instead of your thumbs the first time and it seems to work itself out.
The Node 804 is, in my opinion, brimming with functionality. While I’d prefer a bit less restrictive of mesh on the top panel to make better use of the fan mounts, the sheer number of fan mounts in general is incredible for a micro-ATX case. I love building PCs because of the options available, and the Node 804 seems to capture that aspect and become a true “blank slate” that can form the foundation of a wide variety of builds. The storage capacity is there for a home/file server/NAS, or the looks and optical bay are there for an HTPC / home entertainment build. Otherwise, you can strip out all the extras and just add FANS (and radiators!) for some impressive cooling that will handle almost any gaming rig or other builds with some extreme components .
Finally, we arrive at potentially the most important category: value. The Node 804 should be available by the time you read this, and has a U.S. MSRP of $109.99. For a micro-ATX enclosure with a competitive level of stock performance (and a down-right impressive level of aftermarket capacity) the Node 804 offers tremendous value at that price. Very few chassis can “do it all,” but the Node 804 comes close. When you consider that similar-performing micro-ATX cases are at least that price (and that’s before upgrades) I’d be surprised if these stay in stock for the first few weeks of release. If you like the Fractal Design/Node aesthetic, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better case for the price.
I think the Node 804 is one of the most unique and attractive cases released yet this year. The Corsair Carbide Air 540 was one of my favorite cases from last year, and the Node 804 takes the concept into the micro-ATX realm and adds a dash of sophistication. The plethora of configuration options available are exciting for such a small enclosure. It’s easy to build in, offers a unique layout that has some real advantages with very few tradeoffs, and looks great with that subtle and efficient Scandinavian design. Fractal Design has a great performer on their hands that can house a wide variety of systems (although I’d love to see even more of a focus on airflow in an ARC version using the same form factor…). Right now, it’s the only one of its kind – and it’s the best Node yet.
+ Classic Fractal Design looks in a new form factor
+ “Maximum Configurability” not just marketing
+ Unique, attractive enclosure that uses the split-chamber design to great effect
+ Able to accommodate a huge variety of builds – and it’s micro-ATX!
– High static pressure fans needed to push through restrictive top mesh
– Non-flush screws for additional fans/radiators won’t be usable with top panel