The Fractal Design Node 202 Case Review: Mini-ITX Gaming For the Living Roomby E. Fylladitakis on June 6, 2016 9:15 AM EST
- Posted in
- Mini ITX
- Fractal Design
Gaming consoles may not be as versatile as PCs, but one of their greatest advantages is their size and design. PCs on the other hand may be versatile and powerful multimedia and gaming machines, yet their insertion into elegant living rooms can be problematic. Large systems and tower cases are a major visual dissonance in a living room, whereas consoles were designed with that specific purpose in mind.
Motherboard manufacturers have been trying to combat this issue by creating highly advanced and fully featured Mini ITX motherboards specifically designed to be the heart of powerful gaming systems. Recent energy efficient CPUs also reduced their cooling requirements, allowing the use of smaller and quieter coolers. Still, most of the ITX cases that became available were not nearly as small as a console, as manufacturers had to compensate for the width of expansion cards and the size of optical drives. However with their newest Mini-ITX design, the Node 202, Fractal Design is looking to change this, producing a bare-minimum sized case specifically designed for building a gaming PC.
Fractal Design is a well-known Swedish designer of PC cases. Most of their ITX designs are not an exception to the aforementioned rule, sacrificing volume for component compatibility and performance. However the company wanted us to take a look at their smallest ITX case, the Node 202. It is a slim case that physically resembles many other designs that were created for HTPC use, but, despite its very narrow chassis, the Node 202 can hold a full size video card, allowing the creation of very small but powerful gaming systems.
|Fractal Design Node 202|
|Motherboard Size||Mini ITX|
|Internal||2 × 2.5"|
|Bottom||2 × 120 mm (optional)|
|I/O Port||2× USB 3.0, 0× USB 2.0, 1× Headphone, 1× Mic|
|Power Supply Size||SFX|
|Dimensions||82 mm × 377 mm × 330 mm
3.23 in × 14.84 in × 12.99 in
|Prominent Features||· Featuring a sleek and elegant design that will fit in any space or room
· Extremely small footprint with a volume of only 10.2 liters
· A highly versatile case that can be set up both vertically and horizontally
· Supports Mini-ITX motherboards, SFX power supplies and graphics cards up to 310mm in length
· Provides a smart thermal interior design highlighting separate motherboard and graphics card chambers
· Strategically placed air filters for a dust free interior
Packaging & Bundle
Fractal Design supplies the Node 202 into a simple, sturdy cardboard box. The monochromic artwork is based on schematics of the case itself, with some details on its features and specifications printed on the sides of the box. Inside the box, the case is well protected between two thick Styrofoam pieces and wrapped inside a nylon bag.
Black mounting hardware and a few cable ties are the core of every case’s bundle nowadays. Fractal design also supplies four rubber feet for the case and a PCI Express riser card. The manual is very detailed and well written.
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FLHerne - Monday, June 6, 2016 - linkThe pictures show a mic icon under the left socket, so it's (unsurprisingly) the body text that's wrong.
romrunning - Monday, June 6, 2016 - link"When placed vertically, depending on the system and setup, it is wise to place the Node 202 with its left side down, as the right side offers some ventilation to the CPU/Motherboard area."
Ironically, the vertical-standing case pic on page 2 shows the exact opposite - the case is standing on the right side, basically covering the ventilation.
JoeyJoJo123 - Monday, June 6, 2016 - linkI'd argue this isn't really meant as a HTPC, despite the form factor, because of the lack of 3.5" drive support (most HTPCs are used as a means to playback videos, and many videos take lots of storage, and lots of storage requires the usage of multiple 3.5" drives). No 5.25" drive bay is actually OK since most users can just get an external 5.25" BDR drive, or whatever.
It's really meant as a mobile/LAN party mini PC, where you can fit powerful current-gen desktop parts and still have it actually fit inside a large backpack, along with peripherals and cables, while you hold a monitor in your hands. It's also good for users who move/travel a lot, like those in the military, moving from one location to another every few months.
Some notes for people interested in the case:
1) It's most economical to get the case with the included Integra SFX PSU, as it comes out to a 450W 80+ Bronze for $50 + Case for $80, assuming a $130 cost for the package. Yes, you can get modular PSUs and such, but you'll be paying extra for that, and the Integra SFX actually does have shorter cables optimized to fit the Node 202 well. SFX-L power supplies from Silverstone fit, but reduce your available cable routing options by quite a bit. It's best to stick with SFX. If you need SFX-L, look to the FTZ-01 or the ML07-B for a slightly larger, but similar form factor case.
2) You can watercool the CPU with a slim 120mm AIO CLC kit with flexible tubing, however, this requires some modification of the case and limits your GPU choices to either an R9 Nano or possibly even a GTX 970 mini, but I'm not sure on the latter. Google "Challenge Accepted: Liquid Cooling in the Fractal Node 202!?" for a video.
3) The largest and most effective air cooler you can place in here is a Thermalright AXP-100R, at 60mm, but this requires removing the top dustcover from above the motherboard area. The AXP-100R (not the AXP-100 Muscle) includes a bracket to install slim 120 mounting fans onto the heatsink. This lets you mount a slim 140mm fan with 120mm mounting holes on the heatsink. TechPowerUp's Node 202 review shows the AXP-100R in use with the stock fan.
4) If you got lots of stuff you want to store, it's possible to get a mini-ITX board with an m.2 slot on the back of the motherboard, and use both of 2.5" drive bays for 2TB 5400 rpm drives. You can improve the responsiveness of these drives by opting to use them in RAID 0, and possibly using the M.2 as SSD cache through Intel RST, but this is a pretty risky move. You can stuff a 3rd or possibly 4th 2.5" drive into the case without securing it with screws, but be aware that the Integra SFX is optimized for the Node 202 and has only 2 SATA power connectors. Sure the drives won't fall out, but this situation isn't exactly ideal.
5) The case's thermals are probably its worst aspect, and it's not exactly the ideal enclosure if your intention is to load it up with the most powerful hardware and get a big overclock out of your CPU. If that's your intention, you'll definitely want to opt for a larger cube-like ITX case.
In all, this case is very niche. It's for users who need a really mobile desktop on the cheap, but are willing to sacrifice thermal performance. It's most ideal for a non-overclocked system (H170 platform) due to the thermal performance of the case, but those want to overclock and want a small form factor are capable of doing that, too, if they're up to the challenge.
If money is no object to you and you want the absolute smallest ITX system, look for the Dan A4. It's ~$265 to back on Kickstarter and would theoretically ship at the end of this year.
auzn - Monday, June 6, 2016 - linkHTPC does not need to have a large storage. That is what NAS is for.
JoeyJoJo123 - Monday, June 6, 2016 - link1) Most people don't have anything more than 1 desktop-sized PC in their living space, and many don't even have a PC, period.
2) Of the extravagant few that do have multiple PCs in their living space, it's often a case of 1 PC-per-person, and possibly a shared/guest PC.
3) Of the increasingly smaller number of people that have HTPC sized PCs attached to their entertainment center, even fewer will have an additional NAS PC as well.
All that being said, of the people that have an HTPC attached to their entertainment center at all, very few will also have a NAS, too, so it's important to consider this device in isolation, rather than taking for granted that "Oh, any dude that buys this has a completely separate NAS in their house" which is completely dumb to assume.
Oh, and thanks for the 2 sentence response, bro.
dsraa - Monday, June 6, 2016 - linkWhile i agree with you, logic does dicatate that a NAS would make sense for this kind of scenario. This isn't meant as a one purpose fits all sizes type of use. Or neceassrily as a primary 'solo' system.
So going forward, you'd have to adapt to the situation. If I were to be buying this as a HTPC/gaming, it would be used for streaming, not as a storage based multimedia system that would host movies, photos, and music. I would use or purchase a NAS for all of that OR, OR I would buy just a different case that had room for a 3.5 HDD or 2.
Icehawk - Monday, June 6, 2016 - linkHD enclosures aren't terribly expensive nor are usb drives if there isn't a NAS or other PC as storage options. Heck many wifi routers allow direct connection of an usb hard drive too.
LostWander - Monday, June 6, 2016 - linkThanks for the awesome post! I've been looking into building an ITX system to follow my way too big tower and while I might not go with this build you've got some great general points.
ameanie - Monday, June 6, 2016 - linkThank you so much for all this information on this case. I've been trying to find the best case that has a similar design to this while also trying to account for being able to cool it as well as possible (if I have to watercool, I don't mind but I have 0 experience with it)
My intentions are to have an i7 6700k and a (probably) EVGA GTX 1080 in the build, but I've been having a hard time finding a case that's thin and can house those and deal with heat. Do you have any suggestions for that? Is it only possible to do it with a cube-like ITX case? I really want to save as much space as possible I live in a really small place and don't mind saving the necessary money to build the right thing for myself..
ameanie - Monday, June 6, 2016 - linkapparently there is no omment editing here? but...
Not to mention picking a motherboard. I'm way in over my head trying to plan a build that will last for a long time while also being able to handle all the things I intend on doing (image/video editing, high end gaming/streaming) while staying cool and calm.