• Home
  • blog
  • Fractal Design Node 202 Compact Gaming Case

Fractal Design Node 202 Compact Gaming Case

Fractal Design’s Node 202 is a compact mini-ITX case that takes a SFX power supply and has space for a full-sized dual slot video card. It’s a 10 Liter HTPC style enclosure with ambitious gaming aspirations.

July 23, 2015 by Lawrence Lee

Product
Fractal Design Node 202
Mini-ITX Case
Manufacturer
Price
US$80 (w/o PSU)
US$140 (w/450W PSU)

At first glance, the Node 202 does not appear to be much different from other HTPC cases, aside from Fractal Design’s familiar minimalist design. It is a slim desktop enclosure small enough to fit in a media cabinet. There are many such enclosures on the market, usually sporting microATX motherboard support, half-height expansion slots, and both 3.5-inch drive and perhaps slim optical drive support. The fancier models will have a small LCD and/or an IR remote included to enhance the experience.


Unboxed.

The Node 202 is different, perhaps best described as Fractal’s version of a console-sized PC gaming case. While not quite as small as the 7.2 Liters of an Xbox One, it is pretty close at just 10.2 Liters volume. It comes with a stand to place the chassis in a vertical position for best performance, as the intake vents are less restricted in this orientation. The enclosure supports mini-ITX motherboards, an SFX power supply (the more expensive model has one included), two 2.5 inch drives only (no optical drive), and a full-sized dual slot video card. Dust filters line all the main vents and for extra cooling, and twin 120 mm fans can be installed next to the graphics card. Inside, the CPU and GPU areas are separated, something Fractal claims helps the system to run cool even without any case fans.


Accessories.

The Node 202 ships with a multi-language user guide, a power cord, and an accessory box inside containing the necessary riser cards to install a video card, a handful of zip-ties, screws for mounting the motherboard and two 2.5 inch drives, and soft case feet.

Specifications: Fractal Design Node 202
(from the
product web page
)
Motherboard Compatibility Mini ITX
SSD Unit Positions 2 – 2.5″
Expansion Slots 2
Optional Fan Positions 2 – 120 mm (graphics card chamber)
CPU Cooler Compatibility 56 mm in height
PSU Compatibility SFX up to 130 mm long
Graphics Card Compatibility
(L x H x D)
Maximum Dimensions: 310 x 145 x 47 mm
Duster Filters Included 3 (GPU, GPU, PSU)
Case Volume 10.2 Liters
Colors Available Black
Case Dimensions
(W x H x D)
Horizontal: 377 x 82 x 330 mm
Horizontal with feet/protrusions/screws: 377 x 88 x 332 mm
Vertical with feet/protrusions/screws: 125 x 385 x 332 mm
Net Weight 3.5 kg
Package Dimensions
(W x H x D)
145 x 463 x 388 mm
Package Weight 4.0 kg

EXTERIOR

The Fractal Design Node 202 has a plastic exterior and steel interior, and weighs 3.5 kg or 7.7 lb. In its horizontal orientation, the chassis measures 37.7 x 8.2 x 33.0 cm or 14.8 x 3.2 x 13.0 inches (W x H x D). Its volume is just 10.2 Liters, making it smallest gaming case we’ve examined yet, edging out both the SilverStone RVZ01 and the NCASE M1 in total size.


Like most of Fractal’s enclosures, the Node 202 has a minimalist design. The front is adorned only with the company logo on the right side and audio and USB 3.0 ports on the left. A large vent occupies the space directly above the CPU area.


The right side is fairly open, giving the processor a little extra breathing room and acting as an exhaust port for the included SFX power supply.


The left side is not as well ventilated which is unfortunate, as it needs it more because the video card is located on this side. The stand is meant to slide over it, reducing airflow further.


Instead of having low profile slots, it offers a full-sized expansion slot via riser card, making the profile thinner than most enclosures of this style.


The vertical orientation gives the GPU’s sizable main intake vents better access to air from outside the case.


The Node 202 leans more on plastic as a build material than most of its other cases. The top and sides are all one giant plastic shell and are secured using four screws accessible from the bottom. The CPU vent has a removable dust filter accessible from the inside.

INTERIOR

The Node 202 has a segregated layout with the CPU/motherboard occupying the right side along with the power supply while the right side is dedicated to the graphics card. Additional cooling is only offered for the GPU, in the form of two 120 mm fan mounts directly under the slot.


The accessory box, power cord, and power supply connectors are all neatly bundled up but things will get messy once the system is fully assembled.


The front panel and power cord extension run through a hole at the center to link up with the motherboard and power supply respectively. A number of hoops are provided on the floor for tying down cables. Another notable feature is an adjustable wedge shaped support bracket to keep the video card from drooping. Populating the fan placement next to the power connector necessitates its removal though.


The power supply is situated right next to the motherboard. In the horizontal position, it pulls in air from underneath and pushes it out the side.


Our sample is the more expensive variant which includes a power supply, the Integra 450W. It’s an 80 Plus Bronze SFX unit with dual 18A 12V rails and short cables. The connectors are as follows: 24-pin, 4+4-pin, 6+2-pin x 2, SATA x 2.


The bottom cover comes off as well by releasing a series of plastic tabs around the perimeter. This step is required to access the two optional 120 mm fan mounts underneath the video card area as well as the GPU and PSU dust filters. The filters are magnetically attached and use a very fine mesh which is less restrictive than most.

ASSEMBLY

The open sides makes it easier to install the motherboard and plug in all the connectors, but if you need to add/service case fans, pulling the bottom off and reattaching it isn’t a fun experience. One of the plastic tabs broke off during my time with it and I would often worry about the others breaking if the chassis wasn’t aligned properly with the cover. I wish they had provided some long bolts so fans could be mounted from inside rather than underneath. It’s also somewhat annoying that the screws for the top cover are underneath the case.


Aside from the top and bottom covers, the power supply, drive cage, and GPU assembly can all be removed by taking out a few screws.


To install the video card, screw it into the expansion slots, attach the riser cards, and secure three screws on the side. The GPU pictured above is a fanless Zotac GTX 750 rather than our standard reference Asus GTX 980, which turned out to be too hot to handle. More on that later.


The GPU’s passive cooler needs some airflow or it will overheat. The Node 202 doesn’t ship with any fans, so a 120 mm Scythe Slip Stream will be used.


Our test system fully assembled. Cabling is somewhat of an issue as it’s easy to clog up the one hole provided for routing wires between the two sections.


The Node 202 supports CPU coolers standing 56 mm or lower, limiting our options considerably. The Noctua NH-L9i is probably a little underpowered for the task of cooling our Core i5-4690K. A Scythe Shuriken 2 would be a far superior alternative but it’s slightly too tall unless the filter on the top of the case is removed.


The video card doesn’t quite fill up the entire two slots so there is some separation between it and the exhaust fan. Air will be drawn into the heatsink from the vented slot and from the empty fan placement and blown out. 25 mm thick case fans should not be used if the GPU cooler takes up the whole second slot as the fans will press right up against it.

TESTING

System Configuration:

Measurement and Analysis Tools

  • Prime95
    processor stress software.
  • FurMark
    stability test to stress the integrated GPU.
  • Asus GPU Tweak to monitor GPU temperatures and adjust fan speeds.
  • SpeedFan
    to monitor system temperatures and adjust system fan speeds.
  • Extech 380803 AC power analyzer / data logger for measuring AC system
    power.
  • PC-based spectrum analyzer:
    SpectraPlus with ACO Pacific mic and M-Audio digitalaudio interfaces.
  • Anechoic chamber
    with ambient level of 11 dBA or lower

Testing Procedures

The system is placed in two states: idle, and load using Prime95 (2/4 instances, large FFTs setting) and FurMark, an OpenGL
benchmarking and stability testing utility. This puts more demand on the CPU and GPU than any real life application. Throughout testing, system temperatures, noise levels, and power consumption are recorded. During the load test, the system and GPU fans speeds are adjusted to various levels in an attempt to find an optimal balance between cooling and noise while maintaining a GPU temperature of 80°C (at an ambient temperature of 22°C).

TEST RESULTS

System Measurements (Vertical Orientation)
Video Card
Zotac GTX 750 ZONE
Asus Strix GTX 980
State
RE6 Demo (Peak)
Prime95x2 + FurMark
RE6 Demo (Peak)
Prime95x2 + FurMark
CPU Fan Speed
1080 RPM
(min)
2000 RPM
2490 RPM (max)
SYS Fan Speed
500 RPM
850 RPM
N/A
GPU Fan Speed
N/A
2930 RPM (max)
CPU Temp
54°C
64°C
61°C
68°C
MB Temp
50°C
59°C
55°C
56°C
SSD Temp
44°C
48°C
54°C
55°C
GPU Temp
80°C
80°C
90°C
System Power (AC)
127W
168W
269W
SPL@1m
16 dBA
26 dBA
41~42 dBA
Idle noise level (CPU fan at min. speed only): 15 dBA@1m
Measuring mic positioned 1m at diagonal angle left/front
of case.
Ambient temperature: 22°C.

Our reference video card, the Asus GTX 980, fit comfortably in the Node 202, but under synthetic load (two threads of Prime95 plus FurMark stability test), the GPU core heated up excessively, causing it throttle clock speeds until it reached only ~90% of its normal power target, even with the fans blowing at full speed. These components should pull more than 300W from the wall but power topped out at under 270W. The CPU fan had its work cut out for it, requiring top speed just to keep the processor under 70°C. I typically don’t use the Resident Evil 6 Demo Benchmark for case testing but it is a less demanding, more realistic test. Even so, during the most taxing points of the benchmark, the GPU didn’t fare much better, still requiring 100% fan speed. The noise level during these tests was unreal, a skull-shattering 41~42 dBA@1m.

Adding fans would improve efficiency but only slim models can be used, which wouldn’t help much. Standard 25 mm thick fans would press right up against the GPU fans, and this fan stacking would create horrendous noise. The horizontal position is worse, as a brief test was stopped shortly after I noticed the GPU temperature shooting up even more quickly than in the vertical position. The main vents become more restricted in this orientation as the included feet aren’t tall enough to provide good clearance for the vents.

Given this poor result, a more modest card seems like a better choice. The only modern low power GPU we had on hand was a passively cooled Zotac GTX 750 (55W TDP). Obviously, it had a much better time of it. During the Resident Evil test, the CPU fan’s minimum speed was more than sufficient, and the single extra exhaust fan spinning at 500 RPM was enough to keep the GPU temperature at a reasonable 80°C during the most demanding portions. The noise level was barely higher than the machine idling with just the CPU fan at minimum speed. The synthetic test required higher fan speeds, mainly on the part of the CPU cooler. So while the two portions of the case are cordoned off, the heat from the GPU still had a great effect on the CPU section.

The system generated 26 dBA@1m in this state which is somewhat loud but the subjective quality of the noise was excellent as both the Noctua and Scythe fans have pleasant acoustic profiles. Fractal’s power supply didn’t make any discernible noise during testing except for a slight buzzing when idle. During the load tests, it was quickly drowned out by either the CPU or GPU fans. In this configuration, the CPU fan was by far the biggest noise contributor so an improved cooling solution would go a long way to silencing the machine (on its own, the Scythe fan produced less than 20 dBA@1m at 850 RPM). Also keep in mind, the 26 dBA@1m figure is with the case angled diagonally from our mic with CPU vent facing partially toward it. A 2 dB drop was observed when the case was flipped around, so your position relative to the case also plays a part in how the system sounds.

AUDIO RECORDINGS

These recordings were made with a high resolution, lab quality, digital recording
system inside SPCR’s own 11 dBA ambient anechoic chamber, then converted to
LAME 128kbps encoded MP3s. We’ve listened long and hard to ensure there is no
audible degradation from the original WAV files to these MP3s. They represent
a quick snapshot of what we heard during the review.

Each recording starts with ambient noise, then 5~10 second segments of product
at various states. For the most realistic results,
set the volume so that the starting ambient level is just barely audible, then
don’t change the volume setting again while comparing all the sound files.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Like many HTPC or media center style cases, the Fractal Design Node 202 has fairly simple exterior design, but it’s thinner than most. This extra sleekness costs it both optical and 3.5 inch drive support which means users have to rely on expensive high capacity solid-state drives and/or a slow 2.5 inch mechanical hard drive if they need more than a basic amount of storage. The simple drive cage and video card bracket are cleverly integrated into the chassis design, so the interior layout is very clean rather than filled with various brackets. The included power supply is just powerful enough for any system you would want to use in such an enclosure, and runs quiet enough not to be noticed.

The Node 202 is supposed to be a compact case that can handle a gaming system but how well it performs in this regard depends heavily on the power requirements of the video card, and the type of cooler employed. The Asus Strix GTX 980 (165W), which performs admirable in most larger cases, struggles in the Node 202, heating up so much that it’s unable to operate at nominal levels even with the fans running at full, earsplitting speed. The Strix, like the majority of mid/high-end video cards on the market, is equipped with a heatsink/fan assembly that blows toward the PCB. This works well enough in a tower case, but not in the Node 202.

The two fan mounts underneath the video card seem like a good solution to this problem, but for most dual slot cards, only less efficient slim fans can be used without directly interfering with the GPU fans. Standard 1″ thick fans could be used if you pull the stock fans off the video card cooler but I’m not sure how many people would go to those lengths to make it work. The best out-of-the-box solution would be to use a graphics card with an exhaust cooler; generally these types of coolers are louder but in this kind of setup, they may be more efficient. In general, you’ll struggle to keep the system quiet in this case with any GPU rated higher than ~100W.

The Node 202 is a fresh take on an overlooked case genre, an attempt to make a slim low key chassis suitable for gaming systems. It’s an admirable goal but ultimately its success depends on your standards for gaming performance. While the interior provides enough room for a mid/high-end GPU, the environment is only hospitable to more modest cards if low noise is anywhere in your design goals.

Our thanks to Fractal Design
for the Node 202 case sample.

* * *

Articles of Related Interest
SilverStone Precision PS11B-Q Budget Tower
Antec Signature S10: A Second Coming?
Antec P100 Case: Performance One on a Budget
Phanteks Enthoo Evolv ITX Mini Tower
Fractal Design Define S Tower Case
Zalman Z11 Neo ATX Case

* * *

Discuss
this article in the SPCR Forums.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *