At CES this year I had an opportunity to do something I hadn't done before. We all get to run around and get maybe 20 minutes or so to chat with our company reps, but most of the time in the suites or on the floor are taken up explaining all of the new products. This year I actually got to sit down to lunch with the VP of Marketing from Fractal Design, Josh Smith, and we spent the better part of an hour and a half discussing other companies, as well as the future of Fractal Design. Here it was a light atmosphere, like two old friends having a beer at the bar. What we covered were things like videos of product testing where birdshot was shot from a shotgun at their door panels to see how tough they really were, and I believe I was told 12 shots were taken before the panel was penetrated. We also talked about some up and coming products, but most of that I am not at liberty to discuss at the moment.
What I am able to discuss is that Fractal Design is jumping into the HTPC segment now as well with their first such design. I know a lot of their previous designs may have very well worked in an HTPC environment, due to the way they incorporate sound proofing and noise management into their designs, but there has yet to be a component style design that would look right at home sitting next to your receiver and Blu-ray player. This time around Fractal looked at what they could do specifically for the HTPC crowd, and in my opinion, they didn't do all that bad as far as what this chassis looks like on paper, but at TweakTown, what is on paper is of little consequence, what matters here is the actual product, how it works, and does it do what it is intended for without cutting or frustrating its users.
This newest chassis is from the Node series, the same series that brought us the Node 304. Today we are looking at a chassis that has some resemblance to the 304, but is actually almost two 304's set side by side. This chassis is of course the Node 605 that I have been eluding to, and while keeping what made the 304 so sleek and appealing like the full aluminum front panel, and the black and white color scheme, the Node 605 definitely has a design all its own, and while I have seen similar designs, there is nothing exactly like this that I have seen before.
That in mind, I say we cover what is offered in the specifications, take a look at how it's packed, and dive right into what makes the Node 605 stand out from the others.
Specifications, Availability and Pricing
The Node 605 is made mostly of steel, and is painted both inside and out in a textured matte black finish. The front of the chassis however is made from a sheet of aluminum that has been shaped, anodized, and is done in two pieces. The reason for the split on the front of the chassis is to allow access behind the lower section of the front bezel. Under this panel you will find room for a slim optical drive to be mounted on the left side, and on the right you have connectivity for rest of the basic front I/O connections, but this time there is also a card reader included. What isn't made of plastic, steel, or aluminum, leaves us with just the mesh on the sides that as you will see, will allow for really great air flow through this chassis.
Speaking of the inside of the Node 605, here will you find an unusually laid out design. Behind the front bezel isn't the typical drive bay layout either. As I mentioned there is room for a single slim optical device for reading DVDs or Blu-ray discs, but even the storage rack is handled differently. As in the Node 304, the 605 uses a pair of those same white metal cages that can support two drives in each rack. To cool the chassis, both side and the back have options. Looking at the chassis from the front, the right side of the chassis has two 120mm fan mounts and one of those mounts is filled with a fan already. The left side of the chassis has two holes as well. One of which has a 120mm fan already there, and the other is to allow your PSU to get access to outside air rather than drawing it from inside the chassis. In the back you will find locations for a pair of 80mm fans for extra cooling. Since we are discussing the rear of the chassis, I may as well cover the seven expansion slots and the white covers that let you know this is a Fractal Design chassis.
As I shop around for the Node 605 I am really surprised, as this chassis seems to be listed everywhere. Pricing is also something to keep an eye on. Typically I would say Newegg has averagely good pricing, but in this instance they are close to $180 dollars, and that seems a tad high to me. In this instance, shop smartly, because I am seeing eBay with a listing of $156.99, and NextWarehouse.com has it for $158.94 total price if you don't want to shop off eBay.
Considering my analogy earlier that this Node 605 is essentially the same as putting two 304 cases side by side, the pricing reflects a doubling of the price as well. This is where it is time to get to look at the Node 605 so we can see just what this near $160 chassis delivers.
This was just to show you that Fractal had sent the Node 605 exposed in the retail packaging, and how rough the trip to my house actually was. Not only was this box dragged around, tumbled, and poked into a couple of times, it should help show how well these cases are packed.
Again the idea is to keep the packaging simple yet effective, and in that same thought, there isn't a need for all the fancy colors and textures on packaging. Here you are given a simplistic illustration of the chassis, its name, who made it, and where to go to look at it prior to purchasing it.
To the right of the front panel Fractal Design and the Node 605 are large at the top. Under that you will find the story behind this design, its features and a shortened list of specifications.
On the back the top panel is taken off the chassis in this rendering and numbers have been applied to said image. This allows buyers to use the Key Features list on the right to match things up and see what the Node 605 offers before having to open the package.
On the last panel around the packaging, here you just have a look inside the chassis from the top down. This will give you a better idea of the layout and some of the limitations imposed due to this layout.
Even though the cardboard box was very badly abused, the spacing and protection that these super thick Styrofoam caps provided was all I needed to get a perfect sample delivered to me. The plastic liner will help to keep scuffs at bay, but since the front is aluminium, this chassis also ships with an extra layer of protective plastic stuck to that panel under the liner, just in case.
Fractal Design Node 605 HTPC Chassis
The front of the Node 605 is a vast expanse of brushed, then anodized black, aluminum stretching from edge to edge. The only things to break up the sleekness of this panel is the power button and while naming at the right, as the thin line separating the bottom panel is barely noticeable.
Flipping the lower sections door down, on the left side of the Node 605 is this aluminum cover that is currently screwed in to cover the hole for the optional slim optical drive bay here.
Off to the right side you have Firewire, HD Audio jacks, and a pair of USB 3.0 ports. Beyond that you will see a red LED that is for the card reader to show its functionality. The card reader can handle Micro SD cards, compact flash cards and standard SD cards.
The top of the chassis is just an expanse of the same thick metal used as doors in most Fractal Design cases. To help keep noises down, the back of this is also equipped with sound deadening material.
The right side of the chassis offers two places to have 120mm fans exhaust the chassis. The hole on the left is filled, but you will need to add a fan to the right if you plan to maximize the air flow potential of this chassis.
Just behind the aluminium panel, there is a two position fan switch that allows up to three fans to be connected and controlled from here. A nice feature is that the fans included in the chassis are already wired up to it; you just need a power connection to get it going.
Starting with the left side, behind the Node 604, you do have an option to place a pair of 80mm fans above the rear I/O, it offers seven expansion slots, and takes the PSU and turns it on edge on the right side.
The left of the Node 605 looks just like the right side, but this time with no fan controller switch. The left vented area is for the power supply, and the mesh to the right is backed with a 120mm fan already.
Under the chassis are two large plastic feet trimmed in natural aluminium rings for a touch of class. The feet in the back aren't seen and are smaller, but still are rubber padded and give this chassis good purchase even on glass.
Inside the Node 605
Removing the thick and heavy top panel, flipping it over, you can see it is covered as much as possible without conflicting with its fit, with thick sound absorbing material to help keep noise down - nobody wants extra noise in an HTPC environment.
Looking from the back of the 605 forward, you will see the left side contains most of the front I/O wiring, and it's bundled nicely for transit. On the right is the pair of HDD racks that remove with a couple of screws to allow you to place up to four drives there.
Looking now at the right side of the chassis, you can see that Fractal Design has filled the first hole with a standard 120mm case fan, the other hole is left up to the buyer to decide if they want it, or if their CPU cooler will allow for it.
Looking at the back of the 605, there is the rear I/O and the section that is passive ventilation at the moment, but can house an optional pair of 80mm fans.
The seven expansion slots are pushed to the back of the chassis and are why there is the external cover over the screws. As for the power supply area, there aren't any support pads or a gasket to remove any vibrations - the PSU is supported by the back of the chassis only.
With the drive rack still in the chassis, you can't see the 120mm fan yet, but you can see how if you install the PSU on the right, the fan in it can draw through the mesh that is visible.
At this point I stood the chassis on its left side, removed the HDD trays and the center support bar. Not only do you now have unblocked access to the motherboard tray, the case is still very structurally sound without the support bar in place.
The wiring in the chassis is all black, even down to sleeve used on the fan wiring. From the front I/O you have the front panel connections, reset, USB 2.0, USB 3.0 with a tail allowing USB 2.0, and then there are the HD Audio and Firewire connection to the right.
Accessories and Documentation
Inside of the box, yet outside of the case, you will find the hardware box. If you are to flip this box over, it does offer a full contents list with images to help you know right away if you are missing anything.
In that box you will find the mounting system to install a slim optical drive. Since most media is streamed or just taken on mobile storage, maybe you don't need an optical drive, and is why this is left as an option to install. Also out of the chassis, it is much easier to install the drive, and then put it in the case.
The rest of the hardware included gives you five wire ties and an assortment of 3.5" and 2.5" drive mounting screws in the bag. You also get nine stand-offs, four fan screws, and 13 screws for the stand-offs, with the four extra being used for the power supply.
I went ahead and installed an SSD on the left with the smaller screws in the pre-drilled holes near the center of the trays. On the top I have used the longer screws that go through the grommets so they isolate the vibrations of 3.5" drives.
The manual on the left is more of a guide. There isn't too much information offered for the less experienced builders, but in their defense, the Node 605 is very self-explanatory. As for the bright red sheet on the right, it is to let customers know that if they do find damage to their product, to contact Fractal Design for replacement, not to return it to the store or e-tailer.
The Build and Finished Product
I figured I would tackle the toughest part of the build, messing with the tiny screws, and then the compete assembly. Slight mistake on my part, make sure to do this later if using a full ATX motherboard.
I had also hoped to use the fully modular PSU, but the fan kept it from being installed. This is when I checked and was reminded that 180mm of PSU does not go into a 160mm hole. Off to find old trusty, the HX520.
The HX 520 fits much better in the chassis, and leaves plenty of room to the slim optical drive. If you look above the PSU, the bottom two holes are for the ATX stand-offs. Now you see why adding the drive early can screw things up for an ATX build.
Since I had the Micro-ATX setup already assembled, I figured I would just stick this in and not remove the drive. This will be the last clear image of the board in the chassis so I thought it prudent to show the fit at this point.
As I was assembling the rest of the build, I did try out the fit of my HIS Radeon HD 7950. It fit in length, but the abnormal coolers hit the arms of the HDD racks. What I do like is that they are notched to even allow a system to run SLI or XFire as long as they have stock cooling.
Stepping back and soaking in the completed build, you can now see that while there is some work to be done to hide the wires properly, the end result is a really clean build that will allow the air to flow nicely through the case and over my components.
The only change to the front of the Node 604 after the build is only visible if you drop the door as I have. Then you can see that the DVD drive has replaced the cover and we are nearly to the testing phase.
Around in the back, the dust shield took some force to get in place, but we know it won't rattle. The card was a bit snug. The tabs at the end of the support bracket, going into the grooves in the chassis, since painting it, the holes lost some space and made it a little tougher than normal. As for the PSU, it just took a couple of screws and she was in and ready to run.
As you power up the Fractal Design Node 605, from three feet away, all you see is the blue LED glowing, and there is no sound to speak of from that distance. You really have to get close to the case to hear anything with the fan controller in its highest setting. Once I clicked over to the lowest, I was able to hear the PSU over the chassis.
Yes, the Node 605 is user specific to a very small category in cases, but the way Fractal Design went about it was that if you are going to try and enter the market, jump in with both feet and offer something sleek, sexy, cool, and sturdier than any other component of your HTPC setup. As we started with a rough looking box, discovering the inner packaging did its job, and the build and testing of this chassis, nothing wasn't able to be overcome with some persistence and good planning. From start to finish, the Node 605 was roomy enough to get the job done, is almost compartmentalized with separate fans cooling above and below the video card. With options to add additional cooling, possibly with the expense of more noise from those 80mm options, I am glad the Node 605 performed so well out of the box.
Speaking of the cooling, since I have the PSU drawing from outside, it was of no help to cooling the chassis. While I was running the 2600K at stock speeds, and with a very small cooler, there were only three degrees difference between being in the Node 605 and what the cooler did on the open air X-Frame I initially tested the cooler with. With just the pair of near silent 120mm fans blowing into the chassis, both my video card and the CPU were happy doing their thing inside of this chassis. With the optional fan switch then set to the lower setting, temperatures did go up another couple of degrees on both, but again, I noted very good cooling with no noise being pushed out into the room. If you were to set this into an enclosed space, on high, you may get a bit more sound pushed forward than normal, but setting this device on a shelf, even the sound of rain in a movie will drown out this HTPC chassis right away.
So is the Node 605 worth near or in excess of $150 dollars? I indeed think so. Some of the first cases that come to mind to compare this to are the Grandia cases from SilverStone, more precisely the GD07 and GD08. The GD07 is more of the direct comparison as far as features and options go. That is listing for near $140, but when I tore down this SilverStone case, it wasn't near as structurally sound as this or any Fractal Design case. I mean I am not kidding here, I would guess the average door panel is five or six pounds in weight with the sound proofing. Both layouts are similar, although SilverStone uses special fan filters to keep noise down and an unusual HDD rack design too, but in the end, I still like the Fractal Design Node 605 more.
I'm not sure if it is peace of mind because you really are getting a tank of an HTPC chassis, or if it is just the sleekness and silence of it when it's running that has me hooked. Either way, if you are in the market for an HTPC chassis that will look better and likely last longer than the other components on your table, have a look at the Node 605 - I promise, you won't be unimpressed.
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