As usual, the best way to really test how well thought out a case is involves a practical build. We use the ASUS Maximus VI Gene for our cooler and graphics card testing but for case reviews we go to the ASUS Z87 Gryphon with the thermal armour and in this scenario there were some specific reasons why.
The Z87 Gryphon is a TUF series board with 3 thermal sensors and tweaked thermal management software, like the Maximus VI Gene (and Z87M Gaming from MSI) it also supports SLI. I was keen to see the ambient case temperatures in both chambers of the case and also to see how well the Node 804 dealt with SLI GTX 670 Windforce 3x graphics cards. The other reason that I like the Gryphon for case reviews is because of the armour on the front and back – it’s a tough board and less likely to get damaged or bumped with excessive installations.
The test components used are listed below
|Motherboard||ASUS Z87 Gryphon with thermal armour|
|CPU Cooler||Noctua NH-U12S|
|Memory||16GB Corsair Vengeance Low Profile – Black (4x4GB)|
|Hard Drive||Seagate Barracuda 750GB & Intel 520 120GB SSD|
|Power Supply||Fractal Design Newton 1000W PSU|
|Graphics Card||MSI GTX 760 HAWK Overclocked|
|Audio||Logitech G430 Gaming headset|
|Network||Direct connection to the cable modem &
Shared Gigabit connection via Netgear WNDR3700 router
|Optical||Samsung USB external DVD drive|
The Build Experience
The first thing we did was look at how the cabling was likely to work and the potential for any access issues. Access wasn’t a problem because the outer panels are all removable with thumbscrews – except the front panel that just pulls off. It didn’t take long to work out where to run the fan cables, drive cables and power supply cables to keep it neat. There is an absence of specific anchor points in the top of the Node 804 but it didn’t stop the build from being tidy.
The power supply installation was straight forward but no matter what you do, the writing on the side is likely to be upside down. The inverted position of the power supply branding doesn’t matter anyway as there is no window on the hard drive/PSU chamber. We flipped our Fractal Design Newton PSU so that the modular plugs were towards the outside edge of the chamber and easier to get to in the future should we need to. The rubber pads under the PSU do the job and give it a nice snug fit without any risk of vibration later on. The only tip I have here is not to tighten the power supply screws until after the graphics card goes in. The slot tabs at the bottom of the graphics card output plate will hit the power supply if they are long and you might need to give the power supply a slight nudge to properly seat the graphics card before screwing the PSU in tight. There are 2 Velcro straps in front of the PSU to help with cable management – these were really effective and in just the right spots to handle the slack in the cables.
Due to the design of the case, builders will probably end up with more slack in the PSU cables because of the design. The PSU is much closer to the hard drives, motherboard headers and graphics card than a standard M-ATX tower case. The benefit of having a little extra slack is that you can route the cables a little more creatively.
The CPU cut out is spot on for a CPU Cooler back plate if you’re changing your cooling. Personally, I like to install these on the boards prior to the board going into the case but the access is there if the need to change a cooler arises down the track.
The gallery below shows the clearance around the bottom of the motherboard for the front panel headers and larger graphics card coolers. There is plenty of room to mount a pair of hard drives and route the cables. The front fan also has plenty of clearance from the ATX power connector and cable, the cutout for cables is wider than some other cases I’ve used which makes it easier to with and feed cables through from the other section of the case.
The front panel connector wires are longer than needed but it does mean that you can easily remove the front panel to fit/change solid state drives or front fans. The dust filters can slide out without removing the front panel so there isn’t really any other reason why it would need to come off once a build is complete.
I was able to install an additional fan – in this scenario, a Noctua NF-S12A PWM, with the MSI GTX 760 HAWK installed. This shows how much ‘elbow room’ you actually have when working in the Node 804.
Loading up the Node 804 does make it right side heavy and unbalanced so keep in mind that if you load it up on the right side with a PSU and all the hard drives, it’s heavier on one side. The drive cages slide in and out with ease and have good spacing between the drives for airflow, cables at the bottom can be a little tricky to plug in if your cable management has them tight with little slack.
Dust filters galore – these are easy to slide out for cleaning and fitted on the base and front.
As mentioned earlier, the fan controller can be unclipped on the inside if you don’t plan to use it – or completely removed by undoing 2 screws. Having a detachable header on the back of the switch also mean that cable routing was a little easier and I was able to disconnect the leads, then pass them through one of the holes in the motherboard tray so that all the fan cables were neatly stashed in the PSU/HDD chamber.
We tested with and without using the built in fan controller (using the software and headers on the Z87 Gryphon as an alternative). Even with SLI, the low speed setting on the case fan controller was adequate. In SLI, case temps were not the issue either, under load, it hit around 35 ambient inside the case but the noise from the Gigabyte GTX670 Windforce 3 cards was insane due to them being so close together and the top card struggling to breathe – so not the Node 804’s fault. If you pair this case with something like the Gryphon, you can really tune the thermals because of the temperature sensors and the two products make a nice match but the Node 804 3 stage fan controller is just fine on low speed with the fan configuration as it comes in the retail box. These case fans are so quiet that you struggle to hear them from a foot away.
The head room for a radiator means that despite this being a short case, it’s straight forward to fit the CPU power plug into the top edge of the motherboard – even if you have clumsy big hands.
Finally – we were able to fit our 120mm tower cooler into the Node 804 without any issues at all. We expected this to be fine because of the rear 120mm exhaust fan. If you plan to use an AIO water loop, a 120mm radiator/fan setup should fit in the rear exhaust spot but a 140mm, 240mm or 280mm setup will need to go in the roof. Although the holes are offset, I’d probably avoid going too thick a radiator unless you’re an experienced builder.
The build came together easily and quickly in the end, which is the way it should be. The MSI GTX760 HAWK fitted with plenty of room to spare as you can see in the photos below where we show it with and without a lower 120mm fan mounted.
Having built a decent gaming setup in the Node 804 I can confirm that amongst other things it’s a worthy enthusiast and gamer’s case. Thermally, we used the sensors on the Gryphon and it didn’t get that hot inside the case even with the fans on low. In the PSU/HDD chamber, we saw a max temperature of 33 degrees – this with only an exhaust 120mm fan servicing that section. In gaming and general use, the main chamber with overclocked CPU and GPU hit 35 degrees after sustained load testing – typical use such as long sessions of Battlefield 4 topped out at 33 degrees.
When testing an SLI setup, the temperature in the main chamber reached 38 with the included fans and then back to 35 when we added a Noctua S12A PWM to feed the sandwiched GTX670 cards. It’s worth clarifying that the Gigabyte windforce cooler on the GTX670 cards doesn’t exhaust the hot air but rather dumps it in the case for the Node 804 fans to deal with.
Hard drives are heavy, in fact I actually weighed a fully loaded 4×3.5″ drive cage at 3.6kg. When I installed both fully loaded 3.5″ drive cages (7.2kg) and the power supply, one side of the case was significantly heavier than the other which made the balance feel out as I moved it around.
Being a stocky case and full of options for cooling it will be very interesting to see what the enthusiast community do with the Node 804 from a modding perspective. It’s not square but it’s ‘squarer’ than most other cases and relatively plain. The first thing I thought of when looking at it was a Minecraft grass block and how straight forward that could be with the right vinyl wrap or paint job. Other ideas might be the Portal cube. The design of the case makes it a great choice for either a stealthy build or something more lively with some well placed LEDs and colourful cable extensions.