Description

Background

I switched from AMD to Intel in 2010, back when Athlon was still a household name. It's 2019 and I finally decided to give AMD a chance again now that the Ryzens were on sale at Newegg with free games included.

My previous rig (which I am keeping as a backup) is an RVZ01 with a Core i5 6400. This build was my first foray into the SFF world, and I've been hooked ever since (despite the higher costs). I decided that my next rig had to be an SFF - and I wanted something even thinner. The Fractal Node 202 was the thinnest case I could find that could accommodate a dedicated GPU with a riser - a choice I half regret (more on that later).

Since I had a spare PSU lying around (a 450W that came with my RVZ01), I decided to reinstall that into my RVZ01 and transplant its 600W PSU into the Node 202. I also reused the Linux boot SSD, one of its hard drives, and the GTX1070 Mini video card. Reusing these parts kept my overall costs down (lowered even further with Amazon gift cards :P).

The Build Process

Oh boy, where do I even begin? The Node 202 is held together by small screws that you can't just twist off with your thumbs (unlike the RVZ01). Right off the bat, just opening the case alone is considerably more work than it is with my RVZ01. Fortunately, I have a power drill and multiple screwdriver bits, so it wasn't too bad.

I started off by installing the two Noctua case fans (side note: This is the first time I've ever purchased case fans - my RVZ01 came with two and my older non-SFF PCs didn't need them). This required me to remove the triangular GPU support piece, a process that was just a quick tug. Fortunately, the fans themselves are thick enough to double as support on their own. However, the screws that came with my fans were actually slightly too big for the holes in the case, which I realized when bits of debris flew out after I used my drill to get the screws in. Whoops, looks like I can't return this case now! These fans also required me to reroute the built in PSU extension cable which normally just runs across that space.

The next stage was putting the motherboard together. This was fairly easy, though it was my first time installing a cooler that didn't already have pre-applied thermal paste. The Noctua NH-L9a fan I chose fits very well without obstructing other connectors (a problem with larger coolers). Installing the motherboard into the case was actually a little easier than in my RVZ01. I did have to transplant the 4-pin two-way splitter from my RVZ01 as neither the Node 202 nor the Noctua fans included the splitter, since the motherboard only has two 4-pin fan connectors. I've ordered another one off Amazon so that I don't lose this critical functionality in my RVZ01.

Installing the 2.5" drives and the PSU was where I started to curse and swear and regret this purchase. The hole for routing cables between the two halves of the case is painfully small when the drive cage is attached. Other Node 202 builds I've seen had the drive cage removed to mitigate this - but that would limit you to a single M.2 SSD for storage, and I'm really not interested in paying the equivalent of a new GPU to fulfill my storage needs when I have perfect good drives to reuse from another PC. If I could go back and revisit this purchase, I would buy an RVZ02 or ML08 in a heartbeat, because the 2.5" drives can be mounted in outward-facing slots which is far more intelligent!

I could have saved myself at least half an hour if I'd realized earlier that there's actually a small slot between the drive cage and the case's outer edge - just big enough to route the cables for the front USB and audio ports. Once I discovered this, I was finally able to organize the cables in a way that wouldn't interfere with the fans (Note: The photos were taken before I optimized the cable management, don't worry!).

After getting the PSU and motherboard and drives set up, I decided to run a POST test - I'm accustomed to doing this before a GPU install. I'm an idiot and didn't know the Ryzens don't come with integrated GPUs (except the "G" variants), so I spent nearly half an hour trying to figure out what was wrong with the motherboard before looking up the Ryzen's specs and realizing the truth. Thus, I was forced to install the GPU before conducting the test.

Installing the GPU was almost as painful, despite having a mini GPU - whereas doing it in the RVZ01 was child's play. You cannot simply stick the GPU into the riser bracket and then slap it into the motherboad for one reason - the edge where the SLI bridge connector resides will block the screw hole near the corner of the case! I suspect that this may not be a problem with lower end GPUs that lack SLI connectors. I was almost tempted to saw off the SLI connector, but fortunately I calmed down and resorted to doing convoluted finger gymnastics to get the GPU inside the riser bracket in such a way that the SLI bridge connector would go underneath the corner screw hole instead. It took me about 15 minutes to finally get it set up. I pulled the riser card in and out of the motherboard so many times that I was afraid I'd damaged something, but fortunately everything turned out fine.

Amazingly, my very first POST test was 100% successful and I was ready to start installing software. I guess I'm getting better at this - my previous builds have never POSTed on the first attempt because I always forget to connect something.

Performance

My SSDs aren't exactly super high end, but all I care about is that my OSes boot in < 10 seconds and they do that job just fine. I had to do a fresh install of Ubuntu (since I'm migrating from Linux Mint) but that was quick and easy thanks to my use of bash scripts to automate reinstalls of my work software and pull all my Git repositories. Windows was even easier because I cloned my RVZ01's boot drive onto an external and restored it.

Since I'm reusing the GPU, I didn't expect game framerates to change much if at all from my RVZ01. Suffice to say I can run everything at 1440p on Ultra with 60fps, including newer titles like Hitman 2 and Shadow of the Tomb Raider, though I sometimes drop anti-aliasing down to FXAA as I really don't notice the difference at 1440p. I intend to buy an RTX series card in the future when prices drop (or if a future game I want doesn't run well on the 1070).

The Noctua fans are loud enough that I can't sleep with the PC on overnight. Fortunately they support PWM and the BIOS allows adequate configuration.

Temperatures

This is probably the #1 concern of all prospective Node 202 buyers, as the case is notorious for poor airflow. Since I'm running a mini GPU with the assistance of two huge fans, the GPU temperature is just fine, rarely exceeding 75C even with extended gaming sessions, and hovering below 30C when not gaming.

I bought the Noctua cooler in anticipation that the stock cooler wouldn't cut it, and so far it does the job well. Idle temperatures are a little higher than they were in my RVZ01 (45-50C vs <40C) and gaming temperatures haven't exceeded 65C so far. Looks like my thermal paste job turned out fine - at least for now!

In short, cooling isn't a big issue with the Node 202 as long as you're willing to shell out extra for fans, which the case really should've included given its price point (the RVZ01 came with two!).

I am going with a vertical orientation as I've heard the temperatures are much worse in a horizontal orientation.

Conclusion

The Node 202 is a sleek and beautiful case. I can grip it in one hand (which I couldn't do with the RVZ01). It's almost as portable as the original Xbox, which is awesome for LAN parties.

But oh boy, was it a huge pain in the rear to assemble! Honestly, if anything goes wrong in the future, I may just write off the Node 202 and transplant everything into an RVZ02 or ML08, and just eat the extra cost.

Part Reviews

CPU

First time going AMD in 9 years! No regrets thus far and it came with The Division 2 which I then traded on reddit for another game I actually wanted.

CPU Cooler

First time buying a separate cooler (not counting the one time I had to a replace a stock cooler that broke off when the PC was shipped via FedEx). It's SFF-friendly and gets the job done. I would've preferred pre-applied thermal paste but that wasn't a big deal.

Motherboard

Most advanced mobo I've ever used (also the first one I've bought that is specifically advertised for gaming). Excellent fan control options. Includes Bluetooth and Wifi which is awesome!

Storage

This actually came out of my 2015 Dell XPS 13 ultrabook. It was cheaper to buy a 128GB version and upgrade it later than it was to get higher capacity straight from Dell, and as a bonus I got a spare SSD to reuse in my desktop. It's a standard SATA B+M key drive and nothing special but it works very well as a Linux boot drive. The only problem is that some newer motherboards don't recognize the M.2 SATA standard and only accept M.2 PCIe and NVMe SSDs.

Storage

Cheaper than a Samsung and I trust WD's reliability. No problems so far (using as a Windows boot drive).

Storage

It was dirt cheap and I only use it for games with short load times (e.g. non-demanding indie games) and for storing movies/music, so the 5400rpm speed doesn't bother me. Obviously would not recommend using as a boot drive.

Video Card

As an SFF enthusiast, I find mini cards to be a godsend. I really don't mind the small performance hit vs a full-sized card, because the ability to fit the card into my case without fussing over cable management is a worthy trade-off.

This card maxes out everything I throw at it at 1440p.

Unfortunately, I bought it during the peak of the crypto bubble in mid 2017 so I overpaid by more than $100 over MSRP. You can probably guess who was smiling when crypto prices crashed (schadenfreude!).

Case

Cable management is a PITA if you leave the 2.5" drive cage attached. It wouldn't be such a problem if M.2 SSDs were cheaper.

RVZ02 and ML08 have much more user-friendly locations for 2.5" drives.

The case looks beautiful though!

Power Supply

Unlike the 450W PSU it replaced, this one can handle multiple SATA drives, an M.2 SSD, and other components, all at the same time.

Case Fan

Quite loud at full speed, so make sure you use this only on a board that lets you control the speed with PWM.

Monitor

Looks great and no reflections in sunlight. 8ms response time really doesn't affect gaming no matter what naysayers claim.

I regret not going 27" though because I need to set the display scaling to 125% to see words clearly.

Monitor

My secondary monitor which I use when I want to display a tutorial while I code on the main monitor. I don't game on it or watch movies on it.

Keyboard

Replaced a Corsair K55. My first mech keyboard - very comfortable and great for games. Miss the macros from my Corsair though.

Mouse

Replaced a wonky Mionix Naos 5000 (scroll wheel was dying). Logitech's reliability is hard to beat!

Headphones

At 135CAD+tax (2016) they weren't bad but are a bit of a pain to set up on Linux, as the USB receiver is initially recognized as a mouse input and a sound output at the same time! A bit of xorg tweaking solved it though.

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Comments

  • 13 months ago
  • 2 points

+1 for the case.

  • 13 months ago
  • 2 points

Hey mate do you mind sharing how much clearance there is from the bottom end of your motherboard (the one that’s closest to PCIe connector) to your cpu cooler? Thanks, great build too.

  • 13 months ago
  • 1 point

About 20mm.

  • 13 months ago
  • 2 points

Sweet thank mate!

  • 13 months ago
  • 1 point

I have the same GPU and am looking at buying this case, how's the clearance and is there still good airflow?

  • 13 months ago
  • 1 point

Mini GPUs are perfect for this case - there's plenty of clearance on all sides. Airflow is a known issue with the Node 202 so I strongly recommend you buy extra case fans (the Noctuas I used are a great choice) and attach them in the GPU compartment.

  • 13 months ago
  • 2 points

I already had two of the Noctua - NF-F12 industrialPPC-3000 PWM 109.89 CFM 120mm Fans to that's what I will likely use. Thanks for the quick response time!