...anyone planning a high-spec alternative to a games console should consider Fractal Design's Node 202 as a suitable starting point.
With everything up and running, how does the Node 202 fare in terms of cooling? To find out, we stress-tested our Pentium CPU by encoding a 4K video clip and recorded a average core temperature of 77ºC during the last five minutes. Not a bad return considering we're using Intel's basic reference cooler, but cooling a hot-running GPU is another kettle of fish. When gaming, our Radeon R9 270X hit 87ºC in less than 10 minutes, irrespective of chassis orientation.
That's toasty enough to make the whole chassis become noticeably warm, and noise levels rise in tandem. Our sound meter levelled off at a quiet 33.6dB during the CPU test, but when gaming the Radeon's fan ramped-up to almost 3,000rpm and noise levels soared to a bothersome 52.1dB.
Dedicated GPU fans are essential, then? Well, it depends on the GPU. We happened to have a Palit GTX 980 Super JetStream lying around and, with the premium GeForce installed, noise levels didn't exceed 41dB however GPU temperature still rose to 83ºC, so we would recommend an extra fan or two for the sake of your graphics card's long-term health.
Taming a powerful GPU is going to be the Node 202's biggest challenge, but as you might expect from a slim chassis designed with gaming in mind, there are other compromises to be aware of. Having just a pair of 2.5in drive bays doesn't leave a huge amount of room for storage, the internal dust filters aren't easy to get to, and your options are limited when seeking a quality CPU cooler that fits.
There are provisos - too many, perhaps, for most casual users - but these obstacles shouldn't deter PC enthusiasts looking to put together a homebrew Steam Machine. The Node 202 is one of the sleekest chassis of its kind, is well-laid-out, and with a little thought in component selection, could work very well as the multimedia centre of your living room.
Bottom line: mini-ITX gaming rigs are coming of age and anyone planning a high-spec alternative to a games console should consider Fractal Design's Node 202 as a suitable starting point.
Slim and stylish form factor
Surprisingly easy to build into
Dedicated graphics-card area
Horizontal or vertical placement
Available with bundled SFX PSU
Dust filters hard to reach
PSU power switch obscured
Extra fans needed for GPU cooling
Not a lot of room for storage disks
Fractal Design Node 202
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