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The Nuclear Shoebox (custom water loop Node 304 mini-ITX)

by ProEngPC


Part List View full price breakdown


Date Published

Aug. 26, 2014

Date Built

Aug. 20, 2014

CPU Clock Rate


CPU Temperature While Idle

32.0° C

CPU Temperature Under Load

72.0° C

GPU Core Clock Rate


GPU Effective Memory Clock Rate


GPU Temperature While Idle

30.0° C

GPU Temperature Under Load

63.0° C


I like to build unique systems; stand-out machines with custom water cooling loops, UV lighting and top-of-the line parts. I also like reading up and looking at other unique systems. One feature they often have in common is that they all use large cases, with the most outlandishly large ones ousing the monstrous CaseLabs cases (which are awesome, but may cause back injury when moving!). I’m an engineer, and I’m all about efficiency, and to me those cases are much bigger than they need to be. I decided I would try to cram as much as I could into a very small space, to achieve this highest level of computing power per cubic inch of case space.

Most of the builds I have completed recently were for clients, and while they worked very well and looked good, there weren’t really unique. This is one of those builds that would be unique.

Even in the mini-ITX world, most highly customized builds use the BitFenix Prodigy case, which is rather large as ITX cases go. Same goes for the Corsair 250D. I did a bit of research, and something like the nCase M1 would be too small for a custom water loop. The Fractal Design Node 304 looked like a perfect choice however. I found one build log of someone building a custom loop in a Node 304 last year, but the setup wouldn’t accommodate a full-length GPU. My measurements said that I would be able to if I picked my parts well, so I sketched out the layout and forged on ahead. The Node 304 doesn’t have a top window like the 250D, and I definitely wanted a window to show this build off. I ended up making my own window in the top of the case.

I used the following parts to assemble this Nuclear Shoebox:

CPU: Having just been released when I built this, the 4790k was a no-brainer. Since there are no mini-ITX socket 2011 boards, this is the most powerful CPU I could fit in the form factor. I’d love to do a SFF 2011 build some day, but that would probably be mATX at the smallest.

Motherboard: I purchased the ASRock Z97E-ITX/ac before Asus released their newest Z97 Impact board. Perhaps I would have considered the Impact had I waited, but the ASRock has a really nice feature set, and the lack of riser boards frees up some space to work with in the case. I haven’t been disappointed by the board. It’s stable, overclocks well and is well laid-out, with the exception of the front panel audio header that is at the back edge (essentially under the rear radiator). I’m quite happy with the board, and would probably choose it over the Impact if I needed another similar one for a client build.

RAM: I wanted 16GB of fast RAM. I had the choice between 2133MHz CL9 and 2400 MHz CL10. Both perform similarly, but the lower latency 2133 was available in stock, so I went with that. The RAM has worked flawlessly at its rated timings.

GPU: The limited radiator capability of this build meant that I would not be able to use a dual-gpu card such as the R9 295x2. So in trying to keep the performance per cubic inch as high as possible, I knew I would go with a R9 290(X) or a GTX 780(Ti). The decision became pretty easy when I found a used R9 290 for $250 on Kijiji (a Canadian equivalent of Craigslist). It had the crappy reference cooler, but I was going to replace it with a water block regardless, so it worked well for me.

SSD+HDD: Space being tight, I decided to buy a Western Digital Black2 combo drive since it was on sale for $149 at NCIX (The $299 regular price makes no sense at all). The drived contains a 120GB SSD and 1TB HDD in a 2.5” package. They are separate, not like the Seagate Hybrid drives which use the SSD as cache. Performance is OK, but the write speed of the SSD is not very good. I would only recommend this for applications where two drives won’t fit. A Crucial MX100 + WD Blue would be faster for about the same price. Nevertheless, the system boots in about 7 seconds and is very responsive.

PSU: In order to be usable in this build, I needed a power supply that was 1) 140mm long or less 2) fully modular 3) at least 600W. This Silverstone Strider unit is one of the very few that met the criteria. There’s nowhere to put long cables in this build, so I shortened all the cables to the required length, essentially removing the need for tedious cable management.

Watercooling parts: There is a limit to what can fit in this case, so the parts were ordered based on their dimensions rather than outright cooling power.

-The Black Ice Nemesis is the only rad I could find that fits the dual 92mm configuration in the front of the case. The rad is thick however, and if used with regular 92mm fans in the Node 304, it impedes on a full-length GPU. I replaced the 92mm fans with low-profile Noctua fans to have enough clearance for the GPU. The low-profile fans have to run at full RPM to move enough air so the build isn’t totally silent.

-I was able to fit a Magicool slim 140mm rad in the rear of the case. I had to remove the 304’s built-in fan controller board and one of its mounting rivets to do this however. A 140mm Noctua PWM fan handles the airflow well. This fan has to be the last item in the build to be installed, because it blocks a few connectors as well as the mounting screws for the CPU waterblock.

-I used an EK Supremacy block for the CPU. Dazmode sells a special Canadian edition with a maple leaf in the plexi; that’s good enough to sell me on it. EK has alwayd delivered quality products also, and I have good confidence in their work.

-Since the GPU waterblock would be quite visible from the side window, I decided to get a really nice-looking one: the Aquacomputer Krygraphics Hawaii. It looks great, and cools very well (about the same as EK full cover GPU blocks). Installation instructions are not the greatest though (compared to EK anyways), which could pose a problem for builders that have never installed a GPU block.

-I had very little space for a pump, so I used a DDC pump with the smallest pump-mounted reservoir I could find: the Watercool DDC-Tank LT. The reservoir only contains about 100ml of coolant, but it does the job fine. The pump and reservoir are mounted to the PSU using heavy-duty adhesive.

-The coolant is Feser One UV Blue. I was slightly disappointed, because the UV effect is not as obvious as with their Acid Green coolant. It still looks pretty good though, but I had to use a white LED strip to brighten up the case a bit. Total coolant volume in the system is about 500ml.

-The fittings are Feser barb fittings with black clamps and clear 3/8” tubing.

Assembly in such a small space required a bit of planning. I can’t stress enough how essential it was to shorten all the power cables to keep the case clean. Installing the CPU waterblock was a bit challenging. The mounting posts would not screw easily into the backplate holes; it seems the threads were tapped rather coarsely. Once installed, it is VERY secure however.

Connecting the front panel buttons, USB and audio connectors was a challenge because I has already run all the coolant lines and power cables before putting the front panel on. In hindsight, I’d connect those first. The GPU fit easily, although the back of bracket screws rest against the 140 mm radiator. I had to place a layer of insulating tape on the radiator so the GPU would not contact the metal.

I used a ModMyToys 8-way 4-pin power splitter to connect the lighting, pump and front fans. It is connected to the PSU using a cable made from a sacrificed modular Molex PSU cable, cut to length, with a 4-pin connector on the end.

I used LED strips from www.dazmode.com to light up the case. I used two UV strips for coolant highlight, and a white strip for general lighting. The white strip is incredibly bright, and created reflections in the top window, so I placed a piece of black cardboard over the LED strip to block light from leaking upwards.

Filling the coolant loop was a breeze, and the Nuclear Shoebox fired up perfectly. The loop volume is small, so bleeding out the air was rather quick. The system is a miniature powerhouse, with the CPU running at 4.6 GHz and the GPU overclocked to 1100 MHz.

Proof positive that cool systems don’t need to be huge!

Comments Sorted by:

xx116xx 3 Builds 12 points 36 months ago

I LOVE this build. I like the name, the watercooling, and the parts. What really strikes me is the cable management and the full loop in a miniITX case. +1 very well done.

plgdg 1 Build 3 points 36 months ago

Impressive. +1. What do you think of mine? :)

ProEngPC submitter 8 Builds 1 point 36 months ago

Yours looks good too! I like the fittings.

Scallawagers 2 points 36 months ago

This is the most organized build all around I have seen on here. Very nice. +1 For sure :D

Demonite99 2 points 36 months ago

It's so beautiful +1

jimmystempura 2 Builds 1 point 36 months ago

Incredible, just incredible. Does negative pressure setups work better with such liquid cooling setups in these compact cases?

ProEngPC submitter 8 Builds 1 point 36 months ago

I'm not sure if it's better for the water loop, but it keeps the case cooler, which is better for the air-cooled bits like the RAM and motherboard.

MarshmellowMan2 1 Build 1 point 17 months ago

You want to have air going out because there is no gpu or cpu fan to move air around. Also, who wants to build a sweet water rig for it to collect dust?

TheWalkingGeek 2 Builds 1 point 36 months ago

This is just absolutely amazing. I really don't know what to say. I love it all. Everything about it.

WildCard999 1 Build 1 point 36 months ago

This is truly a unique & amazing build that I'm sure performs incredibly!!! +1

liquidarchon 9 Builds 1 point 36 months ago

Awesome! +1

JonezyBigby 1 Build 1 point 36 months ago

Love the waterblocks you used +1

PM323 1 point 36 months ago

Hi ProEngPC,

I am greatly inspired to use this same case for my next build. I mean, great job, realy neat build! However, there is something that I'd like to do differently and I need some help with it.

Is there any space on top (roughly where your plexiglass panel is) that can accommodate a 120mm fan or two 92mm fans mounted on the top panel but inside the case, with the rear rad and fan positioned the other way? I was thinking of using the rear fan as an intake (with a magnetic filter), a fan mounted on it pushing into a rad, that way it will be getting cool, fresh air. Then the fan/s on top will suck hot air coming off the 184mm and 120/140mm rads out of the chassis.

I can't get a hold of a Node 304 to make precise measurements save for ordering it, but quick rough measurements from someone who has done such an install in one can be encouraging at least.


ProEngPC submitter 8 Builds 1 point 36 months ago

Yes, there is room for an exhaust fan at the top if you make a cutout for it. You could use the rear fan as an intake. In my case, though, I cannot place the fan behind the rad, because the rad does not clear the mounting posts for the CPU block. If I wanted a rear intake, it would be a pull configuration.

PM323 1 point 36 months ago

Thanks. I was hoping the rad won't have issues fitting in any direction with a rear intake push fan with the largest rad that can fit, but from the looks of it I'll have to use a 120mm.

Just one more thing - was the crossbrace where the other end of the stock HDD brackets attach easy to remove? Or will it involve using metal cutting tools?

ProEngPC submitter 8 Builds 1 point 36 months ago

Depending on the positioning of the CPU socket on your motherboard, it may be possible to fit the rad in front of the fan. It's just not possible with this Asrock model.

The crossbrace is held in place by 4 screws. It comes off in seconds. To fit a 140mm rad, you will need to remove the fan controller and it's support, which requires pulling a rivet.

PM323 1 point 36 months ago

Thanks for all the help!

Liam81 1 point 36 months ago

You commented in one of the builds you made that your personal build had 3 gpu's (I think). This clearly is not that PC. Do you still have that PC?

But WOW!!! This is not only a very capable machine but it is a very well laid out and built machine. You deserve a +10.

ProEngPC submitter 8 Builds 1 point 36 months ago

No, this is not the machine I was talking about. My personal rig is in the painting process right now. I've been too busy working on other stuff to finish mine :)

Liam81 1 point 36 months ago

All I can say is WOW !!

ProEngPC submitter 8 Builds 1 point 34 months ago

BTW, I've finally posted the tri-fire monster: http://pcpartpicker.com/b/DDwV3C

Liam81 1 point 34 months ago

I hope everybody takes a look at this build. It is really well done!

ThePCguy2013 1 point 36 months ago

It's nice to see another person who has a custom liquid cooling loop.

sanchezliny 1 point 36 months ago

Besides looking great the build is great. +1

ArticPhoeniX 1 point 36 months ago


torrin1234 1 Build 1 point 36 months ago

Really, really special. I love how the gpu block has palm trees and copper, which make the blue look like an ocean.

ProEngPC submitter 8 Builds 2 points 36 months ago

They did it that way because the codename for the AMD 290 series is Hawaii :) I didn't even consider that when I chose the blue, but it turned out well.

ComputerBlooperNoob 1 point 36 months ago

As powerful as a nuclear bomb...

Forge_ 1 point 36 months ago

Why are you exhausting into a radiator? But besides that +1 this build kicks ***!

ProEngPC submitter 8 Builds 1 point 36 months ago

I'm not sure I understand the question. I want to push the hot air out of the case, so of course I'm exhausting through a radiator. If I sucked air in from the outside through the radiator, I'd turn the case into a hot box.

In the rear, I used a push configuration because the radiator would not clear the cpu water block mounts if placed in front of the fan. In the front, it's a pull config, because the fan mount location leave no other option.

Intake is from the bottom of the case as well as from the grill on the right side (not seen in the pictures).

Architor 1 Build 1 point 35 months ago

Wow! Very nice! You mentioned making your own window in the top of the case. How did you do that?

Czymborjeff 1 point 35 months ago

I would love to know this too.

ProEngPC submitter 8 Builds 1 point 35 months ago

It's not that hard. I used a jigsaw with a 17-24 pitch metal blade to cut the hole, some automotive door trim around the cut to finish it (rounded corners are critical for this to work) and a piece of acrylic stuck to the inside with double-sided tape.

There are a bunch of youtube videos that show examples of this if you have the time to watch.

Czymborjeff 1 point 35 months ago

Wow... Kind of wished I didn't start building this other pc...

manimgoindowndown 1 point 29 months ago


I'm trying to build your build in a bigger case and with my older slightly less power efficient video card.

Would you/should I go through the hassle to buy a different fan configuration? How would you place them in a standard Mid Size ATX case? (ie exchaust cpu, where to intake?)

I am also a Master's student with exams this week so I need you to help me out ProEng man ! :)

tharris07 1 point 29 months ago

You put a lot of passion into this build, and it really shows. Very impressive!

joeltremblay8 1 Build 1 point 28 months ago

Any tips or steps you took while modding the case? I have recently just built a white 304, looking at this one as inspiration. I am looking to do a top window and replace the GPU vent with more fans or plexi. I will possibly be matching the size of the side vent (so a little larger than yours).

hikeskool 1 point 28 months ago

Shoulda used that M.2 slot on the bottom of the mobo for an SSD. I don't know if this board plumbs the M.2 directly into PCI Express (I know the Asus board you mentioned does use native PCI-E for its M.2) or if it just uses regular SATA 6Gbps but that's an option. Then you can use whatever pokey laptop drive you like for mass storage.

Check out silentpcreview.com for some cool, quiet, and reliable 2.5" HDDs.

pimogo 1 point 26 months ago

Man! I LOVE this machine!!

Denchfeng 1 point 26 months ago

Great build! Had a few questions for you. I'm planning on building this in November-December when a lot of sales are starting to go up. Since this build was almost a year ago now is there anything you would recommend as replacement parts? I'm mainly building it for PC Gaming but I plan on doing some recording for Let's Play videos on YouTube. If possible I'd like to be able to run at least GTA 5 on max setting for personal enjoyment. Anyway, hope to hear back from you. Again, great build! +1 for sure!

garethccc 3 Builds 1 point 25 months ago


MasterAli 1 point 25 months ago

Poop brown Nocturas FTW

PudgyAstronaut 3 Builds 1 point 25 months ago

WOW... just wow. I. like. this. The only complaint I have is that it's not easily upgradable but that's the price you pay to build something that really stands out this way. Job well done.

stewie71 1 point 22 months ago

That is one SEXY build, my friend.

mouacyk 1 Build 1 point 21 months ago

This is beautiful and is an inspiration for my next build. The SFF is the future, with everything shrinking in size and consuming less power.

Teredand 1 point 18 months ago

Is this build amazing for gaming/streaming?

MarshmellowMan2 1 Build 1 point 17 months ago


PcGameBuilder 1 point 16 months ago


fishisteve 1 point 16 months ago

I really admire this build.Pretty sweet.Well done ITX build.

Invizgamer 1 Build 1 point 15 months ago

Awesome build! You should check out the ASRock X99E-ITX/ac motherboard. 18 core Xeon and Titan X in a shoebox...

KronosGamingYT 1 point 13 months ago

Hey there, I always see people making their own custom side panels and i always see that lining around it someone had told me about it once but i forgot what it that thing called that you used to line the side panel windows? isnt it uline? or something like that

chubbicat 1 point 13 months ago

BEST NAME EVER i will store my shoes in them

ClawZdaPro 1 point 5 months ago

did you cut the window ?

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