Storm Masters: Fan Controller Panels Roundup

We are going to talk about the features and functionality of nine fan controllers from three different makers: Lamptron, NZXT and Scythe. Which one of them will be the most convenient, functional and inexpensive?

by Sergey Lepilov
11/25/2011 | 07:50 AM

Even though today’s mainboards come with several fan connectors and even offer some control over the connected fans in their BIOS or through Windows-based tools, many users, especially enthusiasts, find such control options deficient. They prefer standalone controllers that can be used not only to set a certain rotation speed but also monitor system temperatures and perhaps do something else.

 

In this review I will compare as many as nine fan controllers from three brands: Lamptron, NZXT and Scythe. All of these products are interesting in their own ways and I will try to explain why. This review is going to be a description rather than a test because there is nothing to test with such controllers. Anyway, I will check each controller out with four high-performance fans I have at hand (two Panaflo H1A and two Thermalright TR-FDB-2000 fans). Their combined power draw at maximum speed is over 20 watts, which is quite a heavy load for a fan controller. Besides, these fans can start up at a very low voltage so we can estimate the adjustment range supported by each controller.

Lamptron Controllers

Lamptron Electronics is a rather young company that specializes in modding accessories and noise reduction materials. It also offers a rather large range of fan controllers. I've taken three models which look interesting to me: FC5V2, FC8 and Touch.

FC5V2

The Lamptron FC5V2 comes in a small box that has a picture of the controller on its face side.

The box also contains 3-pin fan cables, one PATA power cable, thermocouple cables, mounting screws, a jumper, and a user manual.

The fan cables are 485 millimeters long; the thermal sensor cables are 670 millimeters long.

The FC5V2 is designed for 5.25-inch bays. It measures 148.5 x 42.5 x 77 millimeters; its weight is 199 grams.

Made of anodized aluminum, the controller’s faceplate has one LCD screen and four fan speed controls.

At the controller’s back you can find four 3-pin fan connectors, one power connector and four 2-pin connectors for thermal sensors. Besides, there are jumpers on the PCB for choosing the color of the display (7 modes) and temperature measurement unit (°C/°F) and for turning the alarm on/off.

The controller is only 77 millimeters long.

There are mounting holes in its sides for installation purposes. The control knobs are 11 millimeters long.

One FC5V2 can be used for up to four fans, each with a power draw of 30 watts, which is clearly redundant for any fan you may want to use in your computer. The speed of the connected fans is regulated by changing their supply voltage within a range of 0 to 12 volts. The operating range of the thermal sensors is not specified.

The controller’s display reports the speed of each connected fan together with its voltage or temperature (based on a thermal sensor).

The FC5V2 did everything it was supposed to do in my practical test. The four top-performance fans I connected to it worked without any problems through the entire speed range, from full stop to maximum speed at which the controller reported a max voltage of 12.1 volts. The regulation is very smooth rather than discrete, so you can choose any speed you want for your fans. The only downside I can see is that you have to open up your system case and get to the back of the controller every time you want to change the color of its highlighting. That's not convenient.

The Lamptron FC5V2 comes at a rather high recommended price of $59.99. It is also available in a silver-painted version.

FC8

The second controller from Lamptron is called FC8 and its box is the same size and shape as the FC5V2’s one, but far more informative.

 

The package includes eight fan cables, mounting screws, a user manual and a Lamptron product catalogue.

The cable fans are 480 millimeters long.

The FC8 has the same 5.25-inch form-factor, so it is about as large as the FC5V2: 148.5 x 42.5 x 76 millimeters.

My sample of the FC8 has an anodized aluminum faceplate but this controller is also available in a silver-painted version. Unlike the previous model, the FC8 lacks a display but features as many as eight fan speed controls.

Every regulation channel has a 3-pin fan connector. The FC8, like the rest of the products included into this review, does not support PWM regulation.

Instead of one plastic PATA power connector, it has two thick and stiff cables that end in three such connectors. This is due to the high load capacity of the FC8 as it can deliver up to 30 watts across each of its channels. In other words, the controller can power up fans with a combined power draw of 240 watts! That's why the manufacturer recommends installing it into a computer with a 600-watt or better PSU. I wonder if any user will really need that much power for his fans.

The controller is fastened in a 5.25-inch bay with the included screws through the mounting holes in its side panels.

When a fan is connected, an indicator goes on above the respective control.

There are eight indicators, each of a different color. You can change the color by pressing on the leftmost and rightmost controls. The voltage adjustment range is 0 to 12 volts. The FC8 managed my fans without any problems during my express test.

Its recommended price is $59.99 (exactly as the previous product’s).

Touch

I guess the Touch is the most interesting of the three Lamptron products. Its name and the photo on its box indicate that it's a touch-sensitive controller.

 

Besides the stuff you've seen included with the two previous Lamptron products, the accessories to the Touch include a soft napkin for cleaning its screen.

The dimensions, form-factor and design in general are almost the same as those of the two other Lamptron controllers. The only difference is the front panel:

There is a rather large (118 x 31.5 millimeters) display set into an anodized aluminum frame (Lamptron offers a silver-painted version of the Touch, too).

At the controller’s back there are six fan connectors, one PATA power connector and six connectors for temperature sensors. Each channel has a load capacity of 30 watts. The speed of each fan is regulated by changing its supply voltage from 0 to 12 volts.

The display is quite bright but its graphics is rather primitive.

There are only two display modes here: 1) indication of all the fans or 2) setting up an individual fan. Each fan can be set up automatically or manually. While it’s all clear with the manual regulation, I couldn’t make out how the automatic one was supposed to work. I guess the speed of each fan depends on data from a specific thermal sensor then. However, I didn’t notice Fan 1 accelerate after I had heated up Sensor 1. The product specs do not say a word about the automatic fan regulation.

The display reacts to your touch instantly but the fan speed is changed with a barely noticeable delay. Like the two previous products from Lamptron, the Touch worked with my four top-performance fans without any problems. The color of the display cannot be changed.

The Lamptron Touch has a recommended price of $69.99, which is $10 more expensive than the FC5V2 and FC8.

NZXT Controllers

NZXT Corporation has taken part in our tests with only one cooler so far, but that was a real hit. Hopefully, the company’s multifunctional fan controllers are just as good, too.

I’ve got three of them for this review: Sentry 2, Sentry LX and Sentry LXE.

Sentry 2

The Sentry 2 product box is tiny but quite informative.

The controller comes with thermal sensor cables, two strips of scotch tape, an installation guide and a plastic cable strap.

The 5.25-inch faceplate is made of plastic. Most of it is occupied by a color display.

There is a bunch of cables tailing from the back of the controller, a 700mm PATA power cable among them.

The thermal sensor cables are 620 millimeters long. The fan cables are 680 millimeters long. All of them are of the 2-pin variety, so there is no speed monitoring here.

The NZXT Sentry 2 has five fan regulation channels and as many temperature sensors. The maximum load on each channel is 10 watts, which is only one third of the max load per channel of the Lamptron controllers discussed above. On the other hand, this should be quite enough for any PC fan.

When controlled with the NZXT Sentry 2, the bottom limit is 40% of the fan’s maximum speed. The temperature sensors have an operating range of 0 to 120 degrees Celsius (the controller supports the Fahrenheit scale, too).

The display shows information about the selected fan, its speed (in percent of the maximum speed) and temperature (according to the respective sensor).

There are two regulation modes: manual and automatic. The manual mode is self-explanatory whereas the automatic one means that the controller regulates the connected fans basing on a specific thermal sensor, yet the bottom speed limit is still set at 40%. Thus, my fans could not be made to work slower than 1100 RPM, which was too noisy. Besides, this controller reacted with a 1 or 2-second delay to my actions.

All in all, the Sentry 2 seems to be sort of unfinished but its recommended price is rather low, especially compared to the Lamptron controllers, at only $21.99.

Sentry LX

The Sentry LX is a more advanced and functional controller from NZXT. Even its box is thrice as large as the Sentry 2 one.

 

The accessories are the same, though, except for the battery.

This controller is going to occupy not one but two 5.25-inch bays. Its width and height are 148.5 and 85 millimeters, respectively. The thermal sensor cables are 620 millimeters long. The fan cables are 650 mm; the PATA power cable is 590 mm.

The front panel is made of anodized aluminum:

There are control buttons on the left:

The faceplate is 139 millimeters wide.

The Sentry LX can regulate five fans and use five sensors to monitor temperatures.

There are aluminum heatsinks on the fan control channels:

However, the load capacity of each channel is only 6 watts, which is the lowest level among all the controllers in this review. It should be sufficient for most 120 and 140mm fans, though. Unfortunately, the adjustment range is the same as with the NZXT Sentry 2: from 40% to 100%. It means you can’t really slow down your fans with this controller.

The display shows fan speed, temperature and date.

The Sentry LX can work in manual or automatic mode. It has an alarm that can be triggered on by an individual fan or temperature sensor.

This model costs $49.99 which is twice as high as the recommended price of the NZXT Sentry 2.

Sentry LXE

The Sentry LXE seems to be the most interesting of the three NZXT products. It is the only external fan controller in this review.

The product box is large and eye-catching. There is a picture of the controller on its face side, key product features being indicated with icons.

 

You can find product specs in several languages on the back of the box.

The accessories include a long 8-pin cable, additional thermal sensors, a battery, screws and an installation guide.

The connecting cable is as long as 1950 millimeters, allowing you to place the controller anywhere you want.

The Sentry LXE looks original and quite attractive:

This gadget measures 165 x 60 x 110 millimeters at a weight of 407 grams.

There are two sticky silicone strips on the bottom panel for the Sentry LXE to be steady on any surface.

The controller’s case is made of anodized aluminum and has one 8-pin connector in its back.

So, you use the included long cable to connect the external module to the internal control card which is installed into your system case and has five fan control channels and five thermal sensor channels.

 

Each fan cable is of the 3-pin variety. PWM regulation isn’t supported. The card is powered via a single PATA power connector.

From a functional standpoint, the Sentry LXE is no different from the Sentry LX but supports a larger adjustment range: from 3.7 to 12.0 volts. Besides, the controller can deliver not 6 but 10 watts across each fan channel. The bright touch-sensitive display shows information about the speed of each fan, temperature, current date and operation mode (automatic or manual).

The display doesn't respond to a user's touch instantly, but that's not a problem. The sensors are polled at a rate of once each 2 seconds.

The recommended price of the Sentry LXE is $59.99. Its warranty period is 1 year.

Scythe Controllers

A well-known maker of coolers, Scythe also offers a number of various PC accessories, including multifunctional fan controllers. I’ll describe three of them to you.

Kaze Q-8

The simplest product of the three, the Scythe Kaze Q-8 is shipped in a small but highly informative box.

  

Besides the controller, the box contains fan cables and a power cable.

The fan cables are 690 millimeters long. They have universal 4-pin connectors, although the cables themselves are of the 3-pin variety, so there is no PWM regulation here. The power cable is 540 mm long and ends in a PATA power plug.

The controller is designed in 3.5-inch form-factor and has a black anodized aluminum faceplate.

The Kaze Q-8 is available in a silvery version as well. It measures 102 x 25 x 93 millimeters and weighs a mere 110 grams. The control knobs are 11 mm long.

This may be important for users whose system case has a door on the front panel.

The Scythe Kaze Q-8 is functionally simple as it only allows to regulate the speed of the connected fans without any monitoring options. It has eight fan regulation channels, each with a max load of 12 watts.

The adjustment range is specified to be 5 to 12 volts but I could easily supply 4 and even 3 volts to my fans until they stopped altogether. The speed is regulated smoothly; the sensitivity of the controls is rather high. When a fan is connected, an indicator goes on next to the appropriate control knob.

The Kaze Q-8 comes at a recommended price of $24.99. Its warranty period is 2 years.

Kaze Q-12

The Kaze Q-12 is the elder cousin of the above-discussed Q-8. Its packaging is similar.

 

Its accessories are the same except that there are more fan cables in the box.

The Kaze Q-12 measures 148.5 x 42.5 x 63 millimeters and is designed for 5.25-inch bays.

My sample is black (anodized aluminum) but Scythe offers a silvery version as well.

The difference from the Q-8 is that the number of fan regulation channels is increased from 8 to 12.

The max load and adjustment range are the same as those of the Q-8. The controller has two mounting holes in each side panel.

The recommended price of this product is $32.99.

Kaze Master Pro 5.25

The Kaze Master Pro 5.25 is the most functional of the three Scythe products. Its box has the same shape but is designed differently.

 

The box is very informative.

Included with the controller are a power cable, six fan cables, six thermal sensor cables, scotch tape and an installation guide.

The cables are as long as those included with the two other products from Scythe.

The plastic case of the Kaze Master Pro 5.25 looks complete and functional.

There are six fan control knobs at the bottom of the controller’s faceplate. The two controls above them serve to choose fan channels and enable/disable indication. The controller weighs 325 grams.

The back panel offers the following: six 3-pin fan connectors, six thermal sensor connectors, a 4-pin power connector, a jumper for choosing temperature units, and a jumper to turn the warning signal on/off.

Everything is neat and tidy inside the Kaze Master Pro 5.25:

The load capacity of each fan is 12 watts; the adjustment range is 3.7 to 12 volts. The operating range of the temperature sensors is 0 to 100°C.

The controller’s vacuum-fluorescent display can show you information from two sensors concurrently: channel number, fan speed and current temperature.

You can switch between the channels using the two side controls. They also serve to set up the warning signal threshold. The Kaze Master Pro 5.25 worked blamelessly with my four high-performance fans, ensuring smooth regulation of speed from full stop to the maximum.

The recommended price of the Kaze Master Pro 5.25 is $44.99; its warranty period is 2 years.

Technical Specifications and Recommended Pricing

Conclusion

I won’t make a comparison in this conclusion because my goal was to describe each fan controller to you so that you could make an informed choice. Here are just some basic facts: if you want only to control your fans, you can take a Scythe Kaze Q-8, Lamptron FC8 or, for a lot of fans, Scythe Kaze Q-12. If you want temperature sensors too, you may want to consider the Lamptron FC5V2 or Scythe Kaze Master Pro 5.25. Want something eye-catching? Take a look at the Lamptron Touch or NZXT’s Sentry 2 and Sentry LX, the NZXT Sentry LXE being the most original option. Just choose what’s best for you!