Review: Generic 3-ch Fan Controller

Fans|Controls

Dec 31, 2003 by Mike Chin

Product
ATN-TP-02E / FP05SL
Multi-Function Fan Control Panel
Wholesaler / Supplier
Logisys Computer
Market Price
US$10~15

Every once in a while, you come across a gadget that serves a useful function, is not unattractive, and is priced low enough that you feel it justifies perfectly all the excesses of mass consumer society. Well, perhaps that's going a bit too far. In the sea of gadgets that is big part of a trade show, at the recent Las Vegas Comdex in late November, bemoaned by all for being too small, I came across a gadget such as this. In many ways it is the perfect mass consumer gadget, so generic that it does not even have a brand name.

The packaging provides a model number, ATN-TP-02E, and a production description, Multi-Function Fan Control Panel - Aluminum Panel suitable for 3.5" Bay, but no company name, not even country of origin or manufacture. The biggest lettering is USER DIY, which I presume refers to its intended audience, do-it-yourselfers.

It was displayed with many other gadgets, fans, lights and doo-dads at the booth of a wholesale / distribution / import company called Logisys Computer. Their site shows these various items, including this ATN-TP-02E, which is identified as FP05SL, available in silver or black. I gather the device can be tagged with whatever name or logo or brand a reseller wants. It's probably just a question of quantity. They gave me one to take with me to review.

I admit the gadget was lost in post-trip chaos, pre-Xmas craziness, and then the break of Xmas itself. Here we are on the verge of the new year, and the ATN-TP-02E calls my name. What to do but heed the controlling little gizmo.

What is it? It is a 3-channel fan controller with a pair of USB 2.0 ports designed to fit into a front panel 3.5" drive bay. Here's a close-up of the front panel:

Remember, it is very small. The width is the same as a floppy drive. And here's a picture of the back:

There are three sets of detachable cables:

  • The 8-wire set on the left with the back plug marked UP is for the USB ports.
  • The center yellow-black set gets power from a 4-pin Molex PSU connector.
  • The 6-wire set on the right lead out to three 2-pin fan connectors.

As that last piece of information might have told you, fan RPM monitoring is not available through this unit.

The picture above shows the wires again: three pairs of fan leads on the left, the 4-pin Molex connector with pass-through to get power from the power supply in the computer, and the 8-pin lead to the USB connector on the motherboard. Four mounting screws are also supplied.

A small instruction sheet provides this information:

  • Aluminum design, suitable for 3.5" bay
  • Input 12V (+,-10%), output 6-12V (+,-10%)
  • Maximum output 10W each channel.

There are cautions to...

  • Turn the computer off before installtion
  • The USB connector is plugged in when the UP sign is visible from the top
  • Connect and check the power before using
  • Use 12VDC fans

The 10W max power per channel rating immediately caught my eye. That seems like a fair amount of power. Hmmm. Examine this picture again...

Those three black rectangular things on the printed circuit board with silver colored insets and black circles in the center are transistors. This circuit is a voltage controller, like the previously reviewed Zalman and Sunbeam multifan controllers. There is one quite significant difference: Those other units had heatsinks for the transistors. This one does not. I would be very surprised if this device could in fact handle half the "rated power" unless it was operated in a cool, well-ventilated area -- which does not describe a computer case. In any case, I would imagine the most powerful fan any reader of SPCR would be interested in is rated no more than 0.25A. At 12V, this represents just 3W. Absorbing half of that power should not be an issue, but I would not recommend any fan that draws more than maybe 0.3A at 12V.

So how well does it work? Pretty much as it should. With fan controllers, there are a few basic questions for PC silencers:

1. Does it provide a good range or speed / voltage control?

I tried four different fans, ranging from the Panaflo 80L to a 0.3A 120mm fan. The voltage obtained on each of the three channels was about the same (less that 10% variance), with a minimum of 5.7V and a maximum of 11.3V. On the last fan, the minimum inexplicably dropped to 5V while the maximum stayed at the same 11.3V. Perhaps some interaction with that fan's circuitry. There is obviously a bit of voltage drop through the circuit, but 0.7V is not bad at all, and SPCR users will rarely set their fans at that high a voltage anyway. For most people using quiet low speed 12V fans, this range of 5.7~11.3V is plenty good.

2. Does the knob provide useful control over its entire travel?

With many electronic devices, control knobs often provide their entire range in a very small portion of the rotation, sometimes as little as a third of a turn. Whether this is the volume control on an amplifier or a fan speed control knob, the end result is that it is harder to get exactly the setting you want. This little device uses the entire ~300 degree turn of the knobs. Here's a simple illustration that show how linearly the knob changes the fan voltage:

So even though the knob is very small and slightly sloppy, it provides fine control.

As for the USB ports, I admit I did not test them. I have no reason to think they would not work, and I was not about to get out tweezers and a magnifying glass to find out. It would not bother me in the least if they did not work; if they did, it would be a nice bonus.

Conclusions

Logisys Computer's ATN-TP-02E / FP05SL is a nifty useful gadget for PC silencing control. It does exactly what most PC silencers want in a front panel fan controller: The ability to change fan speeds at will without mucking about in the innards of the PC, to turn fans up for intense work when greater cooling is needed, to tweak for changes in ambient temperature, to make it as quiet as possible when the system is not under load. It does this with no lights, whistles or any kind of fanfare, at a price that looks just about unbeatable.

If you're wondering how to get one of these things, just try a Google search for ATN-TP-02E. You will be surprised how many places it turns up and under how many names... well, maybe not..

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