Front Panel Knicknacks by Coolermaster & Matrix Orbital

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SOFTWARE

Being USB connected, both devices utilize software to relay data to and from the rest of the PC. They implement the software control in strikingly different ways.

The Matrix Orbital is capable of displaying any information fed to it: Winamp equalizers and MP3 information, system stats, data from the fans and thermal probes, etc, etc. The unit itself can control 4 fans using variable frequency PWM, and vary fan speed based on thermal probe sensors. The Achilles heel of the Matrix Orbital, however, is the software. Matrix Orbital relies on other venders to produce software that will work and display information on their unit. Matrix Orbital includes LCDC software, which is one of the most widely used LCD screen controlling packages available. It is by no means what you would call "user friendly". Because the LCDC software is not really an integral part of Matrix Orbital, a detailed analysis of it is beyond the scope of this review. In short, the software is very technical and has a steep learning curve, even for the moderately advanced user. Once you figure out how the complex programming works, the Matrix Orbital is one powerful piece of equipment, however.

Unlike Matrix Orbital, the Cooldrive 6 software was developed by Cooler Master and is integrated much more tightly with the product. The Cooler Master software is simple to the extreme:

The software divides itself into four tabs. The first tab deals with the hard drive itself, displaying the max and current transfer speeds, total disk space and space available.

The second tab is by far the most useful. The upper left hand portion of the screen displays an analog readout of all 4 fan RPM sensors, and just below is a digital readout of the fans speed with arrows to adjust the fan voltage up and down via PWM. The voltage is not displayed and cannot be manually entered.

The lower portion of this screen allows the user to view the temperature of the 4 probes and set temperature levels at which the built in alarm goes off, via a series of drag and drop color coded triangles. The software is limited to only displaying its own temperature probes, unlike several of the other USB connected fan controllers that can also monitor temperature reports coming from the motherboard's sensors.

Testing confirmed that the fan control works with 2 pin fans; naturally there is no RPM displayed, which makes adjusting them tricky. Also the software had a hard time reading the RPM signal of certain model fans, such as the Noiseblocker 80mm fans that were on hand. The readings jumped all over the place from 2k-10k. The actual fan speed was adjusted as expected, regardless of the errant readings.

For purposes of testing, a variety of different fan types and sizes were used, everything from Panaflo, Papst, Adda, Noiseblocker, Sunnon, and others, in 40mm-120mm varieties. Even with the PWM, no noticeable clicking or other adverse effects were seen or heard. If adjusted down to the point of stall, an alarm will go off letting the user know audibly as well as graphically on the screen. In every stall case one click up on the adjustment brought the fans back to life. All of the settings are retained upon shutdown of the system.

While generally well put together, the software it lacks one major aspect: The ability to dynamically control the speed of the fans based on temperatures. It can alert you when the temperatures pass your alarm settings, but it doesn't automatically adjust the fan speeds. This is a rather disappointing oversight.

The third tab simply controls the configuration of the unit itself and the idle display message, while the fourth, non-pictured tab only displays the Cooler Master / Cooldrive 6 logo and a link to the Cooler Master website.

HDD COOLING

Given the Cooldrive's claim of improved HDD cooling, some brief test sessions were undertaken.

Test setup

  • Seagate Barracuda 7200.7 (40gb) HDD in Cooldrive6
  • Hard drive temperatures were monitored via SpeedFan 4.16
  • Idle temperatures listed are stable temperatures at Windows desktop with the drive powered on.
  • Load temperatures are the maximum drive temperatures recorded during large continous file transfers between drive partitions.
  • Ambient temperature for all tests was 23°C.

The Cooldrive 6 was suspended in open air for testing, to isolate its performance, both thermal and acoustic, from case induced variables. Installed in a 5.25¬Ē bay of a typical case, the Cooldrive 6 would likely exhibit higher sound levels than we heard, due to vibration transfer to the case. The HDD temperature inside a case would be affected by two factors : Reduced exposure to cool air and increased heat conduction to the case; they may cancel each other out. The result would vary on your specific setup.

HDD Condition
Idle
Load
Cooldrive 6 w/ internal fan at full speed
32°C
34°C
Cooldrive 6 w/ fan at 1/2 speed
32°C
35°C
Cooldrive 6 w/ fan off
34°C
40°C
Bare Drive, w/o Cooldrive 6
39°C
50°C

Even with the internal fan turned completely off the Cooldrive6 does an excellent job of keeping the hard drive cool, resulting in a 10°C drop in load temperatures compared to the bare drive. This is a good thing, since the internal fan is likely to turned off permanently in any system where noise is a concern. The noise at full speed can be best described as, "too much airflow, not enough exhaust". This is probably a combination of the restricted intake locations and the turbulence of the air squeezing past the hard drive and the enclosure. The little fan just thrashes the air around inside its compartment. At about 1/2 speed, the airflow turbulence is minimized and the entire unit is markedly quieter.

As for the drive noise levels, the Cooldrive 6 made a noticeable improvement compared to a conventional rigid mount, even with its fairly limited decoupling features. Full elastic suspension is still superior to all the rubber grommets and soft thermal pads in the world. Whine is reduced noticeably, but seeks can still be clearly felt on the exterior of the unit.

CONCLUSIONS

Overall, the Cooldrive 6 is a nice piece of kit. The device is sharp looking, easy to install, has easy to understand software controls, and does an excellent job at keeping a hard drive cool. The decoupling of the hard drive to reduce noise is a nice touch. The absnce of automatic thermal fan control is a real disappointment considering how simple it would have been to implement. If the controller software were revised to allow automatic thermal control of fans and the ability to read the motherboard and hard drive's onboard temperature sensors, the Cooldrive 6 would be a tough product to beat.

It should be noted that the Cooler Master Aerogate 3 provides all of the same functions and look as the Cooldrive 6 without the hard drive support.

Cooler Master Cooldrive 6
PROS
CONS
* Well designed user friendly software controls
* Easy installation
* Stylish good looks
* Well executed hard drive dampening
* Effective hard drive cooling
* A bit pricey
* Fan included at stock voltage is noisy
* Fans cannot be thermally controlled.
* Short fan leads

Matrix Orbital MX-411 's ability to dynamically control fan speeds based on the thermal probes is probably its most useful feature for SPCR readers. This allows even the most fan-hungry PC to become nearly silent when it is sitting idle. All in all, this controller's software limits it to those users who are willing to devote some serious time to mastering the features hidden by the software. A good product but somewhat limited by its software, and priced too high for all but the most dedicated PC tinkerers.

Matrix Orbital MX411
PROS
CONS
* Can dynamically control fans based on thermal probes
* Can display just about anything you can imagine
* Very pricey
*A great product in desperate need of software
* Only 2 thermal probes included
* Takes up 2 5.25 bays
* Weak documentation

Our thanks to Matrix Orbital and Cooler Master for providing the sample units.

* * *

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