Review: SilentTEK - AOpen's mobo-embedded fan controller

Fans|Controls
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INTO WINDOWS: SILENT TEK

SilentTEK is compatible with Windows 98SE, ME, NT, 2000 and XP. Linux is not an option at this time. The test system was loaded with Windows XP Pro, SP1.

The CD that accompanied the motherboard did not contain any software called SilentTEK. The closest match was Hardware Monitor III. Installing this software appeared to load SilentTEK, with the exception of the CD drive speed control. AOpen clarified that Hardware Monitor III and SilentTEK are one and the same. HW-III displays itself as SilentTEK when the fan control function is activated as per Enable FAN Speed Control on this menu:

Main SilentTEK Control Screen

This brings us to the heart of the software. There are 4 fan control modes. Here is AOpen's explanation of these modes:

I. Smart FAN Control: This is the default setting of SilentTek and can be used for any branded computer housing. With a special innovative algorithm developed by AOpen, the fan speed is automatically adjusted by the factors of CPU and ambient temperature. If you are not running too many applications with heavy loading, you may find your CPU fan is almost always running at zero RPM. Ease-of-use and trouble free at your service.

II. Fix FAN Control: In this setting, you may set a fixed rotation speed for each fan you installed.

III. Multiple Control: This is the most unconstrained setting, which allows you to be on top of all details and set different rotation speed for different temperature.

IV. AOpen Recommend Setting: This is the best setting to fit in with AOpen housing, SilentPC would keep your system under the least quiet situation, and would only lift the fan rotation speed for heat-dissipation when necessary. According to our practical testing, we found that in most cases, the fan would remain still when the CPU is not in full loading.

Furthermore,

CDROM Noise Control: Some AOpen CDROM/CDRW/DVD drives have implemented speed control function, when combined with SilentTek, you can control drive speed to reduce noise. (This feature was also available with the DVD-ROM drive used in the test system.)

Let's examine each fan mode in more detail.

I. Smart Fan

Selecting Smart Fan Control brings up this dialog box. The numbers shown indicate the maximum target temperatures in Celsius. CPU refers (on this board) to the diode temperature reported by the P4, and System refers to the temperature of the onboard thermometer.

The fans are left NOT running until the temperature reaches the target maximum. The fan is then turned on only long enough to drop the temperature a couple of degrees below the target, then stopped again.

During stress testing of the CPU, the voltage fed to the fan in Smart Fan mode varied considerably, from the full 12V down to ~6V and many points in between. During stress testing, Smart Fan mode kept CPU temp within +,-2C of the target maximum temperature.

II. Fix Fan

Fix Fan is the equivalent of a manual fan speed controller. It lets you select the fan speed as a percentage, from 0% to 100%. Selecting 0% stops the fan altogether. The fan speed is shown only if the fan is equipped with the third speed monitoring output wire.

The output voltage for the two fan headers is not linear or the same. The table below shows the outputs at each setting. Obviously, this refers specifically to the AX4GE Max board reviewed, and may be different with other AOpen motherboard models.

%
5-10
15-35
40
45-55
60
65
70
75
80
85
90
95
100
CPU
6.4V
7.25V
10.25V
7.25V
7.75V
8.34V
8.93V
9.5V
10.1V
10.6V
11.2V
11.6V
12V
System
5.25V
5.83V
9.16V
5.83V
6.22V
6.8V
7.46V
8.14V
8.96V
9.78V
10.68V
11.33V
12V

The obvious anomaly is the bump at 40%, the 9th position on the slider scale. This 10.25V/9.16V bump looks like a programming error. The voltage across the range varied ~5%, which is probably within the cumulative accuracy tolerance of the measurement and voltage delivery systems. As you can see, despite the 20 discrete steps, there are only 12 different voltage settings.

III. Multiple Level

Multiple Level Control is by far the most sophisticated mode. It is probably too elaborate for the vast majority of users. Let's look at just the CPU Fan settings. (The sharp-eyed might see the amusing misspelling tempuratrue and tempurature. Perhaps the programmers were doing too many Japanese lunches.)

There are 6 trigger points that can be defined, ranging from 0C to 100C in 0.5C increments. A fan speed and temperature can be set for each of the six trigger points. There are only two limitations on the fan speed and trigger point options:

1) The temperature set for any of the 6 points must be at least 0.5C higher than the previous point and 0.5C lower than the next point.

2) The fan speed set for any of the 6 points can be no higher than the next point.

You are free to...

3) Define any number of trigger points, from 1 to 6.

4) Define the first trigger point at any temperature up to 97.5C.

There are 20 points on each fan voltage slider scale. Not surprisingly, this scale is the same as the one found in the Fix Fan Control mode described in the previous section and has the same voltage bump at the 9th point.

A great deal of flexibility is possible. Here are some simple examples:

A. Quiet but safe: An exponential relationship between CPU temperature and fan speed for low noise cooling under most conditions, yet full power cooling at high stress.

Trigger
1
2
3
4
5
6
Temp
54C
55C
60C
61C
62C
63C
CPU
0V
7.75V
8.34V
9.5V
11.2V
12V

This setup keeps the fan from turning on at all until the CPU reached 55C. With a middle-power CPU and a topnotch, low-airflow heatsink, this condition might prevail most of the time. At 55C, the fan turns on at the lowest possible speed. With a Panaflo or similar, this transition may not even be audible. This minimal fan speed may be enough most of the time to keep the CPU temperature from reaching 60C, which is perfectly safe with most CPUs. If the temp keeps rising above 60C, the fan accelerates to full speed very quickly to ensure that the full cooling power under high stress conditions.

B. Higher temp version of A: Simply shifts all temps up by 5C for those who are comfortable with a higher level of risk. Alternatively, this would provide the same level of noise performance in an ambient temperature that is 5C higher.

Trigger
1
2
3
4
5
6
Temp
59C
60C
65C
66C
67C
68C
CPU
0V
7.75V
8.34V
9.5V
11.2V
12V

C. Linear: This setup would keep the fan at a slow speed in most conditions and change its speed up and down more steadily. It will tend to provide lower average temperatures and a higher level of noise. Likely does not require as high heatsink performance as the previous examples; the main drawback may be the audibility of changes in fan speed. (But the changes are relatively gradual.)

Trigger
1
2
3
4
5
6
Temp
34C
35C
40C
45C
50C
55C
CPU
0V
6.4V
7.25V
8.93V
10.8V
12V

D. Off/On: Here is an extreme low-noise setup. Fan stays completely off until CPU hits 65C, then comes on full speed. The temps set for points 1-4 have no effect whatsoever.

Trigger
1
2
3
4
5
6
Temp
20C
35C
40C
45C
64C
65C
CPU
0V
0V
0V
0V
0V
12V

Each user should experiment to establish a Multiple Control algorithm that works well for his/her system.

IV. AOpen Recommend Setting

There is no dialog box or submenu for this option, as it is completely preset. AOpen says the Recommended Setting is based on profiles of the specific CPU type (P4 1.6, 1.8, 2.0, 2.2, 2.4 GHz), and collated temperature, fan and noise data. These profiles are converted into optimal values in Multiple Control mode. It's somewhat generic, but may be worth a try.



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