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May 27, 2003 -- by Mike Chin
Fan controllers emerged as a stock item for case modders and PC hardware enthusiasts in the past year. Once an exotic gadget used only by die-hard, control-obsessed overclockers, mutiple-fan controllers are now made by many different well-known brands, and merchandised in clear plastic bubble packaging -- a sure sign of its entrance into the mainstream consumer market. It usually consists of controls and a printed circuit board mounted on a front panel that fits into a floppy or CD drive bay. For the silent PC enthusiast, a multi-channel fan controller is a neat, convenient way to tweak the speed of several fans for minimum noise or to push the fan speeds up as needed for special applications, hot weather, or what have you.
PC fan controllers are not quite as ubiquitous as this kind of fan control... yet.
While some controllers provide selectable settings between 2 or more voltages, others provide a continuous range from as low as 0V all the way to almost 12V. It is almost never a full 12V, because most variable voltage controllers have some insertion loss. Powered by the PC power supply's 12V line, the controller circuit itself draws a bit of juice, which results in at least a 0.5V loss -- not at all significant in practice.
The continuously variable controllers obviously provide more flexibility, but the switched devices have the advantage of easily repeatable settings. This is more useful than you might think, as I often find I need only two setting for my fans -- either as quiet as possible without overheating, or full blast and the heck with the noise for now while I run _______ -- fill in the blank with whatever you do that pushes your system to its limits.
You'd think getting this relatively simple electronic device right would be a cinch in an industry dealing with some of the most sophisticated silicon wizardry. Apparently this is not so. Vantec's fan controller was reportedly flawed by major audible buzzing when turned down in fan voltage / speed. Doesn't seem to be much point, does it? Whether the problem in the Vantec has been corrected is not clear. This is something we'll be listening for as we examine fan controllers: Noise from the controller itself as well as any extraneous from fans that might be attributable to the controller.
Our first fan controller review is an entry from Sunbeam Company of Taiwan. Coming in the next few days is a review of the Zalman Multi-Fan Controller ZM-MFC1.
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