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 Post subject: Aerocool Gatewatch - impressions
PostPosted: Sun May 08, 2005 11:44 pm 

Joined: Mon Apr 26, 2004 10:09 am
Posts: 155
Location: Israel
Last week, I built a system for a customer using this fan controller, and it left quite a favorable impression, so I decided to share. Unfortunately, I did not have a camera at hand, so no pictures.

System specs:
Athlon64 3500+ Newcastle
2x512MB TwinMOS PC3200 CL2.5
Point of View GeForce 6800GT
WD Raptor 74GB
WD Caviar SE 200GB
Coolermaster CM Stacker case

Zalman CNPS7000B-AlCu on the CPU
Zalman VF700-AlCu on the graphics card
Zalman NB32J on the chipset
Coolermaster SUF-S12-EB fans replacing stock 120mm fans which have no rpm signal
Stock Coolermaster 80mm fan in top vent

I used the Gatewatch to control intake 120mm, exhaust 120mm, CPU fan, and GPU fan. Top fan was left running at 12V, and PSU fan is controlled by PSU itself.

Gatewatch homepage can be found here. The basic summary is that it controls 4 channels, each in accordance with a temperature sensor - really just a very dumbed down T-balancer, much easier to use, with a lot of added bling, but with quite a few limitations. It requires fans to be equipped with tachometers to control them, and bases its control range on rpm rather than voltage - fans that spin at 2000rpm or more at 12V can be brought down to half of their max speed, fans that spin at less than 2000rpm at 12V have a 500rpm control range. It does not stop fans at all - in fact, the above limitations are made to prevent fans stopping due to insufficient voltage. It is also equipped with a crude noise monitor, a speaker volume control knob, and a clock.

The controller works just as advertised - the display is large, very good looking and easy to read. Backlight isn't dim, and isn't overly bright either - just the right intensity, and you can read the display in any lighting conditions.

Assembly is very convenient - much more so than Hardcano 12 which I had the misfortune of encountering in a Thermaltake Xaser Damier V-something case. 8 short leads (about 5cm each) protrude from the back of the panel, each with clearly readable labels (HDD/CPU/VGA/Case). Four extension cables (I forgot to measure the length, but it was about 30-40cm) for fans are supplied, each with the same labeling on each end. Four temperature sensors are supplied as well, of the thin and flat kind, again, with labels on both ends. In addition, there are four pieces of thermal tape to attach these sensors to wherever is convenient.

I pushed the CPU sensor between the copper fins of CNPS7000B-AlCu, close to the base, and it was reporting temperatures that matched software CPU monitoring to within a degree or two. The GPU sensor was placed between the GPU die and HSI bridge - there's just enough room there so it won't be crushed - and then the VF700-AlCu heatsink was placed over it. It was actually reporting temperatures several degrees higher than those given by NVidia driver, which leads me to believe that GateWatch slightly exaggerates its temperature reports to make up for distance between heat source and sensor. Case temperature sensor was taped to the outside of the PSU, and HDD sensor was taped to the top of the Raptor.

The controller works as advertised. When system is started, all fans spin at maximum rpm - in this case, approximately 1500rpm for 120mm fans, 2500rpm for CPU fan, and 3000rpm for VGA fan. Every 5 seconds or so, rpm is reduced in increments of 30, until it levels off. In this case, it was 1000rpm for 120mm fans, 1300-1400 for CPU fan, and 2600-2700 for the VGA fan - that card does run quite hot. Under load, it compensates fairly quickly, boosting the VGA fan to full speed, and increasing the intake airflow when the Raptor is getting hammered.

Overall effect - the system is quite noisy at startup, but within a few minutes, Gatewatch reduces the noise to an audible, but quite unobtrusive level. The main noisemakers are the 80mm fans in VF700 VGA cooler and HEC-400TR-TX power supply, both of which spin at fairly high speeds and cannot be brought lower without major modification of the existing cooling setup - a Phantom would work quite well in this system, but it's very expensive, and no one in Israel seems to have any in stock, and silently cooling a 6800GT + HSI without water is an exercise in futility.

The system is quite safe, unlike manual fan controllers such as Sunbeam Rheobus, which are powerful, but in hands of an inexperienced user can easily cook a system. While it does use a 3.3V battery to store the settings, and I have no idea how long the battery is going to last, when the battery does go (and I tested by removing it) all that happens is that it loses the time (it reverts to 00:00 and starts counting from there) and custom alarm temperature settings (it reverts to defaults, which I cannot remember offhand). When the system is started, all the fans work normally, and auto mode reduces them to optimal speeds regardless of battery state.

It has bling factor by the metric ton - I am not aware of any other fan controllers mounting a display as large - and coupled with simple controls and safety of use, it has a lot of appeal for the casual user.

The volume control knob works, although its functionality is limited to stereo setups - it uses a single pass-through connection, and any surround setup will have only one of its 2/3/4 channels controlled, which is useless. It likely degrades audio quality, but I wasn't in a position to test by how much - I was using onboard ALC850 audio and cheap multimedia speakers, and I'm not an audiophile anyway.

The noise level indicator is a sort of cute gimmick, but doesn't really have much use. It is moderately sensitive - Raptor seeks cause it to ping, so does talking near the computer - but there is no reference scale, so it is completely useless as a measuring tool.

The controller does have a drawback, which can be seen as significant in the eyes of some more advanced users - the manual/auto switch is for the whole controller, not for each channel individually. However, the manual mode isn't that useful anyway, in my opinion at least, so it isn't a deal-breaker.

Another minor shortcoming is that when a fan does stop, for whatever reason, it does not raise an alarm. I rate this minor, because within a minute or two, the alarm will go off anyway due to temperature exceeding threshold, and then the display starts flashing red, and buzzer begins beeping loudly. The positive side of this is that you don't have to connect all channels, as you might have to do on some other controllers that monitor fan status.

Final word - with careful selection of fans to make maximum use of Gatewatch's control range (low 1000's 120mm fans and low to mid 2000's 92mm and 80mm fans) this is a very good solution to casual users who are impressed by the bling factor, but aren't willing to involve themselves with the technical intricacies of setting up a T-balancer. Besides, worldwide availability of Aerocool products seems to be a good deal better than that of mCubed.

I'm uncertain which forum to post it in, so if any of the moderators feel like it belongs in the User Reviews section more, feel free to move it.

 Post subject:
PostPosted: Mon Sep 26, 2005 3:19 pm 

Joined: Thu Aug 25, 2005 10:17 pm
Posts: 23
Location: New Zealand
Have you managed to find a coolwatch to try as a comparison?

 Post subject:
PostPosted: Mon Sep 26, 2005 3:43 pm 
*Lifetime Patron*

Joined: Sat Jan 18, 2003 2:19 pm
Posts: 5316
Location: St Louis (county) Missouri USA
Thanks for the thorough review. I've always liked the looks of the thing, but it's use of two bays is a major drawback.

I guess in a tall case with many bays, it would be a nice addition....particularly for an average user.

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