BitFenix Recon and BitFenix Hydra Pro Fan Controller RoundupWaco - November 20, 2012
Price: $39.99 and $34.99
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"Silence." This word is usually never used in the same sentence as the phrase "high-performance gaming computer". When building a computer you must usually compromise between great cooling and a great noise profile. Thankfully, many manufacturers have released fan controllers to let you combine the best of both worlds: fast fans when you need them, slow fans when you don't need the additional cooling. Today I'll be looking at a pair of fan controllers from the well-known BitFenix that promise to tame the high-performance fans that we all want for their cooling prowess but not for the obnoxious noise they produce.
The two fan controllers that BitFenix delivered into my hands have a few similarities. Both the Recon and the Hydra Pro have five independent fan channels and both are designed to fit in an empty 5.25" bay. The BitFenix Recon features a 4.7" touchscreen as well as five independent temperature probes that allow it to automatically adjust fan speeds based on temperature. For those who desire a bit less automation, the BitFenix Hydra Pro has manual slider controls as well as the ability to control the LED lighting on compatible BitFenix fans. Do these two fan controllers have what it takes to quiet down your noisy machine? Keep reading to find out!
The two BitFenix fan controllers arrived in relatively small boxes. Since both controllers have the same dimensions for your 5.25" bay, the two boxes are identical in size. Both feature nicely printed boxes with a large picture of the respective fan controller on the front of each box. The backside has a clearly printed specifications table that describes the various features for the product (for a full listing see the Specifications & Features page). One thing to note here is that the BitFenix Recon box lists each channel as 30 watts maximum while the documentation online lists each channel as capable of 10 watts maximum. To be safe, I would go with the lower number although the discrepancy may be fixed on newer retail boxes. The sides of each box are adorned with the BitFenix logo while the tops of each box list the notable features of each product. Overall the packaging serves its purpose and clearly describes each fan controller.
Breaking open the box for the BitFenix Recon reveals a user manual atop the fan controller itself. Each end is padded with a fairly sturdy piece of open-cell foam that provides more than enough cushion for the product to make it to you unharmed. The Recon ships with all of its cables attached but includes an extra temperature probe as well as an additional 3-pin fan extension wire. This is a nice touch since it allows you to make an "oops" with one of the temperature probes without compromising the ability to build your system. When freed of its packaging the Recon reveals its extensive array of cables: a 4-pin Molex power cable, five temperature probes, five 3-pin fan cables, and a USB 2.0 data header. Wire management is a must when installing something with this many cables! The front screen of the Recon looks somewhat odd when unpowered as it catches the light in interesting patterns but the surrounding bezel is wonderfully coated in BitFenix SofTouch™ material and both looks and feels fantastic!
Each of the wires protruding from the back of the Recon is labeled clearly for ease of installation. The Molex connection for power is daisy-chainable to avoid running out of connections for other devices. Each of the 3-pin fan connectors are capable of being attached to 4-pin fans although the PWM features of 4-pin fans will not be utilized by the controller itself since the Recon controls fan speed through voltage adjustment. The USB 2.0 header allows for the included software to communicate with the fan controller to load and save profiles, update alarm settings, and access temperature data. Each of the temperature probes ships with a plastic sleeve over the probe itself to protect them from damage. These probes are fairly study but are susceptible to crushing; don't try to put one between your CPU and heat sink!
The brains of the BitFenix Recon sit behind the touchscreen. Five separate voltage regulators drive the five fan controller channels and each is cooled by a small aluminum heat sink. The PCB itself is jet black just like the steel housing. Oddly enough the five fan cables can be removed without any hassle as can the power connector, but the temperature probes and USB 2.0 cable are both hot-glued to the PCB. This will create some difficulty in clean wiring if you do not plan on using all five of the probes but at the same time ensures that the connections will remain solid over time.
Moving on to the Hydra Pro we can see that it is packed almost identically to the Recon. The same sturdy foam caps protect it in shipping with a small installation manual and a bag of screws coming along for the ride. The wiring on the BitFenix Hydra Pro is similar to what was seen above with the Recon but with a few differences: a 4-pin Molex for power, five 3-pin fan connectors, and five 2-pin LED power connectors. The front bezel is coated in the same luxurious SofTouch™ material, and the five fan speed sliders are extremely low profile to allow for installation in cases with a low-clearance door. The left side of the Hydra Pro sports a single button that toggles the LED power on and off while the right side of the bezel features a single white LED to indicate that the Hydra Pro is receiving power.
The fan connectors on the Hydra Pro cannot accommodate the 4-pin connectors found on many PWM-capable fans. This generally isn't an issue as most fans do ship with 3-pin connectors, but be sure to check before ordering! The five connectors for LED control are simple 2-pin headers that plug into BitFenix Spectre and Spectre Pro LED fans. While these connectors may work with other manufacturer's fans you'll have to play roulette to find out which ones will work properly. If you aren't planning on using these connectors you'll want to remove them or cover them up because the exposed pins look like they're itching to short out on something in your case. The 4-pin Molex power connector is again daisy-chainable to avoid running out of plugs from your power supply.
Unlike the Recon, the Hydra Pro has no difficulties in shedding its load of cables. All of the included cables are easily detachable for easy installation and wire management. With the cables removed, the black PCB reveals itself along with the various components that make this fan controller work. The chassis for the Hydra Pro looks to be identical to the Recon and is formed from sturdy steel. Once you use the included screws to lock it into place it won't be rattling or wiggling around while in use. The slider for each of the five channels slides smoothly from the bottom (the slowest position) to the top (the fastest fan setting). The sliders themselves feel fairly sturdy and should hold up well to extended use.
Now that you've seen the BitFenix Recon and BitFenix Hydra Pro up close, move on to the next page to see them installed and running!