BitFenix Recon and BitFenix Hydra Pro Fan Controller Roundup

Waco - 2012-08-08 07:10:05 in Cooling
Category: Cooling
Reviewed by: Waco   
Reviewed on: November 20, 2012
Price: $39.99 and $34.99

Introduction:

"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!

Closer Look:

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!

Installation:

Installation of the BitFenix recon was as simple as any other fan controller. For the purposes of testing I placed all five of the temperature probes into the fins on my Noctua CPU heat sink though there is enough length on each of them to be placed on essentially any component of your choosing even in a large case. The USB 2.0 cable could stand to be a bit longer (for easier cable hiding), but even in my HAF 932 it reached the bottom of my motherboard without issue from one of the top 5.25" bays. Overall I had no real issues installing it. With that said it would have been nice to be able to remove any unwanted temperature probes and allow for a single probe to govern the speeds of all connected fans – the current software only allows automatic control on channels with the sensors connected.

Once powered up the Recon's touchscreen glows white with a hint of blue (the camera exaggerates the blue tint). Each of the channels is selectable by pressing the numbers at the bottom of the screen and the speed of each is adjusted by the large +/- buttons on the left of the screen. Upon booting up, all connected fans spin up to full speed then slowly drop down to the desired RPM (in manual mode) or the temperature-guided RPM (in auto mode). In manual mode, the desired RPM can be chosen in 100 RPM increments with the lower limit of RPMs seeming to correspond directly to how slow a given fan will spin when powered with 6 volts (the lower limit of the output on the Recon). In automatic mode the Recon will automatically adjust the fan RPM on a linear slope from 30 degrees up to 90 degrees. I found this a bit disappointing as it makes it impossible to adjust the fan speed slope versus temperature. The only way to change how quickly the fans speed up and down is to change the position of the temperature sensors to somewhere with more or less heat (depending on whether you want them to ramp up faster or more slowly).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A fan controller with software? Yes, you read correctly. The BitFenix Recon ships with software that allows you to access and control the fans in your computer from anywhere on Earth – as long as you have an Internet connection anyway. The installation of the Recon software is quick and painless, and it allows you to view temperatures, adjust fan speeds, and save multiple profiles from your browser. Should you decide to check in on your rig when on the road, the mobile version of the software allows for all of the same adjustments in a more touch-friendly interface. You will have to tunnel the software through your router and firewall to access it remotely, though local LAN access is work-free. While this feature is certainly novel I can't say I really see the point especially since it opens up a potential security hole on your computer (the software essentially runs a web server on your computer).

 

 

Moving on, I was able to appreciate the simplicity of the BitFenix Hydra Pro fan controller because of the complexity of the Recon. Because all unneeded wires can simply be removed, the installation was a breeze. There's not a whole lot more to say here; all you have to do is plug in the power cable, plug in your fans, and then you're good to go! Upon powering up, the white LED on the right side of the bezel glows with a soft white light that gives a quick indication of the board receiving power. While the Recon required that you stay under 10 watts for each fan channel the Hydra Pro can handle up to 30 watts on each channel. The more robust output should be enough for all but the most insane of builds; only those with over 150 watts of fans alone need be concerned about overloading this fan controller.

 

Specifications:

Materials:
SofTouch™, ABS Plastic, Steel
Dimensions:
147 x 43 x 67 mm
Form Factor:
5.25" Drive Bay
Fan Channels:
X 5
Temperature Channels:
X 5
Max Watts / Channel:
10 Watts
Measurement Frequency:
Every 0.1 – 0.4 seconds
Temperature Alarm Range:
30°C – 90°C
Temperature Range:
0°C – 100°C
Screen Size:
4.7"

 

 

Features:

 

 

 

All information provided by: http://www.bitfenix.com/global/en/products/accessories/recon#specs

Specifications:

Materials:
ABS Plastic, Steel
Dimensions:
147 x 43 x 67 mm
Form Factor:
5.25" Drive Bay
Fan Channels:
X 5
Max Watts / Channel:
30 Watts
Fan LED Connectors:
X 5 (compatible with BitFenix Spectre LED and Spectre Pro LED fans)
Power Input:
4-Pin Molex
Extras:
SofTouch™ surface treatment, LED power indicator

 

 

Features:

 

 

 

All information provided by: http://www.bitfenix.com/global/en/products/accessories/hydra-pro/

Testing:

Testing the two BitFenix fan controllers required using them in my normal routines. These routines included gaming, working (what's that?), and general internet surfing. These various activities allow me to become familiar with how well the fan controllers work for various situations and configurations. Since both of the fan controllers have five channels I attached the same fans to both controllers in turn. The first two channels on each controller were wired to the Corsair SP120 High Performance Edition fans on my Noctua heat sink. The third and fourth channels were wired to a pair of Corsair AF120 Performance Edition fans acting as exhaust fans at the top of my case. The last channel was wired to a Corsair AF140 Quiet Edition at the rear of my case also set up as an exhaust fan. The two SP120s on the CPU heat sink create quite a racket without any fan controller attached and the three AF-series fans, while quiet, do create some noise due to the massive air flow they create when un-throttled.

 

Testing Setup:

 

Fan Configuration:

 

BitFenix Recon:

The BitFenix Recon works quite well in normal use. With the fans set to automatic control, each of them spin down to their minimum speeds when the temperature sensors are at 30 degrees or less. Once the temperature rises above that point the fans slowly spin up to cope with the additional heat load. One slight annoyance here is that the fan profile itself is not configurable with the stock software; thus the only way to adjust the ramping up of fan speeds is to move the temperature sensors. That said, you can create an alarm temperature that will cause all connected fans to spin up to 100% and also causes the Recon to emit an extremely loud warning beep that continues until the temperature drops below the alarm threshold. The audible alarm can be toggled with a quick press of the touchscreen.

Because the Recon controls fans via voltage modulation and a feedback loop from the fan RPM sensor, any fans without an RPM reading will spin at 100%. This is not a flaw with the controller itself, but some sort of manual override of the output voltage would have been a nice addition. Another issue that can crop up with this sort of RPM control is that some fans may not function properly at lower voltages. These small voltages can cause some fans to stop, spin back up to full speed, and then slowly spin down till they stall again. I didn't have any issues with any of the fans I had on-hand to test, and I don't imagine many will do so considering the 6 volt minimum output of the Recon.

Overall, the Recon performed admirably in the task of making my obnoxiously noisy SP120 High Performance Edition fans amazingly more tolerable. At their minimum speeds of around 1200 RPM they were almost entirely silent while still providing more than enough airflow for adequate cooling. When pushing my system in games the temperature probes warmed up and caused the fan speeds to increase with to cope with the additional load. When in manual mode the target RPM held solid without any modulation in speed.

 

BitFenix Hydra Pro:

After I finished testing the Recon, I moved on to cooling my system with the Hydra Pro. Given that it is a manual fan controller I could not have it automatically change my fan speeds with temperature. However, the individual sliders did allow very precise control of fan speeds without any undue effort. The controls are sensitive enough to go from roughly 6 volts all the way up to 12 volts and any step in between. The SP120 fans on my heat sink had no issues starting even at the minimum speed setting and were easily adjustable to a tolerable level of noise with a quick slide of a finger. Overall I had no complaints in testing as the Hydra Pro performed exactly as it was supposed to.

Conclusion:

In the end, you have to make a choice based on one factor: control. Do you want your fan controller to automatically adjust for temperature or would you rather take control of that duty yourself? If you want the former then the Recon is a great choice. For not a lot of coin you get a great looking fan controller, automatic speed adjustment, up to 10 watts per channel for fans, and a nifty web-accessible interface for access from anywhere you please. If you'd rather control your fans manually the Hydra Pro offers the ability to drive up to 30 watts per channel as well as the option of controlling LED lighting if you have compatible fans.

Both of these fan controllers do their job. They both look great, are built with clear attention to detail, and will easily stand up to daily use for a very long time. If you have noisy fans or would like the ability to use noisy fans without having to deal with their obnoxious droning whenever your computer is on you won't be disappointed in either of these BitFenix offerings. The software for the Recon is a bit rough around the edges but serves its purpose, and the Hydra Pro is simple and effective. For the asking price of $39.99 for the Recon and $34.99 for the Hydra Pro, I really cannot find any serious faults in either product. Personally I love the automatic control on the Recon, and it will be staying in my own rig permanently!

 

BitFenix Recon

Pros:

 

Cons:

 

 

BitFenix Hydra Pro

Pros:

 

Cons: