NZXT Sentry LXE Fan Controller Review

Indybird - 2010-07-29 11:51:58 in Cooling
Category: Cooling
Reviewed by: Indybird   
Reviewed on: October 11, 2010
Price: $59.99

Introduction:

It’s a fact of life that any high-end performance PC generates a lot of heat, especially when overclocked. It's another fact of life that this heat can't go unchecked, so some form of air or water cooling is in order. However, no matter which route you take, you’re almost always going to have fans in your cooling setup. These days, you can buy some pretty powerful, albeit loud, fans that will cool your computer just fine. If your computer is just for benchmarking then you won’t think twice about the noise. On the other hand, if your computer is just going to be used for "normal" purposes in which you won’t be running it at 100% the whole time, then you might prefer it to be a little quieter.

Here’s where the "Fan-Controller" comes in. Fan controllers are typically very simple; they control three to four fans via voltage adjustment controlled by knobs. It’s a simple and common setup, but today, NZXT decided to break the mould. Here we have the company's latest in its Sentry line of premium fan controllers, the Sentry LXE. This fan controller, I can safely say, is like none you have ever seen before. The LXE boasts an external touch screen control, internal controller card, automatic fan control, fan monitoring and much more. With all these great features, the Sentry LXE sounds like the recipe for the perfect fan controller, so let’s take a closer look.

Closer Look:

The NZXT Sentry LXE is packaged in a simple cardboard box with a subtle red, white and light purple theme. The front of the box gives you a view of the fan controller in action along with some icons displaying the main features. Both sides are pretty plain, just the name and barcode really. Around the back you get the more detailed specs of the fan controller in seven different languages.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Opening up the box you’ll find almost everything is individually wrapped and sandwiched between two pieces of foam. Once you’ve gotten everything out of the box you’ll find the manual, controller card, 3V coin cell battery, temp. probe tape, two screws and all of the cables. Strangely NZXT had the power, temperature and fan cables already connected to the controller card.

 

 

The 8-pin interface cable uses the same Molex mini-fit connections as an ATX or PCI-Express power connector, but the patterns do not match up with any other connectors (probably to avoid any nasty connection mistakes). At seven feet long (just over 2m) the interface cable should give you plenty of length to place the controller wherever you want on your desk. Moving on to the fan cables, there are exactly five included and each has numbered labels. They are approximately two feet long (.6m) and when combined with the fan cables should easily reach anywhere in your case. It would have been nice if they used standard male AND female connections, so you could hook up your fans directly to the controller, but it is not a major issue. The only real problem I foresee with these cables is they will not accommodate 4-pin PWM fan connections (such as on CPU coolers) without modification. For power, it has a Molex pass-through cable. The temperature probes, much like the fan cables, all have numbered labels on them and are about two feet long. When you first take them out they are all attached in a ribbon; however, they pull apart effortlessly. NZXT was kind enough to include two extra temperature probes just in case you lose or break one.  As you can see, all of the cables are black and should fit in visually with most cases, a nice touch on NZXT’s part.

 

 

 

The controller card itself mounts in an open expansion slot on your case. Though it does not have any interface with the motherboard, you do lose a slot. On the top of the card you have all of your connections, five fan, five temp and the power connection. Also on this side you’ll find the battery mount (to keep your settings when the computer is off) and the beeper. Around the back you’ll find the interface connection.

 

 

Just before we move onto the controller itself, we can see that it comes very well protected, two pieces of foam padding and a plastic bag to prevent scratches, and then a protective film on the screen itself.

Closer Look:

Taking the Sentry LXE out of its packaging gives you a pretty unique first impression. As you can see in the pictures, this is definitely one sleek piece of electronics. The design mainly consists of the single 5mm-thick piece of black brushed aluminum bent 170 degrees to form the front and bottom. All around the high gloss screen is a polished bare-aluminum beveled bezel; a subtle flair. The NZXT logo is dark in color and understated, giving a high-spec appearance.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All of the electronics are housed in a black plastic box mounted onto the back. Here all you’ll find is the serial number and interface connection. On the bottom you have two strips of rubber that prevent the Sentry from moving around on your desk.

 

 

Now that we’ve taken a tour of the outside let’s get it all hooked up.

Installation:

Installing the NZXT Sentry is definitely an adventure, but not necessarily a bad one. First thing you do is hook up all of your fans and temperature probes. If you want to keep the inside of your case looking clean (if you have a window or are concerned about airflow), then you’ll have to get creative with up to eleven 2-foot-long wires. I found that running all of the fans' cables to one spot allowed me to run all of the Sentry fan cables to that same spot in one bunch. So realistically, it just takes a little bit of ingenuity and some cable ties to wrangle the would-be mess. For temperature probes I opted for the CPU, Graphics Memory, RAM, Graphics Core and VRMs. After making all of your fans and temp probe connections then you can pop the battery in, connect the 4-pin internal power cable to a spare Molex, mount the card to an open expansion slot and connect the interface cable. Powering on your computer, you’re greeted with a beep from the controller, the whir of your fans and a nice, bright screen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Configuration:

The manual, unfortunately, isn’t particularly clear on the exact workings of the fan controller. Luckily, however, the touch interface, by nature, adds its own level of intuitiveness. First things first, you can set the the time and date simply by pressing and adjusting them via the plus and minus button in the lower left corner. To adjust the alarm temperature or fan speed on a channel, you simply press the number to the left. The selected item will start flashing, and you can chose your target value.

There Sentry LXE gives you two modes of operation; auto and manual. In automatic the fan speeds are self-regulated based on the temperature. I’m not quite sure what temperature the controller aims for because the adjustable temperature here is still just the alarm temp. Once you have the alarm temperature set, the controller goes back to displaying the current temp. Switching over to manual you have same alarm adjustment, but fan adjustment also. To adjust the fan speed you press the channel number a second time and the RPMs will flash, showing the target value. Fans can be adjusted from 100% down to 40%, then turned off.

 

 

The last two items are the “power” button and reset. The power button simply shuts off the screen. All control is handled on the internal interface card, so when screen is turned off or even unplugged, fan control continues exactly as you left it. Pressing and holding reset will revert the controller back to default settings.

Specifications:

 

Fan Adjustment Range
3.7V to 12V
Fan Channels
5
Max watt per Channel
10W
Temperature Module Channels
5
Temperature Range
0 ~ 99℃ / 32 ~ 199.9℉
Measurement Frequency
Every 2 Seconds
Temperature Alarm Range 30℃ to 90℃
(AUTO) Min 50%, Under 0-25℃,fan RPM 50%
(MANUAL) Min 40%
Screen Size 5.27 inches

 

 

Features:


All information courtesy of NZXT @ http://nzxt.com/new/products/fan_control/sentry_lxe

Testing:

 

A variety of tests will be used for the NZXT Sentry LXE. First I will check the temperature accuracy using a laser thermometer, then I will test the ergonomics of the controller.

Testing Setup:

 

Temperature Accuracy:

To test the temperature accuracy I placed the temperature probe on the surface of the VRM heatsink. The Sentry LXE measured a temperature of 36.5 while the laser thermometer reported 36.25. Obviously these are pretty accurate probes.

 

Ergonomics:

Ergonomics is the test of usability and intuitiveness. To start, we'll take a look at the Sentry LXE's screen.  At first glance it looks absolutely stunning thanks to a high brightness and great horizontal viewing angles. Unfortunately, it is plagued by terrible vertical viewing angles. You have to be looking down at it somewhat to get the best viewing angle, and there isn’t much room to move. Though the screen looks good, the layout is less than desirable. One example would be the plus and minus buttons. They are perhaps the most important buttons, but they are also the smallest on the whole controller. I don’t have particularly large hands, and I often found myself pressing either the wrong button, or two at the same time. Next up was the responsiveness of the touch screen; this too was a slight issue. It requires an unusually firm press, which at the same time reveals another issue, and that is the feet. They simply do not hold the screen upright or in one position when the pressure is applied to the touch-screen. A simple fix would be moving the feet to the far corners of the bottom; I imitated this with some spare rubber feet I had, this alone made the controller a lot easier to use. To wrap up the testing is a strange feature that is not necessarily good or bad. When adjusting the fan speed up and down, the fans do not react immediately unless turning them off. After a five second delay the adjusted fan will slowly speed-up or slow-down to match the desired RPMs. There was no mention of this in the manual, and upon first use I thought something was not working correctly.

Conclusion:

Out of the box, the NZXT Sentry LXE stunned me with its ultra-sleek appearance and great feature list. The whole concept of an external fan controller is already extremely rare, but inclusion of a touch screen only makes it that much more unique. The brushed aluminum and the bright on-screen graphics really make the Sentry LXE look like a high-end piece of equipment. Aside from its practical purposes, it simply looks great on your desk. It wasn’t all looks however, the features provided their fair share of innovation. To start I was surprised by how useful the automatic fan control was, it truly maintained an active balance between performance and quietness. Having the five channels, each at 10 Watts, didn’t hurt either; most users shouldn’t have any trouble wiring up their entire cooling system.

Good looks and great concepts however, can’t make up a whole product. I had several slight issues with the core components, mostly relating to usability. The main problem with the controller is the responsiveness and rubber feet issue. The screen is not as responsive as it should be and when you press a little harder to make up for it, the controller gets pushed around and can even tip over. Another inopportune design choice was with the placement and size of the on-screen buttons, only adding to the frustration from the responsiveness. Smaller issues such as manual speed adjustment lag and a lack of target temperature in "Auto" mode can also be noted, but are more or less just strange design choices than design flaws.

Even though there are some distinct issues with the Sentry LXE, I find myself still using it even after the review. What it does, it does very well and that is automatically or manually control your fans, and it looks good while doing it. Some minor fixes such as screen layout, responsiveness and perhaps feet positioning would make this product as close to perfect as you can get. At around $60 for a fan controller, some consumers are going to demand this perfection; however, as there is not another device out there with the looks and feature set of the LXE, many cooling enthusiasts and general power users will most likely find the NZXT Sentry LXE to be the perfect addition to their high-end PC.

 

Pros:

 

Cons: