NZXT Sentry Mesh Fan Controller ReviewnVidia_Freak - June 14, 2011
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For a sizable amount of computer enthusiasts, noise is of great concern. When the majority of computers are still air-cooled, fans are the greatest producers of noise. There was once a time when if a user wanted quieter, or heaven forbid louder high-flow fans, one had to manually splice the fan cables to achieve the desired voltage and thus the desired airflow and sound level. Those of you that have been around a while will be reminded of the Vantec Tornado's heyday. Now, before you go calling me an old fart, I'll have you know that this was still fairly common several years ago. Even today, splicing fan cables has its place when resistor adapters are not available and fan controllers would cause too much internal cable clutter. It's hardly a flexible solution, doing the job one way all the time, but as stated, it does the job.
Fortunately for those of us with at least semi-decent cable management skills, about one and a half centuries ago, a man named Johann Porggendorff invented what is known as a potentiometer. Simply put, it is a device that allows one to vary the output of incoming voltage within a given range. Potentiometers are not typically a sight inside computers and are better known for being common components of analogue appliances, such as stereo amplifiers and cathode tube displays. But, their ability to vary voltage at a whim make potentiometers ideal for controlling case fans, thus we have fan controllers. They are a much more versatile way to obtain the ideal sound to airflow ratio for any given situation and certainly more straightforward than manually splicing the cables. Fan controllers are also a much more aesthetically pleasing way of reeling in rowdy fans, and they must be kept up to date with the current case styles. NZXT is no stranger to the game, and as such, has submitted the Sentry Mesh for review.
If you're familiar with NZXT, this plain printed cardboard packaging ought to look familiar. Although simple, it is certainly NZXT's own unique style and they are easily recognizable for it. Right away there's a look at what's inside and a little peek at what kind of potentiometers the Sentry Mesh uses. Out back, NZXT makes it known that the Sentry Mesh is made for users that want to maintain a stealthy, low-profile case. Supporting this assertion is its use of black steel mesh and linear potentiometers. You might ask, "Wouldn't a touchscreen LCD be even more low-profile?" While a touchscreen LCD would undoubtedly be as physically low-profile as can be, the bright back light would produce far too much light to be considered stealthy. Not to mention the increase in price that it would bring, thus the Sentry Mesh does not feature a touchscreen LCD.
Out of the box, the Sentry Mesh certainly looks the part to be considered stealthy and low-profile. The cables extend approximately 18" from the rear of the controller, making the Sentry Mesh suitable for application in all but the largest full-tower cases. Those with full-towers may need extension cables (not included), not only to reach the fans, but also to adequately hide the cables from view. Power is provided by one standard 4-pin Molex connector, which in turn powers up to five individual fans at a maximum of 30W per channel. Molex KK plugs are the Sentry Mesh's forté, so count the Sentry Mesh out if your fans are powered by standard 4-pin Molex connectors and you lack the necessary adapter (also not included). A very nice touch is the presence of a numbered tag attached toward the end of each cable to indicate which channel the cable belongs to. This makes it very easy to know the exact potentiometer that controls each fan, which also quickens the process of switching out fans. Unfortunately, the individual cables are neither braided nor grouped together in any way, which could make it easier for the cables to become tangled or snagged on edges inside the case. I had to perform a little bit of untangling upon initial installation of the Sentry Mesh into my case. Cable braiding or grouping would certainly be a welcome addition and I have no doubt that it would go a long way to preventing unnecessary frustration due to cable tangling, in addition to an improved look.
The Sentry Mesh's build quality is very high. Both the plastic body and steel mesh facade feel sturdy and able to take a mild beating without serious damage. Initially there appears to be no obvious nonsense out front, and it certainly looks the part of stealthy and low-profile. The only garnish that graces the Sentry Mesh's front exterior is a small, embossed NZXT logo on the mesh's far right side. The sliders have a full range of motion and from left to right, control channels one through five. The controller board contains everything that makes the fan controller tick. On the front of the board, five linear potentiometers are clearly visible. Linear potentiometers aren't very common, but they are what allow the Sentry Mesh to have such a low-profile. Old-timers out there may be reminded of some horrendously constructed tape decks and amplifiers from the 80s with this design. On the board's rear are the capacitors and the mounted Molex KK plugs for each of the five channels. The cables are detachable, which is an excellent feature for cable management, should any of the channels go unused, especially so in light of the lack of cable braiding or grouping.