NZXT Sentry Mesh Fan Controller Review

nVidia_Freak - 2011-05-19 15:18:26 in Cooling
Category: Cooling
Reviewed by: nVidia_Freak   
Reviewed on: June 14, 2011
Price: $24.99

Introduction:

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.

Closer Look:

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.

 

 

Installation:

Installation of the NZXT Sentry Mesh is as simple as can be, whether your drive bays require tools or not. The sides of the controller body are long enough that the Sentry Mesh is snugly secured within tool-less drive bays. Should your case require tools, then simply use the four included screws and tighten them up. Once installed, the Sentry Mesh looks damn fine. Further attesting to the build quality is the steel mesh NZXT has chosen to use — it is virtually identical to that used by Cooler Master's Storm Scout. If your case's mesh is of an identical style or at least very similar, the Sentry Mesh will blend in seamlessly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once powered on, little changes. It turns out there is one white LED under the NZXT logo, and it is rather bright. Depending on orientation to one's case, if channel five's slider (rightmost) isn't set at maximum, the LED may be clearly visible through the mesh and mildly annoying in very dark environments (left). Besides this one inconvenience, the Sentry Mesh is looking good.

 

Specifications:

Bay Size 5.25"
Color Black
Material Plastic and steel mesh
Pot Type Linear
Fan Channels
5
Plug Type
3-Pin Molex KK
Power
30W per channel
Min. Voltage (of 12v)
40%

 

Features:

 

 

 

Information courtesy of NZXT @  http://www.nzxt.com/new/products/fan_control/sentry_mesh

Testing:

Testing Setup:

Build Quality:

As previously mentioned, the Sentry Mesh's construction is excellent. The plastic is thick and feels durable, the steel mesh isn't flimsy, and solid as well. The sliders require a firm touch and all five need nearly identical force to move. The only external annoyance on the Sentry Mesh is the lone LED beneath the NZXT logo that is always on when the unit is receiving power. Though this provides a quick way to troubleshoot a lack of airflow, the LED is rather bright. and depending on the angle at which you sit in relation to the controller, it may be blinding in dark environments. At the very least, it will be clearly visible through the rightmost slider, if it is not set to supply maximum voltage. Even so, it's easy enough to overlook this minor flaw.

Functionality:

The Sentry Mesh is setup in such a way that no less than 40% of the maximum 12V of power courses through the veins of each cable at all times. This means that in the potentiometer's lowest position, the fans are still providing necessary airflow for your components while being virtually silent. This differs from the Sunbeamtech Rheosmart 6, where the potentiometers had a voltage range from 0V (off) to full blast as 12V. I prefer NZXT's method, particularly so with my Noctua case fans. They are quiet enough to begin with, but are virtually silent when the sliders are set to their lowest setting of 40% voltage. This feature also ensures that no matter how low the sliders are set, there will always be some air circulation. Just as the connections and cables are labeled from left to right, the potentiometers each control fans one through five. This is very intuitive and exceedingly easy to figure out which potentiometers control which fans.

One issue to consider before purchasing a fan controller is how many fans you wish to control. Do you want to control all the fans or only a few? Depending on the answer, the Sentry Mesh might leave you feeling a little frustrated. In my situation, I have five case fans, plus one fan for the CPU cooler for a total of six fans. I would prefer to control all six fans, but unfortunately, the Sentry Mesh only has five channels. I'm then left wondering which fan I want to relegate to a standard 4-pin Molex connector by way of a Molex KK adapter. For most, I imagine the CPU heatsink fan being the one fan lopped over to the motherboard since most motherboards have their own built-in fan controller of sorts that varies fan speed based on temperature. If, as myself, you want to manually control that fan for maximum cooling potential, you may have to decide on another fan to run at a fixed voltage. Furthermore, if you have beyond six fans, even more decisions have to be made, and perhaps one might be better off looking for a higher capacity fan controller or compromising with motherboard headers and Molex adapters. Beyond that little bit, NZXT's Sentry Mesh is a no-frills, sturdy, sleek, damn good fan controller.

Conclusion:

NZXT's latest fan controller, the Sentry Mesh, is a low-profile, mostly stealthy design, and beyond a couple minor technicalities, is an excellent unit. Its use of linear potentiometers keep the facade very clean and flat, while the all black construction and near lack of bright LEDs keep it very stealthy. Build quality is very solid and it feels as though it will have no problem holding up to general use with ease and more. Complimenting the general build quality is the steel mesh used. It easily matches the mesh of the Cooler Master Storm Scout and will likely match the rest of Cooler Master's cases, possibly even some other manufacturer's cases as well. Each channel is capable of supplying 30W of power. Although this is 5W short of what Sunbeamtech's Rheosmart 6 offers, 30W is still plenty, even for the most power-gobbling fans. A complimenting contrast to the Sentry Mesh's power capacity is that at a minimum it will still run each fan at 4.8V, keeping your case virtually silent while still providing airflow, so that overheating is as minimal a concern as possible.

There are only a few minor drawbacks. Immediately obvious is the single white LED that can be somewhat bothersome depending on your angle to it. None of the cables are braided or grouped together in any way, increasing the potential for frustration and tangled or snagged cables. Mitigating this somewhat are the cables' identification tags for quick fan swapping. Finally, there are only five channels. Although most fan controllers offer from four to six channels, so this isn't a low or oddball offering, I do require a sixth channel that this controller doesn't have. On the other hand, if one only needs less than or exactly five channels, NZXT's Sentry Mesh is certainly worth considering. These are minor problems that I and perhaps some others would take issue with, but I also recognize that still others might not, so I don't hold them against NZXT too strongly. Overall, if you're looking for a high quality, inexpensive, good-looking fan controller, the Sentry Mesh is definitely worthy of consideration. All that you need to consider is if it will meet your needs, and if so, at an introductory price of $25, it's certainly a very good deal. All you have to do to get one is wait for NZXT to get some stock shipped out to retailers.

 

Pros:

 

Cons: