NZXT Sentry Mix Fan Controller Review

Author: Hienrich Jager
Editor: Howard Ha
Publish Date: Tuesday, August 23rd, 2011
Originally Published on Neoseeker (http://www.neoseeker.com)
Article Link: http://www.neoseeker.com/Articles/Hardware/s/nzxt_sentry_mix/
Copyright Neo Era Media, Inc. - please do not redistribute or use for commercial purposes.

Fan controllers made their debut in the computer enthusiast market back in 1999 when the "muscle car" era of enthusiast computing was in full swing. That was back when people were using server-class delta and typhoon fans, and performance was king as all other considerations like dust and decibels took the back seat to cranking out that extra 10 MHz before the chip caught fire.

Back on track, a fan controller enables you to regulate your cooling fans so that they can provide adequate cooling without requiring your rig to sound like an F-35 jet fighter. A controller like this is especially handy when combined with a case that does not take sound performance into its design considerations.

Thankfully fans have since gotten larger, and cases are nowadays designed to accommodate them, so cooling noise has become less of an issue. A lot of cases that are designed and marketed these days are nearly silent, but if you do not have the funds to purchase one of those $150+ cases focusing on sound absorption and reduction, then today's spotlight product from NZXT is the next best thing.

The NZXT Sentry Mix will tame those noisy fans and make your case nearly silent on the cheap, and thanks to the sliders you can custom control the voltage so that your cooling performance is optimized. 

Specifications
Form Factor
1x 5.25" ODD
Color
Black with Silver sliders
Dimensions
(W x H x D)
146.05 x 44.45 x 139.7 mm
  5.75 x 1.75 x 5.5 inches
Material
Plastic and Rubber
Fan Channels 6
Fan Connectors
3 - PIN
Watts 50 W /  Channel
LED Color Options Red, Green, Blue, Orange, White.
Manual

Minimum: 40% of max speed (+5.25 V)

Maximum: 100% of max speed. (+12.75V)

Control Type Voltage Control

 

The NZXT Sentry Mix will be installed into a brand new Corsair 600T Graphite that now has the honor of being Neoseeker's baseline case. There are two large 200mm and three 120mm fans packed inside our test rig, including the CPU heatsink fans. This case is already fairly quiet to begin with, but there is still some audible fan noise when the built in fan controller is set to max. One of the great things about installing the Sentry Mix is that the user can independently control each fan instead of only being able to vary the speed of all fans at once, which was the only level of control the Graphite's built-in fan controller offered.

The Sentry Mix came wrapped in a pink velostat bag along with a brief instruction manual that covers the basics of installation and setup. Once unwrapped, the full glory of the fan controller is revealed.

This fan controller comes with six independent power cables, one for each slider, and two power cables. Each of the fan cables is clearly numbered to correspond to the slider that connects to it on the face plate. It is impossible to see from the image above, but underneath each slider there is a number that corresponds to the channel that it controls. These numbers are backlit when the Mix is powered, and you can choose to give them blue, red, orange, white, or green color using the recessed selector button to the left of the sliders.

Power is supplied to the Sentry Mix through two independent power lines. These lines end in standard 4-pin molex connectors, with one supplying the +12V line and the other providing the +5V line. These plugs are terminators and they will fully occupy the molex junction that they are connected to. With most modern power supplies moving toward the newer SATA power plugs, more and more power supply manufacturers are no longer offering units with a lot of the older style power plugs. Initially we were quite annoyed that there were two different plugs required for this module, until we realized that no one would want a full 300W potential draw coming from a single line that was powering other devices. It is still lame that the engineers at NZXT didn't design the power plugs as pass-throughs, but I guess that they do not think that many people interested in something like the Sentry Mix will be using older equipment

Looking closely at the rear of the Sentry Mix, you can see that all the cables are detachable from the back plate. This is a nice feature because it allows you to cut down on cable clutter if you don't need to use the maximum number of channels. Also noticeable is the fact that this fan controller takes up just about the entire drive bay. This is desirable because it adds extra durability to the module, and prevents it from wobbling around during operation and feeling cheap. This also ensures the cables are anchored securely, preventing any damage if a cable should get yanked or pulled accidentally when adding or removing new hardware to your system. It is worth noting that this controller only has the capability to support fans that use 3-pin connetions. So unless you have a molex to 3-pin connector you will be out of luck here.

The fan cables are really long, measuring 24 inches (61 cm) in length which should be more than enough to reach clear across any small or mid-tower. Since most fans come with a decently long power cable as it is, the combination of both should be more than enough to accommodate even a full-tower case. The shade of black that NZXT chose for the Sentry Mix face plate is a little different than that of the Graphite case used for testing, but they are close enough that it is entirely unnoticeable unless you study the front panel really hard in person. The silver of the buttons are nicely done and they really add some character to this module. Time to button everything back up, turn on the power, and see how this fan controller performs!

The Sentry Mix will be put through its paces by running OCCT 3.0.1's CPU, GPU, and Power Supply tests. High and low temperatures will be recorded with HWMonitorx64 after a continuous burn-in of 30 minutes. Between each test I will allow the system to equilibrate for an additional 30 minutes.

Temperature data will be recorded at the processor, the video card, the hard drives, and the chipset. Ambient air temperature was recorded with your standard glass-alcohol thermometer. Throughout testing the ambient room temperatures never varied from between 24°C and 26°C (74°F).

During all of this testing, the CPU cooling fans and all case cooling fans were controlled by the NZXT Sentry Mix. Only the video card fan remained at its auto settings.

Test Setup

Test Results

The Sentry Mix controls the speed of attached fans by adjusting the voltage bias supplied. Each slider will take the incoming +5V supply or the +12 V supply and pass them through natively corresponding to slider position. The controller will supply incremental voltages at every point along the slider range in what appears to be steps of 1V according to my voltimeter.  This gives unparalleled flexibility with fan-speed customization, and really makes this fan controller stand out above the rest. 

The graphs below show results from the exact same case and the exact same hardware, the only difference being the speed of the fans as controlled by the Sentry Mix. The bars labled (Low) correspond to when every slider control on the Sentry Mix was set to its lowest setting, when the fans are turning their slowest. Converesly, the maximum setting on the sliders represent full power with the fans receiving +12 V of power; at this setting the cooling performance is equal to the stock fan speeds.

Unfortunately the results shown above are not as spectacular as they should be. Were my case filled with extremely noisy fans then there would have been much more of a delta between the two. As it was, the sound eminating from the 600T went from barely audible to non existant, but this controller can turn even the loudest Delta into a whispering giant.

NZXT has a really decent product in the Sentry Mix multi-fan controller. It has six independently controlled channels that allow you to regulate fan speeds through controlling voltage bias. This will also dim or brighten certain LED fans in the process due the level of voltage, but that could actually be a bonus for some users and with 50 watts of available power capacity per channel, this fan controller can tame the noise levels of even the largest fans. This is why NZXT provided two seperate power cables to attach to your power supply, because theoretically this fan controller can manage 300W of fans; you don't want this drawing off of a single line. The Sentry Mix feels solid and the quality of construction really shows in the feel of the sliders and the weight of the module itself. The LEDs illuminating each channel are bright enough to be seen, and are not blindingly bright. They really look great in a darkened room.

What this piece of gear comes down to is the application. Fan controllers are a great and valueable tool when it comes to regulating very powerful fans, but they are not that useful when it comes to most modern fans. Modern fans have been intentionally designed such that they are very large, but spin at low RPM. This enables them to move an appreciable volume of air while remaining whisper silent. The Sentry Mix is not so effective when pared with these fans, but if your rig is rocking some Deltas, then this is an invalueable tool to have in your arsenal.

PROS:

CONS:

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