It's November 23rd 2013, approximately one year on from "Recon day". The day when BitFenix Recon fan controllers across the globe became self aware, Networked together and harnessing the collective processing power of their twin CPUs they became one of the most powerful supercomputers the planet had ever seen. Being browser based they were able to interact with any web connected device on the planet. PCs, Laptops, Smart phones and tablets. Heck, even web connected fridge freezers fell beneath their power. We, the last few, a group known as "The Reviewers", possibly the last hope for civilisation (which is a bit of a worry) are held up at OC3D towers. From here we transmit our message on Longwave, 24 hours a day, seven days a week "Only use analogue, non programmable, non touch screen, non web connected fan controllers". We just hope it's not too late....
A bit extreme I guess but if BitFenix turn out to be a subsidiary of Cyberdyne systems then we might start to get a bit worried. In the meantime lets just reflect on the fact that what we have here is a 5 channel fan controller that can be used in the traditional sense as a touch screen unit with both manual and auto modes, but also has higher level functions which are accessed via a web based interface. And because this is a browser based interface, it means not only can you set custom profiles from your desk top, but any desk top you happen to be sat at, or laptop, or tablet, or smart phone, or web connected Fridge. OK, so not the last one, but you get the idea. With all this in mind you'd be forgiven that this twin processor fan controller (yes it has two processors) would cost an absolute arm and a leg, but it doesn't, not even a small part of a severed metal endo skeleton. At just £30 BitFenix have plonked the Recon straight into the most competitive area of the market.
SofTouch™, ABS Plastic, Steel
147 x 43 x 67mm
5.25" Drive Bay
Max Watts / Channel
Every 0.1 – 0.4 Seconds
Temperature Alarm Range
Up Close: Packaging and Contents
The Recon comes in a predominantly green and black simple rectangular card box. (It's always nice to see that our money isn't being wasted on outlandish packaging). The box details key features and specifications as well as giving a visual representation of the controller.
Once opened we again see that Bitfenix have not been flippant with the packaging. Simple expanded polystyrene end caps secure the unit from shock and damage with an anti static plastic bag keeping the contents nice and clean and shock free. In addition to the controller itself you also get a set of instructions, a pack of screws to secure it into the 5.25" bay, a selection of yellow sticky back plastic strips to secure temperature probes, a pair of additional probes, and a set of additional fan cable extensions.
The instructions provided are quite clear and simplistic. On one side installation and conventional operation via the touch screen is covered, whilst on the other side BitFenix run through how to connect via the web browser and also give instruction for opertaion via the web browser and mobile devices.
Up Close: the Controller
The BitFenix Recon is designed to fit into a single 5.25" drive bay. The thick front bezel is plastic, but is covered in the uber sexy BitFenix SoftTouch rubber. Measureing 120mm by 25mm the touch screen itself may appear a bit on the slim side as a result of the wide bezels. In reality, there's plenty of room on the screen for even the chubbiest of fingers to make their presence known. A small white BitFenix and Recon Logo are the only graphics present as a result the air of demure understatedness is maintained.
If you've ever wired up a fan controller you'll be aware that behind every fascia is a positive vipers nest of wires. It's no different with the Recon, in fact, the better the controller, and the more features it has, the more wires you will have to deal with. The image on the left is how the controller emerges from the packaging and does honestly look like your worst nightmare. A few minutes spent sorting through what is actually a quite well organised bundle and you'll find that what you actually have is 5xfan header cables, 5 temperature sensor cables, a molex power cable and a USB cable.
All the cables are of really good length and will certainly be easy enough to route and hide in all but the most massive cases. The USB cable in particular has an interesting feature, with a plug at the half way mark on the cable for smaller cables and an additional plug at the end for use in the full tower chassis. The Temperature sensors are of the usual thin metal strip variety that prove very easy to secrete about the place. The rear of the PCB is well organised with componentry appearing well attached and spaced. the quality of soldering and mounting appears good.
Installation and Conventional Operation.
The installation of the Recon into your case of choice, in our case, our stalwart Cooler Master "Test Trooper" is simplicity itself, being only a matter of slipping the fascia into a vacant 5.25" bay, screwing it in using the the screws provideds, or perhaps using whichever tool free mechanism your case comes with and Roberts your Mothers Brother. Actually you're not quite done yet as the job of running all the various power cables and sensors around and about the inside of your case can never be described as truly painless. However, as all the wires are well labelled with decent quality solid terminations the task is made somewhat more bearable. The unit is then hooked up to the PSU by means of a molex so as to power up when the PC powers up.
Although the Recon is a web connected fan controller it can still be used in the conventional manner. We say conventional, but it should be remembered that this isn't exactly an analogue "twisty knob" sort of controller, far from it in fact. Nestled between the soft touch plastic bezels lies a decent sized digital touch screen fascia. keeping it to it's simplest, the Recon can be used in manual mode by pressing the numerical icon corresponding to the fan you wish to set the speed of, then using the + and - buttons to alter the speed as you so desire, striking as you will, the perfect balance between performance and noise as dictated by the performance envelope of your fans. It's also possible to set temperature warning thresholds in manual mode, by touching the area of the screen where the temperature is displayed and then using the + and - keys to set the desired warning temperature. Should one of these temperatures be reached, an alarm will sound and the Recon unit will increase the speed of the appropriate fan until such time as the temperature threshold is recovered. You will of course be delighted to know that the sound can be turned off by pressing the "alarm " area of the touch screen. In Auto mode the fans will spin at 40% of their maximum speed provided the temperature indicated by the appropriate sensor remains below 20 degrees. Between 20 and 60 degrees the fan speeds will be automatically adjusted from 40% -100% by means of frequency modulation. If the temperatures top 60 degrees then the Recon will automatically ramp up the speed of the fans to the full 100% until such time as the temperature drops below 60 degrees. We've used the figure of 60 degrees here as it's the default BitFenix figure, however it is possible to set your own upper threshold figure should you wish to.
Viewed from straight on, as in the pictures above, the screen is clear and easy to read. Although it is black and white, this simple monochrome approach does lend a sense of class to the unit not necessarily found in those fan controllers which favour showing every colour of the rainbow on the screen at any given time. Possibly the only leaning towards a bit of digital bling is the animated fan icon on the far right of the screen, which spins around when the unit is operational. It's also worth noting that by pressing and holding the power button symbol, the display can be turned off completely. Alter your viewpoint and as the images below show the display becomes less legible, a fault found with a great many, but not all digital display units. Here at OC3D we test every aspect of the kit we review, pushing it beyond what can normally be expected of it, and as such, it should be noted that these are extreme viewing angles. In normal use with the PC case on the desk and the controller at eye level your view of the recon will be as per the upper images.
Software and Browser Operation.
On page 4 we saw how to use the Recon as a conventional ,if not advanced, fan controller, and if you only ever wanted to interact with the controller in this way you'll find it to be a a well balanced well thought out bit of kit. It is however capable of so much more. As the introduction suggests, the Recon is web connectible and as such can be used via a web browser local to the PC in which it is housed, or from a remote interface with web access
The instructions make mention of an installation CD, however, in reality what is found inside the box is a small slip of paper directing you to a download on the BitFenix website. Once installed the program enables you to access the functions of the fan controller from pretty much anywhere in the world.
Once the Browser interface is accessed the operator can control the higher level functions of the Recon. In Manual mode, clicking and dragging the slider on the Graphical equaliser style display alters the speed of the fan in pretty much real time (we experienced a 1-2 second delay). In auto mode things gt quite surreal, with the sliders moving up and down of their own accord as the speed of the fans increases and decreases in accordance with the preset temperature thresholds as described on the last page. The image below left shows the controller in manual mode with the speeds by the operator. The image below right shows Auto mode. Here we see the fan speeds are low indicating that the need to increase them has not yet been felt necessary by the sensor threshold.
The web Browser also enables the user to set up to 3 presets. This is done by first setting the profile desired and then saving it by means of a single click into the chosen Preset position. These saved presets can also be named to help better remember their purpose, as in the image below left we have named this profile "silent running" as the majority of fans are set to their minimum speeds. below right we see the operator selecting P1 as a profile as indicated by the highlighted area of the screen.
The real ace in the hole for BitFenix though is the ability to access the Recon remotely from any web connected device, and that includes smart phones. Don't go thinking you need a specific make and model of phone, or version of android or other OS and the like to download and run a compatible app, because you don't. The Recon is web connected, so all that's needed is a bit of a fiddle around with your firewall settings and the port forwarding on your router and access can be gained simply by keying in the PCs IP address. The Image below left shows how the interface presents when accessed via a mobile device. I think you'll agree the interface is quite self explanatory, but just in case we've pulled a page from the BitFenix site to help detail the finer functions. The mobile interface is in essence a smaller version of the main browser interface, but loses none of the functionality.
Performance, Testing and Conclusion.
Looking first at conventional operation via the touch screen we are pleased to announce the Recon is a joy to use. The screen is responsive to touch, requiring just the right amount of pressure and not leaving you with the feeling that you're about to poke a hole in it to get a response. manual mode is simplicity itself and the wealth of options with regards to auto set up and temperature monitoring modes leave pretty much all the bases covered. Add in to that the ability to set up presets and you're not exactly left wanting for additional functionality. But additional functionality the is, as we can also control the Recon via a web browser, either locally from the operating machine, or remotely via any web connected device. We have to say that at the outset we weren't too sure why we would want to do this, but having lived with the Recon for a few weeks we can now report that we're actually quite taken by it. Once you've fired up the web browser on your local PC you find yourself using it rather than the touch screen panel to set up all the programs and presets. There's also something very cool about watching the sliders that represent the fan speeds move up and down of their apparent own accord as the sensors detect an increase in temperature inside the case and so up the fan speeds in response. If you have a folding rig you'll be familiar with the feeling of worrying about your temps when you're away from home, certainly in the early days. The mobile web browser allows you to not just monitor those temps, but if you're unhappy, actually do something about them. Sitting playing a game on your HTPC? want the fans up full but the other side of the room seems so far away? no worries, just pick up your phone and select the a high fan speed preset. Decide you want to watch a film or listen to a little music? Either let auto mode take care of things, slow things down manually, or select a preset that will see the fans slow right down, or for that matter stop them completely should you so desire.
Are there any limitations? yeah, a few, it's 10W per channel (as opposed to the 30W on the box), so you're probably not going to be using it to control the water pumps in a water-cooling rig. The screen is monochromatic and not colour, although we have to say we think this adds and air of class and sophistication over those units that can be a bit more blingy. The Bezel is plastic as opposed to metal, but then it is covered in that very naughty feeling soft touch plastic coating. The quality of the unit as a whole is as you would expect from BitFenix, and certainly the quality of soldering and surface mounting of the components on the PCB is done very well.
So what's not to like? Well, it is a bit of a fiddle to set up, especially if don't happen to be a bit of a whizz with networks. that said, there are plenty of very helpful guides out there on the old T'internet should you feel you need a little extra help. Apart from that, there's Zippo to dislike about this controller. Heck we can't even slate it on the price, coming in as it does at around the £30 mark it costs less than a great many fan controllers that offer little of the same functionality and struggle to match the quality.
When we first got this controller for review we really did wonder what the point of the browser interface was. Just a gimmick we thought. We we're wrong, and we don't mind admitting it too ourselves. A bit of time spent with the Recon and the extra functionality it offers will have you totally hooked.
And so to the award. it goes without saying that it has to be Gold, But gold isn't the only award The Recon is picking up. Seen a fan controller with a browser interface that can be accessed from any web connected device before? No us neither. And because of that we feel that it deserves an Innovation award also. Well done BitFenix, you've brought us the cake and the icing on the top, and you haven't asked for the earth. Oh, and a certain person might also be pleased to know it also comes in white!
Thanks to BitFenix for sending us the recon in for review, you can discuss your thoughts in the OC3D Forums.