Matrix Orbital MX5 514 USB VFD & Fanbus Page: 1
Introduction

A few years back an avid case modder decided it would be a great idea to cut a big hole in his case and pop in an LCD screen. Back then, all the connections to the screen had to be wired up manually, and to actually get anything meaningful displayed on the screen required expert programming.

Nowadays, LCD screens can be seen in all range of PC cases, but none of which have the quality and features of an LCD purchased from a company that specialises in PC LCD's. A company like Matrix Orbital.

Today I'll be looking at Matrix Orbital's MX5 series USB VFD screen, with Temperature Monitoring, Fan Headers and many other features, this is more than just your average LCD/VFD.


Packaging


For this review, Matrix Orbital went out of their way to make sure I got the whole package. Everything I could ever need was included. Cheers guys :)

Matrix Orbital Box Matrix Orbital Box

Matrix Orbital Parks Matrix Orbital Parts

The box arrived in mint condition and was positively bulging at the seams. On opening it up, I was presented with a whole range of goodies, all carefully packaged up in their own bags - each of which had a label describing what the item was.

Included in my package was the following:

- The display (covered in bubble wrap)
- The mini Matrix Orbital software CD
- Instructions
- Internal USB Cable
- External USB Cable
- 2 temperature probes
- 2 screen filters (for changing screen colour)
- Aluminium face plate (for those who don't like the stock vinyl one).

Matrix Orbital MX5 Matrix Orbital MX5

Here she is! Matrix Orbital have taken the trouble of covering the whole front of the display in a plastic cover to prevent damage and dust. Also above you can see the included external USB cable which plugs into the back of the unit and has been cable tied to the circuit board to prevent any damage occurring to the USB port during installation.

My first impressions on the look of the display were that the buttons looked slightly tacky. The look of white on black looks garish. In my opinion it would look better with Silver buttons. Thankfully for those who share my feelings, the front panel can be replaced with an Aluminium one - however this means you won't be able to use the buttons at all.


Matrix Orbital MX5 514 USB VFD & Fanbus Page: 2
Specification

Specification taken directly from Matrix Orbital's website:

With the new MX5 series we have enlarged the size of the display and added more keypad functionality. This double drive bay PC insert incorporates a vacuum florescent 20 character x 4 line USB display and a 15 button keypad. The MX5 also allows you to plug 4 fans and 6 temperature probes directly into the back of the unit for all you quiet and cooling PC needs. Includes everything you will need to get going.

Specs

You may notice that the unit only consumes 5v, however rest assured that the unit does actually supply a full 12v to the fans.


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Installation

I have to admit being a bit anal when it comes to the cable tidiness inside my PC, so the thought of installing the MX5 with all its temperature probes and fan headers made me slightly nervous. Luckily, with some cable ties in one hand (and my 1month old son in the other) I think I managed to achieve a very tidy layout. Lets see how I did it.

Fan Headers USB Connector

Firstly I connected the 4 RPM Monitored fan leads from the fans hooked up to my PC's radiator. Luckily they were long enough to reach right outside of the case, so I didn't need to screw the MX5 in before hooking everything up to it.

The External USB lead was already connected, so no effort required there. Further down the page I'll show you how to use the internal USB lead that actually worked out better for my cable management.

On the bottom left of the unit is a floppy disk power connector. This is required to give power to the unit and Fans. It's worth noting at this point that the fan speed is adjusted by PWM (Pulse Width Modulation). For most fans this will work fine, but users of LED fans will get a strobing effect from their LED's when the fans are running at slower speeds.

The MX5 can actually handle a maximum of 4x 1Amp fans, which is quite impressive - far better than some digital fan controllers I've seen in the past.

USB Cable USB Cable

The included external USB cable is actually quite long. I managed to route it from the MX5 installed at the top of my Silverstone TJ05, around the width of the motherboard, and out of the top PCI Port.

This clearly won't work with all computers though, and this is where the internal USB cable comes in handy...

MX5 USB MX5 USB

USB Header

The internal USB cable actually connects to a 4-pin header just behind the plug used for the external cable. From there, I was able to route the cable around the back of my case and down to the bottom of my motherboard where the USB headers were located.

You are required to connect 4 plugs on to your motherboards USB header. Depending on your motherboard, these could be arranged in a different way, so be sure to check your motherboards manual before plugging anything in. Most motherboards use the layout above, so if you can't find your motherboard manual, then you can give it a go this way (at your own risk).

MX5 Installed MX5 Installed

The MX5 takes up 2x 5 1/4" drive bays, mainly due to the number of buttons on the unit. I found that the screen fitted perfectly, leaving very little space around the unit.

On powering up the PC you will be presented with the default Matrix Orbital Screen. Maybe I haven't got much of an imagination, but I really couldn't work out what the image on the left of the screen was supposed to be!


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Software

The MX5 series displays all come with a nifty business card sized CD containing an application aptly named LCDC. Now I'm not going to bore you with the installation procedure as installing LCDC is not much different to any other application on your PC, however, if you are interested in how to do it, please follow this link.

LCDC

When opening LCDC you will be presented with the screen above. At this point, the menus are clearly laid out and everything appears pretty simple, however I'll tell you now - they don't stay like that for long!

Lets have a look through some of the main menu's and options...


Start Display

Once you have finished working your way through all the options below, you can see it all in action by starting the display. Once the display has been started, you are unable to change any of the options.


Virtual Display

Virtual Display

A great feature of LCDC is the Virtual Display. This allows you to make changes to settings and see their effects without having to glance across to the screen. The Virtual Display also supports transparency, so that you can have it constantly on your desktop without it getting in the way of your applications too much.

Screen Builder

This is where we get down to the nitty gritty side of things. I must admit that on first viewing this screen I quite overwhelmed with the number buttons and options. The thing I've learned about LCDC however is that most of the time you can get what you want with very little effort - it's only when you want more complex screens that things get daunting.

Screen Builder

The main Screen Builder screen has a list of all the pre-configured screen views and plugins. Clicking on one of the items in the list will display the selected screen on the MX5 as a preview. Should you wish to add the selected screen as one of the screens that is displayed in rotation, all you need to do is click the checkbox.

Screen Builder

New screens can be created by clicking the + button at the top right of the window. Here you are able to add text, set its alignment and configure whether you would like the text to scroll across the VFD or not. Text can be added to all 4 lines of the display.

Screen Builder

By right clicking on the Text area and selecting 'Show Variables' you can add some more interesting items to your text (See below).

Screen builder

From here you are able to select from the multitude of information available from each of the plugins. Items such as CPU Speed, CPU Name, Screen Resolution, Fan RPM's, Temperature Readings and Winamp Data are all available, and can be easily dragged into the Text box for display on the VFD.

Events

Under the 'Events' tab in Screen Builder is where you can create events thatare triggered by various variables.
In the image above you can see that I have created an event which Increases the fan speed when a key on the MX5 screen is pressed. I have actually duplicated this event several times so that all 4 fans on the fanbus are increased at the same time.

The list of actions and events are extensive, thankfully LCDC has full documentation available on its website.


Configuration

For the most part, the configuration page is pretty self explanatory. I'll just highlight some of the main areas of interest.

Configuration

Most of the options on this page would have been requested during the installation of LCDC. However, if you change the display or for some reason it's not working, then this is the first place to come to. Also in here is the ability to adjust the brightness of the display, which can be handy if the MX5 lights up your bedroom when you are trying to sleep!


Virtual Display

Remember the Virtual Display from further up the page? Well this can be fully customised to match the actual colour of your MX5 display, either by clicking the coloured icons along the top, or by manually setting the hexadecimal colour values. The level of transparency and assignment of buttons can also be set from here.


GPO

This is where all of the fan configuration takes place. The GPO number ranges from 1 to 4 and corresponds with the fan headers on the MX5. By default the 'Report RPM' option is turned off because apparently it causes issues if fans are not connected.

Under 'Advanced Control' you have the option to either manually control the fan speeds using the screen builder (Set up key assignments), Allow LCDC to automatically control the fan speed based on the temperature readings from the thermal probes or control the fan speeds based on another variable (such as CPU Usage).


Thermal Probes

When attaching thermal probes to the MX5 they need to be manually detected. By entering this part of the Configuration screen you can click on 'Scan Interface' and allow LCDC to do the rest.

For further information on the LCDC software please visit this page.


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Screen In Action

What good would this review be if we didnt show you some pictures taken in a darkened room of this screen in action! I must admit taking these pictures took in excess of 2 hours as my camera doesnt seem to like bright lights. Maybe its time for a new camera!


Big Clock
Big Clock

Spend to much time on the PC in the morning and end up late for work? This huge clock, consuming the entire screen could be just what you need.


Current Weather
Current Weather

Maybe you'd like to know if its worth finishing your game of Counter Strike and going outside for some fresh air? The current weather plugin can display Weather information from all around the world by simply obtaining a code from the MSN Weather website.


Winamp Plugin
Winamp

The default install of LCDC is capable of interfacing with all versions of Winamp to display basic track information. I was disappointed that a DSP plugin for Winamp v5 wasn't included, as i was looking forward to seeing some good old jumping bar animation!


Network Information
Network Information

Not sure if this plugin has any practical use for most users, but still, its always interesting to see how much bandwidth you are using up. This could well be a handy plugin for servers so that Network Admin's can see at a glance how much of their network capacity is being used.


Memory Information
Memory Information

A handy plugin for looking at a quick glance why your PC is running like an old dog. No need for me to jump on the 2gb bandwagon just yet ;)


Fan Monitoring
Fan Monitoring

Up to 4 3-Pin fans can be connected to the MX5. If the fan supports RPM monitoring, it will be displayed on the screen. Another nifty feature of the MX5 is the ability to adjust the fan speen based on temperature (from the thermal probes), or manually by using the buttons on the front of the LCD. As i said earlier, the MX5 uses PWM to control fan speed, so any LED fans plugged into the unit will start strobing when the fan speed is reduced.


Temperature Monitoring

Temperature Monitoring

The included thermal probes give pretty accurate readings of the temperature when compared with my multimeter. I actually went to the trouble of placing one probe in the water before my radiator and one after. The bottom line of the display just scrolls my current water cooling setup specification. Prety cool eh?


CPU Speed, Uptime & RSS Feeds
CPU, Uptime & RSS

This screen is actually one i created myself in only a couple of minutes, just to show you how easy it is to get exactly what you want on there. The second line shows you the CPU model and current speed, 3rd shows you how long my PC has been switched on for (before it randomly crashes), and last line is from the RSS plugin which is presently obtaining its information from the OC3D homepage.


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Conclusion

The Matrix Orbital MX5 is a great display with many features. I was very impressed with the features it had as a fan controller, beating out many other dedicated fan controllers on the market in my opinion.

The VFD is bright, clear and can fit a lot of text on the screen. However I cant help feel that this great screen is let down by its rather bland fascia when compared with other screens in a similar price range. The optional aluminium fascia does help soften the blow slightly, but also means you don't have the option of using the buttons.

It's also a great shame that Matrix Orbital didn't manage to fit this unit into a single drive bay as the consumption of 2 drive bays is something that could easily put off many potential customers. Matrix Orbital do, however have a range of other screens (namely mx2, mx3 & mx6) that fit in a single drive bay.

The included software is capable of performing almost any task, but you'll need patience and a few glances at the manual to get there. Just don't be put off by what it looks like initially as setting up screens does get much easier with practice.


Pro's
- High quality VFD display
- Solid construction
- Configurable fan controller
- Accurate temperature monitoring
- USB interface
- Highly configurable software


Con's
- Bland fascia
- Consumes 2 drive bays
- Software can be hard to use initially.


OC3D Recommended

Thanks to Nick from Matrix Orbital for providing this unit for review :)

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