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NZXT Sentry 2 Touchscreen Fan Controller
 
NTXT LogoNZXT are a fairly recent company having only been founded in 2004. However their product range has swiftly expanded and now includes chassis, mice, PSU and other items.
 
Although they are mainly known throughout the community as a chassis manufacturer, today we're looking at their Sentry 2 touchscreen fan controller, which is the latest in their line of Sentry fan controllers.
 
Specifications
 
The Sentry 2 is a marked improvement upon the original Sentry 1. The original Sentry was a solely blue and black screened number with three buttons to control everything, whereas the Sentry 2 is a multi-colour, touchscreen affair.
 
Let's have a look at the specifications, straight from the NZXT website and some thoughts.
 
* Touch screen interface
* Five fan control through an intuitive interface
* Ultra fast selection and response time
* Display temperatures in both F and C
* Light switch turns off the meter when sleeping
* Automatic and manual modes of control
* Full compatibility with all types of fans using voltage control
* With 10 Watts per channel, the Sentry 2 will support almost all high end fans
* Tuned accuracy with only a tolerance of one degree
* Sound alarm to alert when the temperature is over
* Stored settings, the Sentry keeps your settings even after power off
 
 
Touchscreen interface is always nice. With the way modern smart phones have transitioned to touch screen technology it's nice to see it appearing in more PC hardware too. Assuming it is as swift and useful as they say, which we'll discover.
The ability to control five fans, especially with larger cases having six or seven, is a good touch as is being able to have up to 10 watts per channel. Very few fans will require more than this and normally if you own one that does you own it for a reason and don't want to turn it down.
Accuracy in temperature readings is important if the alarm and automatic control are to work properly. Finally anything that stores settings so we don't have to fiddle every time we boot up always gets my thanks.
 
Time for a closer look.
 


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Packaging
 
NZXT have provided a us with a wonderful change from the normal packaging that passes through our hands. So often products come replete with hundreds of logos of various partners or features, but the box for the Sentry 2 is brilliantly minimalist.
 
Very stiff corrugated cardboard is used for the box and coated in a deep gloss black. The front of the box shows just enough information to let you know what is in the box, but rightly leaves the star of the packaging to be the fan controller itself. Both the two sides of the box, and the two ends are totally blank except for a barcode and the NZXT logo.
 
The reverse of the box provides all the information you could want about the various features of the controller, as detailed on the previous page. Whilst it initially looks like a lot it does cover English, French, German and Italian. The font used is certainly tiny, and is one of only two criticisms I can level at an otherwise excellent outer package.
 
Sentry Box  Sentry Back
 
Opening the box is a pleasant affair with no strange tabs to fight with. It's a small thing but often those tab and flap combinations never quite open perfectly and spoil the look of the box once you've retrieved the contents. As someone who likes having pristine boxes for his hardware it's good to see NZXT have continued their simple philosophy with their internal, as well as the external, design. The Sentry 2 itself is packaged in a dense foam either side and a nice thick plastic bag.
 
Once out of the box you can see it also is provided with a bag containing two spare thermal probes, four small screws to affix it in the 5.25" bay, although it is long enough to clamp fine in tool-less cases and six stickers to help in identifying should you need to write something on each cable.
 
Sentry Box Open  Out the box
 
 
You'll have noticed I haven't mentioned the manual yet. To call it a manual would be wrong. To even call it a quick installation guide is wrong. It's truly abysmal and if ever you've despaired at documentation that says "put it in, plug it in, enjoy" then the Sentry 2 guide will definitely make you rage.
 
Firstly it's barely a few lines long. Secondly it is copy and pasted from the Sentry LX, rather than specific to the Sentry 2, and finally it doesn't mention at all how to work the touch screen. Yes you can go on their website and download a PDF that clearly describes all the features, but after you've spent a lump of cash on a high end fan controller, why should we have to put up with such a shoddy piece of documentation. Yes, this photograph is the entirety of the "manual".
 
Sentry Manual
 
Now we've got the unpleasantness out of the way, and thankfully the only real bit of bad news about the whole product, let's take a look at it close up.
 


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A closer look at the Sentry 2
 
Taking the Sentry 2 out of the packaging one thing becomes immediately clear, that this is definitely designed well. The touch screen is protected with a plastic cover that is sticky enough to not come off, but not so sticky that it leaves residue. The Sentry 2 itself is finished in a lovely matt black that should fit in with all but the shiniest chassis. It perfectly blends in with my ATCS 840.
 
NZXT Sentry 2 out box  Out box, including cables
 
Moving around the side we get a better look at the cables. They are all well labelled which nicely circumvents the normal problem with fan controllers that they create more spaghetti than the rest of your case combined. Cable lengths are perfectly fine for top or front mounted fans, but a bit of a stretch for the exhaust fan on very large cases. Certainly you wont be able to cable route it without an extension, so be aware of that if you're a neat-freak with a window.
 
The headers themselves are on a ribbon initially, which helps keep the initial mess to a minimum and makes it easy to keep track during installation. Each header comes with a 3 pin and molex header, ensuring maximum compatibility. The thermal probes are equally on a ribbon and well protected by a hard plastic cover. Anyone who has had experience with a thermal probe before will recognise them, but if you haven't they are very thin indeed. Not thin enough that you could place them between the chip and the heatsink, but otherwise they'll fit anywhere you choose.
 
Side view  Back view
 
Installation
 
The installation is very simple. Turn off the PC, put the Sentry 2 in a spare drive bay, screw it in, attach a molex to the power in on the Sentry 2, plug your fans in, place the thermal probes in a nearby location to each fan should you wish to use the auto function or temperature display, and turn the PC back on. It's fantastically simple.
 
The first thing to test was that the displayed temperature from each thermal probe matched the sensor built in to the hardware. With the CPU it was one degree out on the low side (thinking the CPU was cooler than it was), but on the graphics card it reported two degrees higher than the sensor temperature. However this was because with a 4870X2 you have two GPUs on the one board and with the probe in between them it combines the heat from both. When the thermal probe was moved to next to one of the GPUs it also demonstrated a 2 degree variance from the reported temperature. I feel this is within tolerance though and close enough to the one degree variance NZXT claim.
 
The meat of the device is the touchscreen features themselves, so over the page and we'll take a close look at the NZXT Sentry 2 in action.
 


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In Action
 
Static shots don't do the Sentry 2 justice, so there is a video at the bottom. But for reasons of clarity you still can't beat a good photograph. The only thing that isn't clear in the photographs is that two of the fan blades, on the circular fan selector on the right of the Sentry 2, spin relative to the speed of the selected fan.
 
Starting at the top left is the basic display of the Sentry 2. Currently I have it configured for Fan One running manually at 70% (which I am using for graphics card exhaust), with the thermal probe on the graphics card itself. If you touch the temperature display for a second it moves from Centigrade to Fahrenheit as shown on the bottom right. Also shown is the fact the plus and minus buttons adjust in 10% steps.
 
First Boot  Fans Farenheit
 
Further displays of the plus and minus abilities. Naturally it maxes out at 100%. On the other end of the scale the lowest value you can reach is 40%. Initially this seems strange, but logically it makes perfect sense. Low RPM fans will end up stopping around there, and if you want to reduce the speed of a high CFM fan below 40%, you might as well use a quiet one anyway. Thankfully NZXT have included a feature that a lot of fan controllers skip, and that is the ability to turn the fan off totally. With modern PC Chassis having multiple large fans, it's great to be able to shut some of them up when you're just browsing the net, or doing gentle tasks, but still have the ability to keep that graphics card cool when the gaming heats up.
 
Fans 100%  Fans Off
 
Finally, a demonstration of the excellent auto mode. If you make sure that the thermal probe matches the fan, which is easy to do as they are all numbered, then with careful placing the Sentry 2 will automatically adjust the fan speed to match. It gives yet another layer of control to the user, and control is what we all crave. With the ability to run five fans, it's nice to be able to leave two or three on auto and only adjust those you need rather than manually setting them all or, if like me you prefer not to leave expensive hardware in the hands of a chip, having them all automatically controlled. Be in no doubt though, the NZXT Sentry 2 does a great job at automatically adjusting the speeds.
 
Finally on the bottom right is the alarm setting. By tapping the temperature display you can access the alarm settings. The plus and minus buttons again help adjust the temperature level at which you'd like the alarm to be triggered. Thankfully this alarm sounds different to the dead fan alarm, allowing you to quickly gauge the problem and deal with it.
 
Fans Auto  Alarm Setting
 
Finally here is a video demonstrating how easy it is to change between the various settings, how little pressure is needed and how speedily the Sentry 2 reacts. The video doesn't replicate the clarity of the display which is fabulously clear and easily viewable from literally every possible angle you can see the screen.
 
 
Phew. Time to sum this up.
 


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Conclusion
 
Fan controllers are a godsend in these days of high heat hardware and multiple cooling fans. They allow us to have the perfect blend between cooling performance and noise, whilst still providing the ability to move towards either end of the quiet/performance spectrum as your usage changes from browsing to gaming or similar variations in programs.
 
So what about the NZXT Sentry 2? It's difficult to sum it up without being overly brief. It's great. It does, to borrow a phrase, exactly what it says on the box.
 
The screen is big, clear, responsive and easy to use. Nothing about it is fiddly or difficult. It controls the fans well and has enough range to tame even the loudest systems. Assuming you aren't running 5 Deltas, obviously. The ability to turn them off completely is a boon and a feature always welcome.
 
The alarm works exactly as it should, and it is good to see NZXT including both temperature and dead-fan alarms, both of them making a different noise for instant recognition.
 
Slightly disappointing is the cable lengths included. It's been a long time since cases were the tiny beige boxes of old, but sadly companies still give the barest minimum of cable length. Normally it's to be expected, but a 5 channel fan controller would mainly be useful for the largest cases, ATCS840, Temjin, 800D etc, and NZXT must know this so why they don't give you an extra foot of cable is a strange choice. Still, the cables are long enough to reach the fans, just not to tidy them away from view.
 
Whilst the cabling is disappointing, the only truly bad thing about it is hideously bad, and that is the documentation. To not provide details on how to work the touchscreen is an unbelievable oversight. The documentation available on their website is a single page PDF and shows everything you could ever need to know. Why this couldn't be included is a mystery best known to NZXT themselves and it is those oversights that can stop a company totally dominating the market.
 
The only black mark against an otherwise excellently packaged product is the manual, but it only takes a quick read over the on-site PDF to grasp it, and that's only for the esoteric features. It's so well laid out that you can use the main functions just by prodding about, something we all tend to do anyway. 
 
The Sentry 2 is a sufficiently great product, and easy to use, that it is the simplest thing to recommend. If you need a fan controller, don't mind popping their website to see how to use it, and want to move away from the simplicity of a dial, the Sentry 2 comes highly recommended.
 
 
   Editors Choice
 
 
Many thanks to NZXT for allowing us a look at the Sentry 2, let us know your thoughts in our forums.