If there is one thing we can pretty much all agree on, it's that we like gadgets. Things that do something cool, or perhaps do something very normal but in a really cool way.
We can also agree that excessive noise from your system is a real pain. Anyone who was in the PC business back in the days of 40mm and 60mm fans endlessly whining away will know exactly what I mean, as will those of you with actively cooled motherboards. Perhaps those of you with Deltas or similar 12v monsters are willing to wear ear defenders in the name of cfm, but for the rest of us this noise is bothersome.
The move to 120mm fans was a huge help in reducing the amount of noise we have to tolerate, but as the fan sizes got larger, components got hotter, and cases became ever larger in an attempt to hold sufficient fans to get some good airflow over these hot parts.
Instead of having one or two tiny fans producing lots of noise, we now have 5 or 6 large fans shifting air to keep the latest hardware cool. Really we're back at square one, just with much faster hardware and a much greater quantity of air being moved.
This is all very well if you are one of the Delta brigade above, or have your system in a spare room and use headphones. But what if, like your faithful reviewer, you are someone with their PC in the lounge. Or perhaps your system is used as a total entertainment/office system rather than just gaming. You certainly don't want a bunch of fans going ten to the dozen when you're trying to balance your chequebook.
Enter the NZXT Sentry 2 LXE fan controller. It absolutely covers the noise element as it enables 'on the fly' adjustment of fan speeds allowing you to turn it all down when you're browsing the internet and push them all back up for your gaming session. Perhaps more importantly it also covers the gadget aspect. A far cry from the "dial" based controllers we're used to, this is entirely touch-screen and external too. But before I get ahead of myself.
Fan controllers being fairly simplistic beasts the technical specifications aren't overly complicated. Nonetheless as always we bring them straight from the horses mouth.
|Intuitive Touch Screen LCD – Advanced, touch screen LCD displays temperatures in C/F, RPMs, along with the date, time, and day of the week. Users have the ability to switch the display off for complete darkness for more immersive gaming sessions|
|Complete Control – 5 Temperature Probes keep tabs on thermals throughout the case while the 5 Fan controllers adjust the fans’ RPM speed for at least 10W per channel. Allows users to automatically adjust the fan speeds to correspond to a specific temperature, manually customize for extreme overclocking capabilities, or set to absolute silence|
|Temperature Alarm – Instant notification if temperatures rise above a designated point|
|Sleek Design – Brushed aluminum frame provides sleek aesthetics for any desktop.|
|Rechargeable Battery – The Sentry LXE features a rechargeable battery for up to 500 times, keeping the LXE life time longer without the hassle of replacing batteries constantly.|
|Unique Mounting - Using a NZXT developed PCI board and external touch display, the LXE allows for more 5.25" bays freed up for other peripherals.environment. Simply set the fan controller atop your PC or desktop and connect through PCI card interface.|
The Sentry 2 LXE fan controller though isn't designed just to do a job discretely. Oh no. This is definitely something to be displayed.
A Closer Look
Most of the fan controllers we've reviewe over the years are designed to fit in a 5.25" bay and so the packaging reflects this by being compact. The NZXT Sentry 2 LXE is therefore a bit of a shock when it arrived in a box about 10" long and the size of a 120mm fan square.
Upon opening the box up it's instantly clear why this is the case, as there is plenty within the cardboard cover, and it's all very well packaged. The box is made of thick cardboard and the foam at either end is firm and high density.
Straight away we can see the difference in that we have a circuit board attached to a backplate, from which most of the leads we'd expect are attached. We also have a bag containing a battery that fits into a standard CMOS style holder, some spare probes and some tape to attached the probes to whatever it is you wish to monitor. Finally we have a 7 foot long lead that connects the display to the rear of the PCI bracket, allowing the display to be positioned pretty much wherever you want.
The display part of the LXE is of exceptional quality. It's made of thick brushed black aluminium. It identically matches my CoolerMaster case and will match any other black aluminium case you happen to own.
When you're dealing with something like this the aesthetics are vital, and even from the side the Sentry 2 LXE looks wonderful and clean. You can see how sturdy the case is, and the stand has a gentle angle to ensure useability in all but the most obscure positions. Although if you're putting this somewhere you can't get to it you're missing the point.
On the rear the only thing we have to spoil the sleek lines, besides the obligatory bar-code, is the 8 pin socket that the other end of the aforementioned cable slots into. This is as good a connection as any modular power supply has and just emphasises the build quality. Finally on the base are two soft rubber strips that help it grip to your desk when in use. If you can move the NZXT when it's in position then you're pressing it far too hard.
Moving the probes and fan connectors to a daughter board has many benefits, not least of which is the ease in which you can replace components should that be necessary. Although most fan controllers have replaceable parts they are usually placed on the back of the board within a 5.25" bay and are very fiddly to swap over. NZXT have all of the major parts clipped in firmly enough to never come loose, but by virtue of being so in the open changing out a probe is literally a five second job.
One of my personal axes to grind is always the paucity of documentation that comes with modern hardware. Companies go to extraordinary lengths to bring us technology that reminds us of things we saw in sci-fi books when we were younger, and then don't bother to tell us how to utilise them to their fullest. Considering that the photo below shows the entire installation instructions I'm sure that you're expecting a typical VB rant. But actually it's a testament to the simplicity of the NZXT Sentry 2 LXEs design that absolutely everything is covered and you're never left holding a lead wondering what the hell to do with it.
Let's fire it up then and take a look at what we have to play with, before coming to a conclusion.
If you're a long-time reader of OC3D (and if not, why not?) then you'll recall last year I tested the original Sentry and was surprised that an explanation of the controls was only available from their website. This has been rectified with the Sentry 2 LXE. Thankfully though, as was the case with the Sentry, everything is so well laid out and so clear that only 30 seconds of curious prodding will have you able to do everything you can do with it. Nonetheless let's quickly run you through what we can play with.
A: Touch once to set the temperature alarm value. As we all know the primary reason for all of these fans in our system is to keep everything cool. Lowering the temperatures down naturally doesn't cool as well as so being able to set an alarm to warn you if you've pushed things too far is vital. If you press it twice you get the RPM adjustments, which is the important part. It's worth noting that you can reduce by 10% until you reach 40%, at which point the next step is off. It's very useful to be able to turn a fan off entirely. If you hold it down it switches between F and C, should you be used to the alternate temperature.
B: Turns the screen off for those dark gaming moments.
C: Switches between automatic temperature based fan control and manual mode.
D and F : Touch to modify time or date.
E: Turns the sounds on and off.
G: Adjusts the selected item up or down.
As I said, it's all really obvious and as user-friendly as jelly. Everything does exactly what you'd expect and thanks to the double drive-bay height screen everything is available straight away with no need to cycle through fans or menus.
Testing the Sentry 2 LXE is as simple as you'd expect. Plug it in, attach the fans and probes and see if when you turn them up and down they respond and the temperature reported is accurate.
The fans certainly respond well with them turning off and springing into life very quickly. Using a LED fan and judging via brightness it's also clear that the Sentry 2 LXE doesn't syphon off power for itself and leave you with 9v fans instead of 12v ones even when they're at 100%.
So far this has been quite a love-fest, and sure enough it continues. Initially I thought that an external fan controller would be yet more clutter on the desk and wondered why it couldn't be put in a drive bay like all the rest. However the moment you use it it all becomes clear.
My tower sits on the floor and so to view the temperatures on my current fan controller is always an exercise in flexibility. Unless you're hitting the thermal alarm point you never really are sure. Also because fan controllers are an absolute spaghetti of wires, taking them from the very top of your case to where you have the fans positioned is a cable management nightmare.
The Sentry 2 LXE dispenses with all of that. The display is on your desk, or wherever you feel you want to put it, and so the controls as well as the current temperature are always within a glance. The cable that connects the PCI Bracket controller to the display is lengthy enough to allow positioning almost anywhere sensible, flat so it can easily be tucked away if need be and the connectors are very sturdy indeed.
By having the fan controlling part at the back of your case it's right on top of the elements you're likely to monitor such as GPU/CPU temperatures, RAM temperatures etc, so there is far less spidery cables draped over the insides of your case with probes here and there. Also most fans are either at the bottom front, or back top of a case and so it's exceptionally easy to route the fan power cables to wherever they are needed and still keep the insides of your case tidy.
Finally the display itself is crystal clear from all angles, and the touch element is responsive without any "oops I actually meant 2" problems that can occur.
After all that you can imagine that the conclusion is simple. It certainly is. With an expected retail price around £55 this is unquestionably the best fan controller on the market. It's built like a tank, crystal clear, looks the part, solves the wiring issues and can handle five fans at once. It's rare we consider a product flawless, but there really isn't a single thing we can find wrong with the NZXT Sentry 2 LXE.
Many thanks to NZXT for supplying the Sentry 2 LXE for review. Discuss in our forums.