Date: May 9, 2011
Author(s): Ryan Perry
A couple of months ago, we took Lamptron’s FC Touch fan controller for a spin, and were left extremely impressed with its ease-of-use and aesthetics. But what about those who don’t care for touch capabilities, and are fine with knobs? Enter the FC8, a clean-looking and high-performing option; offering eight channels at 30W each.
The last fan controller that I looked at from Lamptron, the FC Touch, was a radical departure from what most people are used to seeing in the world of controllers. Goodbye knobs; hello touch screen! Well, this time around I go full circle with the FC8 fan controller, a unit that appears to be more along the lines of a standard controller but is far from average.
Available in a black anodized or bare brushed aluminum finish, the 8-channel FC8 features the same CNC milled face plate found on many other Lamptron models. Any of the details, such as the channel name and the indicator on each knob, are laser etched so there is no chance of these wearing off after prolonged use.
The FC8 can provide up to 30 watts of power per channel, which should be more than enough for even the most power hungry fans or daisy chained madness. If this weren’t enough, the FC8 also allows for some customization by allowing users to assign a white, blue, green, cyan, red, purple or yellow LED to each channel.
On the back of the controller and along the top are the eight 3-pin fan connectors. Below each one are the first row of capacitors but there are no numbers to indicate the manufacturer or specifications. Just below these are the MOSFETs and over on the far right are the power wires that lead to the three 4-pin Molex connectors, all of which must be providing power to the controller in order to ensure proper operation.
Removing a black screw from each corner and pulling the first PCB layer up and out gives us a view of the solid aluminum capacitors on the backside. These capacitors are just as mysterious as the group on the other side in that there are no numbers to link them back to the manufacturer. However, this is fairly common for capacitors of this type.
On the second layer are the ICs that dot the landscape. While they are too small to pull any numbers from, they should store the color profiles for the channels but also provide instructions that determine how the controller works. Speaking of color, just on the other side of the second layer in between the PCB and aluminum face plate are the 7-color LEDs.
Included with the fan controller are eight 3-pin cable extensions, four screws to hold the unit in place when installed and an installation and usage guide. What more do you need?
It’s time to see how the FC8 fits into a system and then we’re see how it handles a wide variety of fans similar to those used with the FC Touch.
There’s nothing fancy about installing the FC8. I found that attaching any fan or the cable extensions before installing the unit made things easier seeing how I was not trying to fit my gigantic hands into the 5.25″ bays in order to make the connections. Once the main unit was in place, it was secured using the included screws. Each 4-pin Molex connector was wired up to a separate connector directly from the power supply and the end result looks like this when installed in the AZZA Toledo 301 mid-tower that was reviewed recently.
Our motley crew of fans are back again to see if the FC8 can do what it was designed to do. We have brought back that crazy little 60mm Delta AFB0612EH and the CoolIT-branded 120mm fan from the Vantage ALC. The SilenX IPX-74-14 from the last round of testing has been replaced by a Coolink SWiF2 120P with power for the tests being drawn from an Antec TP-750 Blue. Just as before, testing was performed outside of the case for simplicity.
The Delta runs at an always scary 6,800 revolutions per minute (RPM) and moves 38.4 cubic feet per minute (CFM) of air at a screaming 46.5 A-weighted decibels (dBA), while the CoolIT fan is a bit of a wild card. Very little is known about it but specs from the website show it is rated for between 1,100 and 2,500 RPM. From experience, this fan can get quite loud if left to spin up to full speed. The new Coolink fan claims to be able to move just over 74 (CFM) at a maximum of 1300 (RPM) while creating 27.1 dBA.
Each fan displayed similar results when compared to the outcome of the tests using the FC Touch. The Delta sprang to life and skipped across the table at about 33% but was far from quiet. I was surprised when the CoolIT fan started up at about 45%, which is slightly lower than with the previous controller. Finally, what may be my new favorite fan, the Coolink was completely silent when spinning at less than 50%. It even made less noise than the SilenX fan it replaced while pushing what felt like more air.
This all adds up to nearly identical performance when compared to the FC Touch, which scored very high marks in the review. While this isn’t a product comparison, it is nice to have a great product like the FC Touch to use as a baseline and while it would be nice to load each channel up with four Delta’s, that just isn’t indictative of what the average user will run on this controller.
Switching LEDs was an easy task as well and what I thought would be a cumbersome, clunky method turned out to be quite intuitive. Pressing in on the eighth knob selects the channel so one press selects the first, two presses selects the second and so on. When a channel has been selected, that LED will blink. If a different colored LED is desired, pressing the first knob will cycle through them. If left alone for ten seconds, the selection is locked in. The LEDs are also bright enough for users to see them if installed into a case that is tucked under a desk or on sharp angle but not so much that they light up the room or become intrusive.
All of this adds up to another great offering from Lamptron, so let’s call it a day.
As with the FC Touch, Lamptron has a winner on its hands.
The main controller unit is well designed and attractive, features labels that are etched into the aluminum so that they won’t wear off and it allows for just enough customization by way of the individual LEDs without being too over-the-top for those like me who don’t want all the flash.
Another reassuring feature is that the FC8 uses some seriously high-end components compared to other fan controllers such as aluminum solid capacitors. We saw motherboard manufacturers step things it up so it’s nice to see some changes in other aspects of the hardware market. The overall build quality just feels very solid and the soldering work on the PCB is incredibly clean.
I do have to mention that our first review sample blew a trace on the first layer of PCB. The fans being used are hardly power hungry, daisy chained monsters so I was surprised when this happened given the specifications of the controller. The replacement unit used in this review however, performed flawlessly. Quality control does make me a little wary, however.
Another small point to make is that the same light leak is present on the FC8 as with the FC Touch. In the shot with the unit installed, any active LEDs flood the bay with light from the top of the controller, which is visible from the outside of the case. A small lip or cover at the very top of the face plate would make short work of this.
When all is said and done, if you need to control a ton of high RPM fans or have daisy chained enough standard fans that your system is ready for lift off, look for the FC8. It retails for $65, which may seem steep but you certainly get what you pay for seeing how there are enough channels with enough wattage to handle anything out there.
Availability seems sparse at this point with only a handful of USA e-tailers carrying it and no Canadian e-tailers, so if you stumble up on one, grab it!
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