Date: July 7, 2010
Author(s): William Kelley
Although NZXT produces a wide-range of products, its fan controllers have become one of the highlights of its line-ups. The reasons are threefold: features, performance and price. We were left quite impressed with earlier Sentry models, and we can say that NZXT has done it once again with its Sentry LXE.
Like all enthusiasts, I endeavor to maintain control over all aspects of my computer. I never run on auto settings, I never allow my software to work unattended and I keep a tight rein on all aspects of the cooling system. While it takes a bit of work and a fair bit of attention, I will always opt for the manual approach so that I have the final say on everything.
The next major concern of mine is noise abatement. I am forever thankful for the industry’s movement towards the quiet PC. Even just 5 short years ago, the enthusiast was forced to trade off their hearing in order to keep their overclocked monster from melting. I still have nightmares from one of my most memorable builds that housed 8 Vantec Tornado 80mm fans. It was nearly impossible to comfortably sit within 4 feet of the tower without earplugs. Ah, the good ole days…
Thankfully, companies such as NZXT have come to our rescue. With the release of the original Sentry 1 back in 2007, we were given a viable solution to fan control with a colorful interface. Next in line was the Sentry LX. Sporting a dual 5.25″ bay mounting design with a touch screen LCD for a control interface, the LX was like nothing else and got the job done with style. The Sentry 2 completes the list of previous releases by combining the Sentry 1 and the LX into a fantastic single 5.25″ bay design.
The latest incarnation for our reviewing pleasure again takes something old and combines it with something completely new to the market; an external interface. My main gripe over the years is that those (including me) who place their PC under their desk out of eyesight are forced to crane and stretch to keep watch on the fan controller and to manipulate settings. This revolutionary design of placing the touch screen controls on our desk just makes perfect sense to me and is long overdue. So with that said, let’s get the LXE out of the box and into the lab and see if it lives up to our high expectations.
Out of the box and on the bench we get a closer look at the LXE. Included in the package are the LCD unit, battery, and PCI based controller and operating instructions. One important note is that the PCI card does not actually use a PCI slot, so it only needs an open PCI expansion slot on the chassis to mount. The 8-pin cable that attaches to the LCD unit attaches to the external 8-pin port on the expansion card. All wires are numbered to correspond to which fan channel and which temperature monitoring channel they handle. There is plenty of length in all the cabling for even the largest of cases.
The LCD itself is housed in a brushed aluminum frame which is angled slightly to give you the best angle for viewing. There is a protective film on the screen that should be removed before using. The entire unit has some heft to it so it will have no issues sitting squarely on your desk and it won’t be easy to knock over. The build quality is excellent.
The expansion card also shows some advances over the previous models. With the ability to handle up to 10W per channel, there are few regular desktop fans out there that can overwhelm this controller. I also really like how NZXT insulated the regulators since some users had issues with noise from this area. There is also a mini speaker installed on the card which takes care of all the audio needs the LXE has such as the alarm as well as sounding when you are pressing the controls.
There are five temperature probes each with 2′ of wiring allowing you to place them in the area of the fan channel you wish to monitor. Each is a small diode and provides very accurate readings. While my sample had nothing included to affix them in place, a small piece of tape is all that is needed for the job. They are also all clearly marked with labels to identify which channel they are monitoring.
In order to power each fan the LXE provides five power connections of the 3-pin variety. They too are at the end of 2′ of wiring to allow for reaching the deepest depths of the largest cases out there. My only gripe here is that there is no provision for a 4-pin fan connector whether it is Molex or motherboard header style.
Now that everything is unwrapped and prepped, let’s get back to the bench and install everything and find out just how well this package works.
As hoped, installation was a very simple affair. The first step is to mount the control board in an empty PCI expansion slot. Once that is done, you need to connect each fan to the channel you desire and follow that up by placing the thermal probe in the area of the fans. I chose to run mine with corresponding channels for both. It is up to the end-user to truly decide just how to route everything.
Once you are done doing that, you just plug the 8-pin connector from the LCD screen and power up the system. The cable has a positive lock, so there is little chance it can fall out without you actually wanting to remove it.
Once powered up you can get the setup finished by changing the clock to the correct time and then experiment with the controls to find the settings that suit your needs. I prefer to run the fans manually and tune them down as much as possible. My test bed went from a full roar to being nearly silent in no time flat.
I want to make it very clear that I do not have any issues with noise from the control board. Previous models of the Sentry line were reported by some consumers to have a whine or squeal from the voltage regulators. While my personal samples never exhibited this problem, it is a documented issue that looks to have been corrected with this release.
Since this product is not designed to improve cooling power I did not concentrate my testing results on temperature levels. Instead, I focused on noise levels. By using my trusty decibel meter, I was able to get very accurate results of just how well the LXE can quiet down a loud system. Here are the results:
The results speak for themselves. Having the ability to change fan speeds on the fly really shows you just how versatile a fan controller is. I was more than pleased to see that I could reliably lower my sound readings by nearly 10dBA. While the number seems small on paper, it is the difference between someone talking to you and someone shouting in your ear. Also, remember that there is no buzzing or whining from any of the fans, so there is no tradeoff in one type of noise for another.
Once again, NZXT has pulled another rabbit out of the hat. With a MSRP of $59.99US, I cannot find another option if you are in the market for a robust fan controller. The overall versatility is unmatched by anything else out there and the best part is that it does not even bite into your allotment of expansion slots on your chassis as well as your wallet.
Functionality and ease of use are also very important factors to keep in mind. Everything works as it should and there are no side effects to altering fan voltages compared to previous generations. With a generous 10W per channel of power available, you are assured to have lots of grunt for most fans out there, while also having the power to quiet it down with the push of the screen.
It should be made clear though that this fan controller isn’t capable of handling fans like the Tornado that I mentioned earlier, as they exceed 10W of power. The same can be said for many Delta fans. The LXE is able to handle most of the fans people will put in their cases, though, but just to be safe, I recommend double-checking your fan’s rated wattages before hooking them up to the LXE.
The screen itself is of excellent quality. The brushed aluminum housing gives it some needed weight so that it won’t be easily dislodged from your desktop. Viewing angles are quite generous so that you don’t have to be looking straight at it to clearly see what is going on. Colors are crisp and vivid. The touch sensitivity is good although you need to sometimes press an area more than once to get the desired response.
As for flaws, my main gripe is the lack of flexibility in the fan power connections. I would like to see a few 3 to 4-pin adapters included, although this could also directly affect the low MSRP as well. The only other area is messy wiring, but there is little that can be done about that seeing how all the wires must originate from one point and spread out inside the chassis to reach the various fans and monitoring locations. For this it would have been nice to have some included zip ties, but this is hardly a reason to not buy this unit.
For the price, you cannot beat the LXE. This is definitely the best fan controller that has crossed my path to date. With all the positive attributes I list, I feel confident that you will not be disappointed in any way with purchasing this controller. It does its job very well and the downsides I list are more like pet peeves than problems to consider. The Sentry LXE fully deserves our Editor’s Choice award in its category and it simply has no known competition. Kudos to NZXT on the great job here, and for once again raising the bar for fan controllers all over.
NZXT Sentry LXE Fan Controller
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