Date: August 2, 2006
Author(s): Matthew Harris
Temp reporting and fan control, it gets easier to do both all the time. Not long ago we brought you a look at a high dollar system that did it all but was a bit pricey. Today we look at an entry level setup that does less and more at the same time.
A few months ago I took a look at one of the upper echelon fan controllers on the market. It ran upwards of $100 but offers a nearly endless level of customization. Today I take a look at a more budget friendly unit that while not as flashy still brings a good deal of utility to the table, the Spire Digipanel. The Digipanel features a simple LCD temp/RPM display for three fans and probes, adjustable over temp alarm, set able RPM underage alarm (either off or 1000RPM) and forward dual USB, firewire and audio ports. I’ll go into greater detail on these last three later.
The Digipanel comes with all the required cabling, a full set of assembly instructions and a decent surprise. It will act as a HDD cooler/5.25" bay to 3.5" bay converter.
The Digipanel brings your rearward ports forward by way of the included cables. Sadly these cables don’t hook to motherboard headers but instead plug into ports on the rear of the PC. This means that if you’re using all your rear USB ports you’re just transferring those cables to the front of your PC. Same goes for audio. In order to use my trusty Z-560’s I had to plug the mic cable into the surround port on my sound card so that I could plug the front and rear speakers into the front panel outs on the Digipanel. If you’ve got a 5.1, 6.1 or 7.1 setup you’ll just have to forego the front audio ports until you haul your rig to the local LAN hotspot. This is, of course, assuming that you’re not using the SPDIF to hook up your surround system.
As you can see the added cables are rather substantial. Happily they’re long enough for just about any case you care to put the Digipanel in. Sadly they’ll be hanging out of the rear of your case or require you to coil them up inside the case to keep the rear clutter to a minimum.
A nice touch is the inclusion of the numbered fan extension cables and the matching numbered and color coded temp diodes. This ensures that you’ll get the fans and temp sources easily managed in your case. I forgot to mention that if you use the Digipanel to house a HDD that the fan in the Digipanel is set to the third fan header by default. I decided to test its mettle as a HDD cooler so I left that alone and hooked my radiator fans up to fan headers one and two. I then ran the first temp diode to the side of my CPU block and the second temp diode to my GPU. The third I attached to the drive housed inside the Digipanel so I could compare it to the SMART readings reported by Everest.
Looking at the above images you get an idea of the amount of cabling involved. It’s rather extensive. In fact I had to set the Digipanel on the foam mat because the weight of the cables kept pulling it off the worktable.
Here you can see the added cables. Personally I wish there was another way but sadly, you run forward ports and you add cables. I must say that threading the cables through the 5.25" bay and into and already crowded PC was a bit of a challenge. It took me no less than three tries to get it right. I found that the top cover for the Digipanel hung up in my drive bays, in the end I had to remove it and install it sans lid. I don’t fault the Digipanel for this, there’s no way to be certain that it’s going to fit in every case on the market.
One thing I’d like to mention, in order to run the cables out of your case you have to run them through an unused PCI slot. This is fine, most of us have at least one but the fact that Spire neglected to provide a notched PCI cover with a grommet kind of bothers me. Your cables are at the tender mercies of the bare metal of the PCI slot.
Powered up the LCD is a pleasing blue. Personally I like blue over all the other LED colors although red isn’t bad either. In the first pic you see the temp/RPM reporting mode. Pushing the center knob for 2 seconds brings up the second mode for each channel. This is the alarm settings mode. You can adjust the temp from an upper limit of 90.0C to a lower limit of 30.0C. I think the upper limit is a bit high myself, I can’t think of anything in my PC I’d want hitting 90.0C before setting off an alarm.
Pushing the button in after you’ve adjusted the temp limit brings up the RPM alarm. As I said earlier, the options are off or 1000RPM. I’d like to see this adjustable since big fans are capable of running well under 1000RPM so if you were to turn your fans down to say, 750 RPM, you’d end up setting off the alarm unnecessarily. This means you’re forced to choose "off" rather than have it alarmed so a fan failure would go unnoticed until your temps rose to the alarm point. Bad form.
Pushing the center dial for less than two seconds cycles through the three channels. The center dial is also how you adjust the fan speeds. Turning it clockwise increases the speed and counter clockwise decreases it. This applies to each channel individually not en-masse. If you’re wondering why the first two aren’t reporting RPM’s, well, I am too. Those are my radiator fans and from day one I’ve been unable to get them to report the RPM. I have no clue why.
The third fan is spinning merrily away at a tad over 4000RPM, it’s the little fan in the bottom of the Digipanel and is blowing a stream of cool air under my HDD. The included fan spins at around 4500RPM at full speed and is readily noticeable but at 4000RPM and below it’s not bad at all. The diode for the HDD reports about 1-2C higher than the temps reported by Everest. As I sit here writing this I’m getting 32C from Everest and 33.5C from the Digipanel. Either way, I’m comfortable with both readings.
So, how does the Spire Digipanel pan out? I’m glad you asked!
The Digipanel is a fairly straightforward piece of hardware. It could stand some polishing in a few areas such as offering mobo headers for the front ports and a pass-thru for the rear cables to keep the PCI slots from chafing the insulation on them but in terms of function I can’t really fault it other than one minor glitch I encountered. The hub I’m using (the Vizo UFO) would not work when plugged into the front USB ports.
Now when I transfered the pics of the Digipanel to my PC I did so through the front ports on the Digipanel and it worked flawlessly. What the issue with the hub is is beyond my ken of understanding. I’m not faulting the Digipanel nor the hub. Sometimes things just don’t play well together and with the abundance of equipment on the market it’s impossible to be 100% sure every last thing will work.
When it’s all said and done I’m awarding the Spire Digipanel an 8/10 for it’s functionality and good looks. Do yourself a favor and take a look at it.
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