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Zalman ZM-MFC2 Fan Controller

Date: July 18, 2007
Author(s): Greg King

Good fan controllers can be an excellent addition to any PC, but it’s hard for companies to differentiate their own controllers from the others. Zalman tackles that problem with their MFC2, which in addition to controlling your fans, can also tell you how many watts your computer is hogging.



Introduction


Anyone who has even entertained the idea of upgrading their computer’s cooling has heard of Zalman. Long known for their superb silent cooling products, Zalman has recently stepped out of their comfortable niche of the industry and into deeper waters. Adding to their stable, they now offer a rather diverse selection including cases, water cooling systems, headphones and of course, CPU cooling solutions.

Today we are working with Zalman’s latest fan controller, the ZM-MFC2. Anyone with multiple fans in their system can appreciate a good fan controller. Not only does a product like this add a bit of color to the front of your case, but more importantly, it allows the user to control the speed of their system fans and tune them towards either silence or performance.

We first saw the ZM-MFC2 back in January at CES. While at the Zalman booth, we were shown their entire 2007 lineup, including this interesting fan controller. While looking at their power supply offerings, we were shown the MFC2.

The first thing that was pointed out was that this unit would display the amount of power the entire PC was drawing in wattage. Because of this, I assumed that the MFC2 was more of a marketing tool to show that the current power supplies available were grossly over powered and thus, overpriced.

Remember, around the time of CES, both OCZ and Ultra announced their plans for a 2Kw power supply. That’s 2000 freakin’ Watts of power. While neither PSU ever materialized, we are now seeing 1200W + power supplies and honestly, that much power is simply not needed. Zalman knew that in January and they know it now.

Little did I know that the MFC2 was actually going to be a production unit and when we received a evaluation sample last last month, we were excited to not only use the thing, but to also see how much power our machines were pulling.

Packaging and Hardware

As usual, Zalman has packaged their device in a informative, mostly black box. This is something that I appreciate and enjoy.

Once out of the box, we see that Zalman has included everything that we will need to utilize the MFC2 to its fullest. Included with the unit are four 3-pin fan connectors should your fan cable not be long enough to reach the motherboard, four temperature probes, a manual, tape to affix aforementioned thermal probes onto anything you want to monitor and screws for the PCI bracket and to help mount the MFC2 in a 5.25” drive bay.

To allow the MFC2 to read out the wattage of the PC, there are a few extra pieces of hardware that come with the Zalman. The first is a PCI bracket with a modified USB port on it. While this looks extremely identical to a regular USB port, there are warnings all around it letting the user know that this is not for regular USB devices. This is installed in an open PCI bracket on the back of the case and then plugs into the back of the MFC2 itself.

To get a reading of the power coming and going though the PC, there is a patch cable that is also included. On this cable, there is a box with a pair of wires coming out of it. This is to be placed between the wall and the power supply. Instead of plugging the power supply directly into the wall, this device sits between the two. There is also a USB plug that is for the included PCI bracket. Again, this is not to be plugged into any USB port as it could damage the host PC. This is only to be used with the PCI bracket.

Getting to the ZM-MFC2 itself, we notice that it’s not a very large device at all. Designed to fit into an open 5.25”drive bay, the fan controller will only sit 87mm deep into the bay. That’s just under three and a half inches for those playing at home.

The front of the MFC2 is a glossy black and has a single knob on the right hand side. There is also a lone “mode” button just under the knob.

Moving around to the back of the controller, we see an assortment of available connections. Starting at the left and moving right, we see four 3-pin fan connectors, 4 thermal probe connectors, a single CVS slot and a place for a 4-pin Molex power cable. The CVS is simply Zalman’s way of getting information from the power meter that sits between the wall outlet and the power supply.



Usage, Final Thoughts

With everything installed, except for the thermal probes, we set out to get a feel for not only how the MFC2 works, but also, how useful it was and would be for the average user.

When powering the PC on, we were greeted with an alarming beep. This was a bit uncomfortable until we realized that it was because the fan connectors that were not being used were not disabled. To navigate through the fans, simply press the mode button, scroll to the fan that you want and either enable it or disable it.

Directly above the fan speed read outs is a long bar that runs the entire length of the unit. This is used to show the wattage that your PC is pulling. This number is displayed in the top left hand corner.

The test hardware used in this review was a simple, quiet setup that we happened to have on our bench while testing out air coolers. It consists of:

This is a rather modest test bed but somewhat comparable to a majority of gamers out there without unlimited pocket books. As you can see in the picture below, our system only pulled 125 watts of power at idle and under full load, it never got above 180 watts. Not exactly a power sucking beast aye?

The Zalman ZM-MFC2 definitely has its uses. I am unsure who exactly will really need the power monitoring ability but it is something that is neat to have if for no other reason than its cool to keep track of power usage. Zalman might even be able to make this same unit, sans the power meter, and would still have a great looking fan controller that could be sold at a lower price point than this one is currently at.

The MFC2 can be found online for under $60 (US) which puts it at the top end of fan controllers but if you were to purchase a Kill-A-Watt and a fan controller together, you would likely pay just as much, if not more. Sure there are better deals out there but for those that are looking for a feature filled fan controller, the Zalman ZM-MFC2 is definitely something to look at.

With its ability to display power usage and overall build quality at is typical Zalman, the ZM-MFC2 earns an 8 out of 10 with its main drawback being its price. With that said, you definitely get what you pay for and if you’re looking for a Kill-A-Watt alternative, and just so happen to be in the market for a fan controller, do yourself a favor and give this one a look before you make your decision.

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