Fan Bus Controllers: A "good Thing" - Or Are They?
A fan bus controller can be a very helpful device to add to a PC, and more and more users are adding them. Much of this is due to the fact that fan bus controllers are more accessible and more mainstream then they were previously; users no longer have to build and custom design their own fan bus controllers.
While it is still possible to go to a local Radio Shack retail store (or other electronic parts dealer) and purchase the parts necessary to build your own fan bus controller, the fan bus controller is increasingly becoming less the domain for high-end case modding enthusiasts and electronics experimenters who have now moved on to other projects. While some that are looking for special space considerations, a customized look, or those who want the experience of soldering and building the device from scratch because they like to work with electronics do continue to build these products, the numbers of people doing this are less and less. In some instances users continue to build these products simply just because they want to try to "build a better mouse trap".
While some agree that the evolution in off-the-shelf fan bus controllers is a positive thing, there are those who argue that these devices are not a good idea in the hands of "undereducated" users. This latter argument is valid: anytime the speed of a case fan is altered to reduce the air flow inside the PC case, it causes temperatures to increase inside the case leaving components at risk. With all of the temperature sensitive and expensive parts inside many typical high end PCs, such as high end CPUs and video cards, for example, (that can cost almost $500 each) it is important to have a basic understanding of thermal and temperature tolerances before trying to add a fan bus controller. By turning the fan speed too low, it is possible that you could overheat your system to a fairly rapid "meltdown;" and if you elect to connect your CPU's heat sink fan to a fan bus controller, it could cost you a CPU unless you are regularly monitoring the temperature and know the limits of your CPU. Of course you can find additional info about the thermal limits of your CPU on AMD's or Intel's web site.
The design and construction of a fan bus controller is fairly simple. Fan bus controllers use potentiometer knobs that are dedicated to and speed adjustable for a particular fan within the PC. The fan speed is regulated by voltage regulators that control the revolutions at which the fan blades spin; there is very little else to this device. A variety of plans can be found on the Internet that provide information on building a fan bus should you desire to do so.
One other thing about fan bus devices that should be noted: some devices do not allow for the total shut down of your fans when the computer enters "sleep mode." This can be a beneficial feature or a detrimental one, depending on your perspective. Currently, most motherboards allow direct connection of the three pin fans onto the motherboard. These three pin fan controllers on the motherboard are also part of the motherboard's monitoring systems. When the computer enters a sleep or "hibernate" state, the fans in many cases shut down to help conserve power and to help eliminate noise. Depending on how and where you use your system, you may or may not be satisfied with the way this is managed by a fan bus controller. Some fan controllers do pass RPM data back through the motherboard, while others do not offer this feature. We expect the next evolution of fan bus controllers to include fully programmable controller with temperature monitoring leads connected to fan bus "brains" that adjust the speed of the fan or make adjustments via a specific set of programming parameters that the user has built in. While this enhanced monitoring and programming will impact the price upward, the convenience and device saving hours will most likely make the price increase worth it.
With the introduction of these "off-the-shelf" fan bus solutions, consumers who lack a basic understanding of these devices and how it work can be a dangerous mix. In this instance what you don't know CAN hurt your system. There are more than a few horror stories about disasters resulting from the use of these devices along with no common sense. If you don't know much about thermals and electronics, do some research on the Internet or consult someone who is knowledgeable. Even with knowledge at your fingertips, it will take a reasonable amount of trial and error to find the "sweet spot" on the fan setting for proper cooling, temperature setting and level of noise. If you are a gamer and use your PC for marathon sessions when it is under a heavy load, there is no reason why not to turn up the fans controlled by the bus device to help keep all of the electronics cooler; in fact, maintaining proper temperatures is one of the most important factors in maintaining and even extending the life of electronics parts and devices.
As you can see, the fan bus idea has gone mainstream. Let's climb aboard and take a closer look at some fan bus devices before the device's popularity gains further momentum and we are left behind.