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Front Mounted Ports: Take a Joy Ride On The Fan Bus

The Fan Bus Breakdown

We have been collecting fan bus devices and experimenting with them in the lab for about a year, as we wanted to test an ample array of fan bus devices and gain experience with them prior to writing this review.

Currently, we classify all fan bus controllers into three main categories. We have broken down the features and benefits of each category.

Traditional Fan Bus Controller - This category of devices includes only fan speed controllers. The fans are connected directly to the fan bus controller, and the fan speed is adjusted with a potentiometer adjustment knob located on the fan bus controller. Most of these configurations rely on the basic "RheoBus" design, a very stripped down configuration. This is the most common configuration of fan bus controllers. Prices for this simple device start at approximately $25 US.

Combination Fan Bus Controller - These devices combine both a fan bus controller with another device or feature. For example, some devices offer not only a fan bus controller, but also an inverter and a switch for cold cathode lighting, or a combination of front mounted ports. This category is the least common, as only two device types are being functionally brought together. Combination Fan Bus Controller devices offer a balance between price and function, and are normally priced significantly less than high-end, Multi-function fan bus controller devices. Prices for these combined devices vary according to the combination of functions being offered, but start at about $35 US.

Multi-Function Fan Bus Controller With Temperature Monitoring - These fan bus controllers offer the functions of a Combination Fan Bus Controller along with a feature that offers integrated ’real time’ temperature monitoring. The temperature monitoring displays are normally LCD based and provide internal temperature device monitoring via internal sensors that are connected to the device. The advantages of this strategy are obvious, as the user gets real time readout/feedback as to how various fan speed adjustments affect the internal PC devices temperature. Many times these devices offer other features, such as additional front-mounted USB or 1394 ports, and can include voltage and sound pressure monitoring. Because of their complex functionality, these devices are the most expensive and offer the greatest amount of monitoring information. Some companies apparently believe the sky is the limit as to the amount consumers are willing to pay for one of these types of devices. Currently, retail prices begin at about $50 US and go up sharply from there. We have seen fan bus devices of this type that retail for well over $70 US, and we expect the prices to escalate if the demand continues to grow at its current rate.

For this Fan Bus Product review, we received products from CoolerMaster, Super Flower/TTGI, Vantec and Zalman. While we received nine total products, two were duplicates of an identical device, but had a different colored front bezel. Since the products were identical we treated these two duplicates the same as the original device and reviewed all of these products together. This left us with seven fan bus products for this review. Since we did not put out a comprehensive "casting call" to all companies making products in this arena, you might notice some of your favorite companies are absent from this review. We will revisit this topic at a later date once we have collected more products from additional sources.

All Aboard - Pay Attention So That You Aren’t Left Behind

In our review process each fan bus product was installed into our test system. We then connected as many fans as possible to the fan bus unit. Some units supported more fans than others. We then judged each unit for features and aesthetics. Each unit received three grades : one for features and design ; a pass/fail for unit performance ; and a value grade based on the suggested retail price of the unit. For uniform results we used the same fans and system configuration during our testing of each unit.

Our Testing Configuration Was As Follows

  • ABIT NF7S Motherboard
  • AMD Athlon 3200XP CPU
  • ATI Radeon 9800 Pro - 256 MB
  • 1 GB Corsair 3200LL DDR400
  • 2 120 GB Seagate SATA Hard Drives
  • Mitsumi Floppy Drive
  • 52X Asus CD-Rom Drive
  • 52X Asus CD-RW Drive
  • Atech Flash Pro V - Multi-Format Card Reader USB 2.0
  • 4-80mm AeroFan UV - 2600 RPM - 34CFM - Aerocool
  • Antec 430 Watt True Power Supply
  • Coolermaster ATC-201B-SXK Case
  • Windows XP Professional Service Pack 1