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Lamptron FC5 Fan Controller Review

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AkG

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Lamptron FC5 Fan Controller Review





Manufacture Page: Lamptron Electronics
Part Number: FC-FC5-B
Price: $59.99
Tekwiki: Lamptron FC5 Fan Controller - Specs & Reviews





In an era where fans are getting bigger, quieter and generally “better” than they once were, the need for a dedicated fan controller has been diminished somewhat. However, there has always been a need, want and desire to make an already quiet PC even more so or take better control over all things noise-related. With a controller, one can choose to lower fan speed when they are watching a movie or doing homework and then increase the speed when running taxing applications like games. Above all this give some much-needed versatility to a PC.

In the past, to overcome the limitations of early fan design, silent PC aficionados had to resort to volt modding a given fan to make it run slower and thus more quietly. While times have changed and you can now get variable resistors that plug into the line (the best examples being the Low Noise and Ultra Low Noise Adapters which accompany Noctua fans), there still has a major down side: adaptability. Nothing beats being able to turn up the fan speed when needed and then turn it back down during idle periods. This is what motherboards do, but you are limited by the number of fans and the total wattage that can be drawn. In order to balance ease of use, precision, cost and setup time many have decided to buy a dedicated fan controller. Nothing beats a big old knob on the front of your computer for speed adjustment.

This is where Lamptron and their newly released FC5 front bay fan controller come into the equation. This unit not only has four separate channels for independently setting fans to different speeds but can also tell you (via its built in liquid crystal display) exactly what the voltage is being set to….in real time. As an added bonus you can even have it tell you what the RPM of your fan is running at. It also comes with temperature probes so you can see the effect your speed adjustment has on the temperatures inside the case. Throw in the ability to output up to 30 watts per channel and you have what on paper may just be a near-perfect controller.

As the old saying goes “there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch” and all this power and versatility comes at a pretty steep cost. The FC5 retails for about $60, which is reasonable for what it has to offer and the supposed material quality and workmanship which has gone into it. However, this does further entrench it into the enthusiast end of the spectrum. As such, the biggest question of them all has to be if this device is worth your hard earned dollars.

mfg.jpg

 
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AkG

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Specifications

Specifications


<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Fan/FC5/specs.jpg" border="0" alt="" />
<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Fan/FC5/specs2.jpg" border="0" alt="" />
 
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AkG

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Packaging & Accessories

Packaging & Accessories


Lamptron_FC5_box_f_sm.jpg
Lamptron_FC5_box_t_sm.jpg

The box this fan controller comes in fairly small, which makes perfect sense given the size of the unit which it houses. Lamptron has gone for fairly thick cardboard and we have no issues with this choice

Meanwhile, the front and back sides of the shipping box have a nice full colour picture of the FC5 and show all seven colours the LCD is capable of producing. The two smaller sides are taken up with the usual marketing blurb and specifications.

Lamptron_FC5_box_o_sm.jpg

When you open up the box, you can see that the FC5 is cocooned in amongst thick, damage absorbing foam. The foam has been cut and shaped so as to not only keep the FC5 safe from external damage but also keep it stable so it doesn’t bounce around inside the box.

Lamptron_FC5_access_sm.jpg

The list of accessories which accompany this fan controller is very decent and contains darn near everything you will need. You get four long temperature probes, four 3pin extension cables for your fans, an extra jumper pin for setting the various colour options of the FC5 (others come already attached to the FC5) and a Molex cable. Rounding out the accessory list is a long double sided instruction sheet which details the various options and how to properly set up the FC5
 
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AkG

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Closer Look at the Lamptron FC5

Closer Look at the Lamptron FC5


Lamptron_FC5_ang_sm.jpg
Lamptron_FC5_ang2_sm.jpg

The FC5 is a sleek, sexy looking fan controller which is made from a solid piece of CNC milled aluminum. As you can see, our particular version is the black one but silver or “nude” aluminum versions are also available. As with most fan controllers on the market today it uses a 5.25” bay form factor and not the smaller 3.5”.

Lamptron_FC5_front_on_sm.jpg

Taking up a good chunk of real estate on the front of the Lamptron FC5 is the Liquid Crystal Display. Unlike some cheaper units we have worked with this LCD is not black and white but is capable of producing various colours, albeit it only one colour at a time which is a minor annoyance at best. What is more annoying was the inherent limitation of LCD displays means that the angle of view at which you will be able to accurately read any of the information displayed is very narrow in the horizontal and even more so in the vertical plane.

Below the LCD panel are the four large aluminum adjustment knobs which each control one of the four channels. While they are smooth and slick they do really add a nice sense of refinement to the overall look of the FC5, just don’t expect to be able to precisely adjust them if your hands are damp.

Lamptron_FC5_back_ang_sm.jpg

Turning the FC 5 around we can see that there are two printed circuit boards used in the design of this controller. The forward-most one is for the LCD and the secondary PCB is for the fan controller itself.

Lamptron_FC5_back_ang2_sm.jpg

Running along the top edge of the controller PCB are the four 3-pin fan headers and then the single 4 pin Molex power input connector. While in a perfect world we would have preferred to have seen ALL Molex connectors used on the FC 5 that would have taken up a whole heck of room and probably would have necessitated a third PCB. Barring this, we really wish Lamptron had included 3pin to 4pin Molex adaptors as larger, heavy amperage fans use 4 pin Molex connectors and not the “motherboard header” 3 pin style.

Lamptron_FC5_heatsink2_sm.jpg
Lamptron_FC5_heatsink_sm.jpg

Just below the 3 pin fan headers are the heatsinks. Each channel has its own heatsink and they are more than beefy enough to dump the heat load which will be placed on them. By using resistance to decrease the voltage which reaches the fan the excess energy has to be converted to heat and the lack of necessary dissipation is usually what causes the untimely death of many other controllers. As such, it is good to see these here.

Lamptron_FC5_ruby_caps_sm.jpg
Lamptron_FC5_board_sm.jpg

On both sides of the PCB are high quality Japanese made Rubycon capacitors in various sizes. All of them are rated to 105 degrees Celsius which is impressive to say the least.
 
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AkG

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Closer Look at the Lamptron FC5 p.2

Closer Look at the Lamptron FC5 Cont'd


Lamptron_FC5_Potentiometer_sm.jpg
Lamptron_FC5_board2_sm.jpg

As you can see from the above picture, the four channels each have their own 3 pin variable resistor which is usually called a potentiometer. As you turn the large knob, the resistance increases and the amount of voltage which is available on a given channel is reduced. This combined with the LCD readout makes precise voltage adjustments extremely easy.

Lamptron_FC5_dual_controller2_sm.jpg
Lamptron_FC5_dual_controller_sm.jpg

The dual controllers on this PCB which are responsible for how and what is seen on the front read out are Atmel ATMEGA8Ls, which are 8-bit RISC micro-controllers. These little controller chips have 8K Bytes of in-system self-programmable flash memory, 512 Bytes EEPROM and 1K Byte of internal SRAM. In a nut shell these two little guys are the brains behind this unit.

Lamptron_FC5_bgr_pins_sm.jpg

In the lower left end of the PCB are three sets of jumper pins labelled: B,G and R. These are the three sets of pins which control what the colour of the LCD readout will be. By only having one in you get Red, Green or Blue. By having two of the sets jumpered you get Cyan, Yellow or Purple. If you have all three sets jumpered you get white. If none are jumpered the LCD is OFF.

Lamptron_FC5_jumper_sm.jpg

In the lower right corner of this board are two separate groups of pins. The top group of four sets of double pins is for the temperature probe of each channel. The smaller cluster of two sets of double pins is for setting the temperature reading or selecting voltage readout. By having either both F and C pin groups jumpered or neither jumpered you are telling the Lamptron FC5 to display voltage readings for each of the channels. By installing a jumper onto F instead of displaying voltage you get a readout in Fahrenheit displayed. If you jumper the C pins you get Celsius readout. It is to bad this is an “either or equation” in that you can only display temperature or voltage and can only chose one option for all four channels and not individual channels. This to us is a missed opportunity as it would have been nice to have any “free” channels not currently in use set up for temperature (via an attached probe) and have the others show the more important voltage regulation. This to us would have made this four channel unit much more versatile.

In the last few images you probably couldn’t help but notice some excess flash and some soldering SNAFUs around the PCB. For the most part the workmanship on the FC5 is quite good but there are some areas that do need a bit of cleaning up in our opinion.

Lamptron_FC5_install3_sm.jpg
Lamptron_FC5_install4_sm.jpg

Installing this unit into a case is extremely easy yet does have a major caveat worth mention: Lamptron built the FC5 from down right thick material and did so to extremely tight tolerances. It really is going to be a tight fit if your case was also built to such exacting tolerances, but with some gentle persuasion of the rubber mallet variety (and a lot of time and some patience) the effort will pay off in spades. However, if your case is a bit more forgiving like our Thermaltake Armor + JR. (with totally sloppy tolerances) the installation was a breeze.
 
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AkG

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Closer Look at the LCD Panel

Closer Look at the LCD Panel


To select an LCD colour you need rear access to the FC5 so you will not easily be able to choose your colour when it is already installed. This is a rather minor annoyance since we don’t normally need or want to change colours very often. Nonetheless, we really wish Lamptron had included a front switch or some other means of changing the colour without opening up your case. As we already mentioned in the last section, combinations of the on-board jumpers allows you to change the colours and if all jumpers are removed, the LCD panel is turned off and displays no information.
The seven colours that this unit are capable of are:

White:


Lamptron_FC5_white_sm.jpg

To achieve a white colour, all three jumpers must be in place. While Lamptron calls this colour white it reminds us more of a blueish white rather than a true white.


Blue:


Lamptron_FC5_blue_sm.jpg

To achieve a Blue, only the two B pins should have a jumper installed. It is a washed out blue, and we found it to be the closest to white of out all the other possible combinations. It was also the hardest to clearly read at anything but perfect angles.

Green:


Lamptron_FC5_green_sm.jpg

To achieve Green, only the two G pins should have a jumper installed. It is a very dark green and is actually quite easy to read.


Red:


Lamptron_FC5_red_sm.jpg

To achieve Red, only the two R pins should have a jumper installed. It looks quite good to us and is actually quite muted which is great for a dark room.


Yellow:


Lamptron_FC5_yellow_sm.jpg

To achieve what Lamptron calls Yellow, the two R pins and two G pins should have jumpers installed. To us it is more like a light green than a yellow.


Purple:


Lamptron_FC5_purple_sm.jpg

To achieve a Purple display, the two B and two R pins should be installed. It is a light purple rather a deep purple, but on the positive side it is not a Royal Purple that you would get if the red was overpowering the Blue.


Cyan:


Lamptron_FC5_cyan_sm.jpg

To achieve Cyan, the two B pins and two G pins should have jumpers installed. It has too much dark blue to be a true cyan, but out of all the colors it probably is the one we prefer most.


Viewing Angle



All the above shots we taken from a higher vantage point looking down upon the LCD. To show exactly how narrow the field of view we are including a couple. The below photos are with the LCD set to "white".

straight_on_sm.jpg
angle_sm.jpg

below_sm.jpg

While not great, a straight on angle is legible if barely. The same goes for angle views. Neither are what we would call easy to read, but if you take the time to really look at it you can figure out what information is being displayed. The same can not be said when you are below looking up at the LCD as the only thing you will be able to see is the inverse parts of the display!

All in all it is a decent LCD panel for the price, but it isn’t what we would call spectacular.
 
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Testing Methodology

Testing Methodology


All tests are Pass/Fail.

All tests are run a minimum of 4 times. Only best results are recorded.

To be considered a Pass in the Voltage test the unit must output a reading which varies less than 0.1v of the reading given by our Multimeter. Anything above or below this is unacceptable in a voltage controller based fan controller unit. All readings taken at maximum voltage. The Multimeter readings are taken off a Molex to 3 pin adaptor which is placed inline before any of the fans, so as to not introduce any additional variables which may not be reproducible.

To be considered a PASS in the Temperature tests, the temperature reading from a given channel has to be within 2° F of the our Sperry digital thermometer. Anything above or below this is inaccurate and simply cannot be trusted.

Power Supply:
Sparkle 400 watt model SPI-400PN
Nothing attached besides the unit reviewed and the Power Supply pin jumper mod to start

Fans Used:

2x Cooler Master A23030-10CB-3DN-L1 230mmx180mm 0.40amp fans
1x Noctua NF-P12-1300 120mm 0.09amp fan
1x Yate Loon D12SH-12F 120mm 0.30amp fan
1x Cogage CGG-1212PSL 120mm 0.21amp fan
1x Thermaltake TT-1225 120mm 0.30amp fan
1x Evercool EC12025M12S 120mm 0.28amp fan
1x Panflo FBA12G12H 120mm 0.6amp fan
2x Scythe S-Flex SFF21E 120mm 0.16amp fan
1x Scythe S-Flex SFF21F 120mm 0.20amp fan
1x Cooler Master A12025-12CB-3BN-F1 120mm 0.23amp fan


Multimeter Used:
Mastercraft Digital Multimeter Model#52-0060-2 with an accuracy of ±(1% rdg. + 2 dgts.)


Temperature Probe:
Sperry STK-3016T with an accuracy of ±(0.3% rdg. + 2F)
 
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Performance Testing

Voltage accuracy


volt.jpg


With one fan attached, this controller was accurate to 0.1 volt and the difference is due to the fact it has to round up to one tenths of a volt. With 30 watts of fans attached, it was accurate to 0.34 volts which is actually impressive. Once again some of this is due to the Lamptron only displaying to the nearest tenth of a volt. This gives it 96% accuracy when compared to our calibrated multimeter.


Temp Probe Accuracy


temp.jpg

As expected, the included probes are not exactly what you would call precise pieces of equipment. The most stable of the four probes was high by 3F and bounced between 76.4 and 76.8F whereas the Sperry showed a steady 73.6F. With 4 plugged in and all right next to each other BUT not touching, we got readings anywhere from 75.9 to 78.2. The 78.2 was a bad sensor as changing the plug location changed the temp reading on a given readout, but the NEW location would start reading high. Needless to say, we recommend testing all four against a good K type probe before trusting the results as the variance from one to another was significant. However, with all that being said we did like the fact that it will give a fairly decent inkling into what is happening temperature wise inside your case. We also liked the fact that you could have the readout set to Fahrenheit or Celsius; but we did not like the fact that by having temperature readouts means you automatically lose voltage display. Optimally, the FC5 could have cycled between the two in predefined increments and to be honest, voltage information is more important in many situations then slightly accurate temperature readings.


30 Watt Power Draw


Lamptron_FC5_fans_sm.jpg

The Lamptron FC5 had absolutely no troubles handling a 30 watt demand off of one channel. In fact, it can handle more than 30 watts but how much more before it would fail is unknown to us as we kept adding more and more until we ran out of Molex to 3 pin adaptors! At that point we had it running it with 3.33 amps of power draw….39.9watts and it ran like a champ at all voltages.
 
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Conclusion

Conclusion


When all is said and done we can honestly say that while the Lamptron FC-5 is not perfect, it is awfully darn good. It really has been designed from the ground up to handle high energy demands and so many fans that it just boggles the mind. Heck, we purposely overloaded this unit by nearly 33% (a full 10 extra watts above its rated 30 watt limit) and it still was rock solid. We truly don’t know how much juice a single channel can output because we ran out of Molex to 3 pin adaptors long before it ran out of potential! In addition, the combination of both LCD voltage and RPM readouts is a very potent combination which will allow you accurately tweak your fans noise profile and performance profile in one fell swoop.

When it comes to the construction of the FC5 all we can say is: WOW. The exterior construction is simply top notch and drop dead gorgeous yet what is on the inside is even more impressive. Seeing all ultra high quality 105-degree rated Rubycon capacitors on the PCB just highlights the quality, thought and ultimately workmanship which went into this unit. The only minor caveat we can think of when it comes to the construction or quality of materials used is the high tolerances Lamptron went with. When they say 5.25” they MEAN 5.25” so this controller may be a very snug fit on a higher end cases which also have their own exacting tolerances.

With all this said, this unit is not perfect. If there is one thing that stands out as less than optimal on this otherwise top notch product it is the LCD display since it has an extremely narrow field of view. This we could easily overlook as this it has all the hallmarks of a decent LCD, just not a great one but considering the price point the FC5 resides in, we can’t really expect much more. To be honest, the biggest issue we have with the LCD is the fact that the information it displays is quite limited. We always kept wishing for the ability to display both voltage and temperatures at the same time since being able to adjust a specific voltage and see its effects on temperatures all in real time can be invaluable.

The last issue we have with this unit is its reliance on jumper pins to customize the readout. We really wish they had made these adjustments either easier to get at while installed inside the case or made them accessible from the front panel. Reaching in and moving a small little jumper pin while the FC5 is installed in your case is going to be tough so we recommend you play with it and set up up the options to your liking before installing this Lamptron controller into your case. With that being said these are all minor pet peeves at best; but when you are looking at such great performance in darn near all other areas, even small nits do stand out.

For its ability to do all that it claims to do, and do so while looking like a million bucks we feel very comfortable in awarding the Lamptron FC5 our highest accolade: the DAMN GOOD award.


Pro:
- Easily handle 30 watts off a channel
- Rubycon capacitors
- Robust construction
- Top notch fit and finish
- Ability to change LCD colour
- Ability to output temperature in Celsius or Fahrenheit
- Ability to read RPMs
- Ability to read voltage

Cons:
- Price
- Temperature readings only as good as the probes used
- Narrow viewing angle
- Can only display voltage or temperature, not both

 
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