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Zalman ZM-MFC1 fan controller


Introduction

There are two reasons to buy a fan controller: increase the cooling and decrease the noise of the fans.

My configuration:
With this configuration, from August to May (late summer to spring) the temperatures inside my pc varied between these levels, depending on ambient temperatures:
The cpu fan speed is changed automatically from a minimum of 40% (1160-1170 rpm) to 100% (3300 rpm) by SpeedFan. Lower than 40% the fan stops revving.

Such temperatures were acceptable, but in hot days of May, when ambient temperature raised to 25-26C, with cpu at 50% (encoding a avi) both core and mobo temperatures reached 47C, and setting the back fan at high speed was not very helpful.

About the noise coming from my pc, the cpu fan is unaudible when revving at 40% (since its noise is covered by the front fan) but at 100% sometimes it's quite annoying, especially if I have a headache. But what is most annoying is the continuous accelerating and decelerating of the cpu fan speed.

So, I decided to do something to better cool and silence my pc, for instance buying a bigger and slower and quieter cpu fan or a better heatsink; but I would also like to choose at the moment if I want more cooling or more silence: in summer, when I use my pc remotely thanks to the wireless router (my room is the hottest of the house), I would increase the speed of the fans, no matter the noise (I'm not there!), while in winter or when I am in front of my pc I would rev them to be as quiet as possible. A fan controller would just allow me to do that.

I've read many reviews about fan controllers and I chose the Zalman ZM-MFC1 because its value for the price is good: for less than 30 Euro it offers 4 knobs and 2 voltage switches, making it possible to control 6 fans. It has no sensors and no alarms and the fans cannot be sped up or down automatically, but it's not what I'm looking for: I just want to speed up the fans before going out of my room and speed them down when I come back in. Furthermore, I wouldn't want to end up with the same accelerating and decelerating noises I hear now (automatic fan speed variation), or worse some annoying beeps (temperature alarms) that are supposed to capture my attention like if my pc was a crying baby.
There were also some products that included memory card readers or usb, audio and SATA port replicators, interesting stuff that unfortunately would take the place of the knobs and switches; this way, either the number of controllable fans is reduced (i.e. 2 switches for 2 fans) or controlling the fans requires to press some buttons multiple times instead of simply turning a knob or switching a switch (i.e. two buttons and a small panel to first select the fan, then set speed or temperature thresholds for the selected fan).

Pictures

zm-mfc1_package_front.jpg
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zm-mfc1_package_content.jpg
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zm-mfc1_front.jpg
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zm-mfc1_back.jpg
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zm-mfc1_side.jpg
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zm-mfc1_instructions.jpg
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zm-mfc1_in_antec_slk3000b.jpg
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zm-mfc1_in_antec_slk3000b_2.jpg
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zm-mfc1_slk3000b_door.jpg
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Installation

Installation can be either simple or complicated depending on the case into which it would be placed. I have a Antec SLK3000B and I used the brackets for mounting drives in the 5"25 bays: I screwed two brackets on the fan controller side wings (see 5th picture) and inserted the brackets in the case. With this solution the ZM-MFC1 is not very firm because the bracket is supposed to be screwed in two points long its length, while the fan controller side wing is short; but once the case front door is mounted the ZM-MFC1 is locked and doesn't move. When I placed the ZM-MFC1 in the upper 5"25 slot, the case door wasn't closing completely (see 9th picture) because the internal side of the door was touching the right voltage switch; I placed it in the bottom 5"25 slot and the door closed perfectly without obstructions.
In the package there are four cables: two have blue connectors and connect directly the fan to the knob, while the other two have two connectors, the white one for the knob and the black one for the motherboard. To use the two voltage switches the cables must be cut and the two internal wires must be connected to the terminal and screwed in.

Performance

My first impression with the Zalman ZM-MFC1 was not as good as I imagined reading online reviews: as soon as I connected the front fan to the Zalman through one of the included cables and I tried turning the knob to speed up and down the fan, I noticed that the highest speed is slower than when the fan is connected directly to the motherboard. I checked later that my impression was right: connecting the fan to any knobs, with any of the cables (with blue or white connector) to any of the blue or white connectors on the fan controller, the maximum speed is slightly less than connecting the fan directly to the motherboard. According to another review this small difference is good because other fan controllers do worse.
Moreover, I was expecting a larger range of speeds between the knobs minimum and maximum, but after some use I realized that the speed range is wide enough and that there is no need of middle regulations: either I turn the knobs to the maximum because I need more cooling, or I turn them to the minimum because I need more silence. The turn angle of the knobs is 225 and there are no marks to indicate the min and max; here the blue lights come to help because they flash slower or faster according to the fans speed; some reviewers told they're annoying, I can't tell, my case has a door.

The two switches allow to set voltage for two fans, selecting between off, 5v and 12v; the light turns blue when 5v is selected and red when 12v is selected. Unlike the knobs, when the voltage is set to 12v the fan speed is the same as when it's connected to the motherboard, but this way the cable must be cut.
With the cutted wires connected to the terminal I experienced strange sudden power cuts on the computer when there were far thunders; I think the electricity in the air could make contact with the naked wires and trigger some hardware protection, so I covered the terminal and the cable with insulation tape. I don't know yet if it helps because there have been no thunderstorms since then.

When a cable with the white connector is connected to both the ZM-MFC1 and the motherboard, the speed is set by the ZM-MFC1 and is known by the motherboard, so Speedfan can display it. I tried to raise or lower the speed through Speedfan but nothing happens.

Conclusion

The Zalman ZM-MFC1 does exactly what it tells and what I need: it allows to raise or lower the speed of 6 fans. The maximum speed is reduced a bit when using the knobs, but it's acceptable. I don't like that I have to cut the cables to use the switches, but maybe that was unavoidable to guarantee maximum voltage without power reductions.
I've seen the new model, the ZM-MFC2, and I'm still happy to have purchased the ZM-MFC1 (for about half the price): the ZM-MFC2 has some more features, like temperature sensors, alarms, and it displays power consumption, but it has one knob and one button to control 4 fans, the button to select the fan and the knob to set its speed; so, to increase or decrease all 4 fans on the ZM-MFC2 I would have to press, turn, press, turn, press, turn, press, turn; with the ZM-MFC1 I turn, turn, turn, turn.



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Posted by: z24 | Mon, Oct 29 2007 | Category: /hardware | Permanent link | home
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