Zalman ZM-MFC3 Fan Controller

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Product: Zalman ZM-MFC3 Fan Controller
Provided By: Zalman USA
Price: Find Lowest Price Online

 

Introduction:

Zalman is not a new company when it comes to making cooling products.  One of the first after-market coolers I heard of back when the AMD Thunderbird 1.2GHz processor was fast - was in fact Zalman.  Back then, they opted for silence rather than performance and if you wanted a better performing heatsink, you needed to go with something from Thermaltake or maybe Cooler Master.  Times have changed and the company has branched out into different areas including fan controllers, cases and power supplies to name a few.  Today we are looking at the ZM-MFC3 fan controller - their fourth 5.25" bay fan controller.

The Zalman ZM-MFC2 cooler that we helped premier back in January of 2007 was their first real break from standard fan controllers, and today the ZM-MFC3 improved upon that design and takes it to the next level of sophistication.

 

First Impression:

Zalman has taken a sleeker, more toned-down approach to the box this time around and the entire color scheme of the device is much more professional and much less glossy.  This fan controller can handle a total of four fans - three of which are standard 3-pin fans in addition to the one four-pin PWM fan as is stated clearly on the box.

 Box Front
Box Front
Box Back
Box Back

 

The ZM-MFC3 not only allows fan controlling features, it also offers temperature monitoring and real-time power usage just as does the ZM-MFC2 predecessor.  It controls up to four fans - three standard 3-pin fans and one 4-pin PWM fan.  The fan controller can spin fans anywhere from 201 rpm to 6000 rpm.  Anything above and below that range will show "Lo" or "Hi" on the display.  The only thing wrong with this claim is that many fans do not spin much over 3000rpm, and the fan controller cannot run them as fast as it claims.  Keep in mind that if you're fan is not capable of these extreme speeds, the ZM-MFC3 won't be able to overclock your fans as its output voltage runs from +4v to +11v.  In fact, you'll lose a bit of performance as you'll lose an entire volt through the controller.

 

In The Box:

The Zalman ZM-MFC3 comes in a decent sized box due to all the goodies that you get with this handy little device.  Inside you've got the fan controller unit itself as well as the box of accessories which include fan cables, temperature probes, screws, tape, a USB bracket as well as the load-sensing module.

 In The Box
In The Box
Bundle
Bundle

 

The bundle of goodies included with the ZM-MFC3 is pretty much identical to the ZM-MFC2.  The difference is that the ZM-MFC3 can monitor wattage up to 1000W.

 

The ZM-MFC3 Tour:

The front of this unit is quite simple and easy to work with, yet it has a lot of information available at a glance.  There is only a single button - the main knob presses for a button in order to enter the "set" mode.  The display is very clean and simple and isn't cluttered up with a bunch of cheesy graphics and other logos that take away from the simple display.

Front Panel

Some companies seem ashamed of their products, but Zalman seems proud to display their name on pretty much every product they release.  The ZM-MFC3 is no different, but at least the name and the model are done tastefully and in a nice subtle print on the display.  This adds to the professional appearance of the display.


The back of the ZM-MFC3 is a little more complicated than the front and pretty much identical to the ZM-MFC2.  The back houses all of the connections for the four fans, the thermal probes, the Watt Meter and the Molex Power connector.  The temperature probes are all independent and this can make hooking them up a little tedious if the case is crowded.

 Back of MFC3
Back of MFC3

 

Before we get into the installation and testing, we'll take a quick look at the features and specifications.


Features & Specs

 

On the next page we'll take a look at the device in use and see if it is worth the price of admission.

 

General Use:

The ZM-MFC3 installs quickly and easily into most cases and even works in tool-less cases like the GS1000 Plus without any issues.  In some cases that use rails, installation may be a bit trickier, but in traditional cases that use screws to mount the 5.25" bay devices, it will work very well.

Setting up and controlling the fans is super easy with the MFC3.  To set up fan one, you simply press the knob for a couple of seconds and Fan 1 begins to flash.  You can dial up the knob until you reach the desired RPM.  At this point, you can press the knob again to continue to the next fan or simply leave it a few seconds and it will return to normal operation.  

Fan Speeds
Fan Speeds

 

The only complaint that I have with fan control is that the controller has you set up the fan speed by RPM.  While this sounds like a good idea, the execution does have a few limitations.  First, there is no way for the controller to know how fast the fan can spin.  You can set a fan to run at 6000rpm and it will only reach 1800rpm (as is the case with many large 120mm fans).  The performance of the fan does not suffer in any way, and it will reach close to its maximum speed easily enough, but it seems a bit odd to have the controller set to 4200rpm more than the fan can actually spin.  There are a couple possible ways to solve this.  First, don't set the fan by rpm.  Instead set it by voltage.  Second, if you are setting the fan by rpm, adjust the fan rpm in real time when you are in the set mode, and display the fan's actual speed along with the speed you are dialing in.  As I mentioned before, these aren't major issues, just a couple of things that might help polish off this product.  These are the same limitations that we noticed with the ZM-MFC2 and they opted for the same idea with the MFC3.

Along with fan control, the ZM-MFC3 offers temperature monitoring and power usage monitoring.  Both of these features appear to work very well, and the temperature probes appear to be quite accurate.  The power consumption is not super accurate but it is within 5% to 8% measurable difference between the ZM-MFC3 and the Kill-A-Watt we use for load testing.  It's not perfect, but it is close enough for most people.

 

Conclusion:

The Zalman ZM-MFC3 Multi-Fan controller is a nice redesign of the original ZM-MFC2 and brings with it no real new features.  It does provide a much better viewing angle though, and a nice level of sophistication that matches very nicely with the GS1000 Plus case.  The fan controller is quite simple to use, but the control by RPM is not very precise - especially when you exceed the maximum RPM of your connected fans.  The temperature probes and watt meter seems to be very accurate however and this is a nice addition that makes the Zalman fan controller unique.  Overall, it's a great fan controller, and while it is a bit expensive, it looks great and gives you power monitoring which other fan controllers simply lack. 

 

Pros:

  • Super simple to setup and control
  • Sleek
  • Fan, Temperature & Power information.
  • Great viewing angle.

Cons:

  • Control by RPM is not accurate for fans that cannot reach high RPMs.
  • A bit pricey when compared with regular fan controllers.

 

BCCRating

Silver

Overall, the ZM-MFC3 is a great fan controller, but the competition has heated up and this unit lacks solid automatic temperature control and the RPM setting is not fool-proof.  It has a nice wide viewing angle and is worth buying though.  I do feel that there may be less expensive alternatives.

I'd like to thank Zalman for sending the ZM-MFC3 our way for a review.  If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to post them in the forum at the "Comments" link below.