Zalman ZM-MFC2 Fan Controller

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Product: Zalman ZM-MFC2 Fan Controller
Provided By:
Zalman USA
Price: $TBA (Product Is Not Released)

Introduction:

Zalman has been making great cooling products for quite some time.  In times past, Zalman's focus was for quiet and noiseless coolers, but as computers generated more and more heat, and more aggresive cooling was required.  Zalman heat sinks now include fans, and although they are still gear toward quiet cooling, they do make some noise.  In order to minimize noise and customize performance, the use of a fan controller is required.  Many of Zalman's heat sinks for both CPU applications and GPU applications include a little fan controller - the FanMate2.  The FanMate2 controller serves the purpose of controlling the speed of the fan, but adds a bunch of wire clutter to the case and bulk to the outside of the case as the controller is to be mounted externally.  In truth, a single FanMate2 controller works alright, but if you are running multiple Zalman coolers, the FanMate2 cluster on the back of a case is quite annoying.

In one of our test setups we had used a Zalman cooler on the CPU and two other coolers on our SLI setup.  This caused a bunch of clutter and a better solution had to be found.  Years ago, Zalman released the ZM-MFC1 fan controller.  This controller supported six fans, but didn't display any information as to what you were controlling.  At CES in Las Vegas, Zalman introduced their next generation of fan controller - the ZM-MFC2.  At this point, no information is available about this product on the web, so this review is as fresh as you'll find anywhere.

Packaging:

At this point we believe that the packaging we received will be the final retail packaging.  It's not as flashy as some other products from Zalman, but it does get the job done and lets the consumer know what they are getting.

 ZM-MFC2 - Box Front
 ZM-MFC2 - Box Front

 ZM-MFC2 - Box Back
 ZM-MFC2 - Box Back

The ZM-MFC2 not only allows fan controlling features, it also offers temperature monitoring and real-time power usage.  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 60rpm to 5940rpm according to the packaging.  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.  In reality it can monitor fans up to 5940rpm, not control them.  12v is wide open and if you're fan is rated at 1600rpm at 12v, you're not going to get any more out of it.

In The Box:

The ZM-MFC2 controller comes in a two-part package.  The wide open part of the package contains the fan controller itself, and the white box houses the accessories for powering the fans, monitoring temperatures, and monitoring power usage.

 Packaged Up
 Packaged Up

 Bundled Goodies
 Bundled Goodies

 

The bundle of goodies includes screws, four thin temperature probes, adhesive tape for securing the temperature probes, extension wires for the fans, a back USB I/O bracket with a wire the connects to the back of the fan controller for watt usage monitoring, and a black pass-through power adapter that measures the system watt usage.  All of this is required for full functionality of the fan controller.


First Look:

The front of the Zalman ZM-MFC2 is very simple and easy to work with.  There is only a single "mode" button and the fan control knob which can also be pressed as another button.  The display is clean and doesn't look cluttered up with graphics and other things that take away from the display.

ZM-MFC2 - Front
ZM-MFC2 - Front

Of course, Zalman makes sure that you know who makes this fan controller by including their name on the top-left corner of the unit as well as the model number on the bottom left.  This is very well done and the graphics aren't oversized and ugly.

The back of the ZM-MFC2 is a little more complicated than the front.  The back houses all of the connections for the four fans, the thermal probes, the Watt Meter and the Molex Power connector.  Thankfully the temperature probes are all hooked up to a long strip and color coded for ease of installation and dentifying which one is which.  This saves a lot of tedious connection issues that would occur if you installed this unit in the case prior to hooking everything up.


 

ZM-MFC2 - Rear 
ZM-MFC2 - Rear

The fans are clearly labeled, but the ordering puzzles me a bit.  In a system that uses a 4-pin PWM fan, I'd assume that this would be the CPU fan, and generally speaking, the CPU fan is Fan #1.  On the ZM-MFC2, the PWM fan is listed as Fan 4.  This really makes no difference, and because I will be using this controller in a system that doesn't use a PWM fan, it will likely remain vacant most of the time.

To the right of the fan headers are the thermal probe headers.  Following on right is the "CVS In" connector for the watt usage meter, and lastly the standard Molex power connector.

As I mentioned earlier, the thermal probes are very thin and are hooked up by plugging in a single long connector.  This makes the installation very simple, easy and fast.  If you don't need to use all four probes for your application, you can simply keep them wrapped up short.

 Temp Sensors - Closeup
Temp Sensors - Close-up

These sensors are thin enough to slip in almost anywhere and can even be installed in the tiny space between a GPU PCB and the heat sink.  In this space, it can be positioned next to the GPU core to gain an approximate temperature of this area.  Because the probes are so thin, they can easily be applied anywhere.

 

Installation & Testing:

This unit installs easily and secures to an empty 5.25" bay with a couple of screws.  If you have a case that uses drive rails instead of the old school screw in bays, you may find the install to be a little more trickier.  We dropped this controller into the FC-ZE1 case with no problems.  Once we hooked up the fans, power sensors, and temperature probes, we were ready to go.

ZM-MFC2 - In Action 
ZM-MFC2 - In Action

Setting up and controlling the fans is super easy with this unit.  To set up fan one, you simply press the small "mode" button on the bottom right and the Fan 1 begins to flash.  You can dial up the knob until you reach the desired RPM.  At this point you can press "mode" again to continue on  to the next fan, or leave it for a few seconds and it will return to normal mode.  When the Fan number is flashing in set mode, you can press the knob and it will disable the fan alarm for the appropriate fan.  By default, each fan is monitored and an alarm will sound if a fan quits turning, but you can disable this for any or all of the fans controlled by the ZM-MFC2.

In the image above, we have all fans running at individual speeds and all fans are monitored against failure.  We tested the fan speed alarm on each fan and it works very well.  A soft, but noticeable alarm sounds when a fan quits rotating.  The alarm is loud enough that you'll hear it for sure, but not so shrill that it will make you want to kill something.

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 5000rpm 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 it's maximum speed easily enough, but it seems a bit odd to have the controller set to 3200rpm 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.

ZM-MFC2 In Action 
ZM-MFC2 in Action

Along with fan control, the ZM-MFC2 offers temperature monitoring and Power consumption monitoring.  Both of these features appear to work very well, and the temperature probes appear to be quite accurate.  As far as the real-time power usage goes, I was a bit disappointed at first as I thought there was as much as 20W - 30W discrepancy between what the ZM-MFC2 displayed and what I had recorded for another review.  After I checked into things a bit more, I discovered that there is only about a 5% difference is the reading between the two systems.  5% isn't bang-on, but it's pretty close and offers a very good indication of how much power your system is drawing.

It was interesting to see how the temperatures and watt usage bobbed around when running idle, loading up some Protein Folding and then jumping into a few games.  The ZM-MFC2 is not only useful for displaying relevant information; it is also a great and easy way to adjust your fans on the fly.

Conclusion:

This fan controller is the answer for a long awaited addition to the Zalman product line.  Users have cried for a better way to control all of their Zalman fans without having to route multiple FanMate2 controllers out the back of the case.  The ZM-MFC2 works very well, is simple to use, offers great functionality, and real-time watt usage in a all-in-one solution that looks darn slick.  If you run a couple of fans in your rig, and want to clean things up and take back fan control, look for this controller to hit a store shelve near you very soon.  At this point Zalman expects to have these available by early March, and I don't see why they shouldn't be able to make this launch period.

Check below to see how it all breaks down.

Pros:

  • Simple controls.
  • Nice clean look.
  • Easy to install.
  • Fan, Temperature & Power information.

Cons:

  • Control by RPM is not accurate for fans that cannot reach high RPMs.
BCCHardware.com Rating
Quality:
9/10
Performance:
10/10
Software Pack:
n/a
Stability:
10/10 
Features:
10/10 
Value:
n/a 
Total Score 9.75
Top Pick

I'd like to extend a huge thanks to Zalman USA for letting us bring this unit home for a little one-on-one.  It was great to take a look at and see what is coming from Zalman in the near future.  If you have any questions or comments about this review, please make sure you drop them in the forum at the "Comments" link below.