Anyone who has been following what NZXT has been delivering to the aftermarket crowd, would have seen the development of a few bay devices. I wasn't privy to any bay fan controllers, but I did use the Sentry LXE and I loved it. What I have seen are things like the Bunker, a handy little USB device, and Sentry Mesh, a 30W fan controller. Using that same frame and keeping in the realm of fan controllers, NZXT is offering us something both different looking as well as having enough power to shock an elephants heart back into action!
Looking back at the last fan controller I saw from NZXT, the Mesh, this unit as I mentioned used the same plastic tray, but much different electronics as well as a completely different front panel. The Mesh had of course a mesh exterior plate with slider switches across the front, five of them in fact. The Mesh delivers up to 30W of power across all five of the channels, and in this new release is something that gets completely reworked. There is also a surprise on the front, a special coating over the plastic, but I will save that little bit until we get to see it after the unboxing.
The fan controller we are about to have a look at today is the NZXT Sentry Mix. All I can tell you is that this is the most powerful fan controller I have ever had in my hands. I haven't covered many of the key features as this review is going to be pretty short and sweet as it is, and I want to reveal these things as I can show them off. At this point I suggest you settle in and be ready to wrap your mind around a full set of features and a power rating that will just make you wonder what you can try to test with it!
Specifications, Availability and Pricing
At this point I am going to have to let the cat out of the bag as we discuss the new Sentry Mix. On the front of the 5.25" bay device you will see six gunmetal grey sliders on a matte black rubber finish. This surface is much like the SofTouch that BitFenix cases have. To the left of the six sliders for controlling the fans you will find an inset area with the NZXT name in it, and to its left, a black plastic button for changing the LED colors on the front while it operates. This controller will function with red, light blue (almost white), blue, a pinkish purple, and green. With that in mind, this controller can add a splash of color and match almost any systems color scheme.
To mount this device and use it, things could get much easier. You simply slide in the device and with four supplied screws you mount it in the case. After that, you need to power the unit by plugging in the pair of 4-pin Molex connectors. These connections are only wires for 12V, 5V and Ground wires. At this point it is just a matter of finding up to six fans you want to control, with an amazing 50W per channel rating. That's right, theoretically you have 300W worth of fan power across all channels. Now, I don't think this unit can draw that sort of power, but I'm confident it is more than capable to power any set of fans you choose to connect. One limitation to this unit is that all of the six fan connections are 3-pin only. Without cutting away some of the plastic, 4-pin fans are out of the picture for use.
As I usually do, I just ventured over to Google shopping to look up the Sentry Mix. I am sorry to say that as I write this there is no stock showing, anywhere! On top of that, even if you were to settle for the Mesh, it seems stock is limited there too. With the fresh release of the Sentry Mix, I will give them some leeway for the final score, but I honestly would have thought I could see these ready to show you where to get your own, because you are going to want one. I do know that the MSRP is set at $39.99 and for that price, I think it is very fair for the features and huge amount of power at your fingertips.
Packaging & Instructions
The front of the Sentry Mix packaging is straight forward and very matter of fact. You get a clear image of the face of the unit and 3 icons denoting the important features; six channels, 50W per channel and five changeable LED color options.
The reverse of the packaging shows three images. The first is a closer look at the wiring connectivity behind the controller, a look at the Mix installed, and a much closer look at the sliders. The bottom half of the packaging contains the features list, a statement about the Sentry Mix and the specifications to the right.
As I unfolded this one piece of paper I found that this side of the instructions shows everything you need to verify at the top. This covers the parts as in wiring, power leads, screws and how and where to install it into our case. On the bottom left it says in very tiny print that this controller will run from 40% of 12V to 100% of that same 12V as you adjust the slider from the bottom to the top.
If you already know where a fan controller that comes as a 5.25" device needs to be installed, and you have all the parts, this is the part of the instructions that you really need. As you can see, it shows the Molex plugs go to the power supply, and the 3-pin leads are for the fans. It doesn't get any simpler than this!
The NZXT Sentry Mix Fan Controller
Out of the box, and after I removed it from a pink plastic bag, I found the Sentry Mix to be a very attractive addition to a case. The silver or gunmetal grey sliders pop as they are backed with a flat black rubber coating. To the left is the button to change the LED colors, and barely visible are the numbers one through six under each slider that will illuminate later.
Even though the bulk of the Sentry Mix is made of black ABS plastic, NZXT realizes threads don't last too long is just the plastic is threaded. Here as with the other devices like this from NZXT, they use brass inserts for the threads, so you can reuse and reinstall this unit as much as you need to.
As shipped, the wiring is all bundled inside of the tray for transit, and also to fit in the very slim packaging. Let me dismantle this controller a bit so we can get a much better look at what is going on in here.
Removing the twist tie holding all the wiring, I am pleased to see the same wire tie down that has worked well for their other devices. The way this works is that the wires are held down with the larger "arm" of plastic, and then there is a plastic loop that the zip strip is tied to, to make sure you don't pull on the PCB of the controller if you need to stretch a fan lead as you install it.
I removed all of the wires, four little screws and was able to get a really good look at the PCB that has the task of delivering 50W per channel. Something I really like is that the PCB is clearly labeled for the fan leads and which controller is which, so if you do disconnect all the wires as I did, you can easily just match up the numbers.
This is what I meant when I mentioned you just match up the numbers. Each of the 3-pin fan leads is labeled one through six to make it much easier to keep track of which is which once things are installed and you are plugging in those fans. On the left us a connection that gets power supplied through a pair of 4-pin Molex connections and terminates into one 3-pin connection that plugs into the PCB.
Just to show the last little bit that I sort of passed over until now. Shipped with the unit is a set of four screws to mount the Sentry Mix securely into your chassis.
Testing and the Finished Product
To test the Sentry Mix, I took six random fans I had sitting around and built a mini wall of fans. There is a Trio of Noctua Fans, a Xigmatek, an Apolish Fan and a SilenX fan. I just tied things up to make it look nice in the images, but ran this controller though its paces for a few hours worth of workload.
With the digital multi-meter attached, I was able to get 11.35V maximum out of any of the channels with the sliders maxed out. With the sliders in the lowest position, the Mix delivered 4.66V of power.
Of course, you still have color options once the Mix has power. Let's start with green...
...a purple-ish pink with a mix of white and orange...
...and the last of the five color choices is this lighter blue, which when viewed from different angles, appears to be almost white.
Any way you look at it, the Sentry Mix is going to make a slick looking addition to any chassis. The voltages that I measured don't really surprise me any, I already know when "trimming" voltages there is a bit of loss to be expected as the voltage runs through all of the circuitry. On the high end, LED fans were bright as can be and running with the 11.35V it was supplying. The low end of this may leave a lot of fans not spinning at all. It is something to consider, but when I first powered the controller, some of the fans would not spin. Most fans need at least six to seven volts to operate, but as long as you know where the bottom end is, you can trim the sliders accordingly, so you don't end up with a passive cooling solution by mistake.
The unit is very sturdy, inside of the case or on the table. There isn't anything I didn't like about the Mix. The sliders are easy to use and they have a solid feel and don't "wobble" as you slide them. I like the rubber coating, as you are going to be using your fingers on this device, the rubber allows you to simply wash it with a damp cloth and forget about it. As long as you don't have oily skin, or your hand doesn't go right from the Doritos to the fan controller, the rubber finish keeps finger prints at bay as well. The option to change the LED colors behind the numbers of the fan channels is very slick. Now you aren't stuck with only blue if you have an all red and black build, or any of the five optional colors really.
It is really a shame that these aren't all over shelves already, as I would love to be able to tell you to run out and get your own. Even with this minor setback, I think NZXT has built a product that speaks for itself. While grossly overpowered by my systems needs, I wouldn't feel bad at all about using this for full control of fans in a water loop. With 50W per channel, you are going to be able to daisy chain quite a few fans before you break out of the power limitations of the Sentry Mix.
So as of right now, I advise you this much; if you have a need for a fan controller that not only looks good, but has the option to customize it to any popular color scheme today, keep the MSRP of $39.99 ready as the NZXT Sentry Mix is going to start to fill shelves soon, and I see this unit drawing quite the demand, as it is everything one would need in fan controlling these days!