Controlling fans in a PC is something every builder has run into at some point or another. Whether sticking with an all air cooling build or even going with custom water cooling, you always need a place to take all of the fan leads to for power anyways, so why not have finite control of them all and find your own preferences for noise levels versus the performance of the fans. This is where fan controllers step in to allow users to not only have control of all of the fans in the system, they can also make for an attractive addition to the front bezel of the chassis as they use up one of the 5.25" bays in your PC.
This is where BitFenix steps in to give not only buyers of some of the hottest case designs currently on the market a chance to control their fans, but rather anyone with a 5.25" bay to spare and the desire to control their fans. Taking the basic concept of a fan controller with its various channels and wattage delivering capabilities, BitFenix took it a step further to coordinate with their own
Spectre LED fans that they also offer.
At the most basic level, you can take this controller and not only drop the noise levels with a quick swipe of the levers, but when it is time to sleep or watch a movie, you can also shut off the LED lighting of the fans, making for a darker room at the push of a button.
Today we are looking at the Hydra Pro Fan and LED controller from BitFenix. I am a little bummed that I wasn't sent the fans that this controller is based solely for, but I do have a couple of LED fans with a 2-pin LED power cable that runs separately from the 3-pin or 4-pin fan power leads. Jumping ahead a bit and already seeing that the instructions show that this controller is meant for the Spectre fans and ONLY the Spectre fans, I will take my chances and see if this is able to power others as well without shorting out the controller or doing any damage to the fans.
Stick around and have a read about this new fan controller from BitFenix. I know BitFenix case users are going to find this a perfect addition, but I hope to see if this controller is in fact capable of handling any makers fans as long as the connections are easily made as well.
Specifications, Availability and Pricing
Installed, the Hydra Pro looks clean as the flat, black SofTouch surface covers the majority of the 5.25" bay in the front of your case. On the left side is a grey button about the size of a pencil eraser that is the On/Off Switch for the LEDs. The bulk of the unit is taken up by the five sliders that control the voltages to the fans. On the right, placed evenly with the LED power button, the Hydra Pro power LED top denotes that the unit has power and should be functioning properly. Even with the mix of gunmetal grey for the slider and buttons, this is an attractive and streamlined unit, so you won't accidentally change the fans speed or LEDs just by rubbing against the control panel as you can with knob tube controllers.
Behind the scenes, the face plate and buttons is supported with a steel frame that also holds the PCB with all of the power components on it. This PCB sits between two longer tabs of steel with holes in it for mounting the Hydra Pro into the bay. On the back of said PCB, you will find five 2-pin leads to power BitFenix Spectre LED fans and also five 3-pin fan connections to power any fans. There is also a 4-pin Molex pass-through plug that supplies the power to the Hydra so it can deliver up to 30W per channel across the sliders. Don't worry too much if this is a bit confusing to you as I will be showing these bits in close-ups and discussing it all again.
Looking around to locate where I can buy the Hydra Pro, I am finding only two locations currently and the pricing is pretty close between the two. While Xoxide has the better price of $32.95 before shipping, Newegg is only charging $34.99 and that is with shipping included. I have seen cheaper controllers and most of those have big knobs to work or just don't look as nice as the SofTouch front bezel on the Hydra Pro.
For a $35 investment, I think the Hydra Pro is well worth the asking price to be able to customize noise levels and with the push of a button, take your case from a concert light show right to no lights at all, well from the fan LEDs anyways.
The Hydra Pro comes in a box not too much larger than the fan controller itself. There is the use of shiny cardboard printed with an image of the Hydra Pro front and center.
Rotating the box to the back, the next panel gets a honeycomb mesh treatment and displays the Hydra Pro name and that this is a fan and LED controller and it ends with the BitFenix web address.
The back of the packaging offers the specifications chart followed by a note that specs may change without notice. On the right is the long winded BFA-HDR-KSPRO-RP model number and a note at the bottom that this product is made in China.
The last panel on the packaging covers features like the five channels, the 30W per channel, the SofTouch treatment and that this is designed for the Spectre LED fans. On the right there is an outline of what the Hydra Pro looks like from the front.
When you first open the box, you run into the hardware and paperwork as it is slid in over the controller which is packed in this box below it.
The controller and its accompanying wiring are all packed inside of the red plastic bag to keep scratches off the SofTouch finish. On each end is a shaped bit of dense foam to keep the Hydra Pro from sliding back and forth in the box during transit.
BitFenix Hydra Pro Fan and LED Controller
The front of the Hydra Pro has a sleek and mostly flat design all covered in the black SofTouch coating. Around each of the five controllers there is a raised section to keep you from accidentally hitting the sliders and the LED button is grey to stand out, but yet match enough not to be obtrusive.
Both sides of the Hydra Pro have this tab on it to allow you to install it into any 5.25" bay of a chassis and they supply the screws to do so in one of the three sets of holes.
The wiring connected to the back of the unit gives you 12 inches of the LED ribbon cable to power fan LEDs. The group below that is tied up is the five fan leads that stretch 28 inches and the Molex power lead that is 26 inches in length to give you the best chance at still having a wire managed system with this installed.
I went ahead and removed the cabling to allow for a better view of the power circuitry.
The left side has the five 3-pin fan headers across the top and all of the resistors and caps needed to deliver the power through the controller. Each circuit is labelled with the same numbers, but are denoted with A-E letters to show which resistor, cap or MOSFET goes to which channel.
The right side has the power plug at the top next to the single phase HK 19F power inverters. This can step voltage from three volts at the low end to 12 at the top end of the power delivery. The pins between the pair of yellow chips there are the five channels for the fan LED cables connectivity.
Accessories and Documentation
The folded up bit of paper we saw when we first opened the Hydra Pro is the connection guide for the controller. Here it shows the layout of the front with the button, sliders and power LED. The wiring diagram shows to connect the 3-pin leads to the fan, but the rest of the wiring moves over to the back of this paper.
The top of this side covers what should be included in the box and that is the fan controller, the instructions we are looking at now and the M3 screws to mount the Hydra Pro into a case. At the bottom they cover the 2-pin LED connections to the Spectre LED fans as well as showing to connect the 4-pin Molex plug to get power to the Hydra Pro.
In this little bag, found outside of the red plastic bag when you first open the box, is where you get the four M3 screws to go through the optical drive bay and into the tabs on the side of the Hydra Pro for solid and secure mounting.
In the end I did enjoy using the Hydra Pro fans and LED controller, even if I didn't have any Spectre LED fans on hand to test. I did happen to have a few fans from Xigmatek that use a separate power delivery for the LEDs. During my testing, the highest reading my multi-meter displayed was 11.91V with the sliders at the top. To lower the voltage, you slide them to the bottom and the voltage drops down to 4.63V as the minimum supplied. That being said, you may need to be careful at the lower end of the fan controls if not using Spectre fans, as they may not be spinning any longer with only 4.6V going to them. As for the LED power leads, I tried to get a voltage reading to show what it could power safely if you didn't have the Spectre fans, but like me, have ones from another maker. Things get strange here. With the button in the off position and the LEDs on the fans not on, but with the blades spinning, I got a reading of 9.5V going through the two wires. When the LED switch was turned on and the fans LEDs are now on and the fan spinning, my DMM registered a flat 0V. I can't explain the voltage readings, but I can say it does work.
I had turned this review in for editing with only looking at the first sample of the Hydra Fan controller and that one had some issues. During the image phase, before I even got very far, the channel three, or middle slider had fallen off and I had to reset it for the images. During testing I found that all of the switches were loose and would flick off with relative ease. So much so that I had to replace a few of the switches during testing and the middle slider is lost somewhere in my house currently, leaving me with a five channel controller with only four usable channels. Cameron my editor pointed out that we should give BitFenix a chance, maybe I got a bad sample, and so I agreed.
The second sample arrived and the day it arrived I was discussing the issue with the BitFenix staff and was shooting some ideas back and forth to try to get to the bottom of the issue, because the second shipment had loose sliders as well. The first thing I thought since the middle slider was the worst again I put a straight edge to the face of the controller and found it was really flat already. Just on a hunch, I took the PCB and the face of the controller in my hands and squeezed each switch to the PCB better. At this point I have had no issues with them loosening up, and I think simply reducing the height of the plastic spacer between the PCB and the face of the Hydra will make this issue go away. On the flip side, it should be that in transit both controllers were either slightly squished side to side pushing the sliders off or just the jiggles of transit are enough to lessen their grip. What I do know is that I needed to make sure I wasn't going to lose any more switches, even on the second unit. While being better than the first, the issue was still found on both and is something that BitFenix is currently looking into.
Since they are looking into this, and it is a fixable issue, even if it has to be addressed by the user, I can still see this controller selling well. There are tons of BitFenix fans out there using their cases and have long been waiting for a high wattage fan controller to attach anything they could desire to really. With 30W per channel there is the capability to really daisy-chain power leads so that you can control let's say four 5W fans on the radiator. If you have another radiator, you can add that to another channel. For those who use air cooling in their chassis, you can have full control of all the fans in the chassis and have an attractive solution to completely customize the air flow, While the Hydra was designed to work with the Spectre LED fans so that you can also control the lighting being on or off with the touch of a switch. I was able to run other fans, but since I wasn't able to get a real voltage rating, be warned, I have no idea what the power limits are of the LED controllers, I just got lucky.
In the end, as long as you make sure to properly reseat the sliders, the $35 investment it will take to own one, is not that bad of a deal at all.