Lamptron FC-2 and FC-3 Fan Controller Review

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What’s in a fan controller? If you’re Lamptron, a large chunk of your business! Lamptron “…develops and markets the next generation of high performance computer peripherals…” Their products have been around for a little while now and no doubt most of you have seen at least one of their controllers floating around. Needless to say, they definitely look the part.

Previously, Earthdog completed a review on their top-of-the-line FC-5 Fan Controller. We’re now being graced with the middle children of the Lamptron family – their FC-2 and FC-3.

Packaging & Accessories

The FC-2 and FC-3 both come packaged like their big brother. A sturdy cardboard box with a window to view its contents holds the controller, which is encased in a thick layer of protective foam. There are photo examples of the products on different sides of the boxes as well as specifications.

FC-2 Package

Box Front

FC-2 Box Front

Box Opened

FC-2 Box Opened

FC-2 Features

FC-2 Features

FC-2 Specifications

FC-2 Specifications

FC-3 Package

FC-3 Box Front

FC-3 Box Front

FC-3 Box Open

FC-3 Box Open

FC-3 Features

FC-3 Features

FC-3 Specifications

FC-3 Specifications

Both controllers come with fan extension wires for all of the channels (six for the FC-2 and four for the FC-3) as well as power cables and screws. The extensions are all roughly identical and measure about 20.5″ each.

You’ll notice the FC-2’s power cable isn’t pictured. Due to its extra two channels and higher wattage rating per channel, Lamptron wisely increased the gauge of the input and it comes pre-attached to the controller.

FC-2 Accessories

FC-2 Accessories

FC-3 Accessories

FC-3 Accessories

FC-2 Details & Performance

The FC-2’s specifications and features are quite impressive for a fan controller. Specifications from Lamptron:

Specifications:

  • Dimensions: 5.25″ Bay
  • Max Power: Up to 45W per channel
  • Colors Available: Black Anodized Aluminum, Plain Aluminum Finish
  • DC Input: 12V(Standard 4 Pin Molex Connector)
  • LED Indicator: 12 Blue LEDs 5.0V
  • Fan Connectors: 6
  • Fan RPM Knobs: 6

Features:

  • CNC Milled from blocks of 3/4″ Thick Solid Aluminum
  • Normal Output 45W Each Channel
  • Six 3-pin Fan Connections on Backside
  • LED Brightness is Controlled by RPM Knob

You can tell just by feeling its heft that this is a beefcake of a fan controller. Its heft is partly attributed to the CNC milled face plate that gives it quite a stunning dark, ominous appearance.

FC-2 Front

FC-2 Front

FC-2 Front - 2

FC-2 Front - 2

Let’s talk wattage for a moment. There are several fan controllers out that are a mere 7W/channel (models from Zalman & Scythe come to mind). The largest among competitors I’ve seen are 30W/channel (the Sunbeam Rheobus Extreme for one). The FC-2’s six channels are rated at an astounding 45W/channel! If you loaded that all up, you’re looking at an insane 270W just for fans, so it’s no wonder they beefed up the power input wires.

Below you will see two different controller PCBs. Lamptron’s first iteration of both the FC-2 and FC-3 had a peculiar quirk – with higher amperage fans, Panaflo in particular, the fan would give off an abhorrent whine when taken below 10.10V. Fans of this type run extremely fast and can be crazy loud if not under-volted significantly. You can see the conundrum – one of the strongest fan controllers on the market couldn’t be used to run high wattage fans.

Thankfully, part of Lamptron’s “About Us” page contains this bullet point: “Providing our global partners with a level of service that is consistent with our premium product range.” They have lived up to their stated goal and completely re-engineered both the FC-2 and FC-3 controllers. The whine is now a thing of the past.

FC-2 Old PCB

FC-2 Old PCB

FC-2 New PCB

FC-2 New PCB

While still a digital PWM design, as you can see the PCB looks like it has been simplified considerably. They took the original, fixed it and simplified it – all while retaining the same specs. Lamptron chose the PWM design to avoid the waste heat given out in a typical resistor-based design. (When a resistor is used, it lets only the set amount of voltage through while dumping the remaining input power as heat.)

Here’s what it looks like all lit up:

Powered Up

Powered Up

Low Power to High Power

Off to Full Power

Of course, what’s a prototype without a hiccup? It appears one of the six knobs didn’t want to stay married with the part that mounts on the potentiometer (pot).

Estranged Knob Cover

Estranged Knob Cover

I contacted Lamptron, they are aware of and have already addressed this gluing issue. This problem should never see the light of day in final production.

Now let’s have a look at performance. Testing was done with quite a few fans and a multimeter.

Testing the Controller

Testing the Controller

To see how the controls worked, I picked several arbitrary voltage settings and tested to see where the dial pointed, noting it as a time (for instance 12:00 is straight up, 3:00 is 1/4 turn to the right, etc). Here’s how it turned out as measured with a single, .30A fan attached:

Channel: 1 2 3 4 5 6
@10V 3:00 3:30 3:15 4:00 3:30 3:00
@8V 3:30 2:30 2:30 3:00 2:00 2:00
@6V 1:00 1:00 1:00 1:30 1:00 1:00
@3V 11:00 11:00 11:00 11:00 10:30 10:30

Some slight variation, but they’re generally in the same ballpark. Most fans won’t run much shy of 5-6V, so you won’t be going past the noon point very much unless you plan on turning the fan off.

Speaking of turning the fan off, both controllers showed a peculiarity with a little bit of bleed through when the channels are turned off. Every channel puts out 1.41V (1.44V on the FC-3) all the time with no fans connected and 0.76V (same on the FC-3) with a fan connected. Lamptron says it shouldn’t cause any harm to your fans and the reason there is any bleed through is due to the charged capacitors (the round things next to where the fan plugs in).

Load testing on the FC-2 was completed with four Delta .8A fans and one Thermaltake .3A fan combined with 2-way splitters totaling 42W. Input voltage was 11.97V from a spare power supply. Under load, the voltage outputs with a 42W load were:

Channel: 1 2 3 4 5 6
Voltage when pushing 42W

(11.97V input)

11.40 11.39 11.37 11.36 11.35 11.35

When run as close to the rated 45W as I could get it, a mere 5% loss isn’t bad at all. Looks like the FC-2 definitely lives up to its specifications!

FC-3 Details and Performance

The FC-3 is to looks what the FC-2 is to brute force. Specifications from Lamptron:

Specifications:

  • Dimensions: 5.25″ Bay
  • Max Power: Up to 30W per Channel
  • Colors Available: Black Anodized Aluminum, Plain Aluminum Finish

Features:

  • CNC Milled from blocks of 3/4″ Thick Solid Aluminum
  • Normal Output 30W Each Channel
  • Four 3-pin Fan Connections on Backside
  • LED Brightness is Controlled by RPM Knob

So, it’s not as beefy as the FC-2, but what it lacks in power it makes up for in style. Though like the FC-2, it’s also a hefty piece of hardware.

FC-3 Front

FC-3 Front

FC-3 Front Lit Up

FC-3 Front Powered On

Looks are very subjective. Lamptron took a bold leap with this controller and some people may or may not like this design. I am most definitely a fan and think it looks great!

As said above, this one received the same treatment as the FC-2.

FC-3 Old PCB

FC-3 Old PCB

FC-3 new PCB

FC-3 new PCB

Here are a couple more photos with this one lit up in the dark:

FC-3 Lit Up

FC-3 Lit Up

FC-3 Lit Up Angle

FC-3 Lit Up Angle

Did I mention these were prototypes? While a bit more serious than the FC-2 problem above, this is still to be expected in pre-production units. Lamptron had sent the silver version of the new FC-3, so I wanted to swap out the face plates. This turned out to be one of my less than stellar ideas!

Ouch!

Ouch!

Oops. Looks like the pot let go of its post. Lamptron assures us this was also a known and already fixed issue, so you don’t have to worry about it coming in the production runs. Still though, be careful if you want to pull the knobs off (for instance, modders occasionally replace LEDs with a different color). There wasn’t a lot of force applied here.

Neither of these will make the Cons list because they’re just pre-production mishaps and we’re assured they’ll remain as such.

This iteration has 30W per channel instead of 45W, but even 30W is plenty to power multiple strong fans, which helps make up for the loss of two channels. Testing on this unit was the same as on the FC-2.

FC-3 Testing

FC-3 Testing

Here are the results:

Channel: 1 2 3 4
10V 3:00 3:15 3:15 3:00
8V 2:00 2:30 2:30 2:00
6V 1:00 1:00 1:30 1:00
3V 11:00 11:00 11:30 11:00

Small variations here too, but nothing remarkable. This one won’t spend much time below the noon position either.

Full load testing used three of the .80A Delta fans and the .30A Thermaltake fan combined for 32.4W, slightly exceeding the rating.

Channel: 1 2 3 4
Voltage when pushing 32.4W

(11.97V input)

11.56 11.54 11.53 11.51

The FC-3 comes in even better than the FC-2 with a maximum loss of 4%. Not bad at all, especially being run harder than it was designed for!

Conclusion

Both of these controllers will serve the needs of an entire swath of the overclocking community. From the custom modder wanting a specific look to go with their case, to the crazy bencher with an insane number of ridiculously loud fans. Now that they have the new versions, you can use them as they are intended without any complications.

Pros

  • Strong (FC-3) to very strong (FC-2) wattage ratings.
  • Very little loss when pushing max wattage.
  • No more fan whine!
  • PWM control design, reducing heat compared to a resistive design.
  • Understated,¬†elegant¬†looks (FC-2) to stunning, rugged looks (FC-3), they both look great!
  • Available in silver and black aluminum.

Cons

  • Slight voltage seepage when channels are powered down (most users won’t turn fans completely off anyway).

I would not hesitate to recommend these fan controllers to anyone in the market for one. As long as their looks match what you want to do, you can’t go wrong with (indeed, it’s very hard to beat) the performance they offer. They are definitely Overclockers Approved!

The FC-2 ($34.99) and FC-3 ($32.99) are both available from CrazyPC.

Jeremy Vaughan (hokiealumnus)

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Discussion
  1. visbits
    FC3 is nice but man I wouldn't mind the FC5V2. http://lamptron.com/products/view/Fan_Controller_FC5V2

    On a side note I did their website :)


    Very nice work!
    FC3 is nice but man I wouldn't mind the FC5V2. http://lamptron.com/products/view/Fan_Controller_FC5V2

    On a side note I did their website :)
    so in otherwords no.

    the risks are too high otherwise you guys wouldn't advise against it.

    thanks.

    it still looks good so maybe i'll just use the other delta ffb models instead.
    m0r7if3r
    I wouldn't be surprised if it could, but if it doesn't it would be your fault for overloading the controller.


    What he said. It would probably handle it, but it IS above the rating, so don't blame Lamptron if you kill it. :)
    There was a time, not very long ago, when a fan controller was about the only way an enthusiast could quiet that bank of 80mm fans down to a noise level somewhat less than that of a jet taking off. The 80mm fan is fairly quiet when run at low speed, but really doesn't move that much air. At full speed it can easily be heard across a room, and three or four of them can be heard across a house.