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NZXT Sentry LX Review

NZXT Sentry LX Review The computer accessory market is full of weird and silly devices to fill up drive bays and USB ports. These days you can find everything from the generally useful (fan controllers and temperature monitors) to the downright silly and possibly dangerous (cup holder/cigarette lighter combo a la Thermaltake Recently NZXT came out with a product called the Sentry LX, a fan controller/temperature monitor which hopefully will fall into the former category.From a packaging point of view the Sentry LX looks quite promising. The box is simple, very attractive and gives a decent run down of the features right on the front cover.Moving around back we get a more wordy description of the Sentry LX’s feature set. Basically it takes up two 5.25” drive bays, sports a large color LCD display, and supports up to 5 fans and temperature sensors. Peeling the box open we can see that its contents are properly protected by Styrofoam and plastic wrapping.Removing the Styrofoam reveals the manual and the unit itselfThe manual does a good job of explaining the user interface, but is lacking somewhat in other areas. For example the unit (as you will see later) includes two extra temperature probes and what I think are little pieces of non-conductive tape (orange, no markings). Judging from the look of the tape I would be a little nervous using it in a high-temperature environment, such as near a CPU heatsink base. I have no clue what the extra sensors are for. First I thought “Hey! Extra sensors just in case one of the pre-installed ones fails!” A quick look at the back of the unit’s PCB revealed that the five included sensors share one massive block connector. So replacing one sensor without losing four more is out of the question. Then I thought “Hey! Maybe the Sentry supports 7 sensors but can only display data from 5 at one time!” Wishful thinking I’m afraid, the PCB lacks any additional connectors. Finally I thought “What the Sam heck are these extra sensors for?” So I popped a quick email off to my press contact, who put me in touch with Johnny Huo, the lead designer at NZXT. He prompted me to take another look at the connector “block”. Upon a very close inspection I noticed seams between the five sensor connectors. According to Johnny the five sensors are done up ribbon cable style for wire management, but can be peeled apart easily if you want them separated. So it turns out the extra sensors ARE for replacing faulty ones that may be pre-installed. I think I can speak for all enthusiasts out there when I say that spare parts are a true blessing, especially in this case as I imagine someone is going to melt a temperature sensor or two on their passively cooled 8800. Johnny also cleared up the issue with the tape, and it is for attaching sensors in areas where high-heat is not present. So if you want to attach a sensor to your 8800 go out and grab some thermal tape and use that instead (or just wedge the sensor between the heatsink fins, which works just as well).Moving forward we get a good look at the front of the unit, which is difficult to clearly photograph as parts of it are quite reflective.Looking at the left side we can see the six buttons that control the Sentry’s operation. The up and down arrows are used to change the value of a highlighted item. Set allows you to adjust date and time, plus you can use it turn the temperature alarm on or off. Mode switches between Auto and Manual modes. In Auto the temperature sensors are slaved individually to the fans, allowing you to place the temperature sensors and fans in pairs, so the unit can automatically adjust fan speed for minimal noise without causing some form of system meltdown. I found that this kept 120mm fans that top out at 1200 rpm (according to the fan specs and the Sentry itself) running at around 700 rpm at 23 c and around 800 rpm at 30 c, yielding a very reasonable noise/performance ratio. Another cool thing for all you passive cooling enthusiasts is that in manual mode you can shut the fans down COMPLETELY. If the temps climb too high (you’ll know before your computer resets now!) simply press mode again to kick the fans back into AUTO. Fan Select is used to scroll through the fans, letting you set their speeds individually or all in a group.Reset sets the unit back to factory settings (you may need to do this after you first install the unit)Some things to make note of are that the unit measures and adjusts RPM in increments of one hundred, you can adjust each probe’s alarm temperature between 30 c and 90 c, and the temperature polling time seems to be approximately one second.Even without the plastic film over the LCD the unit is still basically impossible to photograph properly from the front (with flash and macro no less)Moving around the back you’ll notice that the photo quality increases drastically. From here you may be able to notice that the frame of the unit uses thick aluminum similar to the front panel (just without the brushed texture). This construction is extremely solid and gives the unit a real quality feel.Looking in a little closer we can see that any components that would have the potential to fall off are given extra security with a generous dab of hot glue.Sliding over a bit we can see that the connectors for the sensors and fan cables have also been given the hot glue treatment. Also notice the socket for a small watch battery. This battery is what allows the unit to store settings in what is most likely volatile internal memory.The unit comes installed with five 3-pin fan connections, five temperature sensors and a 4-pin molex pass-through to provide power The only thing included in the package other than the manual and the unit is this little plastic baggie.Which contains the watch battery, and the temperature probes/tape I mentioned earlier.Getting the Sentry LX installed is a snap. Slide it into place and add screws, like a very large and slick looking DVD drive. Notice all the cables hanging down, making a mess of an otherwise decent wire routing job.The Sentry LX’s thermal probes and fan connectors are quite long, the thermal probe set could stretch all the way to the back of my m998 (an E-ATX capable chassis) with several inches to spare. When it came to setting up the thermal probes I decided to place Temp 1 in the front fan filter areaTemp 2 near the rear case fanTemp 3 under the Northbridge heatsinkTemp 4 under the Southbridge heatsink And Temp 5 between the memory heatspreader and the module itself. A little bit of tiding and the wiring job looks almost as good as it did before.Once the system was powered on all the Sentry required was a tap of the reset button and it was up and running properly. You can just barely see the LCD display in this shot. Of course the Sentry looks much sharper in person; this view gives you an idea of what it looks like viewed from an off angle. Looks pretty readable to me.From the front you can see how neat the Sentry LX looks in the front of your case. FYI the little fan icons on the right side rotate relative to the speed of the fans. Testing Temperature Probe AccuracyIn order to test the general accuracy of the temperature probes I placed temperature probe 1 out through the front grill of my ULTRA m998 chassis. I then set up three other temperature monitoring systems in the immediate vicinity of probe 1. I placed probe 1 on top of a generic digital clock with a built in temperature readout. Then I placed the temperature sensor from a Kingwin Multi Function Transfer Panel on top of probe 1. Next I placed a Thermor analogue temperature and humidity reader approximately two inches away from the other probes. Finally I used a Thermor digital thermometer placed in another room on the same floor of the house at approximately the same height as the other cluster of sensors. This sensor will be used to ensure that the other ambient temperature readings are within reasonable parameters. After all the sensors were placed I allowed a few minutes for the readings to level, finally I recorded the results below.Temp 1: 25.9 cKingwin: 25.5 cGeneric Clock: 26.4 cThermor Analogue: ~25.5 cThermor Digital: 25.2 cAccording to these results the Sentry LX is quite accurate at measuring temperatures. The maximum deviation from the other local temperature sensors was only 0.5 c, and the deviation from the sensor in the next room was only 0.7 c. If you want more proof of the Sentry LX’s accuracy check out page five of OverclockersClub’s review: So put simply you can trust the readout on the Sentry LX, which is very comforting. AnalysisThe NZXT Sentry LX caught me off guard to be honest. I had read a few other reviews from around the web saying that the display on the unit had a terrible viewing angle. This put my expectations for the quality of the unit down a few notches. But as it turns out the Sentry LX (or my unit at least) has an excellent viewing angle. In the horizontal axis the display becomes obscured by its casing before it becomes unreadable. In the vertical axis the display is readable from about a 30 degree downwards angle or less, not bad, but it could be a problem for those with their PC’s sitting on the floor. Distance wise the display is easily readable from well over eight feet away, and the clock portion is still readable well beyond that. The display text is always clear and crisp. The variable fan animation is really neat, and the display uses an attractive pallet of colors (blue and yellow mostly) to further increase its visual appeal. Its solid aluminum construction is of the highest strength and quality. When combined with a black brushed aluminum and chrome bezel it makes the unit absolutely ooze quality. Well, enough of my complements, time for the pros and cons.Pros:·       Wouldn’t look out of place on the highest end chassis·       Incredibly solid construction·       Excellent display quality ·       Relatively simple user interface·       Automatic and Manual modes·       Allows for complete fan shutoff·       Five fans/sensors supported ·       Includes date/time display (I just spent that much time playing writing this review?)·       Simple install·       Overheat alarm·       Accurate temperature readings·       Price of $59.99 USD is very reasonable for a product of this quality·       Includes two spare sensors just in caseCons:·       3-pin fan only (no 4-pin PWM or molex)·       Manual is incomplete·       Vertical viewing angle may be a problem if your PC is on the floorOverall In conclusion the Sentry LX is an excellent product for monitoring fan speeds and temperatures in your PC. The only thing NZXT could really improve upon is the somewhat incomplete manual, but that should be quite easy to fix. Overall if you’re in the market for a temperature monitor/fan controller the NZXT Sentry LX should be at the top of your list.