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Hands-on with NZXT's Aer RGB fans

Posted on 30th Dec 2016 at 09:59 by Antony Leather with 8 comments

If you thought 2016 was an RGB-fest, then wait until you see 2017. In fact, even as we say goodbye to this year, we're struggling to deal with all the lights given there's usually wine, cider or some other alcoholic substance close at hand this time of year. We jest, of course, but the short story is that NZXT has joined Corsair and Thermaltake in offering multi-coloured fans, courtesy of the Aer RGB range.

Hands-on with NZXT's Aer RGB fans Hands-on with NZXT's AER RGB fans

While NZXT's and Corsair's offerings are different in ways we'll get to in a minute, there are some similarities in the way they work. Specifically, they both require each company's RGB controller to work - you can't use motherboard RGB headers from the likes of Asus here, which is a bit of a pain. When we connected the Aer RGB's to an Aura-compatible Asus board, not a lot happened.

For the Aer RGBs, you'll need NZXT's Hue+ controller as well, and remembering that the triple set of Aer RGB 120mm fans we're looking at here already retails for £70, the added expense for the controller, albeit along with four 30cm RGB LED strips, at around £40 means that to kit your PC out with three RGB fans will cost over £100. You can do this with a trio of Corsair HD 120 fans for £70, including the controller.



However, there's one big difference between the NZXT Aer RGB fans and Corsair's HD 120s, which is that the former are fully RGB - you can select from the usual massive colour pallet, choosing practically any colour you like, while the Corsair controller is only able to cycle through a few colours and effects. A set of HD 120s can lay on some very funky effects, mind you, and can also spread these across the fans in wave effects down your PC - the same is true here with the Aer RGB fans, except they're more flexible with even more effects and colours to choose from.

To get them working, you'll need to power each fan with the usual 4-pin PWM connector, then hook up a separate cable to the controller. Thankfully, you can daisy-chain the fans rather than each one requiring a physical connection to the controller, so if you're connecting them in series along a radiator or multiple fan mounts, it's actually fairly easy to deal with the lighting side of things.

Hands-on with NZXT's Aer RGB fans Hands-on with NZXT's AER RGB fans

This is especially so given that NZXT includes 10cm and 50cm fan-to-fan/daisy-chain cables, so whether the fans are right next to each other or in the roof and rear fan mounts, you just need to run a cable from one to the other. Corsair's fans, meanwhile, require you to connect each fan to the controller, which is a bit of a nightmare if you're trying to build a clean PC.

Hands-on with NZXT's Aer RGB fans Hands-on with NZXT's AER RGB fans

The Hue+ controller uses a DC input that's powered from a standard 4-pin Molex connector, plus you'll need a free USB 2.0 motherboard header so software, in the form of NZXT CAM, can talk to the fans. All the cables you need are included and the fans come with a trio of resistor cables too, which is a nice touch.

Hands-on with NZXT's Aer RGB fans Hands-on with NZXT's AER RGB fans

The CAM software works well with Windows 10 but we've had issues with it on Windows 7 before now. In short, make sure the OS is up to date and all drivers are correctly installed, and you shouldn't have any problems. With the controller and fans connected, head to the Hue+ section at the bottom, click on 'Change Mode', and you should be met with the lighting channels, with the 'Edit Settings' button taking you through to the customisation.

Hands-on with NZXT's Aer RGB fans Hands-on with NZXT's AER RGB fans

Here you can select from 10 effects, with several such as Marquee and Covering Marquee sending light waves down the fans in turn, which looks rather cool. You're able to select from any colour you can create too, with some effects sporting multiple colour options as well as the ability to control the speed of the effects and how many LEDs are involved. You don't need to stop at the fans either - the effects can be synchronised with the four included RGB LED strips too, although you may need sunglasses as well in that case.

Hands-on with NZXT's Aer RGB fans Hands-on with NZXT's AER RGB fans

At face value, the Aer RGB fans seem expensive, but while they're certainly more pricey than Corsair's efforts, there's a lot more customisation on offer here plus a more polished package too. The fact you can daisy-chain the cables is a huge boon for cable tidying, plus you have access to the full RGB colour spectrum. You also get four RGB LED strips, fan speed reductions cables and all the cables you need. Well done, NZXT.

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Do case manufacturers really understand water cooling?

Posted on 10th Apr 2014 at 08:59 by Antony Leather with 25 comments

After a couple of years of mediocre progress, we're seeing some genuine innovation with cases that are leaning ever more towards water cooling. Pretty much every medium to large case that's released these days - even smaller mini-ITX ones on occasion - sports double, triple or even quadruple fan mounts, and though these of course boost air cooling potential too, they also allow for larger radiators to be installed.

Manufacturers such as Corsair and NZXT are now in the habit of listing radiator compatibility in their case instruction manuals too - they're clearly taking it seriously and rightly so. Water cooling is one area of the PC industry that has certainly been growing over the last few years with all-in-one liquid coolers and full-on custom water cooling topping cooler graphs and featuring in many eye candy-filled systems - both modding projects and standard builds alike.

However, there is one small issue with many cases - specifically their radiator mounts. They're usually designed only for half-height radiators, which lack surface area and thus cooling potential compared to their full-height siblings, and many cases also seem to be listing radiator and water cooling compatibility as little more than tick-box features.

Do case manufacturers really understand water cooling?
Some manufacturers are shunning space for large air coolers in favour of radiator mounts such as Lian Li with is PC-V360 - Click to enlarge

My point here is that when you try to install a water cooling system in one, there's so little space that tube kinks become a real issue and there's also little thought as to where to put pumps and reservoirs. One big factor here is that case manufacturers aren't actually that concerned with custom water cooling loops (as in separate components connected together at home) and rather more with all-in-one systems such as a Corsair H80i.

It's not just Corsair and NZXT, who incidentally make some of the best all-in-one liquid coolers out there, that are doing this. After all, you can forgive them for promoting a combination of their own case and cooler, but plenty of other manufacturers are doing it too.

Do case manufacturers really understand water cooling?
Many all-in-one liquid coolers come equipped with half-height radiators while larger radiators are available with custom water cooling that can provide additional cooling capacity

For instance, I've recently borrowed the Lian Li PC-V360 we looked at recently to see how well it can cope with a water cooling system, seeing as it has a dedicated dual 120mm-fan radiator mount in the side panel and is too slim to fit large air coolers.

In short, it wasn't easy at all and I had to use anti-kinking springs on the tubing for everything to fit inside - and that's using the skinniest radiator I could find. Also, this turned out to be only just capable of cooling my overclocked Core i5-3570K and GeForce 660 Ti with the fans on full blast, which for me half defeats the point of water cooling, which is noise reduction.

Do case manufacturers really understand water cooling?
You usually have to opt for larger cases such as Corsair's Graphite 760T, but just a few changes could mean smaller cases are just as water cooling-friendly - click to enlarge

Even with an all-in-one liquid cooler things would be tricky, but as we speak I'm in the process of dismantling the system to go back to my trusted BitFenix Prodigy, which is much more water cooling friendly. Of course, that's my point; some cases do work well with water cooling, the Prodigy being one of them. It's also far from being a large case - the PC-V360 is taller and deeper but can't quite decide whether to jump off the fence on the air cooling side or water cooling side.

A lot of the issues, then, revolve around radiator depth, and at the moment, many case manufacturers are content to leave their cases with the bare minimum. You probably can't blame them to some extent as the vast majority of all-in-one liquid coolers use skinny radiators - one reason why a custom kit with a full-height double or triple 120mm-fan radiator will likely perform much better and quieter with an overclocked CPU.

So, what would I like to see? Better consideration for water cooling enthusiasts for one, but this could just as easily be brought about by all-in-one liquid cooler manufacturers beefing up their radiators too, especially where double fan radiators are concerned. That way, we don't only get better cooling from their own coolers, but you won't have to opt for enormous cases or go through the hassle of having to use multiple radiators too. It wouldn't require massive changes either - a few small modifications to existing case designs could make a world of difference.

How do you think current cases could be improved for water cooling purposes? Let us know in the forum.

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