While fan controllers are not essential pieces of kit for a PC, they can turn what might sound like the inside of a wind tunnel into something pleasant to sit next to. After all, installing a 2,000rpm 120mm case fan will undoubtedly make your system cooler but do you need that cooling all the time? What about when your surfing the web, watching a movie or doing that ghastly homework?
Fan controllers allow you to take control of your PC's cooling and can adjust it to your requirements. The three we're looking at today install in either 5.25in or 3.5in bays. As mentioned above, high rpm fans can be good at cooling but they're often downright loud too. With a fan controller thrown into the mix, you can reduce the speed by 50 per cent which will probably still shift enough air to cool your PC effectively but will quieten your case fans considerably. Of course that power is still on tap should you need it, be it for a heavy gaming session or benchmarking.
Even in cases with numerous fans, it's possible to control them all with a multi channel fan controller. This of course means you can adjust several fans independently too. There is a downside to all this tweaking though. Fan controllers with more than one channel can be a pain to set up not to mention make cable tidying a nightmare. Some we've come across are so fiddly or complicated that we suspect they've ended up as dust collectors on the front of PCs rather than a useful part of the system.
Available in silver and black, the NesteQ FanMax can handle a total of eight fans via 3-pin headers. There's a total of 6W per channel available so in theory you could use splitter cables and connect several fans to each channel. The dials adjust the voltage between 6V and 12V - most fans have a minimum startup voltage of around 4V or 5V but it might be worth checking yours to make sure you don't run into issues.
Feature wise, this is a relatively basic fan controller with no temperature monitoring or alarms although it does have some funky blue LEDs. It fits into an external 5.25in bay with 78mm clearance needed behind the front panel so should fit into most cases. Something that can be very fiddly with other controllers we've used are the millions of fan headers. Not so with the FanMax.
The eight channels are split into two seperate circuits each powering four fans via a large proprietary connector at the rear of the controller. Instead of having eight individual fan cables, each group of four cables has been combined into one large header which slots into the proprietary connector on the controller but you're still able to control each channel separately.
In addition to the eight dials on the front of the FanMax there are two backlit master switches which can actually turn each of the circuits on or off. This means that you can have four fans running and only turn the other four on when needed. If your PC isn't particularly high end or is situated in a cool room, you might be able to get away with turning them all off (apart from the CPU HSF of course). In any case, there's usually a pretty big difference between ambient temperatures in summer and winter so being able to turn off certain fans could be useful if they're not really needed.
The quality of the FanMax was also impressive. The dials were solid and there was no nasty grating when turning them. It's pretty attractive too with a brushed aluminium fascia and chrome buttons. While it's simple compared to the ZM-MFC3 and costs nearly £30, its ease of use and range of control speak volumes. The only downside are the LEDs above the control dials which flash apparently in sync with the rpm of the fan. A cool sounding feature but having mini strobe lights on any PC could get very annoying and there's no way to turn them off.