By: Jeremy To
July 29, 2011
Childhood is quite a mystery. We breeze across this period suppressed by greater powers (Parents or guardians) in our struggle to gain an abundant amount of sweet treats and rad toys. We swear to ourselves that one day we will have complete control over our lives, to which we can buy an infinite amount of ice cream without the consent of this greater authority. Little do we know, a blink of an eye brings us to our juvenile adolescent period in which the pursuit of such childhood dreams becomes nullified by what Katy Perry refers as the "Teenage Dream" (Horny teens in puberty, haha). If you are a regular reader here at APH Networks, than you know of the crazy biweekly LAN parties that consist of various headshots; it's also the only time I get to pwn my boss without getting fired. However, what we have not told you here at APH is that we tend to make midnight trips to the grocery store in search of ice cream. That is not to say that we are a bunch of immature children that are only in pursuit of sweets and games. It simply means we enjoy the midnight drag race that goes with it (Just kidding). Let's just say we like to go back to our own roots. In fact, recently, I received an interesting review unit that also goes back to its childhood -- the Sentry Mesh fan controller by NZXT. We here are all familiar NZXT's chassis that include basic fan controllers or their more fancy LCD touch screen controllers. However, something we just have not seen is a basic 5.25" slide switch fan controller. Itching to find out what our thoughts are? Read on to... you know the drill.
Today's unit came packaged in a small corrugated brown box to our Calgary office via UPS Standard. Accompanied with the unit was an abundant amount of Styrofoam noodles to greet the one who would open the package. The package -- from our neighborly southern Californian friends -- was in great condition upon arrival with the expected, but nothing to be alarmed of, bumps and bruises.
The unit itself is situated in another brown cardboard packaging with a plain and simple design. You may have seen this kind of box design previously from my colleague Preston's NZXT Bunker review a few months back. This is mainly because both units are 5.25" chassis accessories, so it makes sense that the packaging would remain the same size, and be of the same material. At the bottom of the retail box, you will find a small list of specifications and features and a small paragraph of text explaining the functionality of the NZXT Sentry Mesh. Speaking of which, let's briefly look at the features and specifications of the unit, as seen on the manufacturer's website:
- Mesh design to camouflage with mesh facade.
- Five 30W controls.
- Easy-to-use sliders.
- Installation: 5.25" ODD
- Color: Black
- Material: Plastic & Mesh
- Panel: Scroll
- Fan Channels: 5
- Connections: 3-Pin
- Wattage: 30W
- Manual: Min 40%
- Control: Voltage
The retail box uses a conventional flap design that opens through the top. Inside reveals the unit itself wrapped in plastic, a set of four mounting screws, and the user's manual. I was surprised by how light the Sentry Mesh was. Much like Preston's observations on the NZXT Bunker, I will make the same assertion: It would have been better if NZXT provided more protection with the unit even if it meant increasing the size of the retail box. Since the unit is composed mostly of ABS plastic, I cannot help but say that such a fragile object could easily shatter under sufficient force.
From an overview shot of the unit, you can really see what I meant by saying "...object could easily shatter under sufficient force." I am not saying that the NZXT Sentry Mesh is poorly made, but am merely stating that the unit is pretty much hollow after the steel mesh and PCB portion. As aforementioned, the unit is made mainly of ABS plastic with a bit of steel mesh for the mesh facade. Since we're already on the topic, let's talk mesh. The introduction briefly implies that the Sentry Mesh is pretty much a back-to-the-basics fan controller. Surprisingly, all other previous Sentry models by NZXT were LCD screen fan controllers. Sounds fancy? That's because it is. The NZXT Sentry Mesh cannot boast on cooler looks (opinionated), having more fan channels, or even having a better interface -- since the Sentry Mesh's interface is well, five sliders and that's it. So what is the point of having one? For starters, the Sentry Mesh can handle 30W across the entire unit, which pretty much allows one to connect most fans to the unit without much of a problem.
Towards the back of the unit, NZXT has made it very user friendly in terms of the cable management. All five fan connection cables and the single power connection cable are zip-tied to avoid tangles as well as to prevent any damage to the PCB if the wires are tugged on. The wires are black and non-sleeved, which is fine.
The main function of the mesh design for the Sentry Mesh is mainly for the benefit of being able camouflage in cases that utilize mesh drive bay covers already. It actually does not improve airflow. This is for users who are aiming for the simpler look rather than the all-out LCD lighted screen of the previous Sentry models, or want something that's a little more affordable. However, with such a simple design, the Sentry Mesh is missing a few features seen on the other models. Temperature monitor, fan speed indicator, temperature alarm, and saved profiles are just a small list of things you really cannot expect from such a simple fan controller. However, with its simplicity comes functionality. With the more tactile fan sliders, the user can easily adjust the fan speeds faster and quicker without the need to look which is perfect for those that want a quick and effortless adjustment.
On the picture above, we can get a good look at the slider switches of the unit. As mentioned before, the NZXT Sentry Mesh is a five channel fan controller with the first controller starting from the left, working its way up to the fifth channel on the very right. The NZXT logo is found at the very right of the unit beside the fifth channel switch. Below that is an embellishing white LED power light to indicate that the unit is turned on.
The cable connections between the cables and the PCB for the NZXT Sentry Mesh are quite durable. With the added cable tie, it is fairly difficult to damage the PCB of the unit, which is always good. Of course, if you so desire, you can disconnect all of the cables from the PCB. The connections on the PCB are clearly labeled 1 through 5 with their corresponding cables. Between the PCB and the sliders is a fairly small gap. I have noticed that the power LED light tends to bleed through to the 5th fan controller switch, and it is quite a bother to the perfectionist. NZXT should address this small issue to make the overall unit more refined.
The method that NZXT uses to wrap the mesh around the plastic body is quite well done. At the very top of the image, you can see the steel mesh wrapping itself around the body at three different points. NZXT has actually indented the plastic so that the mesh would sit flush with the rest of the plastic. This will prevent the mesh from catching, bending, or scratching other materials. The mesh is also wrapped on the bottom of the unit in the same way.
According to my measurements, the fan connection cables are approximately 27" long. This is a good and adequate length to reach most, if not all, fan connectors in some of the largest cases. The main Molex power supply cable is approximately 26" long, which is also of adequate length. What we would like to see added with the Sentry Mesh would be a couple of Molex to 3-pin adapter cables. The case I used to install and test the NZXT Sentry Mesh in was the In Win Dragon Rider, of which I have a total of six fans installed around the case (Eight fans if you include the two on my CPU heatsink, Thermaltake Jing. However, I was only able to connect four of my fans into the fan controller. I am afraid several people will run into this issue, since many fans that come with chassis use Molex power instead of 3-pin connections.
One feature that I find quite appealing is the deep socket connection ends for the 3-pin connectors. This will protect all connections between the cables and will keep the connectors unharmed. Also, since all the ends of the cables -- with the exception of the power cable -- are marked with the numbers 1 to 5, it is very easy to sort out which cable goes with which switch.
Overall, the installation of the unit was very easy. Since my chassis uses a tool-less mounting system for the optical bays, placing the NZXT Sentry Mesh in its place was no problem. If your case does not utilize a tool-free system, then you would simply attach the four provided screws into the four back holes. As the unit comes with a total of six cables, be prepared to spend quite a while cleaning up your cables after installation. The labeled numbers on the black cables made it very convenient when connecting the fan headers. Once the desired number of fans are installed, and the Molex power cable is plugged in, then the installation is complete. With the system is turned on, the fan controller works without any software installation (Just stating the obvious, but it's helpful sometimes, haha). One thing to note is that the NZXT Sentry Mesh only regulates the fan speeds between 40% to 100%. This means that one will not be able to turn the fans off completely without disconnecting the fan entirely. This can also be seen as a small limitation towards the Sentry Mesh, as one only has limited control over the fans. A suggestion would be to allow the controller to regulate the fan speeds more or to add a power on/off option giving the user the option of turning the fans off completely when not needed.
NZXT's back-to-the-basics fan controller, the Sentry Mesh, is quite a great addition to your chassis. Comprised of five fan control channels, 30 Watts around the entire unit, a sturdy mesh design, and overall easy-to-install unit, the Sentry Mesh is quite the controller. Things I have enjoyed is the cable length leeway of 26-27", cable managed zip-tie for connection protection, stylish power LED, deep-fitting 3-pin connectors, and the labeled cables and PCB. With a set MSRP of 24.99 USD, the NZXT Sentry Mesh is also astonishingly economical. Of course, there are areas that need further improvement. First off, the power LED tends to bleed light into the fan switch, which needs to be addressed. The fan controller is limited to regulating only 40% to 100% of fan speeds and has no option for turning the fans off. Lastly, NZXT should consider providing Molex to 3-pin adapter cables, for users who generally use chassis fans with Molex connectors rather than aftermarket fans. NZXT has created a very well-designed fan controller. And although there are a plethora of fancier controllers out there that utilize LCD touch screens and aluminum plating, NZXT still manages to create a controller that molds both simplicity and functionality into one unit.
NZXT provided this product to APH Networks for the purpose of evaluation.
APH Review Focus Summary:
7/10 means Great product with many advantages and certain insignificant drawbacks; but should be considered before purchasing.
-- Final APH Numeric Rating is 7.0/10
Please note that the APH Numeric Rating system is based off our proprietary guidelines in the Review Focus, and should not be compared to other sites.
If you have a plethora of irritatingly loud fans in your system running at 100% 24/7 for no apparent reason, the NZXT Sentry Mesh is perfect for controlling them with its five channel slide switch design.
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