Keeping a high-end PC cool remains a balancing act between temperature and noise levels. With the right enclosure, you can ensure that both maintain a desirable level. But what if you like to vary noise levels and temperatures, how do you do that? A function panel, that's how. We tested 21 functional panels with fan controllers that give you varying degrees of control over your fans.
They're called function panels and not fan controllers because they can do more and come in all shapes and sizes. It was fairly easy to get more than 20 for this test. They fit in the 3.5” and 5.25” slots in the front of a desktop chassis. Some even take up two slots, but that's not a problem in most chassis.
Their primary function is controlling one or more case fans, and extra features usually consist of more connectors, temperature sensors and memory card readers.
You can also manage fans from the motherboard, even the most basic models have a couple of connectors and basic controls for speed and temperature. Cheap motherboard usually don't have very many connectors, however.
Among the 21 fan controllers we tested, the number of fan connectors varied greatly. The Scythe Kaze Q 12 has the most with 12. Six others can take six fans, four can have five, six can have four, one has three and three only have two fan connectors.
The average mid-range PC has two or three fans. Three case fans are usually adequate for a silent and effective cooling setup, especially when you use 140 mm fans.
Fan controllers are fairly basic products, but there are some exceptions. We will describe each product and ran a number of tests on each one. We measured what the lowest voltage is that they can send out (this has an influence on the minimum fan speed) and what the maximum voltage is that they can maintain.
On virtually all controllers the 12V voltage drops fairly quickly, which means that the fans can't spin at their maximum speed. We also tested them with multiple channels under load. Lastly we tested the temperature of the transistor in the voltage regulator under maximum load. That's something that can get warm, something you don't want.