Supplied by Sundial Micro
VFD displays are yet another popular add-on to the computer. VFD displays are an eye-catching addition and they can deliver useful information at a mere glance. Complete VFD systems can also be expensive. Saving money by assembling a complete unit from parts can be confusing to install and configure for the novice. Sundial Micro’s economic answer for a highly-configurable, low-content data display device that’s easy to install and configure was to put the SilverStone SST-FP54-B VFD display in our hands for a test drive.
What does it do?
VFD stands for
Vacuum Fluorescent Display which can present characters in a bright and easy to read format. VFD displays can typically display just a few characters to lines containing 200 to 300 characters and often over single, double, triple or quadruple line format. VFD are described in a line by number of characters format. A 2 x 16 VFD would display 2 lines with a maximum of 16 characters. VFD displays are low-cost to manufacture and useful where low content information is to be presented. VFD displays can also be connected via serial, parallel or USB ports and then configured by third party software to display user specific information such as time, date, temperature, CPU usage, Winamp information and so on.
SilverStone states VFD (Vacuum Fluorescent Display) is a self-illuminating display that is superior to the traditional LCD in brightness, viewing angle, and clarity. The color of the display can also be changed easily by using different colored window panel in front of the VFD.
Where can a VFD display be most useful?
VFD displays can be extremely useful in server applications where basic system information such as temperature, CPU load, and RAM usage can be displayed. An IT person can quickly assess system condition without need of a monitor.
SilverStone SST-FP54-B VFD display
|Power Source||4 pin connectors|
|Signal Source||25pin parallel port
|2 x 16|
M3 screw x 4, slot
The SST-FP54-B is a 5.25″ bay device available in silver or black. It comes with the a 24″ (approximate) device to parallel port cable with integrated 4-pin molex power connector and a PCI bracket.
The cable must be run out the rear of the case in order to connect to the parallel port of the motherboard.
The opposite end must connect to the VFD housing aligning pin one on the cable to pin one marked on the VFD housing.
Pin one on the cable is marked by an arrow and it takes a very careful look to locate it. Do so under a bright light to make it easier. The VFD housing slides into an open bay and it doesn’t get much more complicated than that for hardware.
The next step is to absolutely, positively read the manual on the SilverStone website. The most important instructions are included here in case it is oddly against any geekdom belief to read a manual.
- Download driver file Windows 95/NT Port I/O Driver (port95nt.exe) from Driverlinx.
- Go to “Downloads”
- Scroll down and click on “.exe” under Windows 95/NT Port I/O Driver
- Complete the download request form and click on the “Submit” button to download the file.
- Install the downloaded port driver software and restart your computer
- Download the latest version of LCD Smartie (for example, smartie52.zip) from the LCD Smartie website.
- Unzip the downloaded file
- Open the extracted folder and click on Smartie.exe file to open LCD Smartie status screen
- Click “Setup” on the status screen to open the setup menu
- Adjust the following values and click “Apply”: Scroll interval = 300 LCD Size = 2 x 16 LCD Settings = Parallel (HD44780)
- You can now start programming your VFD
Smartie is a free programmable software interface for many VFD display screens.
The 5.2 release of Smartie has options to add information on email, Winamp, Folding @ Home, System, Internet, Seti @ Home, Motherboard Monitor, network stats, gamestats and miscellaneous other odds and ends.
Smartie does have an onscreen representation of the VFD display and it is also advised to move the Smartie shortcut into the startup folder of the OS to ensure that Smartie loads with Windows and thus continues to feed information to the VFD to display.
Smartie takes experimentation to set up and configure to user preference. Our advice is to not load up each menu line with too many commands else the display may not function correctly. It may stutter or lock on one display line and not rotate through other programmable lines. SilverStone produces the SST-FP54-B hardware but not the Smartie software.
The SilverStone SST-FP54-B from Sundial Micro retails for $89 US. It’s a luxury purchase for a modder but it is not the most expensive complete VFD display on the market. Matrix Orbital produces a similar unit priced at a minimum of $40 more and CrystalFontz produces several variations that are priced approximately $10-$15 less though the CrystalFontz electronics are mounted on a 5.25″ drive plate rather than contained within a housing.
Displays that are more configurable for graphics are very much more expensive. A USB connection to the motherboard may be more desirable but snaking the parallel port cable out of the rear of the PCI isn’t a concern as it isn’t in obvious sight. Using a parallel connecting also does not occupy up a USB connection; internal header or external port. The SilverStone SST-FP54-B is easy to install. A driver and the Smartie software must be downloaded and the Sundial Micro and SilverStone websites have complete instructions.
A VFD display is obviously useful for monitoring basic system status at a glance without a monitor. It’s highly useful in a server environment. For the enthusiast it is a definite luxury component and requires an open drive bay; a perfect addition to a SilverStone HTPC PC case. It may not allow for more of an overclock or gain a few more frames per second in Doom III but it will garner attention. That’s what case modding is all about…grabbing attention.
Our thanks to Sundial Micro for
their support of this and many other sites.
- Easy to install
- Highly configurable
- Not the most expensive
- Good for basic system stats
- While not the most expensive it is still a luxury purchase for the case modder
|Bonus items & software||8.5||Driver and Smartie Software must be downloaded but it is highly configurable and free.|
|Design & layout||8.5||It is well built with the electronics completely contained within a protective housing. Perhaps a bit of a space-waster in the drive bay. (The space could be used to hide other cables.)|
|Documentation||7.5||None included in the box. Not even a direct mention of where to find the manual online. Sundial Micro is careful to put the full installation instructions in plain view on their website.|
|Features & options||9.5||The Smartie software is highly configurable and, while not produced by SilverStone, does work well with the device.|
|Performance & stability||8.5||This unit may have more future worth for server applications as it’s appeal may have a shorter lifespan with modders. Modders are always attracted to newer and better. The SilverStone SST-FP54-B is a mid-priced item in comparison. It isn’t the most expensive unit for a VFD display but it is a luxury purchase on a modder’s budget.|
|Price / value||8.5||The hardware worked right out of the box but loading up a single data line in Smartie may produced display errors.|