Supplied by VL System
The Zephyrus Automatic System Controller is more than a fan controller; it is an intelligent fan controller with extensive features. It was what we were looking for…but it failed.
We’ve dealt with two basic types of fan controllers. This first came along in the form of the Digital Doc series. The “Doc” turned fans on or off based on a programmable temperature. 8 thermistors provided 8 temperature zones which, in turn, turned on or off 8 separate fan headers. The problem with the “Doc” was balancing the equation. Setting the perfect on/off temperature for each fan became increasingly complex as fans were added. The cooling effect throughout the case keeps changing with fans.
The other type of fan controller is resistor based where a manual setting provided fan control. Fan RPM could be set throughout a wide range but it is manual. If more cooling is needed then a user has to manually increase the RPM of a specific fan.
Back a year or two ago I had consulted with Sunbeam to fabricate an intelligent temperature-based fan controller. A user could program a minimum and maximum temperature and the fan RPM would automatically increase or decrease through that range based on the thermistor temperature information it was fed. The on-screen graphic user interface was to be easy for anyone to interpret and program. It was planned that the unit could take a feed right off the motherboard and thus utilize the motherboard’s built-in sensors.
It was highly configurable and automatic and a shame when Sunbeam didn’t lift the plans off paper to develop a prototype.
It has fan controlling feature, System protection feature, Realtime monitoring feature, and more . It is built to deliver efficient management for the user’s pc environment.
Zephyrus is not an analog fan controller that most people are aware of, but it uses the newest digital technology which is called PWM . It delivers much easier usage of the system and efficient managing for the owner. While analog fan controller required physical actions from the user, the digital fan controller does not. Therefore, it offers system managing in a precedented accuracy.
- 5 Channel fan control with smart AI technology
- Real-time monitoring
- Monitoring recording and replay
- 3 sensors for measuring precise temperature
- System protection function
- Compatible with MBM
- Supports Dual CPU
- Supports USB interface – Supports up to 3CH of external devices
- Supports 5 channel with smart A.I. Technology
- The fan controlling port supports up to 5 channels. Zephyrus provides both manual and automatic control option. If this feature is used effectively, it can deliver a quiet environment when using the PC. Also note that when PC is heavily used the fan controller can adjust its temperature when it’s set on auto mode.
- Real-time system monitoring
- The FFT Monitoring program will display CPU, RAM, voltage, temperature and fan status on the monitor.
- Monitors data recording and replays
- The user can monitor the PC system with FFT Monitoring tool. This includes recording the system status. If recorded the user can playback by viewing the log. This is an effective tool for benchmarking/monitoring the system.
- 3 sensors for measuring precise temperature
- The 3 temperature sensors will deliver the accurate information. It is compatible with any systems.
- System protection feature
- If the system is over heated, this system will either notify the user or shutdown the computer automatically.
- Compatible with MBM program
- The program can also be used with MBM in conjunction with Zephyrus control Center.
- Supports Dual or multi CPU system
- This program supports Hyper-Threading, 2-way CPU, and 4-way CPU. Each individual CPU’s will be shown as Z.C.C in the program.
- Supports USB interface
- The product can be used through USB (1.1/2.0) connection. This product will require a PC slot for the installation.
- Supports up to 3CH of external devices
- It’s enable to do the various applications by controlling 3 Extended channel.
The description of capabilities certainly has an overwhelming appeal. The Zephyrus was shaping up to be the “cat’s meow” of fan controllers.
Where to begin?
How could the Zephyrus have failed? Was it a hardware failure or a design failure and why was it assessed as a failure? A product obviously fails when it won’t work or features of it won’t work due to hardware failure. This may not be an accurate assessment of the product in general. Many companies manufacture thousands – millions of products with very few physical failures. That’s why there are warranties.
A review sample that fails due to hardware error does happen on rare times and, like the rest, we RMA it and receive a new working sample. One strike against a product, such as a the rare hardware failure, doesn’t mean that it is a bad product.
The Zephyrus was awkward to use. It was a product that, to use a cliche, tried to overhaul the plumbing and went too far. A product should be easy to install and program. The PC industry strives to produce products that are easy to use. If drivers are required or software is necessary for configuration then those too should be easy and straight-forward to install and use.
It wasn’t so straight-forward with Zephyrus. Products are reviewed with many viewpoints in mind. Technically savvy individuals may see a solution they think is obvious or know by experience. That viewpoint is important but the other extreme is the new user. They may just want to briefly scan the manual then plug the product in and use it. They may not have the patience, determination or immediate skills to troubleshoot. Our forums are full of intelligent individuals whose PC often baffles them.
The Zephyrus software left us scouring the manual again and again. There wasn’t the pleasant reaction of discovering new features the deeper into the software we got. There were more confused questions than clear answers.
So there’s where the word “failure” comes from. The Zephyrus had hardware failures which was one strike we could have overlooked with another working review sample. The Zephyrus failed because it left us with too many questions on how to use it, program it and what some features actually did. Added to this were some software features that had bugs in the test system. Read on to discover exactly what we experienced.
What’s in the box?
Inside the Zephyrus box is the controller card. It will take up one PCI slot when installed. It has one USB port that requires the included cable to connect it to the motherboard.
The package comes with the 3.5″ mini-CD installation disc, manual and a set of self-adhesive labels to mark the leads after installation is finalized.
The Zephyrus includes a power cable (4-pin molex to the PSU), fan leads, “extended cable” and USB cable.
Confused by the “extended cable”? You are not alone but it turned out to be to control another device such as a fan or a neon light. Though it doesn’t work in the same way as a fan on the main headers. Again, you are not alone if your eyebrows are knotting up in a bit of confusion.
Three flat thermistors are also included.
Lastly is the Zephyrus card itself.
It’s much smaller than a VGA card as seen when compared to an ATI 9800 PRO.
What any user does is to take everything out of the box and start plugging things in. A hint would be to flip the Zephyrus card over and there will be the labels as to what each header is for. For example the five fan headers are seen in the following image.
Flip the PCB over and there will be the labels as to which is fan 1 through 5.
The power, thermistor and extended (Export) connections are on the other side of the card.
Flip the PCB over and those will be identified.
Here starts the beginning of the downhill slide towards failure. Refer to the following image of the power, thermistor and extended (Export) connections.
The black connections in the centre of the image is the focus. There are five but only three thermistors. The other two, scratch that, the manual states that there are only four. The middle three are for the three thermistor leads. The one on the far left is a 12 volt “extended” header and the one on the far left…is for we don’t know what. It isn’t in the manual and certainly didn’t do anything in actual operation.
In our estimation the fan headers should have been female. Those headers are live and if any metal comes in contact with those pins then shorts may occur and possible damage to the product itself. This was done simply to properly mate with 3-pin fan connectors but could be easily solved with a female male to male cable. VL System took the time to include fan cables and they could have been male to male.
The first hardware failure could have been the result of manufacture or user error. One of the thermistor leads was burnt. It is the blackened thermistor on the right in the following image.
This could have arrived as is or it could have been burnt out by mistakenly plugging the thermistor lead into the 12 Volt “extended” header. Having live 12 volt leads within a millimeter of the thermistor headers and having them of the same design is a mistake. However there are no warnings in the manual to indicate that a thermistor lead could be damaged by accidentally doing this.
Nevertheless scratch one thermistor right out of the box.
The PCB card takes up one PCI slots. The thermistors are placed, one each, to the CPU, hard drive and northbridge as suggested by the manual. Note that the manual is outdated as it shows AMD processors with the Socket A designs but not the newer Socket 754, 939 and 940-pin designs. The fans are connected. The USB cable is connected from the card to an available motherboard USB port.
And the PC is fired up.
In goes the installation CD and quite remarkably the USB driver was automatically detected and installed. Except we didn’t know that or see it happen in the traditional sense. So we clicked the top button marked ZEPHYRUS USB DRIVER FOLDER OPEN which we thought was to install the USB driver.
It opened up the installed directory and the marked executable actually UNINSTALLS the USB driver software. So watch for that. It seems to be a 50-50 shot if the driver will be automatically detected and silently install.
Clicking on what was thought to be the installation executable brought up the following message. This confirmed that the USB driver had been silently installed. There was no need to continue.
To a novice user this may be confusing.
The second button on the main install page will install the Zephyrus Control Center software. Version 184.108.40.206 was also utilized in testing as VL System recommended the upgrade.
Installation here was a snap.
The GUI tab by tab.
The first SYSTEM tab is basic system information. The CONFIGURE tab can set interface font and color and some basic positions of a message window. None of the color interfaces worked but there was a hint of one for BASIC COLOR that peaked out the bottom of the CONFIGURE screen but could not be gotten to. It disappeared when the screen was moved.
A pull down menu will allow specific channels to be selected then assigned a name.
The FAN CH. (channel) CONTROL tab allows for a multitude of configuration options.
AI MODE – the controller will automatically adjust fan speed by looking at the combination of temperature readings though motherboard monitor and the thermistor as well as CPU usage.
TEMPERATURE – The selected fan will run at the CONTROL RANGE setting when equal or below the temperature set. The fan will increase in speed when the temperature exceeds the set level. In the following image the radio button is set for AI MODE but if the one below it were selected then SENSOR 1 would set the fan speed at 60 percent of maximum from 0 to 40 degrees Celsius. Above 40 and the fan speed would increase very quickly to 100%.
CPU USES – It’s the same as temperature except based on CPU usage.
MBM SHARED – There’s no actual sharing. The program, Motherboard Monitor, will feed the necessary data for fan control.
USER DEFINED SETTING – Though not clear in the manual it is assumed that, when selected, it overrides all other settings and defers to the settings in the DIRECT FAN MODE tab.
PROTECT MODE – a setting to prevent the fans voltage from being set or dropping below 50% of maximum. This is a safe mode to ensure fans will not stall due to too low a voltage.
The EXTENDED CH. (Channel) CONTROL tab get’s a bit confusing. There are three extended headers on the PCB card. These can support other fans or even a 12 volt light. Any one of these can be slaved to a sensor such as one of the three thermistor leads.
It can be set to on or off overriding all other settings. It can also be set to turn on at its own temperature settings. So, for example, if the primary fan kicks in at 40 degrees Celsius and the temperature continues to increase a secondary fan or EXTENDED fan can kick in at 45 or 50 degrees Celsius. Whatever the user sets.
Or the user may choose to hook up a red neon light and have it turn on when things get too hot. The manual only says USER CAN MANAGE WINAMP, WINDOWS MEDIA PLAYER USING THE PLUG IN to explain the PLUGIN PLAY section. That could have been better addressed.
The SHUT DOWN tab did exactly what it was supposed to. The PC would be shut down or rebooted if a designated setting(s) was exceeded. Be warned it will keep rebooting if that option is enabled and the setting is lower than operation norm.
If a user sets a temperature too low and the PC begins to automatically reboot forever then there is approximately 10 seconds when the PC reboots after Windows loads before this kicks in where a user can bring up the GUI and disable the sequence.
There is also a shut down/reboot command based on date.
The THERMOMETER tab will allow naming of the GUI display. There is the ability for custom names to each of the three sensor headers but there will be five displays in the GUI. The other two cannot be named or at least we didn’t find a way to do so.
The sensor value can be +/- adjusted if a user feels the temperature displayed by Zephyrus is inaccurate.
SYSTEM RECORDING is like a log of the Zephyrus’ activities that can be later displayed in the provided software.
DIRECT FAN MODE allows a user to, if USER SETTINGS is enabled in the FAN CH. CONTROL tab, to set a fixed custom RPM based on voltage. In protect mode the sliders will not move past 50% and lower.
Possible answers to questions
Q: There are five fan headers yet three sensors?
A: Each fan header can be assigned any one of the 3 sensors and two fan headers can work off the same sensor. Therefore there is the convenience of having two rear exhaust fans be controlled by one sensor or even three.
Q: Is Motherboard Monitor required to make the Zephyrus operational?
Q: When the PC starts the fans all spin at full speed. Is this normal?
A: Yes. The Zephyrus software takes a a 5-15 seconds to take over control of the attached fans and other 12 volt devices.
The On Screen Displays
Right clicking on the TRAY icon will bring up the choices.
There are two for monitoring. The first is a rather large speedometer based display of the five fan headers. These are RPM readouts with a graph over time display in the centre showing the 3 thermistor sensors. Right clicking on the graph will allow enabling or disabling of any one or all of the graph readouts.
The smaller ZPANEL display will show realtime % of voltage on any one of the five fan headers. Note the lack of ability to name the fourth and fifth window as mentioned prior.
The Zephyrus player is supposed to allow playback of a log in graphical form. The player works the same way as a DVD interface with realtime or accelerated forward and rewind speeds.
Right clicking on the screen will allow enabling or disabling of any one or all of the displayed sensor data.
The choice of colors for the graphs was understood but hard to read. A colored dot or icon would have been better and even the faintest of explanations in the manual would have been good. It was by trial and error that the Zephyrus player was discovered and its options explored.
The Zephyrus Automatic System Controller was a disappointment. There were problems:
- One thermistor was burnt.
- The software was buggy. Bench player would not work.
- The manual was not 100% clear.
- It took very careful study of the manual and trial and error to understand all of the features.
- Two fan headers failed and would not work.
- Only one 3-pin extended 4-pin Molex lead was included.
- No 2-pin extended header lead was included.
- Exposed electrical pins for the fan and extended headers is questionable.
- GUI could have been easier to understand.
- Some display anomalies with the software. (menu items disappeared.)
It would not be fair to write the Zephyrus Automatic System Controller off. To give this product a poor rating would be to condemn a good idea. It has potential to be a highly configurable fan controller that has a lot of enthusiast options. It isn’t even worth going into too much detail about the inverse voltage readings off the fan controller when measured by a voltmeter.
This is what happened when we, like any other user, plugged the product in and tried to use it. It partially worked then the problems began to appear from hardware to software to confusion. Bottom line is that the Zephyrus Automatic Fan Controller is not recommended at this time from our experience but it is one to bookmark and watch for when the technical folks at VL System get it right.
BTW: Zephyrus is the Greek god of the west wind.
Our thanks to VL System for
their support of this and many other sites.
- Highly configurable
- Many more features than just a fan controller
- Realtime monitoring and logging
- It failed but it will be worth it when perfected