Vantec Nexus NXP101 MultiFunction Controller Review
There was a time when only a few cases had USB or Firewire ports on the front bezel. That meant when you wanted to hook up a USB device you had bend down behind the desk to try an find a free port. USB hubs solved a lot of those problems, and gradually case manufacturers began creating bezels with integrated USB and Firewire ports to solve access issues. Those cases which don't support front mounted USB/Firewire ports can be upgraded pretty easily with a USB/Firewire bay in either the 3.5" or 5.25" slots.
With the abundance of bay devices being installed in modern systems, we are gradually running out of space. So when Vantec introduced their Nexus NXP101 Mutifunction Panel with two USB headers, a Firewire header, a fan controller and a digital LCD readout of three temperature sensors and fan RPM things were looking good. The LCD screen is backlit green, so even in darker areas it will be readable, and the entire unit is powered by just one floppy drive power connector (or molex).
Now just to clarify things a little for those who may be unsure; the USB and IEEE1394 Firewire headers do not mean that you can hook up the NXP101 to an older computer without these features and expect to all of a sudden have them. Both ports are just headers , which means you will need to have a USB and Firewire PCI card installed in the motherboard already, or have jumper cables from the motherboard USB / Firewire headers handy
Vantec provide their own type of USB and Firewire jumper cables, but while one header connects to the NXP101, the other end is a full fledged USB / Firewire connector.
Since most mainboards don't actually have the USB or IEEE1394 connectors on the inside (they tend to use less expensive headers with 10 or 8 pins respectively) if you want to use the Vantec cables you may have to weave them out through a free PCI slot towards the I/O ports. It will depend on your case, but since each cable is only about a metre long this may not be feasible.
The best option would be to use the jumper cables that came with the motherboard for its internal USB / Firewire ports. Often these jumpers will go right to a socket which fits in one of the PCI expansion bays. By using these jacks you can install the Firewire and USB ports up front via the Nexus panel the easiest (unless of course you have a USB/Firewire PCI card already).
In addition to the styling good looks of brushed aluminum, Vantec include three shades of translucent covers to give the NXP101 you own personal touch. The unit ships with a little allen key so you can undo the four screws and install the blue, green, or aqua face plate of your choice.
Since we're on the subject of what comes with the NXP101 it is worthwhile to mention that in addition to the IEEE1394 Firewire and USB cables, the three face plates, allen key & screws comes three thermocouple temperature sensors, and two fan power cable extensions.
The manual gives you a good indication of where to place each of the three thermocouples, and by hitting the button to the right of the LD display you can cycle through the different temperature regions (CPU, Case, HDD).
The dial at the center of the Nexus allows you direct control of one fan's RPM (by default Vantec suggest hooking up the CPU fan). Two sets of extension cables run out from the back of the unit, one to the fan, and the other to the motherboard to supply the RPM signal. If there are any problems with this fan an alarm will go off, and it is a loud one.
We tested the RPM control with a larger 80mm fan, and a regular 60mm version. In both cases the dial worked just as it should, though the panel had some odd issues with the larger 80mm the first few times we tried it out. For some reason the fan would kick back to a lower RPM if we dialed up the speed to high. In any case, at no time did the fan actually lose power.
Overall, Vantec have put together a pretty good kit here. While the Nexus NXP101 is not exactly a necessary piece of hardware everyone must have, for those looking to tweak out their systems a little, the unit offers up an easy turn key solution. Thermal monitoring is included, as is control over one fans RPM. Couple that with a motherboard which allows you to bring the USB and Firewire ports up front and the Nexus NXP101 is pretty useful after all.
Given the choice between the three different colours of face plate, we went against the grain and actually removed them - preferring to stay with the bare aluminum itself. The Vantec Nexus NXP101 is definitely a cool toy for the geek who spends way too much time worrying about internal case temps, and compared to the DigiDoc, it kicks butt!
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