|VIZO Master Panel II Expansion Interface|
|Reviews - Featured Reviews: Accessories|
|Written by Ronald Tibbetts|
|Wednesday, 07 November 2007|
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Detailed Features: Master Panel II
The basic construction of the Master Panel II is of high-grade plastic, sporting a matte black finish. And although the design is light weight (only 90g), it has a sturdy feel to it. With its front ports laid out in a way that ensures even using them all at once won't interfere with other nearby ports . When examining the PCB, I noted that all the solder points were well done, and the pins and various ports were arranged with a layout that should, again, minimize interference with other connectors nearby. The fan controller knobs on the front of the Master Panel II are made of plastic coated with a metallic finish, and feel very solid, giving a good amount of resistance when dialing in a specific speed.
A central feature of the Master Panel II is the inclusion of dual veritable resistor (VR) fan speed controllers. They are adjustable from 4-12v allowing for the desired tuning between cool and quiet; with the added ability to completely turn off most fans. The included fan cables on each controller are split for independent fan control of up to four fans. This is certainly a handy feature for those like me who have the fans for their cooling setup outside the case; for example an external radiator and fan assembly. I can say the fan controllers worked great to quiet my 120mm fans, allowing me to crank the speeds up when needed, as with gaming and overclocking, then turning them down all the way to off, while the system idled.
Here you can see the on-board card reader controller. The Alcor Micro AU6375. It's a single chip integrated into the Master Panel II enabling PCs to read/write various type of flash media cards. Flash media cards such as CF, SMC, XD, SD, MMC, and Memory Stick are widely used in digital cameras, cell phones, PDAs and MP3 players to store digital photos and compressed music. On the Master Panel II the Alcor controller chip allows for the unique ability to transfer data between different card media. For example: you can transfer your data from a Memory Stick to Compact Flash, saving both time and resources.
Only the Card Readers are regulated by the Alcor chip, all other remaining connectors are just pass-throughs from your motherboard or other devices. The USB, Firewire, eSATA, and Audio all connect via pin headers to the motherboard, leaving just the RCA A/V jack to be routed from the back of the case with the help of an included PCI shield. Vizo decided to use pin headers for the interconnects on the audio, USB 2.0, Card-reader, and Firewire. Though keeping in the "do-it-yourself tradition", I've found that with regular use all pin headers are prone to bending, and that's a very real possible here with the amount of pressure needed to connect the cables to the Master Panel II. However, once secured there's no worry about the pins coming undone. On the other hand, there is the SATA port on the back of the panel. This style of SATA is infamous for coming undone and I would've preferred to have seen a locking SATA port. My only other problem with the installation is the lack of labeling on the PCB itself. It would have been easy, I feel, given the amount of empty space around each set of connectors to lablel each pin out and port, with a reference for them in the user manuel.
For cable routing purposes and ease of installation I recommend any controller panel be installed before you put the system fully together. As you can see above, it is very cramped in my Lian-Li PC60 mid-tower case, though I did manage to connect the Master Panel II fairly effortlessly. First, by connecting the leads to the panels back, then to the motherboards pin outs. During installation I found that all the cables lengths were long enough to reach where they needed, and should offer no problems even in a full tower case. The included cable ties were a thoughtful touch, though cable sleeving would have been preferred.
The Master Panel II when installed is secured with four included case screws that easily fit into the pre-threaded copper mounts on either side of the Panel. Two LEDs on the front indicate various states of the Master Panel II, a green LED shows when the system is powered on. The other, a red LED flashes when there is activity on the card readers; a warning not to remove any cards till it goes solid again. I have to admit the Master Panel II is an attractive accent on this case, being unobtrusive while adding a subtle complexity to the front.