Lamptron FC-10 SE fan controller reviewIt's been over ten years since I've last reviewed a Lamptron product on DV Hardware! Back then the company was primarily known for its CCFL products, but now Lamptron is best known for its fan controllers and some of its other modding products. The subject of this review is the Lamptron FC10 Special Edition, a unique four-channel fan controller that uses vintage Nixie tubes!
While most products ship in cardboard or plastic clamshell boxes, the FC10 Special Edition from Lamptron arrives in a wooden box with some metal trims and a custom lock.
Nixie tubes were invented in the 1950s and were primarily used as numeric displays in technical equipment like multimeters, voltmeters, and frequency counters, as well as for (expensive) digital time displays, electronic desktop calculators, stock ticker displays, and even for floor number displays in elevators.
If you aren't familiar with a Nixie, it's basically a gas-discharge tube. A Nixie is made from a glass tube with a wire-mesh anode and bent metal wires (the cathodes) that are shaped like numbers or letters. To display numbers from 0-9, a Nixie needs to have ten cathodes and each character is arranged one behind another with a non-conducting material acting as a spacer. The tube is filled with a low-pressure gas, typically a Penning mixture of neon with a little bit of mercury or argon. By applying a voltage of 170V between the anode and one of the cathodes, the gas becomes ionized and surrounds the cathode with an orange-red glow.
Nixie tubes went out of fashion when cheaper and better alternatives hit the market in the mid-1970s, they were completely replaced by light-emitting diodes (LEDs) and vacuum fluorescent displays (VFDs). It's no wonder Nixies soon became obsolete, LEDs are much sturdier, consume less power, and are much smaller than Nixie tubes.
Today the Nixie tube is quite a curiosity but in recent years we've seen a revival of the Nixie as more and more people desire to own products with a unique, nostalgic touch. Nixies look quite intriguing and are very popular for the creation of steampunk mods because the tubes look so out-of-place versus today's technology. Besides this fan controller from Lamptron, Nixies are quite popular for products like clocks and if you want to show off your Nixies on-the-go you can even get a Nixie-based wristwatch.
One thing to keep in mind though is that Nixie tubes are no longer in production and that prices have reportedly tripled since the late 1990s as supply and demand reached a new equilibrium. I'm not exactly sure when the last Nixie tubes were manufactured but it appears the Soviet Union still manufactured them in large volume in the 1980s - that's why there's still a large supply of surplus tubes coming from Russia and Eastern-Europe but at some point in the future supply will dry up almost completely.
Inside the box we find four replacement front covers, the remote, the Molex power cable, fan cables and temperature probes, and a brief manual.
Here we have the Molex power cable and some screws to secure the fan controller in a 5.25" drive bay. The cables are individually sleeved.
Next are the four 3-pin fan extension cables, these are also nicely braided. You may want to add some labels to the cables though as Lamptron forgot to label them.
You also get four temperature probes. Just like the fan extension cables the temperature probes don't have labels.
Because the fan controller lacks buttons the sole way to control it is with the included remote. The large "open" and "close" buttons are used to turn the Nixie tubes on/off, while the M button in the middle is used to switch between temperature, voltage, and RPM readout. The plus and minus buttons are used to adjust the fan voltage while the left and right arrows let you switch between the four fan and temperature channels. The build quality of the remote isn't too impressive, it feels like a cheap piece of plastic.
The remote is powered by a single CR 2025 lithium battery, which is included in the package.
Even when they're turned off the Nixie tubes have a very distinct look 'n feel. By default, the fan controller has a black steel front but the plates are interchangeable.
Added: November 5th 2013
Product reviewed: Lamptron FC-10 SE fan controller
Reviewer: Thomas De Maesschalck